What Are Points & Miles Worth? February Monthly Valuations

Feb 3, 2016

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You can view all posts in the Monthly Valuation Series here.

One of the questions I’m asked most often is “How much is a point or mile worth?” The answer varies from person to person and depends on how well you can maximize a particular currency for your needs. Still, some points are worth more than others.

To give readers — both old and new — some context, I’ve included my valuations from one year ago and from January. This month I increased one valuation and decreased another, added a new program to the list and kept one more on notice due to upcoming changes. As always, you’ll find plenty of program-related news noted in the What Changed/News column.

The Calculations

There isn’t a mathematical formula at work here. At some point I’d like to create a system that could calculate a precise value based on award availability, fees, award levels and ease of accrual, but for now these valuations are based on a combination of how much I would pay to buy points if given the opportunity, and the overall value I could get from redeeming them.

I encourage you to share your thoughts where you think I’m off base (and on point, no pun intended), and I’ll take TPG reader feedback into consideration when I update the list next month. This list doesn’t include every currency under the sun, and I’ll work to add more moving forward, so let me know which you’d like to see featured.

PROGRAM February 2015 (cents) January 2016  (cents) February 2016 (cents) What Changed/ News?
American Express Membership Rewards 2.0 1.9 1.9
Barclaycard Arrival Miles 0.5-1.1 1.0 1.0
Capital One 1.0 1.0 1.0
Chase Ultimate Rewards 2.1 2.1 2.1
Citi ThankYou 1.6 1.6 1.6 eGift cards added to redemption options.
Diners Club Rewards 2.1 2.1 2.1
FlexPerks 1.33-2 1.33-2 1.33-2
Aeroplan 1.6 1.5 1.5
Alaska 2.0 2.0 2.0
American 1.7 1.7 1.7 Bonus miles promo extended for first and business class. Executive Platinum status match for United 1K members.
ANA 1.7  1.5 1.5  100,000 flights on 787 Dreamliner.
Avianca 1.7 1.7 1.7
British Airways 1.7 1.6 1.5 Cheapest short-haul awards no longer available in the US.
Delta 1.2 1.2 1.2 Higher rates for partner awards. A330 service available on select transcon flights. Register for 2016 elite challenge online.
Emirates 1.2 1.2 A380 service launching to D.C. and expanding at LAX.
Etihad 1.4
Flying Blue 1.3 1.3 1.3
Frontier 1.1 1.1 1.1
JetBlue 1-1.7 1-1.4 1-1.4 New upgrade with points option for elites. Cabin updates: TVs, Wi-Fi and more.
Miles & More 1.4 1.4 New upgrade with cash option
Singapore Airlines 1.5 1.5 1.5
Southwest 1.4 1.3 1.5
United 1.5 1.5 1.5 Targeted offer for Club Card with waived annual fee. New meet and greet concierge service. Option to buy elite status for 2016.
Virgin America 1.5-2.3 1.5-2.3 1.5-2.3 20% flight discounts this winter.
Virgin Atlantic 1.5 1.5 1.5
Club Carlson 0.6 0.4 0.4
Choice Privileges 0.6 0.6 New, more favorable points expiration policy.
Hilton 0.5 0.5 0.5 2x points for stays in early 2016. New Tru Hotel brand launching this year.
Hyatt 1.8 1.8 1.8 Changes to Diamond suite upgrade policy. Status match to Diamond or Platinum is now official.
IHG 0.7 0.7 0.7 2016 Accelerate promotion is active. Award category changes at 400 properties. New list of Pointbreaks hotels.
Marriott 0.7 0.7 0.7 Latest Megabonus promo open for enrollment. Use points to buy back elite status.
Ritz-Carlton  0.7  0.7 0.7
Starwood 2.4 2.5 2.5 New benefit options for 50-night Platinum members. Third night free in Asia & Australia. Double points on stays in early 2016.
Wyndham 1.2  1.2 Earn up to 15,000 AAdvantage miles on stays.
Amtrak 2.5 2.5

Movers and Shakers

There were several changes to existing valuations this month. British Airways Avios dropped after the new short-haul award chart for US flyers went into effect. Meanwhile, Southwest Rapid Rewards increased after reader feedback and my own award redemptions caused me to reassess my previous valuation. American Airlines is still on notice, pending changes to the AAdvantage program scheduled for March.

By request from a number of readers (and since I now have some miles to burn after my Residence flight), I added Etihad Guest to the list this month. The quality of the loyalty program does not match that of the airline and its services, but there are ways to get decent value out of it, as you’ll see below.

I also continue to get many questions about my valuations for Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Both loyalty programs are likely to be impacted by the merger down the line, but it’s too early to know what future changes will look like. I’m leaving both valuations alone until more information is available.

There’s value to be found in the separate award charts Etihad publishes for each of its partner airlines.

Etihad Guest

January Value: not listed. February Value: 1.4 cents. Valuation: Etihad Guest has a lot in common with Emirates Skywards, which I added to the list in January. Like Emirates, Etihad offers an exceptional product, especially in premium cabins. However, the frequent flyer program is a mixed bag.

You can get decent value when redeeming for Etihad flights: Economy awards will only get you about 1 cent per mile, but business- and first-class saver awards can get you around 2-5 cents per mile at the lowest award levels. Unfortunately, those low-level (Guest) awards are harder to find, but not impossible. Etihad adds “carrier charges” to awards, but they’re not so high as to destroy the value of booking with miles.

Like Emirates, Etihad isn’t part of an alliance, but it has a lengthy list of airline partners that includes American Airlines, Korean Air, Air Berlin, Virgin Australia and others. One quirky aspect of Etihad Guest (and one source of opportunity) is that there’s a separate award chart for each partner. You can find some real gems in those charts, though not as many since Etihad devalued first-class partner redemptions a few months ago. On the downside, some of the most valuable awards seem to be perpetually unavailable, or not bookable by Etihad agents (like New York-Brussels for 36,620 miles round-trip in business class on Brussels Airlines). Furthermore, partner awards can’t be booked online (you have to call), and Etihad’s customer service is known for making the process more difficult than it should be.

The bottom line for Etihad is much the same as it was for Emirates. I like the product, but the Etihad Guest program doesn’t do much for me. I’d prefer to credit eligible flights to American Airlines or Air Canada, even though many fares only earn a fraction of the normal mileage. For more on Etihad Guest, check out Nick Ewen’s post on the basics of booking Etihad awards, and Richard Kerr’s post on maximizing transfers from Citi ThankYou Rewards.

Associated Credit Cards: Etihad is a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can earn points that transfer to Etihad Guest with cards like the Citi Premier® Card, Citi Prestige, and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. (Note that Amex Membership Rewards also transfer to Etihad for many members outside the US.)

Has your BA Executive Club account been hacked?
British Airways no longer offers short-haul awards for 4,500 Avios in the US.

British Airways Avios

January Value: 1.6 cents. February Value: 1.5 cents. Valuation: In October, British Airways announced that the lowest-level awards (4,500 Avios for flights less than 650 miles) will no longer be available on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines flights that begin or end in the United States. Those awards have now increased to 7,500 Avios, and both business- and first-class awards have also gone up along those routes.

There’s still plenty of value to be found from British Airways’ distance-based awards: You can continue to redeem at the lowest level outside the US, and level 2-4 awards remain good options for domestic flights. However, this was definitely one of the sweet spots in the Avios award chart and one of the best travel rewards deals out there. It’s a shame to see it go, and unfortunately my valuation for British Airways must go down accordingly.

Associated Credit Cards: British Airways Visa Signature Card

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

January Value: 1.3 cents. February Value: 1.5 cents. Valuation: When I dropped Rapid Rewards last year, my concern was that the recently introduced dynamic pricing scheme would increase the cost of awards, or at least make the value highly unpredictable. To Southwest’s credit, that hasn’t been the case, and we have nine months of evidence that you can still easily get 1.5-2.0 cents per point when redeeming for Wanna Get Away fares.

Of course, you can get even more value out of Rapid Rewards points with the Southwest Companion Pass, since it’s valid on award bookings as well as paid fares. I was able to secure a pass for my father as part of his recent retirement gift, and I’m looking forward to seeing my parents maximize it over the next two years. With so many devaluations from other loyalty programs, I’m happy to admit that my fears about Southwest were overblown.

Associated Credit Cards: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and business version

American Airlines is making changes to its award chart and switching to a revenue-based earning system in March.

American Airlines AAdvantage

January Value: 1.7 cents. February Value: 1.7 cents. Valuation: American dropped doubly bad news in November, announcing not only that the cost of many AAdvantage awards will increase in March, but also that the program will switch to a revenue-based earning system. Furthermore, American is shrinking the range of available dates for its valuable off-peak awards.

The news isn’t entirely bad: Some awards are actually going down in price, and the new system for earning elite miles will be more generous than its Delta counterpart (United boosted rates to match AA). But with some awards increasing by more than 60%, there’s no denying this is a devaluation of the AAdvantage program overall. I haven’t decided how far AAdvantage miles will fall in my estimation, but they’ll definitely take a hit as these changes go into effect.

For now, these posts can give you ideas for how to lock in the current, lower rates for future travel:

Associated Credit Cards: Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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