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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 August. I added a new airline to the list this month, and one of the major transferable points programs rolled out a useful new redemption option. As always, you’ll find plenty of other program-related news in the What Changed/News column.
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||September 2015 (cents)||August 2016 (cents)||September 2016 (cents)||What Changed/ News?|
|American Express Membership Rewards||2.0||1.9||1.9||50% bonus for transfers to British Airways. Expansion underway at Seattle Centurion Lounge. Improved offers for Blue Cash cards.|
|Barclaycard Arrival Miles||0.5-1.1||1.0||1.0|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||2.1||2.1||2.1||Sapphire Reserve Card now available, along with the J.P. Morgan Reserve Card.|
|Citi ThankYou||1.6||1.6||1.6||Negative changes to Citi Prestige Card coming in 2017.|
|Diners Club Rewards||2.1||2.1||2.1|
|Alaska||2.0||1.8||1.8||Up to 50% bonus for buying miles. Earn bonus miles when you fly on partner airlines. Earn double miles on JAL.|
|American||1.7||1.5||1.5||Up to 30,000 bonus miles for travel to Asia. Higher prices for AAnytime awards on select routes. Free entertainment on select aircraft. Reduced mileage awards through November.|
|ANA||1.5||1.6||1.6||ANA replacing engines on 787 dreamliners.|
|British Airways||1.6||1.5||1.5||Reduced service between JFK and London City. Transatlantic meal services scaled back. How to reinstate expired Avios.|
|Delta||1.2||1.2||1.2||New all-suite business cabin. More expensive business awards to Europe. Nonstop service from Boston. 5,000 SkyBonus points when you book Comfort+ seat.|
|Emirates||–||1.2||1.2||Save up to $1,000 on next flight.|
|Etihad||–||1.4||1.4||Guide to partner awards. Review of A380 Apartment and how to bid on upgrades.|
|Flying Blue||1.3||1.3||1.3||Review of La Première from New York to Paris.|
|JetBlue||1-1.4||1-1.4||1-1.4||Move existing reservations to co-branded credit cards.|
|Miles & More||1.4||1.4||1.4||PreCheck access now available to Lufthansa passengers. Ship personal items with Lufthansa cargo.|
|Southwest||1.3||1.5||1.5||PreCheck available on international flights. Targeted double Rapid Rewards points on fall travel.|
|United||1.5||1.5||1.5||Changes coming to award booking process and fees. Earn 3x miles at select Hilton properties. Redeem miles for TSA PreCheck.|
|Virgin America||1.5-2.3||1.5-2.3||1.5-2.3||500 Elevate points for joining Virgin Hotels email.|
|Choice Privileges||–||0.6||0.6||Maximizing Points Plus Cash for cheap stays.|
|Hilton||0.5||0.5||0.5||Up to 50% bonus for buying HHonors points. 5,000 bonus points from Amex.|
|Hyatt||1.8||1.8||1.8||Up to 75,000 bonus points with fall promo. Choosing the best Hyatt in Tokyo. Residence Club properties added to standard award chart.|
|IHG||0.7||0.7||0.7||Earn bonus points with latest Accelerate promo.|
|Marriott||0.7||0.7||0.7||Register for fall MegaBonus promotion. New partnership with Korean Air.|
|Ritz-Carlton||0.7||0.7||0.7||Major new perks for Ritz-Carlton Rewards card (also see our updated review). 12 future properties to check out.|
|Starwood||2.5||2.5||2.5||Win points or free nights with Open More promo. 35% off award stays at select properties. China holding up merger with Marriott.|
|Wyndham||1.2||1.2||1.2||Wyndham Rewards ranks #1 in US News.|
|Amtrak||2.5||2.5||2.5||Upgrades planned for Acela Express.|
Movers and Shakers
There was some bad news this past month, as American began pricing certain AAnytime awards at a higher rate, and United announced changes to the award booking process and fees. However, August also brought some good news, including a new partnership between Marriott and Korean Air, and the launch of a new premium travel rewards card.
August Value: Not listed. September Value: 1.7 cents. Valuation: The Korean Air SkyPass program has long had (and deserved) a reputation for being difficult to use. For starters, booking awards is a bit of a hassle, since you have to call in and fill out various forms. There’s also a bit of a learning curve for finding partner award availability, since it doesn’t show up on the Korean Air website.
If you’re willing to do the legwork, however, SkyPass offers a lot of opportunities to book valuable awards. The broad North American region lumps the US mainland together with Hawaii, Mexico, the Virgin Islands and more. Round-trip awards within that region are a steal at just 25,000 miles in economy and 45,000 in business/first class. Awards to Europe, South America and some parts of Asia are also priced competitively.
Unlike with Delta, you can book first-class partner awards, and availability on Korean Air flights tends to be very good. Stopovers and open jaws are allowed, and you can now book one-way awards (the lack of which was previously a major flaw). There are still no award change or redeposit fees for roughly the next year, and even when fees go into effect next August, they’ll be relatively benign.
Korean Air is a 1:1 transfer partner of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so there are plenty of options for earning miles. If you’re not already familiar with the program, I recommend getting acquainted, especially if you live in a SkyTeam or other partner hub.
Associated Credit Cards: SKYPASS Visa Signature Credit Card, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, and Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
August Value: 2.1 cents. September Value: 2.1 cents. Valuation: Chase launched the new Chase Sapphire Reserve last month, and in the process added an intriguing new award option. Cardholders can redeem points through the Chase travel portal for 1.5 cents apiece toward flights, hotels and more, which is 20% more than the 1.25 cents per point available on some other Ultimate Rewards cards.
That’s still well below my current valuation, so I don’t think this new feature is a game changer. However, it raises the baseline redemption value for Sapphire Reserve cardholders, who can now expect to get at least 1.5 cents from all Ultimate Rewards points, including the ones earned on other cards in the program.
Associated Credit Cards: Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Freedom, and Ink Plus Business Card.
Which programs would you like to see added to the list?