What Are Points & Miles Worth? December Monthly Valuations

Dec 7, 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 November. This month I dropped one airline frequent flyer program thanks to some negative changes that went into effect recently. As always, you’ll find plenty of other program-related news 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 December 2015 (cents) November 2016  (cents) December 2016 (cents) What Changed/ News?
American Express Membership Rewards 1.9 1.9 1.9 3x points at Amazon. Bonus points for transfers to Iberia and business referrals.
Barclaycard Arrival Miles 1.0 1.0 1.0
Capital One 1.0 1.0 1.0
Chase Ultimate Rewards 2.1 2.1 2.1 Ink Preferred offers large sign-up bonus, but upgrades won’t be allowed. Chase website can now track bonus spending.
Citi ThankYou Rewards 1.6 1.6 1.6 Transfer bonus to Hilton HHonors.
Diners Club Rewards 2.1 2.1 2.1 Transfer bonus to British Airways.
FlexPerks 1.33-2 1.33-2 1.33-2
Aeroplan 1.5 1.5 1.5 Get 1,000 miles for online quiz. 30% bonus for transferring hotel points. New parents can now postpone elite status.
Alaska 2.0 1.8 1.8 Changes to upgrade priority and eligibility.
American 1.7 1.5 1.5 New partnership with Amex. Extend or boost elite status. American promises faster Wi-Fi.
ANA 1.5  1.6 1.6 New service coming between Tokyo and Mexico City.
Avianca 1.7 1.7 1.7
British Airways 1.6 1.5 1.5 Earn triple Avios through December. 10% Visa discount extended through 2017. Cheaper awards for AA domestic first class.
Delta 1.2 1.2 1.2 More details about Delta Premium Select. Use SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy. Cost of SkyClub memberships going up. Earn SkyMiles for Airbnb stays.
Emirates 1.2 1.2 Bonus miles and elite status with current promotion. New codeshare bus between Seattle and Vancouver.
Etihad 1.4 1.4
Flying Blue 1.3 1.3 1.3 Air France / KLM launching budget carrier to serve Asia.
Frontier 1.1 1.1 1.1
Hawaiian 1.2 1.2
JetBlue 1-1.4 1-1.4 1-1.4 Earn TrueBlue points with Lyft. Complimentary in-flight movies for all passengers. Book Mint seats between New York and San Diego.
Korean Air 1.7 1.7
Miles & More 1.4 1.4 1.4
Singapore Airlines 1.5 1.5 1.5
Southwest 1.3 1.5 1.5
United 1.5 1.5 1.5 50,000 miles with Explorer business card. Sneak peek at new LAX club. First impressions of United Polaris. Details of Basic Economy fares.
Virgin America 1.5-2.3 1.5-2.3 1.5-2.3 Use points to visit Necker Island.
Virgin Atlantic 1.5 1.5 1.3 Changes to Flying Club program go into effect. End of partnership with Virgin America.
Club Carlson 0.4 0.4 0.4
Choice Privileges 0.6 0.6 0.6
Hilton 0.5 0.5 0.5 Earn 5,000 bonus points on all stays. Triple points on stays through end of 2016.
Hyatt 1.8 1.8 1.8 Major changes coming to loyalty program. More details about lifetime Globalist status.
IHG 0.7 0.7 0.7 New Priceless Surprises promo. New policy encourages direct booking.
Marriott 0.7 0.9 0.9 Referral bonus for Marriott Premier card.
Ritz-Carlton  0.7  0.9 0.9
Starwood 2.5 2.7 2.7
Wyndham 1.2 1.2  1.2
Amtrak 2.5 2.5 2.5 Wi-Fi upgraded on Acela trains.

Movers and Shakers

This past month we learned more about upcoming changes planned by various airlines and hotels. Hyatt offered more details about the new World of Hyatt, and both Delta and United are rolling out new classes of service. However, the biggest news in November came from the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program, and while the news wasn’t all bad, the overall effect is negative for award travelers.

Virgin Atlantic
Redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles just became a bit more difficult.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

November Value: 1.5 cents. December Value: 1.3 cents. Valuation: This past month Virgin Atlantic announced some major adjustments to the Flying Club program, including new mileage earning rates, new elite qualification requirements and a new award chart (coming in January). There are some improvements, like the introduction of discounted off-peak awards. However, the overall effect is to reward spending above broader loyalty, following the trend we’ve seen elsewhere in the industry.

The most crucial change is that Flying Club miles can no longer be used to book awards on Virgin America. Partner awards are the best use of those miles, since Virgin Atlantic adds hefty surcharges to flights on its own metal. Now there’s one less partner available, leaving Delta as the only good option for domestic awards. Flying Club wasn’t a particularly rewarding program to begin with, and I think these changes are a clear turn for the worse.

Associated Credit Cards: Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard, Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, Membership Rewards cards like the Platinum Card from American Express, and other cards that earn Citi ThankYou Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest points.

Which programs would you like to see added to the list?


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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