How Much Do Point Valuations Influence Which Card You Use?
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TPG reader Derek emailed me to ask about earning points:
“I have the Starwood Amex and Chase Freedom Unlimited, and am trying to decide whether to keep the Starwood card in my portfolio. Starpoints are worth the most in your valuations, but is the Freedom Unlimited card more valuable since it earns more points per dollar spent?”
Each month, I publish valuations of points and miles from the most popular loyalty programs, including airlines, hotels, banks and more. The goal of those posts is to help you get a sense of how much your points are worth when you redeem them, but also to guide you when you’re deciding which points to earn in the first place. That depends just as much on the earning rate as it does on the individual values.
Starpoints have long been my most highly valued loyalty currency — I list them at 2.7 cents apiece in my latest valuations. Ultimate Rewards points are a bit lower (but still among the highest) at 2.1 cents apiece. Clearly, I think Starpoints are worth more on a per-point basis, but that doesn’t mean earning them is always the best choice. Again, the earning rate is critical.
The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express from Amex earns 1 Starpoint per dollar on purchases outside of the brand, while the Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns a flat 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all purchases. With those numbers in mind, Derek’s question just boils down to multiplication. I’d value 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points at about 3.15 cents — more than one Starpoint. That means when all else is equal, I’d rather use the Freedom Unlimited card for everyday (non-bonus) spending.
Of course, things aren’t always equal, and you might rather earn Starpoints in some scenarios — like if you need to pad your account for a lucrative SPG award, or if you’re saving up for a Marriott Hotel + Air package. Similarly, you might prefer to earn Ultimate Rewards points even at a lower earning rate if you’re saving up for a high-value redemption like a trip to the Park Hyatt Maldives.
The underlying idea here is that my valuations are mine, and they don’t necessarily have to be yours. Think of them as general guidelines rather than ironclad truth. In my opinion, Freedom Unlimited is the better option, but everyone uses points differently. Decide what makes the most sense for you based on how you spend your money and where you want to go.
In any case, you should think about keeping the Starwood Amex even if it isn’t your best option for everyday spending. The card offers a variety of benefits like Boingo Wi-Fi access and annual elite credits (which come in handy if you’re hoping to qualify for Starwood status). Make sure you look at the whole picture before you close your account.
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