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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 loyalty currency. Still, some rewards are clearly worth more than others — my goal is to give you a sense of how they stack up.
These valuations are based on a combination of what I would pay to buy points if given the opportunity, and the overall value I could get from redeeming them, factoring in variables like award availability, fees and change/cancellation policies. I encourage you to share your thoughts where you think I’m off base (and on point, no pun intended), and I’ll take feedback from TPG readers into consideration when I update the valuations each month.
To give you some context, I’ve included my valuations from one year ago and from May. This past month was not a good one for award travelers, as several airline programs made negative changes, including higher (and weirder) award prices, increased fees, and less friendly change and cancellation policies. On the bright side, we also saw new bonus offers from several rewards credit cards. Read on for more details, and check the last column of the chart below for plenty more loyalty program news.
|Program||June 2017 (Cents)||May 2018 (Cents)||June 2018 (Cents)||Note|
|American Express Membership Rewards||1.9||1.9||1.9|
|Amtrak Guest Rewards||2.5||2.5||2.5||
Acela First Class gets assigned seating.
Plans announced for new Honolulu lounge.
Cathay Pacific announces major changes to Asia Miles program.
|Bank of America Premium Rewards||-||1.0||1.0||
Here's why you shouldn't ignore BoA Preferred Rewards.
|Barclaycard Arrival Miles||1.0||1.0||1.0|
|Best Western Rewards||-||0.7||0.7||
Join the Best Western Rewards program.
|British Airways Avios||1.5||1.5||1.5|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||2.2||2.1||2.1|
Join the Choice Privileges program.
|Citi ThankYou Points||1.6||1.7||1.7||
Travel and purchase benefits scaled back on Citi Prestige card.
|Diners Club Rewards||2.1||2.1||2.1|
Etihad may cancel aircraft orders amidst heavy losses.
Join the HawaiianMiles program.
|Miles & More||1.4||1.4||1.4|
|Qatar Airways Qmiles||-||1.1||0.8|
Join the Radisson Rewards program.
|Spirit Airlines Free Spirit||0.4||0.4||0.4|
|Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles||-||1.3||1.3|
|Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards||-||-||-|
Join the Wyndham Rewards program.
Movers and Shakers
Before you get to the bad news below, several programs made small but positive changes this month. Delta will now let you use Global Upgrades on Korean Air, and IHG will continue to issue unrestricted free night certificates on the Club Select card until May of 2019. Meanwhile, American Express did cardholders a solid by bucking the trend and improving several purchase benefits.
On the downside, four airlines imposed varying degrees of negative changes, ranging from a mild tweak of Alaska Airlines cancellation policy to a full-on implosion of Qatar Airways’ Qmiles. This is the first time my valuations have changed for four programs in a single month, and unfortunately, none of them are improvements.
Qatar Airways Qmiles
May Value: 1.1 cents.
June Value: 0.8 cents.
Valuation: I was already down on the Qmiles program when I added it to the list last August. Awards were generally overpriced and booking them was a pain, and flights from North America required a stop in Doha, which is inconvenient unless you’re headed to the Middle East. Although Qatar Airways offers a quality product, I’ve never found much use for the miles.
Unfortunately, Qatar decided to take a bad thing and make it worse, as the airline recently imposed some disastrously negative changes. Award rates are up by as much as 77%, and a new booking fee of up to $75 is being added to all awards. Worst of all, these changes were made with zero warning; devaluations are part of the game, but it’s hard to have confidence in a program that’s willing to debase itself so brazenly.
Moving forward, I recommend crediting flights to a partner program even if you only earn a fraction of the normal rewards. You might still find the occasional spot redemption or upgrade award that offers decent value when cash prices are high, but overall I think this program has made itself obsolete.
Associated Credit Cards: Qatar is a transfer partner of both Citi and SPG, so you can earn Qmiles with cards that earn ThankYou Rewards or Starpoints (like the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express), though I don’t recommend making earning Qmiles a priority.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
May Value: 1.9 cents
June Value: 1.8 cents
Valuation: Over the last two months, Alaska announced a series of changes that will take effect in June. The good news is that the airline’s partner award chart remains intact; you’ll still be able to book valuable premium seats like Cathay Pacific business class between the US and Asia for 50,000 miles each way. Adjustments to award pricing on Alaska metal are a mixed bag, with short-haul awards getting a little cheaper and long-hauls going up modestly. Overall these changes aren’t enough to sway my valuation.
The bad news is that Alaska took a hatchet to its generous award change and cancellation policy. The $125 fee was formerly waived for all award tickets more than 60 days from departure; now that waiver will only be extended to members with MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K status. The old policy was a standout feature of Mileage Plan, since not many programs offer that degree of flexibility. The loss is significant enough to lower my valuation even though it doesn’t directly impact award redemption values.
May Value: 1.4 cents
June Value: 1.3 cents
Valuation: Cathay Pacific recently announced an overhaul of the Asia Miles program that includes changes on both the earning and redeeming sides. Like with Alaska, the news isn’t all bad, as some economy and short-haul awards are going down in price. Unfortunately, premium, long-haul awards are getting more expensive both on Cathay Pacific and multi-partner itineraries — changes to the single-partner award chart have yet to be announced, but I expect more of the same.
These updates seem reasonable compared to what we got from Qatar Airways, and Cathay Pacific even claims we’ll see increased award availability. However, this is a clear devaluation of the most valuable awards Asia Miles has to offer, and that drags the whole program down regardless of whatever improvements are offered on the low end.
Associated Credit Cards: the Cathay Pacific Visa Signature Card earns Asia Miles directly, or any card that earns points with Amex, Citi or SPG will give you transfer options.
May Value: 1.3 cents
June Value: 1.2 cents
Valuation: Roughly seven months since the shift to a revenue-based program was announced, the reinvented Flying Blue is finally live, and if you’re not sure what to make of it, you’re not alone. Award charts have been ditched in favor of dynamic pricing, but so far that pricing is inscrutable. There’s no clear connection between cash fares and award rates: premium awards sometimes cost less than economy, adding a segment sometimes gives you a discount, cats and dogs are living together … it’s mass hysteria.
Plenty of awards still offer great value — it didn’t take me long to find business-class flights between North America and Europe yielding over 4 cents per mile. However, the wild unpredictability of award pricing makes the program less attractive. Some inventory seems to be missing from the system entirely, so there may still be bugs to work out, and hopefully rates will normalize once that’s done. Otherwise, Flying Blue has taken a clear turn for the worse.
Associated Credit Cards: Flying Blue is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi, and SPG, so you can earn Flying Blue miles with any card from those programs.
Which programs would you like to see added to the list?
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