What Do I Do With All My Business Travel Points?
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You’ve collected that great welcome bonus. You’ve put all your expenses through your business rewards credit cards. You’ve even had your employees use their authorized user cards for all their company expenses. Now you’re sitting on a bunch of points or miles. So what do you do next?
It’s time to put those rewards to good use, and you have some big decisions to make about what to do with those hundreds of thousands of points (or more) sitting in your account. You can find unique ways to reward your employees for their efforts to build your successful business. You can put those points right back into your business, using them to pay for budgeted expenses. Or you can reward yourself for being the great boss that you are. No matter which redemption (or redemptions) you choose, it’s important to know all your options, good and bad. Here’s a look at the redemption choices for two of the biggest business card issuers, American Express and Chase.
If you take advantage of the current 100,000-point welcome bonus (available through August 8, 2018) on The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, you’ll already have enough Membership Rewards points to book $1,900 worth of travel. But you’ll have to meet some heavy spending requirements to earn that bonus. You’ll earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months of cardmembership, and another 50,000 points after you spend an additional $15,000 on purchases in the first three months.
If even half of that $25,000 total spend goes toward flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, you’ll earn an additional 62,500 Membership Rewards points (at 5 points per dollar spent) on top of your bonus. Add in the other $12,500 in spend at 1 point earned per dollar along with the welcome bonus and that’s a total of at least 175,000 points accumulated in something like 90 days. Here are eight ways to redeem those points, from the least to the most valuable redemption option…
1. Redeem for Statement Credits
The easiest way to redeem Membership Rewards points is also the worst value. While you can effectively turn your points into cash by redeeming them for a statement credit against charges that appear on your bill, the redemption is only worth 0.6 cents per point. That’s less than a third of what TPG values these points at, and almost certainly a redemption option to be avoided.
2. Shop with Membership Rewards
This is also generally a less-than-ideal proposition, but you can, for example, use Membership Rewards points on Amazon. Again, the point redemption values are pretty low, which means if you’re determined to redeem your miles to buy stuff on the giant online retailer, you’ll probably be better off redeeming your points for cash at 1 cent each.
3. Buy Gift Cards
Amex’s Membership Rewards can be redeemed for gift cards to shops, rental car agencies, restaurants, American Express Gift cards and even Airbnb. That means you can give your employees the equivalent of many steaks from The Capital Grille, or perhaps a couple of Brooks Brothers’ suits with 175,000 points. But if you redeem points in this manner, the redemption rate is generally 1 cent per point, though there are instances that yield slightly better — or slightly worse values. Either way, your redemption would be worth at least $1,750. Considering TPG’s latest point valuations place the value of Membership Rewards points at 1.9 cents each, you can usually find a better return.
4. Redeem for Paid Travel
Since you have more than 5,000 Membership Rewards points (the minimum), you can pay for part or all of your airfare, prepaid hotel, vacation or cruise with your points. Again, this doesn’t get you anywhere near the top value, as points redeemed this way are worth 1 cent each for airfare, 0.7 cents each for hotels and even less for other vacation options. But when booking a flight with Amex points, you’ll still earn airline miles and you’ll still get your airline’s elite benefits if you have status, as your ticket will be treated as a revenue fare.
5. Donate to Charity
You can feel good about yourself and your company by donating leftover points — for every 1,000 points you redeem toward a charity donation, Amex will donate $10 to a charity of your choice, for a value of 1 cent each. You can search all charities eligible to receive donations through the Members Give website. There’s a limit of 500,000 points per year, after which the redemption value for giving is cut in half to $5 donated for every 1,000 points redeemed.
6. Transfer to Charles Schwab
This is a more obscure option, and one that will cost you an additional annual fee. But if you have an eligible account with Charles Schwab and also have The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Charles Schwab, you can deposit your Membership Rewards points into your Schwab account for a redemption rate of 1.25 cents each. But it’s not a cheap option — the Amex Platinum for Schwab comes with its own $550 annual fee, though it also has many of the same perks as the standard Amex Platinum.
7. Pay with Points Rebate
This is one perk that’s not available on The Platinum Card® from American Express or other Amex cards within the Membership Rewards Program. Use points from the Business Platinum card to pay for economy airfare with the airline of your choice or any business/first class airfare and you’ll get 35% of those points back. Points redeemed this way are worth 1.54 cents each when redeeming for airfare — better than almost every other option but still not quite the maximum value.
Meanwhile, The Business Centurion Card still offers a 50% Pay With Points rebate, which allowed TPG himself to redeem 93,750 Membership Rewards points for a round-trip from Dublin (DUB) to New York (JFK) on Aer Lingus that would normally have cost $1,875. So you can travel in style yourself, or give your employees a reward for all their hard work.
8. Transfer to Travel Partners
Finally, you’ll squeeze the most value out of your Membership Rewards points when you transfer them to Amex’s airline and hotel partners. Here are two recent examples from our own TPG staffers:
- A one-way flight on Singapore Airlines’ new A380 business class from Sydney (SYD) to Singapore (SIN) cost just 58,000 miles, plus about $70 in taxes. Singapore partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), allowing 1:1 points transfers to its KrisFlyer frequent flyer program. The same ticket can cost more than $2,700, meaning the points on this redemption are worth 4.7 cents apiece.
- A round-trip economy ticket from Boston (BOS) to Dublin (DUB) on Aer Lingus cost just 26,000 Avios round-trip when booked via British Airways Avios. Membership Rewards transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. Off-peak economy flights could cost you $1,416, meaning the points on this trip are worth 5.4 cents each.
The sign-up bonus on the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card alone can be enough to get you a round-trip business class ticket. You’ll earn 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on the card within the first three months of ownership. That bonus is worth $1,000 towards travel rewards when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, or as much as $1,680 according to TPG’s most recent valuations.
You can reach that welcome bonus minimum spend and earn a bunch of additional points if you make purchases that qualify for bonus points under the card’s rewards program. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year spent in these categories:
- Travel (planes, trains, taxis, hotels and rental cars, among other expenses)
- Internet, cable and phone
- Advertising on search engines and social media sites
So if you spend $5,000 in these categories, you’ll earn an additional 15,000 points on top of the welcome bonus. TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents apiece, making 15,000 points worth $315, and leaving you with a total haul of 95,000 points when including the sign-up bonus. Here are five ways to redeem those points:
1. Receive Cash Back
You’ll lose half — or more — of each point’s potential maximum value by going with this redemption route. But you can request a statement credit using your points. With this redemption method, points are worth 1 cent apiece. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s not recommended.
2. Attend a Unique Event
The Chase Ultimate Rewards website offers tickets and access to unique events that you can purchase either with your card or with points. For 3,800 points you could get a 1-day pass to the 2018 PGA Championship in St. Louis. For 32,500 points you could get 3-day general admission tickets to San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, featuring The Weeknd, Florence + The Machine and Janet Jackson. Each point is worth 1 cent each for this redemption option.
3. Book an Overnight Stay
Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to one of four hotel programs on a 1:1 basis. You’ll get good value when you make these transfers, though your points in these programs may not go quite as far as the 2.1 cents TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at. The one exception is Hyatt, which has relatively strong redemptions through its World of Hyatt loyalty program, which is why TPG values Hyatt points at 1.8 cents each. But the remaining three hotel programs — IHG (0.6 cents), Marriott (0.9 cents) and Ritz-Carlton (0.9 cents) — are probably not great transfer choices.
4. Redeem Through the Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
You’ll get a 20% discount when paying with points accrued by your Ink Business Preferred card. That make each point worth 1.25 cents, which is higher than you’d get with other redemption options, but may not be as good as redeeming through a travel partner. However, you won’t have to worry about award availability when you’re booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel center and redeeming points to pay for your plane tickets, hotel stays, rental cars or experiences.
5. Transfer to Airline Partners
Finally, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to nine airline programs (British Airways, Flying Blue, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, Aer Lingus and Iberia) at a 1:1 ratio. This, again, is where you can get the most value. Here are two recent examples from TPG staffers:
- Transfer 57,500 points to Korean Air to book a one-way first-class flight to Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) from Male, Maldives (MLE) for just $100 in taxes and fees. That flight goes for about $1,600, getting you 2.8 cents per point in value.
- Transfer 60,000 points to United to book a one-way business-class flight to Frankfurt (FRA) from Washington, DC (IAD) that goes for almost $3,000 each way, netting you nearly 5 cents per point in value.
If you’re strictly looking to maximize your points earned from your business travel, redeeming for cash back or merchandise is a pretty lousy way to go about it. Your points typically will be valued at 1 cent or less on nearly all issuer platforms. To get the most bang for your business buck, you’ll need to put some work in to find great travel partners who are offering great rewards flight deals. But some businesses are sitting on millions of unused points and not enough time to maximize them all. So even if you aren’t getting top value for your points, use them to reward yourself or your employees for as much value as you can get, because in the end, the only point worth nothing is a point that goes unused.