The 7 things on my points-and-miles wish list for 2020
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I can’t believe it’s already December. It feels like the year’s flown by (it literally has — I’ve already flown north of 200,000 miles). While some people will spend this month buying holiday gifts and others making New Year’s resolutions, I’ve compiled a wish list of things I’d love to see in the points-and-miles world come true in 2020.
Instead of focusing on one airline or hotel points program, I’ve narrowed my list to some major trends in the space, as well as credit card points programs.
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Using Amex Membership Rewards for hotels
I’ve long been a fan of American Express Membership Rewards. Amex has done a great job building out a robust network of airline transfer partners for people looking to redeem their Membership Rewards points most efficiently. They’ve also been good about offering transfer bonuses, so I’ve been able to consistently get 2 cents or more of value per Amex point.
However, while Amex has 16 airline transfer partners, they only have three hotel partners. Aside from the limited selection of hotel transfer partners, the points transfer ratio to those hotels is pretty bad. Amex points transfer 1:1 to Choice Privileges and Marriott Bonvoy, and 1:2 to Hilton Honors. While you may think that a 1:1 or 1:2 transfer ratio seems quite fair (especially considering that Amex points generally transfer 1:1 to airline miles), the issue is that Choice, Marriott and Hilton points are worth far less than most airline miles — 0.6, 0.8 and 0.6 cents per point, respectively.
When transferring Amex points to hotel chains, you’re losing a ton of value considering that you could’ve transferred those points to an airline whose points are worth far more. So, my wish for 2020 is that Amex improves the transfer ratio to hotel chains to closely mirror the value that you can get from airline transfers.
Capital One improves transfer ratios
Along similar lines, Capital One has made significant improvements to their miles with the introduction of points transfers. However, the biggest drawback to the points transfer option is the transfer ratios. You can transfer Capital One miles to airlines at a 2:1.5 ratio (some airlines have an even worse 2:1 ratio). While Amex, Chase and Citi mostly offer 1:1 transfers, unfortunately Capital One hasn’t matched those ratios.
Unless you’re a points maximization pro, it can make sense to redeem your Capital One miles as a statement credit towards any qualifying travel expense. Each Capital One mile equates to one cent in statement credit, so be sure to calculate the trade off if you’re considering sending Capital One miles to an airline.
If Capital One wanted to get more competitive in 2020, I’d love to see them increase the points transfer ratio to better mirror Amex, Chase and Citi. Until then, it may make sense to just redeem your miles toward statement credits.
Upgrade and award availability returns
The economy is doing well, and airlines are having no trouble filling seats. However, there are still some flights that just don’t sell out. In general, airlines are pretty good about releasing award seats when the booking schedule opens, but I’ve been noticing a pattern where the airlines have gotten much stingier about releasing close-in upgrade and award space.
In my opinion, the trickiest case is American Airlines. You often won’t find a single upgrade or award seat on flights that have plenty of business-class seats for sale on the day of departure (pro tip: make sure to try searching with the new search tool, too). Finding upgrade or saver-award availability on AA metal has literally turned into a game of finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s not just American Airlines, though. I’ve seen the same trend with airlines that used to be great about releasing close-in award space — ANA, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and United, just to name a few. Let’s hope that airlines do a better job at releasing last-minute upgrade and award space in 2020 — and not because we’ve entered an economic recession.
Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer bonuses
While Amex, Citi and Capital One all offer points transfer bonuses with some regularity, Chase just started dipping its toes in the game earlier this year. For the first time ever, Chase offered a 30% transfer bonus to British Airways Avios back in April. As I mentioned before, transfer bonuses are the best way to increase the value of your transferable points.
While Chase Ultimate Rewards points are generally quite valuable, it’d be great if they continued offering transfer bonuses in 2020.
Instant transfers across the board
It’s almost 2020. All points transfers should be instant. There’s nothing worse than spending hours searching for award space, only to see it disappear when your credit card points finally show up in a partner account.
Of the transferable credit card points currencies, Chase has done the best job at implementing a user-friendly navigation experience for those looking to transfer points. Additionally, save for Marriott and Singapore, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly to their partners. Amex definitely deserves second place though, as almost all of their Membership Rewards points transfers are instantaneous.
Citi and Capital One aren’t nearly as user friendly as Amex or Chase. I’ve found both of their websites to be a bit clunky, but more importantly, a majority of their points transfers aren’t instantaneous. 2020 needs to be the year that this changes.
Notice for devaluations
Loyalty programs need to foster trust between the the program and its members. Without a trusting relationship, what’s the incentive for a member to fly with a particular airline or stay with a particular hotel?
We’ve seen lots of points devaluations throughout the last few years. While devaluations ultimately suck, there are two ways to handle them. The first is to just make changes without giving notice to your members. The latest loyalty program to go down this road is Aegean. They increased award costs across the board, without any notice at all.
On the other hand, take United. Earlier this year, United announced that they’d be eliminating award charts for flights on United aircraft and instead price awards dynamically. As much as I dislike this change, I’ve got to give United credit for providing over seven months of advance notice.
I’m sure we’ll see more points devaluations come 2020 (like Hyatt’s recent introduction of peak and off-peak pricing), but the least we can hope for is ample notice for these changes.
Bonus: search all award availability in one place
Wouldn’t it be nice to search award availability all on one site or through a single mobile app? That’ll be a reality in 2020.
If you’re not a points whiz, the current process of finding award availability can be too daunting or time consuming to even consider redeeming points. It takes me anywhere from one to ten (or more) browser tabs to figure out award availability for a given flight — and I’m supposedly a “points and miles expert.”
ExpertFlyer’s done a great job at collecting lots of award and upgrade-availability data, but I still find myself searching directly on airline’s websites more often than not. I can’t wait for the 2020 release of the TPG app, which promises to revolutionize the way we book travel.
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There’s lots to get excited about in the next decade. As a points and miles aficionado, there are a bunch of changes I’d like to see in the new year, from instant points transfers to more last-minute award and upgrade space.
My hope is that at least some of my wishes come true — and if not, I’ll just republish this post next year.
Featured photo courtesy of alfexe/Getty Images.
I’d love to hear what’s on your points-and-miles wish list for next year. Sound off in the comments section!
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