How Much are Points Worth? (2021)
When you are evaluating a signup bonus, promotion, or reward rate, it is not the NUMBER of points that's important, it is the VALUE of those points.
Different types of reward points have very different values. Some points are worth a fixed 1 cent each. Other types of points, like Chase's Ultimate Rewards, are considerably more valuable, typically worth 1.5 cents, 2 cents, or even more. A Hilton point might be only worth less than .5 cent each, while a Hyatt point might be worth more than 1.75 cents each.
But the more complicated truth is that most types of points and miles don’t have a set value that is the same for everyone. The value of each type of point and mile is different for different people—depending on how you travel, how you plan to use your points, how much you spend, and how many points you already have.
WE assign a value to each type of point so that you have a place to start and we can have a conversation about the relative value of different options. But YOU need to eventually adjust these “base” values to reflect your unique situation and travel goals.
- 1 Some basic concepts
- 2 The value of hotel points varies wildly
- 3 The diminished value of frequent flyer miles for coach flights
- 4 Get more value with business and first-class award tickets
- 5 The value of different types of miles
- 6 Fixed-value credit card points
- 7 "Transferable" credit card points
- 8 An example
Some basic concepts
Before we delve into the values of specific types of points and miles, it is helpful to understand some basic concepts.
- While some types of points have "fixed" values, the value of most types of points and miles varies for every redemption. For example, the number of miles you need for an award ticket isn't usually based directly on the cost of the flights. Sometimes you'll get more value for miles for you miles, sometimes you'll get less. This is even more true of hotel points, where redemption values can vary wildly between different reservations.
- The real value of every redemption is based on the true value you receive, not the face value of the reservation. For example, let's say you could use 40,000 hotel points to book a hotel that has a cash price of $240. That works out to .6 cents per point. But maybe that hotel just happens to be overpriced for the days of your trip and there is a hotel you like equally well that is priced at just $200. Using your points, you're really only saving the $200 you would have spent and the actual value of your points would be .5 cents, not .6 cents, each. Similarly, it is not the "best available rate" that should be used for the comparison, but the best discounted rate you can find.
- When you use points you don't earn points. When you pay cash, you are essentially getting an additional discount with any credit card or loyalty points you earn.
- You should always value points and miles at a discount. For example, if you only expected to get 1.4 cents in value per Alaska Airlines mile, you should value an Alaska mile at somewhat less, such as at 1.2 cents per mile. Alaska miles aren't as flexible as cash, are subject to potential devaluation, and don't earn interest while you wait to use them. And as we mentioned above, when you book award tickets, you won't earn new frequent flyer miles. You'd wouldn't buy a gift certificate (for your own use) at full face value, so you shouldn't buy points and miles at the full value you'd expect to get.
- We expect you to use your points strategically (and get higher values per point). Unless you are earning more of each type of point than you can spend, you are only going to be able to use your points for some of your trips. Rather than always using them at the first opportunity, you'll get more value if you use them when you'll receive more value and hold onto them when you'll receive less.
- Your expected value per point is likely to be substantially higher than your minimum redemption value. In the Marriott example above, you only redeemed Marriott points when you receive at least .7 cents per point. We call that your "Marriott Point Minimum Redemption Value". But that is just the floor for the value you receive. The average value is going to be higher.
- Even after applying a reasonable discount, the value of a point may still be as high as your minimum redemption value. Continuing with our example, your average value for your Marriott redemptions might be .9 cents per point. If you apply a discount of 20% to .9 cents, the points would be worth just about the same .7 cents as your minimum redemption value.
- But if you expect to use your points on every trip, you'll receive less value from your points.
As a result, you need to settle for an estimate of how much your points will wind up being worth. There is no fixed value you'll receive each time you use your points.
This tends to be most important when talking about business and first class award tickets, which often have exorbitantly high cash prices. If you would genuinely pay this cash price for the tickets, you would get enormous value by using frequent flier miles. But if you would only spend $300-500 extra out-of-pocket to upgrade to a business class seat, the real value you are getting for the award ticket will be considerably lower.
For example, a typical range of values for Marriott hotel reservations might be .4 cents to 1.2 cents per point, with some reservations even higher or lower.
Let's assume that you can earn a limited number of Marriott points from credit card signup bonuses. If you spend your points at the first opportunity, you might average .6 cents per reservation. But if you only spend your points on reservations where you receive at least .7 cents in value, you might average .9 cents in value. Rather than using your points until you run out and then switch to cash reservations, you'd intersperse points and cash reservations, based on relative value.
The value of hotel points varies wildly
Unlike frequent flyer miles, it is easy to get good value from your hotel points. In general, if there is a regular room available, you can book it with points. And because hotel nights are typically cheaper than frequent flyer tickets, you can reward yourself much more often.
- Each hotel program uses a different "scale" for their points. With Hilton, you can earn a lot of points, but you'll get lower value per point. With Hyatt, you'll earn fewer points, but each one will be worth more.
- The difference in point values is primarily due to the vast differences in the number of points each program requires for a night in a similar quality hotel. For example, Hyatt might charge 12,000 points for a full-service downtown hotel in most locations, while Marriott might charge 35,000 points and Hilton might charge 50,000 points for a similar hotel.
- Our base values for hotel points are based on the minimum of what you will often, but not always, be able to get with your points. The value you can get from any given type of hotel point varies widely between different trips. 12,000 Hyatt points might get you a room that is worth $140 or a room that is worth $450. We set our values at the high side of what you can get—but not so high that it will be too difficult to find opportunities to get that much from your points.
- If you want to always use your hotel points and never pay cash, you'll get less value from your points. On some trips, comparable hotel rates will be low. Since the points cost for a free night doesn't vary very much, you'll still need to use around the same number of points as you would if prices were higher. Consequently, you'll get less value from your points. We would usually recommend saving your points for future stays, where you are likely to get more value.
- If you can frequently stay in lower "category" hotels, your points will be worth more—particularly in certain programs. In general, you'll get more value from points at low category hotels, which are often primarily available in less-expensive foreign countries. If you are going to be using your points in this way, you'll get more value from every type of hotel point. It also changes the relative values of points from different programs. For example, for a night at a typical hotel, Hilton points are worth less than Marriott points. But at the cheapest hotels, they can be worth more. IHG points tend to be worth a lot more at their less expensive properties than at their more expensive ones.
- If you earn high volumes of Ultimate Rewards points, your minimum redemption value for Hyatt points may only be 1.5 cents. Since Ultimate Rewards points can be converted into Hyatt points at good values, you can use points more regularly. But since Ultimate Rewards points can be turned into cash at 1.5 cents each (for Sapphire Reserve cardholders), you'd never want to get less value than that.
- Because of the Cash & Points Trick, you always want to redeem IHG points at values above .575 cents each and Choice points at values above .80 cents each. That's because you can always generate points at those values. Get Cheap IHG and Choice Points Using the Cash & Points Trick.
This table shows our suggest minimum redemption value for each program; along with the number of points it would take for a nice downtown hotel in a big, but not exorbitantly expensive, city; and the number of points for their least and most expensive hotels.
|Program||Base Value||Required points per night|
|Nice Hotel||Least expensive award options||Most Expensive|
You won’t be able to receive this much value on every hotel reservation, but you will probably be able to find them frequently enough to burn through whatever hotel points you’ll earn. For special events (when prices go sky high), sweet spots (where the hotel category is set too low), and at the most expensive hotels in the chain, you should be able to get much more value per point than our minimum redemption values.
The diminished value of frequent flyer miles for coach flights
Travel and reward websites will usually tell you that most frequent flyer miles are worth around 1.5 cents each. But the truth is not so simple.
- Instead of having a fixed value, the value of frequent flyer miles varies widely based on your opportunities to use them. If you can use 25,000 points to book a cross-country flight that would have otherwise cost $400, you are getting 1.6 cents in value per point. However, if there is no saver availability and you need to use 50,000 points instead, you are only getting .8 cents in value. And if the flight were only $250, even at the cheaper award rate, you would only get 1 cent in value from your points.
- It is hard to get good value for your frequent flyer miles on coach tickets. If ticket prices are high, there is usually no award availability or the airlines require huge numbers of points; and if prices are low, you aren't saving much money with your ticket.
- It is getting harder to get good value when using your miles for international trips, especially if you don't live in a "gateway city". With the airlines moving to dynamic prices and getting increasingly stingy with normal-priced rewards, it is getting much harder to combine connecting flights into a single itinerary or use frequent flyer miles from a partner.
- In extreme cases, fuel surcharges on international award tickets can be close to the full price for the ticket. For example, on British Airways flights to Europe, the out of pocket cost for an award ticket may only be $200 less than the regular ticket price. In the end, you would be saving only $200 with the 25–40,000 miles it will require to book your “free” tickets.
- There are often significant downsides to using frequent flyer tickets. You won’t earn new miles on the trip. Perhaps more importantly, you will often find yourself taking less convenient flights, in an effort to take advantage of the limited award space that is available.
On the other hand, if you can take advantage of a “sweet spot” to use 25,000 miles to book a trip from the East Coast to Hawaii (which would otherwise have cost $800), you are getting 3.2 cents in value per point.
Many programs have moved to dynamic pricing, where the number of miles required is tied much more directly to ticket prices, often limiting the value per point to around 1 cent each.
When you can find award availability, the required number of miles has risen. And the cash prices for tickets has fallen. That said, you should occasionally be able to find well-priced convenient options.
For most people, we recommend holding onto your miles, unless you are getting 1.5 cents each or more. While you typically can't get this much value from your frequent flyer miles, you should eventually be able to do so—you usually want to hold onto them until you can. There are semi-frequent award sales with well-priced tickets in competitive markets, sweet-spots in different award programs (where you can book tickets for less than the normal number of points); routes where the regular prices are still high; and the opportunity to book award space far ahead of time.
But because frequent flyer miles are hard to use, we only value a typical airline mile at around 1.2 cents each. In other words, while we expect to eventually get 1.5 cents or more in value, we wouldn't pay more than 1.2 cents each to acquire frequent flyer miles. This discount offsets the effort involved to use the miles and the less convenient flight options we are likely to settle on.
Get more value with business and first-class award tickets
Things look different when you want to use your miles to get business or first-class award tickets or upgrades.
- When you use your miles to book premium-cabin international award tickets, you’ll get much more “face-value” from your miles—often 4 cents or more. For example, a business class round trip to Europe might cost $4,500. If you use 115,000 United points, that works out to about 4 cents in value per point. Some first-class tickets are priced high enough that you might theoretically get over 10 cents in face-value from your points.
- However, the real value of premium award tickets is based on how much you would have otherwise paid for the flights. If you would have paid the full cash price for premium-cabin seats, you are getting the full face-value from your award tickets. Anyone who would have actually paid out-of-pocket for an international business or first-class ticket is getting a great deal when they are able to use award tickets instead.
- Regardless of how much you value the tickets, you will need to earn a lot of points before you will be able to make a premium cabin redemption and it can be very hard to find availability. It will typically take around 200,000 points to pay for a round trip business class flight for two to Europe and 600,000 points for a family of four to fly on business class on a dream trip to Africa. That represents a lot of credit card spending or signup bonuses. So, if you realistically aren’t going to be generating many points from your spending, you are usually better off planning to use your points in a different way.
But if you wouldn’t normally consider paying more than $300-500 extra for a business class upgrade on an international flight, premium cabin redemptions are much less valuable than their face-value. Perhaps the tickets are only worth $1,000 or $1,500 to you. If so, you might still be only getting 1–1.5 cents in value from a typical redemption.
In other words, many people might feel they get more value from using their points for two coach tickets or a bunch of hotel nights, rather than a single business class ticket; while other people would prefer spending a bunch of points to fly in a business or first-class seat they could never afford (or convince themselves to pay for).
In addition, you can’t always assume you’ll be able to find two business or first-class seats on the same flight, let alone four. While it is hard to find regularly priced award availability in coach, it is much harder to find it in business or first class.
The value of different types of miles
The value for different types of frequent flyer miles varies based on the program's award charts, policies and fees, partner networks, and award availability.
- Points from foreign airlines can be just as valuable as points from US airlines, even if you never plan to fly on that airline. For example, you may dismiss getting a credit card that offers British Airways points because you don’t often fly British Airways. However, British Airlines and American Airlines both belong to the Oneworld Alliance, so you can use your British Airlines points to book saver award space on American Airlines (as well as a bunch of other partners). In some ways, points on British Airlines can be even more valuable than American Airlines miles. Their program is distance-based, so it requires fewer miles when you are taking shorter American Airlines flights.
- On the other hand, it is getting harder to use points from partner programs, especially for US-based airlines. If you are planning to book most of your award tickets on American, Delta, or United, it might be a lot easier with their own miles than with a foreign frequent flyer program. A ticket may only require a little more than the normal number of miles, but not be true "saver" space, and thus not available through most or all partner programs. Keep in mind that Membership Rewards points can be converted directly to Delta miles, Ultimate Rewards points can be converted directly to United miles, and (for now), ThankYou points can be converted directly to American Airlines miles.
- As discussed above, the base value of frequent flyer miles depends on your how frequent flyer programs work for you. If you are willing to deal with the extra complexity, have a great deal of flexibility, and/or place a high value on premium seats, miles are more valuable.
- If you plan to use your points for economy-class tickets, the value of a typical frequent flyer mile is around 1.2 cents. On many trips, you won’t find an opportunity to use your points at all. When there is award space available, you often won’t be able to get this much value from your miles. But, when you do get a good opportunity to use your points, you can get 1.5-2 cents per point. We discount the value somewhat due to the difficulty of finding these good value redemptions (especially with more attractive flight options).
- If you assign a high value to business and first-class award tickets and plan to use your points in this way, the value of a typical point is 3-4 cents. You’ll sometimes be able to get more value than this. It can be very hard to find award space when you need it, so you'll need to be lucky or flexible to use your miles for premium cabin seats, especially as a couple or family.
- If you value business and first-class seats less highly, the value of a typical airline mile is closer to 1.2 - 1.5 cents again. If you only value a business class seat at a premium of around $500, the extra value you’ll receive when you can find premium cabin availability is balanced out by the extra miles required.
- If you don’t want to spend much time mastering frequent flyer miles, their value is probably still around 1 cent per point. It becomes easier to find redemption opportunities when you only require 1 cent per point. You can start finding opportunities to user your points on more expensive anytime awards or for less expensive flights. Even if you are willing to accept 1 cent per point, it can still be hard to use miles from foreign airline programs.
- From these base values, the relative value of points for different programs depends on their award charts, policies, and partners. If a program often offers lower-than-normal price rewards, has particularly good redemption policies, doesn’t charge excessive fees, and/or has a good set of useful airline partners, their points are more valuable. For example, Alaska Airlines has a good partner network, offers reduced priced short-distance awards, has some great values in their partner award charts, isn’t particularly stingy with availability, and is the only airline that allows a free stopover on a one-way award, making their points more valuable than many of their rivals.
Due to the major alliances and partner programs, points from almost any frequent flyer program are useful to almost everyone.
Of course, what matters most is how the program will work for you. If you frequently fly to Central America or Korea, programs that offer less expensive redemptions to those regions are more valuable. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter that those sweet spots exist.
Here are the current set of values from a few popular websites, While they may not be accurate guidelines, they should give you an idea of which airline points are more or less valuable than others.
|One Mile at a Time||Points Guy||View from the Wing|
|Major US Airlines|
|Air Canada (Aeroplan)||1.4||1.5||1.4|
|Air France / KLM (Flying Blue)||1.3||1.2||1.2|
|Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles)||1.2||1.3||1.3|
|Lufthansa (Miles & More)||1.2||1.4||1.2|
Some frequent flyer programs use “fixed-value” points. Most programs fix the number of miles needed for an award ticket to a specific region of the world—the value per point varies based on the ticket price. Fixed value programs fix the value of a point——the number of points you need to book the award varies based on the price.
For example, on Southwest airline, a round trip domestic ticket doesn’t cost a fixed 25,000 points. The award price of the ticket is determined by dividing the ticket price by between 1.2 - 1.6 cents per point. There aren’t really good or really bad opportunities to use your points and there aren’t issues with award availability—you’ll get roughly the same value per point, regardless of when you use them.
Fixed-value credit card points
Programs that let you use your points to "purchase" travel are called “Fixed Value” programs, because each point is generally worth a fixed amount of cash towards your purchase. For example, every point you earn from the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card is worth a fixed 1.5 cents towards travel purchases. Points from most of these programs are worth 1 cent each.
- Some of these programs allow you to "erase" any travel purchase you make with your card. After you use the card to buy travel, you go to the credit card company website and use your points to eliminate the charge (or part of the charge) from your bill. For example, you can go to Hotels.com, use your card to pay for a hotel for $89, and then use $89 worth of points (usually 8,900 points) to refund the cost.
- Points from these programs are about as valuable as real cashback. Most people are going to spend enough on travel each year that they will be able to easily use any points they earn. You can buy on any website you want or directly from a travel provider. You can use your points to offset a very wide range of travel purchases, usually even things like car share rides, subway tolls, theme park tickets, and the taxes and fees on your award tickets. In many cases, you'll still even earn new rewards on the purchases you later eliminate.
- The main downside is that you will need to use the card for at least some of your travel purchases, instead of a different card that you might prefer. For those purchases, you might earn a less valuable reward rate or miss out on free travel insurance.
- Other fixed-value programs force you to purchase directly through the credit card company's website. They work with a third-party company to offer their own travel booking site, sort of like Expedia, but not as good. Sometimes they will give you more value per point when used to make airfare purchases than other types of travel purchases. For example, your points may be worth 1.5 cents towards airfare, but only 1 cent towards hotels and car rentals.
- Points from these programs aren't as valuable as their full "face value". While they charge standard prices for hotels, car rentals, and usually cruises, you can get almost always get better deals elsewhere. With hotel bookings, you won't be able to take advantage of the hotel's loyalty program.
- A few programs have some trickier rules for getting maximum value from your points. Sometimes you can only use your points for the full value of a purchase. If you don't have enough, you can't use your points. When you do have enough to make a purchase, you are likely to have leftover points that will be hard to use on other purchases. Sometimes you need to use a block of points to make a purchase of "up to" a dollar amount, such as for a ticket purchase of up to $400. If the purchase is less than that, you aren't getting the full theoretical value from your points.
- You often also have the option of using fixed-value points for other things (such as gift cards or merchandise), but you'll get the best value per point on travel purchases.
Airfare prices are more standardized across the web. But with the credit card websites you sometimes can't book basic economy fares, you usually won't receive any free credit card travel insurance, it is always less convenient than booking directly with the airline, and you may miss out on small amount of extra rewards you could have earned by booking through a different travel booking site. And some of these sites tack on small extra fees and have extra cancellation charges (or no cancellations!)
Due to the limitations of booking through the site, if points are counted 1 cent towards travel purchases, we would value them as worth between .8 and .9 cents.
"Transferable" credit card points
Each of the three biggest credit card companies operate their own reward program. Amex’s is called “Membership Rewards”, Chase’s is called “Ultimate Rewards”, and Citibank’s is called “ThankYou Rewards”.
The points you earn from these programs can be transferred to any of a bunch of different airline and hotel loyalty programs where they can be redeemed for free airplane tickets and hotel rooms. In addition, you can use these points (like cash) to pay for most hotels, airline tickets, and other travel.
The points that you earn with the Marriott hotel program can also be transferred (at favorable rates) to airlines partners. Even though they are technically hotel points, they act enough like transferable credit card points to be part of the same discussion.
In addition, Diners Club, Capital One, and HSBC operate similar, but smaller, transferable rewards programs.
- Transferable credit card points are almost always more valuable than frequent flyer miles. Instead of being locked into a single program, you can transfer your points to several different frequent flyer programs. This lets you redeem award tickets for almost any airline and take advantage of whichever partner program offers the lowest priced redemptions for your trip.
- For most people, the value of Ultimate Rewards points are based on the value of their non-frequent-flyer redemptions. Since you can get such good value from using your points for Hyatt hotels, the points are still worth a lot, even if you don't highly value frequent flyer miles. In any event, they have a floor at around the 1.5 cents per point "cash out" value with the Sapphire Reserve. If on the other hand, you highly value frequent flyer miles they will be worth even more.
- If you highly value frequent flyer miles, Membership Rewards points are the most valuable. They have the most partners and the most frequent transfer promotions, justifying a higher premium over regular airline miles. ThankYou Rewards is probably next, but Ultimate Rewards points are close. Introduction to 'Transferable' Reward Points.
- If you have the Amex Business Platinum card, you can redeem your Membership Rewards points for 1.54 cents each when you use them to buy airfare—placing a floor on the value that points are worth. However, to make this approach work, you need to be eligible for a business card, pay an additional annual fee of $595 (which can be partially offset by some credits and benefits), and maintain a large balance of points.
- Marriott points are the most flexible. You can get good values per point when you redeem them for Marriott hotel rooms, they have the widest set of airline partners, and you’ll get 25,000 miles every time you redeem 60,000 points. But because of their long transfer times, there is some risk that any award space will disappear while you are waiting for your points to transfer.
- If you highly value business and first-class award tickets and are willing and able to build up large amounts of points, the value of transferable credit card points are over 4 cents each. They will be far more valuable than any other type of reward points.
- If you don’t really want to mess around with frequent flyer miles, the value of transferable points depends on their other redemption options. Ultimate Rewards, Marriott and Capital One points deliver a lot of relative value even if you never redeem them for typical award tickets. ThankYou and Membership Rewards points don’t (unless you have the Business Platinum Card).
Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, Thank You points, and Diner's Club points transfer to airlines on a 1:1 basis. The value you can get from these points is about the same as you can get from miles in a good frequent flyer program, but since you can redeem your points on almost any airline, you’ll find opportunities to get those values much more frequently. And since you can take advantage of a cheaper-than-normal option for each trip, your typical award ticket might, on average, cost 20% fewer miles.
That means that transferable points would be around 20% more valuable than a typical value for a frequent flyer mile.
Marriott points transfer to Airline miles at a rate of 3 points to 1 mile, but you'll receive 25,000 miles for every block of 60,000 points you transfer. Capital One points transfer at a rate of 4 points to 3 miles (or 4 points for 2 miles for Singapore or Emirates). So, these points are worth less than an airline mile (but you'll earn at least 2 points per dollar).
|Ultimate Rewards||Membership Rewards||ThankYou Rewards||Marriott||Capital One|
|If you highly value business and first-class tickets||At least 3 - 4 cents per point, sometimes much more||1 - 1.5 or more||2 - 3 or more|
|If you are patient and take advantage of coach tickets||1.5 – 2 cents or more||.5 - .8 or more||1 - 1.5 or more|
|Quality of their airline partners||Good||Very Good||Good||The Best (but slow)||Less Good|
|Value of easier-to-redeem redemption options||1.5 - 1.75||1||1||.7||1|
|Value from using points to pay for travel||1.5
(w/ Sapphire Reserve)
(1.54 w/ Business Platinum)
|The “base value” we use for our calculations||1.7||1.5||1.4||.7||1.3|
If you are evaluating your options for a general purpose reward card, you might have the choice of a card that earns 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points, a card that earns 1.5x Membership Rewards points, and a card that earns 2.5% cash-back.
- The math on the 2.5% cash-back card is simple. It earns $250 back for every $10,000 you spend.
- If you highly value premium-cabin award tickets, the Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards cards will each earn points worth at least $450-600 per $10,000 you spend and could earn rewards as high as $1,000 per $10,000. This is much better than the $250 from the cashback card.
- If you are patient and plan to redeem for economy-class frequent flyer tickets, spending $10,000 with the Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards cards will typically earn between $225 and $300 in award travel and might earn as much as $450. This is usually better than the cashback card but requires more time and effort. You would more strongly prefer the Ultimate Rewards card over the Membership Rewards card, because you would also have the option of redeeming at good value for Hyatt hotel rooms or other easy redemption options
- If you want to earn rewards more easily and more often, the Ultimate Rewards card should offer at least $255 in value when you redeem for Hyatt hotel. This is slightly better than the cashback card, plus there is additional upside to get even more value on particularly good redemptions. However, the Membership Rewards card doesn’t have any good options other than cashing-out at 1 cent per point, which would only give you $150 in value. So, in this scenario, 1.5x Ultimate Rewards > 2.5% cash-back >> 1.5x Membership Rewards.
- However, if you have the Amex Business Platinum card, you can cash-out at 1.54 cents per point (on your favorite airline), and see at least $230 from your Membership Rewards points, which probably tips the balance versus the cashback card (due to the possibility of redeeming for much more).
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