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Middle Age Miles

Recalibrating Our Baseline Values for Points & Miles

baseline value points miles airline hotel credit card amex membership rewards mr chase ultimate rewards ur citi thankyou thank you points typ alaska american avios british airways delta jetblue southwest united best western choice hilton hyatt ihg iprefer marriott radisson wyndham
Middle Age Miles used AAdvantage miles to fly business class to Rome last Spring!

Introduction

When you are earning points and miles and considering possible redemptions, it is critically important to have a general understanding of the value of those points and miles.  All points and miles are not created equal!

Thus, back in September 2018 when we launched Middle Age Miles, we did a full analysis of the value of various points & miles currencies – airlines, hotel programs, and credit card points. The result of this analysis was to create what we call a “baseline value” for major points and miles currencies. Doing this analysis allowed us to help Middle Age Miles readers get a sense of the different values of points and miles.

We firmly believe that precision in assigning values is impossible, as different points and miles have different values according to a traveler’s priorities, and reasonable methods of calculating value can vary widely. Our values, therefore, are focused on assigning a “baseline” value to each points-and-miles currency. In our view, a “baseline” value is a value that readers should be able to generally obtain without too much trouble.

Of course, actual redemption values may be significantly higher than these baselines, depending on the quality of the redemption (or dramatically lower, for the uninformed!).  There is no pure mathematical formula for these baseline valuations; rather, Middle Age Miles uses its research in the industry and its experience in formulating its baseline values.

There have been many changes in the points-and-miles landscape since we did our original baseline values in September 2018. For the most part, we haven’t made incremental adjustments; although we’ve made some adjustments in the face of major changes like those in the Marriott and Wyndham programs. Thus, to start 2020, we wanted to perform a comprehensive review to bring all of our “baseline values” for points and miles up to date.

In this article, we’ll cover the major US airlines and major hotel loyalty programs. As for international airlines, we’ll discuss Avios (used by British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus), but for other international programs we simply don’t have enough experience to assign meaningful baseline values at this time. Finally, we’ll cover the primary transferable US credit card points programs.

[After we publish this article, in the next few days we will bring all of our Resources articles current with our updated analysis.]

Airline Baseline Mile Values - January 2020

Airline Mileage ProgramBaseline Value
(Cents Per Mile)
Alaska Mileage Plan1.5
American AAdvantage1.25
American Business Extra11
Avios (British Airways, Iberia & Aer Lingus)1.25
Delta SkyMiles1.2
JetBlue TrueBlue1.3
Southwest Rapid Rewards1.3
United MileagePlus1.25
There’s still good value to be had using AA miles on partners, like on our recent 70,000-mile business class seats on a Royal Jordanian 787-8 from Amman to Chicago O’Hare

Our baseline values for airline miles have remained remarkably stable since September 2018. Here’s a synopsis of our thoughts:

Alaska – Despite some changes in the program, we believe that Alaska miles have retained their 1.5 cent-per-mile (cpm) value.

American – AA’s recent implementation of dynamic pricing has dramatically changed the landscape with respect to AA miles. But in our view, the benefits of dynamic “Web Special” pricing and the increases in other prices (especially international business class) roughly offset one another (even though the net impact to us personally is probably negative). Fortunately, international partner award prices have remained steady. Thus, we’ve left our baseline value for AA miles at 1.25 cpm.

American Business Extra – We hadn’t published a baseline value for American Business Extra points in the past, but in some articles we’ve referenced a baseline value of 10-12 cents per point (cpp). We believe that value is on-point, so we’ve established a baseline value of 11 cpp at this time.

Avios – We’ve found excellent value using Avios for short-haul flights on AA (and also on a recent short flight on Royal Jordanian from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Amman, Jordan). We’ve often gotten at least 2 cpm in value from these flights. Long-haul flights remain problematic, with excessive fees. Given the value of the short-haul flights, we’ve actually bumped our Avios baseline value up slightly to be on a par with AA miles, from 1.2 to 1.25 cpm.

Delta – “SkyPesos” are much maligned, but there have not been meaningful changes to the program since September 2018. If anything there are more flash sales for award flights now, which can provide great value, as opposed to the sky-high pricing for many award flights (especially international flights). We’ve left our baseline value at 1.2 cpp.

JetBlue & Southwest points remain basically fixed-value propositions, so we’ve left their baseline values unchanged at 1.3 cpp each.

United – The change to dynamic pricing has really hurt the value of United miles in our view. We used to be able to make redemptions of United miles for greater than a cent and a half rather easily; now those opportunities are much fewer and further between. As a result, we’ve decreased our baseline value of United miles from 1.4 cpm to 1.25 cpm (same value as AA miles and Avios as we believe they’re very comparable now).

Hotel Loyalty ProgramBaseline Value
(Cents Per Point)
Best Western Rewards0.4
Choice Privileges0.6
Hilton Honors0.45
Hyatt (World of Hyatt)1.5
IHG Rewards Club0.45
iPrefer (Preferred Hotels)0.2
Marriott Bonvoy0.67
Radisson Rewards0.4
Wyndham Rewards0.7
Just a little over a year ago, Middle Age Miles stayed at the Wellesley Knightsbridge in London for 60,000 Marriott points per night; now the same hotel costs a minimum of 70,000 points and up to 100,000 points/night on Peak dates!

We’ve seen lots of changes to hotel points programs since September 2018. Some changes have been major, such as the massive overhaul of Marriott Bonvoy and the major changes by Wyndham Rewards last year. Others have been much more gradual, such as through hotel category changes.

Best Western implemented major changes to its Rewards program in late 2019, including introducing new high-end award pricing at 56,000 and 70,000 points, whereas the previous high-end price was only 36,000 points. Other useful features of Best Western Rewards were also removed. The changes are well-covered by Loyalty Traveler in this article. As a result, we’ve dropped our baseline value of Best Western Rewards points significantly, from 0.55 cpp to 0.4 cpp.

Choice – With Choice, not much has changed about the program since September 2018; however, we’ve learned a lot more about how to get good value from Choice Privileges, especially in Europe, as we chronicled in this article:

  • Middle Age Miles: Choice Privileges – 17 Good Facts and Tips to Know (May 13, 2019)

As a result mostly of our own improved knowledge, we’ve actually increased our baseline value for Choice Privileges points from 0.5 cpp to 0.6 cpp.

Hilton & IHG – With Hilton and IHG, we haven’t really seen major changes in the program, just gradual erosion in points values through hotels simply requiring more points for redemptions. The vast majority of points redemptions available each of these programs seem to be in the range of 0.35-0.4 cpp, but at the same time, there are plenty of opportunities to score outsized value even up to 1 cent per point. Because of the erosion of a high volume of redemption opportunities, we’ve decreased our baseline values for both Hilton & IHG from 0.5 cpp to 0.45 cpp.

Hyatt – Hyatt has been a stalwart in the hotel loyalty program world, in our view maintaining its value over time. We’ve seen the addition of many, many hotels to the World of Hyatt program, through Hyatt’s acquisitions and its partnership with Small Luxury Hotels (SLH). Its recent announcement of the introduction of Peak/Standard/Off-Peak pricing in March 2020 looks like a bit of a devaluation, but not too bad all things considered and it also contains some opportunities. The changes were covered by Doctor of Credit in this article. We still have our eye on how Hyatt will implement Peak/Standard/Off-Peak pricing once it goes live, but for now we are maintaining our baseline value of Hyatt points at 1.5 cpp.

iPrefer – iPrefer points have a fixed redemption value of 0.2 cpp, so that’s where we’ve set our baseline value.

Marriott – Marriott has hit us with wave after wave of devaluations over the past year and a half, which we’ve covered in great detail on Middle Age Miles. We had previously reduced our baseline value for Marriott points down to 0.7 cpp. After studying the most recent devaluation further, especially the impact on hotels at the highest end (Category 8 hotels require a minimum of 70,000 points per night Off-Peak, and as high as 100,000 points on Peak nights), we’re going to drop our baseline value of Marriott points a little further, to two-thirds of a cent per point (0.67 cpp).

Radisson – Radisson Rewards points remain unchanged at 0.4 cpp.

Wyndham – Before its change in 2019 to a three-tiered redemption value system (7,500/15,000/30,000 points), the value of the Wyndham program was in its smallish handful of higher-end properties at the one-tier price of 15,000 points per night. In the new three-tiered system, the higher-end properties are now 30,000 points per night, slashing the points value by half at those properties. We weren’t quite as harsh. We’ve continued to find some value in the program, particularly at the 15,000 point level (especially in Europe), so we previously dropped our baseline value for Wyndham points from 0.9 cpp to 0.7 cpp. We’re holding the 0.7 cpp valuation at this time.

Points CurrencyBaseline Value
(Cents Per Point)
Amex Membership Rewards1.5
Chase Ultimate Rewards1.5
Citi ThankYou Points1.25
On our recent trip to Cyprus & Jordan, we used Citi TYPs to purchase premium economy tickets and used AA SWUs to upgrade to business class on the DFW-to-LHR leg

For the major credit card transferable points programs, we’re sticking with the values we’ve been using in our articles for many months – 1.5 cpp for Amex Membership Rewards (MR) and Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR); 1.25 cpp for Citi ThankYou Points (TYP).

In some sense, these are the simplest points to value. Our baseline point values are pegged to the rate at which you can redeem the points for airfare (and sometimes other travel expenses) through the credit card company’s portal. Those are fixed values, they are exceptionally easy to redeem, and they come with all the benefits of paid tickets including elite mileage earning.

Obviously, though, there are two sides to each transferable points currency “coin.” One is a negative – for each currency, you must hold a premium credit card with an annual fee in order to achieve the “baseline” redemption value through the portal. The other is a big positive – by virtue of the ability to transfer the points to various airline partners (and for Chase, to Hyatt for hotel redemptions), you have a wide range of possibilities available for you to achieve outsized value for these credit card points. Given that these factors cut both ways, we feel like the most reasonable “baseline” value is the pegged rate you receive if you hold a premium card.

For Citi, it’s pretty easy to get the pegged 1.25 cpp rate for redemptions through the Citi ThankYou travel portal – just hold a Citi Premier card with a modest $95 annual fee. You’ll even get a 10% rebate on your first 100,000 TYPs redeemed each year if you also hold a no-fee Rewards+ card.

For Chase, to get 1.5 cpp on your travel portal redemptions, someone in your household will need to hold a Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) card. That card has a $450 annual fee, but it’s partially offset by an easy-to-redeem $300 annual travel credit. But also with Chase, you can transfer to its airline travel partners or Hyatt if you hold a less-expensive Chase Sapphire Preferred card or Chase Ink Preferred business card ($95 annual fee for each). We give Hyatt points a baseline value of 1.5 cpp themselves, plus Hyatt and Chase’s airline partners give the opportunity for outsized value. Given all that, 1.5 cpp seems like a relatively easy-to-achieve value for Chase UR points.

Amex presents the most difficult case to justify pegging our baseline value to the portal redemption rate. To receive ~1.5 cpp through the Amex portal, you must hold a Business Platinum card and you are limited to booking airfare (either with a single airline that you must designate in advance, for economy bookings, or on any airline, for first & business class bookings). The Amex Business Platinum card comes with a hefty $595 annual fee, and its credits & benefits are more difficult to redeem for value than the CSR’s $300 travel credit. In addition, Amex MR points are redeemed at 1 cpp in the first instance, and then the Business Platinum card provides for a 35% points rebate. You have to have the full amount of points in your account to redeem at 1 cpp, then you have to wait for at least 30-60 days to get the rebated points back. (With the rebate, you’re actually getting about 1.54 cpp for your MR points; for instance, a $1,000 flight costs a net 65,000 MR points after the rebate = 1.54 cpp. And in fact, Amex often has “Insider Fares” for Pay-with-Points redemptions that reduce the fare by 3-10% and thereby increase the redemption value to the 1.6-1.7 cpp range.) [NOTE: Also, see the comment from Rob below, about a sort-of “points + cash” option if you don’t have enough MR points in your account to cover the entire cost of a ticket.]

Still, though, Amex MR points are transferable to airline partners, where you can get outsized value by cherry-picking redemptions. And, you can gain this ability even by holding a no-fee card such as the Amex Blue Business Plus (no need to hold an expensive Business Platinum card or any fee-bearing card at all!). Given these circumstances, we believe that it’s reasonable to place our baseline value of Amex MR points at 1.5 cpp.

Wrap-Up

We hope you’ve enjoyed our thoughts on baseline point and mile values and how they’ve changed over the past 16 months. We feel like our “baseline values” are useful tools in assessing the value of various deals and creating our points-and-miles earning strategies. We also feel like our “baseline values” are helpful in assessing our redemptions, to help us sort out how to utilize our points and miles most effectively.

There’s a lot more that goes into points-and-miles strategies, of course, including the rate at which you can earn points (especially on the hotel side) and your own personal circumstances in terms of what credit cards you hold and what are your travel preferences. As we said at the outset, there’s no “one size fits all” answer here. It’s our hope, though, that we can give all of our readers a thoughtful and reasonable starting point from which you can make your own smart decisions. As we say at the top of every page of our site, we want to help you live your dreams through travel and points!

What do you think of our baseline values for points and miles? Are there particular currencies that you think we’ve overvalued or undervalued? If so, why? We look forward to seeing your thoughts in the Comments!


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6 thoughts on “Recalibrating Our Baseline Values for Points & Miles

  1. Rob

    I don’t think you need the entire amount of points for Amex Biz platinum. Last year we bought 3 tickets roughly $3,000 each for first class flights for a total of $9,000 roughly. I only had like 700k amex points and they took them all plus charged me $2,000 cash. They then rebated 245k points a few weeks later. So in the end, I paid $2k cash plus 455k points for the 3 first class tickets.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Rob – Thanks for the data point. That’s very interesting – basically a “points + cash” option if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire cost. I’ll add a note to the article for people to check your comment. Thanks again and hope your new year is off to a good start! ~Craig

      1. Rob

        Yes, exactly like a “points+ cash” option. I think it works that way because of their mechanics in the way they do this 35% rebate thing. They charge the card for the full cash amount of the tickets, then they issue you a credit for 1 cent times the number of points you have. So when the $9000 hit the card, a couple days later a $7000 credit posted for the value of the points. Probably only works though if you are spending ALL of your points.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Nice! That looks very cool. I want to hear what happens when you go into a vortex there 🙂 I’ve never been to Sedona but it was one of my Mom’s very favorite places in the world.

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