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Making the most of travel rewards requires some understanding of the basic questions, like how much each reward currency is worth. Earning 100,000 points sounds great, but what does that mean in terms of dollars?
To find out, NerdWallet performed a comprehensive, data-driven analysis of 15 airlines, seven hotel programs and nine credit card rewards programs. We compared cash and award bookings across many dates and cities to determine how much actual value you can expect to get from any given points or miles.
How points and miles valuations work
In essence, points and miles valuations are the target cash values applied to travel rewards currencies when redeeming.
Unlike many point and mile valuations, ours are drawn from real-world data. They are not hypothetical or maximized values based on idealized conditions, but actual estimates of how many cents per point or mile you can expect to get when making award bookings.
Basically, we looked up thousands of travel bookings using either cash or miles, and directly calculated the results.
For determining the value of airline miles and hotel points, we picked the 75th percentile value rather than the average or median. This means that for every four searches, we picked the one that offered the highest value. We believe this reflects how travelers shop for award bookings — by comparing cash and point redemptions across several dates.
Consider these values a “baseline” for what you could actually get when using your award currency to book regular trips (i.e., we're not limiting our search just to travel options where you'd receive outsize value).
» Learn more: What are travel points worth and why do they matter?
Airline miles values
How much are airline miles worth?
Keep in mind that the airline points values are based on main cabin economy tickets and exclude premium cabin redemptions.
Hotel point values
The most valuable hotel point goes to Hyatt at 2.3 cents. This is nearly 5x in value higher compared to the lowest on the rung, Hilton.
Credit card point values
Because transferable credit card points offer more complexity and value range than standard travel rewards from hotels and airlines, we offer two separate values for each program or card:
Baseline value. This is the promised value from the issuer when using the points to book travel directly with their internal tools, such as using Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to book travel through the Chase travel portal.
NerdWallet value. This is a combination of the baseline value and the value of each programs’ highest-value transfer partner (per the table above).
How points valuations have changed over time
A few notable trends emerged throughout the pandemic.
Overall, airline miles have increased in value over the last several years. This may be partially due to increases in the cost of cash fares, but not completely, since cash fares actually dropped this year.
American Airlines AAdvantage Miles are the standout this year, rising to 1.7 cents per mile, up from 1.0 cent in 2019 and 2020.
Frontier Airlines miles have also increased significantly in value, and are now worth three times as much as their 2019 valuation.
Hotel points have followed the same trend as airline miles, with values ticking up overall through the last several years.
Hotels have been a mixed bag over the last few years. Marriott is still way down from its 2019 values, and Wyndham has steadily inched upward to claim the #2 spot.
The value of World of Hyatt points dropped this year, but is still way above the pack, and above historical levels.
We collected real-world data on thousands of flights and hotel stays to determine these values.
We compared cash prices to award redemptions for the same flights and rooms. For example, we cross-referenced the cost of flying round-trip from New York to Los Angeles using either cash or award miles. Then, we divided the cost of the cash tickets by the cost of the award tickets to determine a “cent per mile” value for each flight.
These searches were made in August 2023.
Airline valuation methodology
We compared main cabin fares across all airlines. We did not include basic economy fares.
Three of the busiest routes from the airline’s hub.
Three short routes (under 650 miles).
Three mid-length routes (651-1,500 miles).
Two trans-continental routes (over 1,500 miles).
One route from a hub to a small airport.
Ten international routes.
For each airline, we chose three dates for comparison:
Within 15 days of departure.
Six months out.
During peak winter holiday travel (Dec. 22-29).
Hotel valuation methodology
Rates and rooms
For both cash and reward bookings, we selected the lowest-priced refundable room.
We chose five major cities and five midsize cities:
Tampa Bay, Florida.
Buffalo, New York.
For each hotel chain, we selected brands from three categories: budget, mid-tier and luxury (as determined by our in-house experts). We selected individual hotels from each category in each city, when available.
We selected two timeframes for both cash and reward bookings:
Within 15 days of travel.
Four months out.
Credit card valuation methodology
To determine the value of credit card points, we considered:
The value of these points when used to book travel directly with the credit card’s travel portal.
The value of the airline and hotel points to which these points can be transferred, when applicable (based on the separate analyses above).
The number of top-tier travel transfer partners, as determined by our expert panel.
The overall value is determined as: A weighted average between (1) and (2), with the weight determined by (3). The program with the largest number of high-value partners receives a 100% weight on (2), and a program with zero high-value partners receives a 50% weight on (2).
We selected the 75th percentile value for all data analysis.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card