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The value of points and miles is one of the most important — and confusing — aspects of travel rewards. A 50,000-point sign-up bonus for a credit card sounds great...but how much is it really worth?
To help, we performed a systematic analysis of U.S.-based airline and hotel loyalty programs to determine the value of each brand’s points and miles. If you’re curious about the nuts and bolts, we’ve included a full methodology at the bottom of this article. These are the most important points:
We analyzed over 2,500 real-world data points to determine these values.
For airlines, we focused on economy redemptions and excluded first- or business-class fares.
How to interpret these values
Our valuations are different from many others you may find. That’s because we looked at the average value based on reasonable searches that anyone can do, not a maximized value that only travel rewards experts can expect to reach.
You should therefore use these values as a baseline for your own redemptions. If you can redeem your points and miles for the values listed below, you are doing well. Of course, if you are able to get higher value out of your miles, that’s even better.
We compared real-world hotel stays around the world using either cash or points for the rewards programs below. So these indicate the value you can expect to get from your points for any given redemption, not a hypothetical "maximized" value.
We compared hundreds of real-world routes paying with either cash or airline points/miles to determine the values below. So, unlike other valuations, these are based on the value you can expect to get from your miles for a given itinerary, not a hypothetical "maximized" value.
Not sure whether to book a flight with cash or miles? You can do the math yourself (multiplying the cost in miles by the value, then adding taxes and fees and comparing to the cash price) or use this handy calculator:
We collected real-world data on over 2,500 flights and hotel stays to determine these values.
We compared cash prices to reward redemptions for the same flights and rooms. For example, we compared the cost of flying round-trip from New York to London using either cash or reward miles. We divided the cost of the cash tickets by the cost of the reward tickets to determine a “cent per mile” value for each flight.
These searches were made between July and August of 2019.
We selected the lowest-priced fare class for both cash and award flights. No premium economy, business class or first class fares were compared.
Five of the busiest routes from the airline’s hub taken from the Busiest Domestic Markets by Capacity from The Blue Swan Daily.
Three short routes (under 650 miles).
Three mid-length routes (651-1500 miles).
Two trans-con/long routes (over 1500 miles).
One route from a hub to a small airport.
Five of the busiest routes from the airline’s hub taken from the Busiest International Markets by Capacity from The Blue Swan Daily.
Five direct routes flown by the airline to popular destinations on each continent, determined by busiest cities for tourism from the Mastercard Destination City Index.
For each airline, we chose five dates for comparison:
Within 15 days of departure.
Two months out.
Four months out.
Six months out.
11 months out.
For all of these searches, we avoided travel dates close to major holidays (e.g., within a week of Christmas or New Year’s, etc.)
Rates and rooms
For both cash and reward bookings, we selected the lowest-priced refundable room. Care was taken to include all additional fees (including resort fees) in all searches, and these fees were factored into the valuation.
For U.S. destinations, we chose five major cities and five mid-size cities:
For international destinations, we chose the top 10 busiest cities for tourism (skipping any that had already been covered above) as defined by the 2017 Mastercard Destination City Index:
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 three timeframes for both cash and reward bookings
Within 15 days of travel.
Four months out.
11 months out.
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 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies