What points, miles, and credit card rewards are worth: 2021 valuations

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One of the keys to making the most of your points and miles is knowing what they are worth. That way, when it comes time to redeem them for travel, you’ll know whether you’re getting a great deal or just a so-so redemption. However, all points and miles aren’t worth the same amount — it varies by program and by how you use them.

To make things clearer, we’ve developed a set of valuations that factor in the strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies of 29 popular loyalty programs, including a variety of airline, hotel, and credit card rewards.

Each valuation assigns a cash value to each mile or point (in cents) and consists of three numbers:

  • The lowest represents a minimum threshold, and we advise against redeeming for anything less.
  • The middle number represents a reasonable average, and you should feel comfortable redeeming for any amount in that ballpark.
  • The highest number represents an aspirational (but attainable) value, and any redemption yielding over that amount is a great deal.

Value is subjective and depends on where and how you redeem your rewards — for example, JetBlue points are worth more to someone in Boston (one of JetBlue’s main hub airports) than they are to someone in Boise (which has limited JetBlue service).

Loyalty programs also change with time, so the numbers below aren’t set in stone. Instead, we hope they help you use your rewards wisely by guiding you toward redemptions that offer a good return and away from those that don’t.

What are credit card and bank rewards points worth?

card airline hotel points miles valuations_Bank reward programs (cents per point)

Alyssa Powell/Insider

American Express Membership Rewards offers 19 airline and 3 hotel transfer partners. Most transfers occur instantaneously at a 1:1 ratio (meaning 200 Amex points would equal 200 miles). One great feature of the program is that all points are equal, so any account that earns Membership Rewards points has access to transfer partners.

Booking directly through Amex Travel (as opposed to transferring points) offers a decent return for some business cardholders, but otherwise, it’s a low-value option, since your points are capped at 1 cent apiece in value.

Cards that earn Arrival miles — including the Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, and Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard — are no longer available to new applications, but you can still earn and use Barclays Arrival miles if you’re an existing cardholder.

Arrival miles are worth 1 cent when you redeem them for statement credits against eligible travel purchases. Unfortunately, Barclaycard imposes a $50 minimum redemption threshold for travel charges of $100 or more, so you can’t use these miles to cover smaller charges. Arrival Premier cardholders can transfer miles to 10 airlines, but this option doesn’t add much value due to the subpar partner roster and transfer ratios.

Bank of America Premium Rewards is a no-frills cash-back program that offers a flat value of 1 cent per point. You can redeem points as a statement credit to your Bank of America credit card or a deposit to a linked bank account, with a minimum redemption threshold of 2,500 points.

You can also redeem for travel and gift cards at the same rate, but there’s no incentive to do that when you can get cash instead. 

Capital One miles used to be worth a flat 1 cent apiece as statement credits to cover travel purchases, but the Venture Rewards program now also offers 13 airline and two hotel transfer partners, including several on this list.

Transfer ratios are below average, but good enough to vault this program well above its pure cash-back competitors. Capital One also has no minimum redemption threshold, and lets you pool unlimited miles with other members at no cost.

Chase offers 10 airline and 3 hotel transfer partners, with most transfers occurring instantaneously at a 1:1 ratio. Not all Ultimate Rewards credit cards earn transferable points, but Chase offers a bonus to many cardholders when redeeming for travel directly through the Chase Travel Portal.

You can also redeem Chase points toward grocery, dining and other purchases via the Pay Yourself Back feature added in 2020. Because redemption options differ widely based on which card you have, Chase Ultimate Rewards has a wider valuation spread than other programs.

Citi ThankYou Rewards offers 16 airline transfer partners, with most transfers occurring instantaneously at a 1:1 ratio. However, many of Citi’s airline transfer partners are unlikely to be of much use to the average award traveler (most of Citi’s partner airlines aren’t based in the US). Not all ThankYou Rewards credit cards earn transferable points, and Citi offers a fixed rate of 1 cent per point when redeeming for travel directly through the Citi ThankYou portal.

While the program offers some high upside redemption options, these points are less versatile and less valuable than Chase and Amex counterparts.

Discover miles from the Discover it® Miles
card are worth 1 cent each when redeemed as a statement credit on your Discover card or a deposit to a linked bank account. You can also redeem miles for gift cards with up to 30{b530a9af8ec2f2e0d4045baab79c5cfb9bfdc23e498df4d376766a0b44d3f146} added value, which may make sense if you have an impending purchase.

One great feature is that Discover has no minimum redemption threshold, so you can redeem any amount you choose from a single point to your entire balance.

FlexPerks and Altitude Rewards are functionally the same: Both offer a return of 1.5 cents per point when you redeem toward travel purchases. The major downside is that you have to book through the U.S. Bank travel portal to redeem points online.

Otherwise, you must use the inconsistent Real Time Rewards program to redeem by text for purchases made directly with travel providers.

card airline hotel points miles valuations_Airline programs (cents per point)

Alyssa Powell/Insider

The Aeroplan program was overhauled in 2020, replacing hefty surcharges with a more modest flat fee on partner awards, and adding stopovers on international awards for just 5,000 points.

You can redeem Aeroplan points (formerly called miles) for flights on Air Canada, as well as Star Alliance and other partners that offer huge upside on long-haul premium flights. Aeroplan has a friendly points-sharing policy, and will soon partner with most of the major transferable rewards programs, providing a variety of earning options.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

The upside of Alaska Mileage Plan comes from its roster of international airline partners, but it offers an above-average return on domestic awards too. Mileage Plan members still earn miles based on flight distance (instead of the cash price of a ticket) and can take advantage of a free stopover when redeeming.

Alaska Airlines joins the Oneworld airline alliance later in 2021, so Mileage Plan should be on your radar even if you rarely fly this Seattle-based carrier.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

The American Airlines AAdvantage program uses dynamic award pricing for American Airlines flights — meaning the award cost varies depending on demand, seasonality, and other factors — but still publishes an award chart with ample sweet spots for flights on Oneworld and non-alliance partners. 

While American is the largest airline in the world by many measures, the AAdvantage program does not partner with any of the major transferable bank points programs like Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

British Airways adds high surcharges to awards on its own flights, but you can avoid those fees by using British Airways Avios points to book Oneworld and non-alliance partners — those flights don’t have the same charges added to them.

Thanks to the distance-based award chart, British Airways Avios points are great for short-haul flights outside North America, medium-distance flights within North America, and trips between the West Coast and Hawaii.

Awards are priced per segment (point A to point B with no stops), so these points are best suited for non-stop itineraries.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

Dynamic award pricing (where the number of miles required depends on the cash price and demand for a ticket) generally limits the upside of the SkyMiles program, though a few sweet spots remain when redeeming for international premium seats. That lack of upside means there’s less incentive to milk every fraction of a cent from your SkyMiles.

You get a flat rate per mile from the Pay With Miles feature (for Delta Amex cardholders) and the option to redeem for Delta gift cards, but Delta has a massive route network and many partners, so it’s not hard to find a use for SkyMiles even if the return is uninspiring.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

For those who travel along Frontier’s route map regularly, the simplicity of the Frontier Miles program may be appealing despite its lackluster value and fees for awards booked less than 180 days from departure.

For infrequent Frontier passengers, however, the program’s expiration policy is cumbersome enough to make these miles nearly useless.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

The HawaiianMiles award chart is devoid of true sweet spots, but you can get a decent return on Hawaiian Airlines flights when dynamic pricing works in your favor — that is, when paid tickets are cheap.

The greater problem is that you can generally book those flights at equal or lower rates through other frequent flyer programs, so HawaiianMiles is not a program to target for earning rewards.

Unless you’re flying between Hawaii and the mainland routinely, you’re not likely to accrue enough miles to be of much use anyway, so look to burn these miles at any reasonable opportunity.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

JetBlue’s revenue-based frequent flyer program is easy to understand and use — the number of points required depends on the cash price of a ticket — making it a great option for flyers who value simplicity. TrueBlue also offers a first-rate points pooling feature, adding value for those who travel often with friends and family.

Points never expire, and you have plenty of opportunities to earn more, as JetBlue is the only domestic airline to partner with every major transferable points program.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

With separate award charts for flights on Singapore Airlines, Star Alliance partners, and non-alliance partners, the KrisFlyer program may overwhelm inexperienced award travelers. Nonetheless, it offers sweet spots like opportunities to book first-class seats on Singapore Airlines or discounted awards on United and Alaska Airlines.

KrisFlyer partners with all of the major transferable points programs, so you have abundant options for earning miles. However, those miles expire after 36 months regardless of your account activity, so only transfer miles when you have immediate plans to redeem them.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program isn’t glamorous, but it offers consistent value with minimal hassle, making it one of the most reliable and useful programs out there for North American flyers.

You can book any available seat with points, and the number of points required is directly tied to the price of a paid ticket. Plus, Southwest’s flexible change and cancellation policies extend to award bookings.

If you tend to travel with others, you can stretch your points even further by earning the coveted Southwest Companion Pass, and points earned with Southwest credit cards count toward qualification. 

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

The Spirit Airlines Free Spirit loyalty program recently got a major overhaul, shifting to a revenue-based system (meaning points earning and redemption is based on the cash price of a ticket) and updating elite status levels, points expiration, and the ability to pool points with others.

Award flights start at 2,500 points for the cheapest flights, and the cost goes up in 500-point increments as the regular ticket price increases.

One major drawback of the Free Spirit program is the $50 service charge added to award tickets booked within 28 days of departure (waived for Spirit credit card and elite status holders). The value you’ll get per point significantly decreases if you’re paying this close-in booking fee; in fact, for cheap tickets (under $50) you’ll get no value from your points at all when you factor in the fee, so it’s better to pay cash.

The United MileagePlus program uses dynamic pricing for all awards, including flights on Star Alliance and other partners. You can still find opportunities to book at rates offered by the old award chart, but beware that United may show phantom award space (seats that show up in search but that you can’t book).

On the positive side, United miles no longer expire, and the airline eliminated change fees on most award flights. The Excursionist Perk allows you to add a stop to flights between different MileagePlus regions, adding value to many international awards.

*Marriott transfers receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every increment of 60,000 Marriott points transferred

While Virgin Atlantic is based in the UK, you should get familiar with the Flying Club program if you’re based in North America. The abundance of transfer partners (with occasional bonuses) means you can earn these miles quickly, and then use them to book flights on Delta (and other partners).

A recent program update eliminated many of the most favorable award rates, but you’ll still get a reasonable award change and cancellation policy, and Flying Club miles no longer expire as of September 2020. Just beware of egregious surcharges on flights operated by Virgin Atlantic.

card airline hotel points miles valuations_Hotel programs (cents per point)

Alyssa Powell/Insider

Much like Best Western’s hotel portfolio, Best Western Rewards is light on high-end opportunities. However, since you can redeem points for Best Western gift cards at 0.5 cents apiece, the program offers a stable floor of value.

One place Best Western Rewards shines is its expiration policy; points don’t expire regardless of activity in your account, so you can earn a useful amount over time even if you’re an infrequent guest.

Choice Hotels boasts a massive global portfolio, but Choice Privileges gets overlooked by many award travelers due to the scarcity of high-end properties.

The program has its quirks — awards can only be booked up to 100 days from checkout, and there are no pooling or sharing options of any kind — but it’s a good fit for frequent travelers who care more about convenience than luxury.

Hilton Honors uses dynamic award pricing, so it’s hard to get outsized value when redeeming points. The program’s 12-month points expiration policy is also less friendly than most.

On the plus side, Hilton waives resort fees on award stays, and offers a fifth night free on standard awards for anyone with elite status, adding value to longer stays. Hilton boasts a large and diverse portfolio, so there are ample opportunities to use these points.

Hyatt has a smaller portfolio than other major hotel chains, but offers a higher average return on award redemptions. World of Hyatt lets you book both standard rooms and suites, or redeem points for as much as 1.54 cents apiece toward dining, spa, and other on-property credits.

The program also waives resort fees on award stays and offers a relatively friendly expiration policy. Unfortunately, some Hyatt properties don’t always release standard room availability, and the looming specter of peak award pricing (Hyatt will introduce peak, standard, and off-peak prices in July 2021) makes World of Hyatt points less valuable than they would be otherwise.

IHG Rewards adopted dynamic award pricing in 2020, but that hasn’t substantially devalued these points so far. You can still get a fairly consistent return for free nights and Points & Cash awards, and IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card cardholders can get a fourth reward night free on award stays of four or more nights.

On the downside, IHG Rewards charges a prohibitive amount to transfer points to other members, and the once-lucrative PointBreaks promotion (where award nights at select hotels were discounted to as little as 5,000 points) has steadily declined and is now on indefinite hold.

Marriott Bonvoy axed a lot of sweet spots that made the old Marriott Rewards — before the merger with Starwood hotels — so lucrative, but the program still offers a fifth night free on award stays, mixed Cash + Points awards, and a Points Advance feature that lets you book award stays even if you don’t yet have enough points in your account.

What sets Bonvoy apart from other hotel programs is the ability to transfer points at a viable rate to over 40 airline partners. That gives these points a respectable value floor even if you don’t book hotels often.

Radisson still publishes a fixed award chart with tiered hotel categories and the option to book into both standard and premium rooms. The average return for award stays is low on a per-point basis, but Radisson Rewards offers exceptional earning rates for qualifying stays, so you can accumulate a sizable balance quickly if you have any paid reservations.

The program also features generous expiration and points-sharing policies compared to most competitors. One negative is that Radisson has few high-end properties in North America, so it’s not a great option for luxury-minded domestic travelers.

Wyndham is the largest hotel chain in the world, yet Wyndham Rewards offers just three award tiers. The result is that some properties offer great value for points bookings, but more commonly the opposite is true.

Look for Go Fast points and cash awards to stretch your points and get more consistent value. One major negative of this program: Points expire after four years even with qualifying activity in your account, so use them or lose them.

How we determined our points and miles valuations

Figuring out how much your points, miles, and credit card rewards are worth isn’t an exact science. In a few cases, rewards have a fixed value when redeemed in a certain way (for example, Capital One miles are worth 1 cent apiece when used to “erase” travel purchases made on your card), but otherwise, your rate of return will depend on how, where, and even when you redeem.

Because there are so many variables, we’ve come up with low, average, and high cash values per point or mile in each program by taking sample award searches and typical redemptions into account.

It’s certainly possible to achieve a return that’s much greater than even our high-end numbers, but that involves cherry-picking the most aspirational redemptions (very expensive international first-class flights, for example) that don’t reflect the average reader’s experience.

Here are the factors we considered in determining how much each program’s points and miles are worth:

  • Rate of return
  • Quantity and quality of redemption options
  • Award availability and ease of redemption
  • Expiration policies
  • Sharing and pooling policies
  • Ease of accumulation
  • Miscellaneous factors (like devaluation history, sweet spots, and credit card perks)

With few exceptions, there’s plenty of room for disagreement over how much points or miles are worth. We recommend you use these valuations as a point of reference, and then tweak them as you see fit to suit your needs.

Peter Rothbart is a credit card connoisseur and award travel guru based in Seattle, Washington. A former aerospace engineer and long-time touring musician, he now covers a wide range of topics from business and personal finance to art, sports, and human interest stories.

Jasmin Baron is an associate editor at Personal Finance Insider, where she helps readers maximize rewards and find the best credit cards to fit their lifestyles.