Credit card reward programs are a great way to save money while traveling. But how much are they really worth? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. The value of your miles or points varies from one program to another. Even within the same program, the value of your points will change depending on how you redeem them. So nobody can tell you how much your points are worth without knowing how you plan to use them.
However, we have studied the main programs and estimated their value so you can see which ones offer the best value.
How do you calculate the dollar value of points and miles?
To compare loyalty programs, you’ll need to understand the dollar value of the airline miles and hotel points that each offers.
The math is simple. Just take the cash price of your flight or hotel room and divide that by the number of miles or points that you would spend on it.
For example, if you used 25,000 miles to book a flight that would have cost $250, each point is worth roughly 1 cent. $250 / 25,000 points = $0.01.
So how much are your miles and points worth?
The table below gives an estimate of the cash value of a point for the major rewards program organized from the highest to the lowest rate. The rate column gives you the value of each point or mile in cents. For example, if you have 1,000 Alaska miles, you can calculate the dollar value by multiplying 1,000 by 0.018, which is $18.
|Rewards Program||Rate||Rewards Program||Rate|
|Amtrak Guest Rewards||2.4||JetBlue TrueBlue Rewards Program||1.3|
|Diners Club Rewards||2||Singapore Krisflyer||1.3|
|Accor Le Club||2||Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles||1.3|
|American Express Membership Rewards||2||United MileagePlus||1.3|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||2||Delta SkyMiles||1.2|
|Alaska Mileage Plan||1.8||Emirates Skywards||1.2|
|Avianca LifeMiles||1.8||Flying Blue||1.2|
|Citi ThankYou Points||1.7||Frontier Miles||1.1|
|Korean Air SkyPass||1.7||Wyndham Rewards||1.1|
|World of Hyatt Loyalty Program||1.7||Bank of America Premium Rewards||1|
|Aeroplan Loyalty Program||1.5||Barclaycard Arrival Miles||1|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||1.5||HawaiianMiles||0.9|
|U.S. Bank FlexPerks||1.5||Marriott Bonvoy||0.8|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1.5||Qatar Airways Qmiles||0.8|
|Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards||1.5||Best Western Rewards||0.7|
|American AAdvantage||1.4||Choice Privileges||0.6|
|ANA Mileage Club||1.4||Hilton Honors||0.6|
|Capital One Credit Card Rewards||1.4||IHG Rewards Club||0.5|
|Etihad Guest||1.4||Radisson Rewards||0.4|
|Miles & More||1.4||Spirit Airlines Free Spirit||0.4|
If you’re earning less than 2% for every dollar you spend on a rewards credit card, you might be better off with a no annual fee cashback credit card. My favorite is the Citi Double Cash credit card. It pays 1% when you make a purchase and 1% when you make a payment for a total of 2% cashback.
How to earn miles and points
Remember the value of a point can vary dramatically depending on how you redeem it. For instance, Delta SkyMiles has a relatively low rate of 1.2 cents per point. But you can do much better than that if you redeem it for a first class upgrade.
You’ll get the highest value on your rewards if you redeem airline miles for flights and hotel points for rooms. Many airlines, hotels, and banks will allow you to redeem your rewards for cash, gift cards, or products, but those redemption values are generally lower.
Want to learn more? This guide will help you understand how to accumulate points, how to redeem them, and how to calculate their true value. We’ll also take a look at several different loyalty programs from airlines, hotels, and banks so that you can decide which loyalty program works best for your lifestyle.
First, let’s start with the basics. In general, how do you earn airline miles or hotel points?
There are many ways that you can earn airline miles and hotel points. Here are a few strategies that you can use to earn hundreds of thousands of miles and points every year.
Take flights and stay at hotels
Of course, the simplest way to earn points and miles is to book flights and stay at hotels. But unless you travel for work constantly, it will be a long time before you earn enough rewards for free travel.
That said, even if you don’t travel frequently, it still pays to sign up for hotel and airline loyalty programs. And if you pair these programs with the following strategies, you can earn even more rewards.
Use co-branded credit cards
Airlines and hotels partner with banks to offer co-branded credit cards. The fastest way to earn rewards fast is to apply for one of these credit cards and earn a sign-up bonus.
In addition to the sign-up bonus, you’ll also earn miles and points every time you make a purchase.
Take advantage of category bonuses
Many credit cards offer additional rewards for shopping with specific types of merchants. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on travel and dining. Other examples of bonus categories include groceries, office supplies, telecom, and gasoline.
Take a look at where you spend the most money each month and then pick a credit card that rewards those bonus categories.
Shop online through a cashback portal
Instead of going directly to an online store, shop through a portal to earn cashback, miles, or points. When you spend through a shopping portal, the retailer must pay a commission to the portal for referring you to them. The portal then shares a portion of that commission with you in the form of cash, airline miles, or hotel points.
If you have a favorite airline or hotel, simply Google “(airline or hotel name) shopping portal.” To find the best offer, consider using an aggregator like Cashback Monitor, which lists all of the shopping portals that offer rewards for your vendor of choice.
Seek out your loyalty program’s partners
Most loyalty programs partner with other companies and reward members for spending money with those partners. For example, travel rewards programs often partner with car rental agencies.
And the rewards don’t stop there. Loyalty programs also partner with utility companies, cell phone companies, satellite television, and bank accounts. If you want to know which companies your loyalty program is partnered with, just check out their website.
How to redeem miles and points
Once you’ve earned enough airline miles or hotel points, how can you redeem them for free travel?
It’s simple: just log into your account, search for the flight or hotel room you want, and make the reservation.
However, you may not always be able to book your desired flight or hotel room with points. Your odds are much better if your timing is flexible. And some airlines are more accommodating than others. For example, American, Delta, and United are members of alliances that give you more options when redeeming for flights.
What are the best rewards programs for airline miles?
The value of airline miles varies from one airline to the next. If you’re shopping around for an airline loyalty program (and a partnered credit card), consider the following:
American Airlines AAdvantage
American Airlines AAdvantage is my favorite program for international flights.
How many miles you’ll need to book a given flight depends on several factors. These include your origin and destination country, class of service, “saver” versus standard ticket, and how many tickets are still available. In my experience, you get the highest value on your miles when you redeem them for a Business or First class international flight on a partner oneworld airline.
American Airlines has two bank partners, Citibank and Barclays, which offer co-branded credit cards. Citibank offers three personal credit cards and one business, while Barclays offers one of each.
- Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.
- Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard.
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard.
- CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard.
- Citibank American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card.
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.
Delta Airlines SkyMiles
Delta’s loyalty program is known as SkyMiles, and lets you redeem miles with their Skyteam partners. The number of miles required to book a Delta flight depends on the cash price of the ticket. However, Delta does offer special flight deals on a regular basis.
Delta’s partnered credit card is American Express. Customers can choose from four personal credit cards and three business cards:
- Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.
- Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.
- Delta Reserve Credit Card.
- Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card.
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card.
- Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card.
For most travelers, the Gold card is perfectly adequate. But for those who want higher status with Delta, the Platinum or Reserve versions will get you there quicker (as long as you meet certain annual spending goals).
JetBlue TrueBlue points
JetBlue is a secondary carrier to the big three, but they have a great reputation among travelers. Like with Delta, the number of miles you’ll need to use to book a flight largely depends on the cost of the ticket.
JetBlue’s partnered bank is Barclays, which offers two personal credit cards and one business:
- JetBlue Card.
- JetBlue Plus Card.
- JetBlue Business Card.
Although the Plus Card has a $99 annual fee, it is our recommended JetBlue credit card. With the Plus Card, you’ll get a higher sign-up bonus, 6x points instead of 3x on JetBlue purchases, and free checked bags for you and up to three companions. Additionally, you’ll receive 5,000 points for every year that you renew the card, plus a 10% bonus every time you redeem JetBlue miles for an award flight. Big spenders will earn JetBlue Mosaic status after spending $50,000 in one calendar year.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
Southwest isn’t just a domestic airline anymore — they’ve expanded their flight offerings to Mexico, the Caribbean, and (most recently) Hawaii.
Although Southwest only offers Economy seats, there are three ticket classes that you can purchase. Wanna Get Away is the least expensive, Anytime tickets are refundable, and Business Select provides priority boarding and a free drink. And redeeming points for Southwest flights is very straightforward: each point is worth 1.4 cents.
Southwest also offers my favorite benefit of any airline: the Companion Pass. The Companion Pass lets your designated companion fly for free with you on any Southwest flight you take, including flights that you’ve redeemed points for.
Chase has partnered with Southwest to offer three personal credit cards and one business.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.
I upgraded from the Premier to the Priority card because of the annual statement credits, four priority boarding certificates, and higher annual bonus. To me, that makes up for the $50 increase in the annual fee.
United Airlines MileagePlus
Starting in November 2019, United’s loyalty program will become a good deal less desirable. United plans to eliminate their standard award chart and establish variable pricing for reward flights. However, until then, their Star Alliance partners offers great value for international travel.
United’s partnered bank is Chase, which offers three personal and one business credit card:
- United Explorer Card.
- United TravelBank Card.
- United MileagePlus Club Card.
- United Explorer Business Card.
The United Explorer Card is the best bet for most travelers. It provides free checked bags for you and one companion, plus priority boarding. There is a $100 TSA PreCheck or Global Entry reimbursement every four years. And you’ll receive two United Club lounge passes every year upon renewal.
What are the best rewards programs for hotel points?
As always, keep in mind that point values vary widely from one program to the next! For example, one Hilton point is worth much less than one Hyatt point.
When shopping around for hotel point programs and their partnered credit cards, consider the following:
Hilton offers 14 brands with over 5,000 locations across 100 countries. Travelers redeeming Hilton Honors points for their room will find that pricing varies based on the time of year and hotel occupancy.
American Express partners with Hilton to offer three personal credit cards and one business:
- Hilton Honors American Express Card.
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card.
Although the Aspire has a $450 annual fee, it is the best Hilton credit card for frequent travelers. The Aspire earns 14x points for every dollar you spend at a Hilton hotel, which is a far better rate than most cards offer. It also offers a $250 Hilton statement credit every year, one free weekend night upon renewal. Plus, you can earn a second free weekend night if you spend $60,000 or more in a calendar year.
IHG Rewards Club
IHG is the home of my favorite hotel brand, Kimpton Hotels. There are 14 IHG brands and 5,600 hotels to choose from around the world.
Chase offers two co-branded IHG credit cards. Although there is not a business version of the credit card, there are two choices for consumers:
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
- IHG Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card.
The Premier version provides cardholders with automatic Platinum status and an annual free night at IHG hotels. Both credit cards provide the 4th night free when redeeming points for hotel stays.
Marriott has undergone major changes recently. They purchased and merged SPG into their rewards program, then changed their name to Bonvoy in March 2019. Marriott now has 30 brands with over 6,900 hotels across 130 countries.
Marriott’s partnered personal credit cards are issued by Chase, while American Express issues their business and luxury credit cards:
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless from Chase.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express.
- Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express.
The Brilliant card from American Express is my favorite. Each Marriott credit card offers one free night every year, but the Brilliant card’s free night allows for higher level redemptions. Although the Brilliant card has a higher annual fee, it also offers $300 in hotel credit each year, which offsets most of the difference in fee.
World of Hyatt
Hyatt offers a level of service that is unmatched among the other hotel brands. World of Hyatt is smaller than the other brands, with only 850 properties spread across 19 brands and 60 countries. But Hyatt has many of the hotels that travelers adore, such as the Park Hyatt Sydney.
Chase issues the World of Hyatt credit card. Currently, there is only one personal credit card available to apply for, and no business version available:
With the World of Hyatt credit card, cardholders can earn up to two free nights every year. Receive the first automatically when you renew and earn the second after spending $15,000 within your anniversary year.
What are the best rewards programs for bank miles?
Their unrivaled flexibility make bank points some of the most valuable points you can earn. You can redeem them for travel, transfer them to airline and hotel partners, or just cash them in at 1 cent value per point. But which point program is right for you? Consider the following options.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express points are the original flexible currency in credit card rewards. You can redeem your Membership Rewards points to book flights at 1 cent per point, or transfer them to American Express’ nine partnered airlines or two partnered hotels.
There are eight personal credit cards and four business cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards:
- The American Express Gold Card.
- Platinum Card from American Express.
- Amex EveryDay Credit Card.
- Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card.
- American Express Green Card.
- Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express.
- Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express.
- Blue from American Express.
- Business Platinum Card.
- Business Gold Card.
- Blue Business Plus Credit Card.
- Business Green Rewards Card.
With so many choices, there’s sure to be one that fits your spending profile. Pick the one that offers the most bonus points based on your spending and the best perks for your preferences.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Ultimate Rewards are the most sought-after bank points because of the popularity of Chase’s transfer partners. The list includes well-known names like Hyatt, Marriott, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. You can transfer points at a one-to-one ratio to any of these partners. Cardholders also have the option of redeeming points for travel at a value of 1.25 cents per point. Those who have the Chase Sapphire Reserve get 20% more value, at 1.5 cents per point.
There are four personal and two business credit cards available from Chase that earn Ultimate Rewards points:
- Chase Freedom Unlimited.
- Chase Freedom.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve.
- Ink Business Unlimited.
- Ink Business Cash.
- Ink Business Preferred.
I recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It does have a high annual fee, but the $300 annual travel credit offsets most of it. Cardholders earn 3x points on travel and dining worldwide and receive a complimentary Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership. Additionally, their points are worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel expenses.
Citi ThankYou Points
You can redeem ThankYou points at a value of 1.25 cents per point when booking flights and hotels. Citi also works with 15 airline transfer partners and lets you transfer your points to Shop Your Way.
There are four Citi credit cards with which consumers can earn ThankYou points. The business version is currently not available to apply for.
The Citi Premier card is a great choice because it earns 3x points on travel and gas and 2x on restaurants and entertainment.
What to watch out for
Using airline miles and hotel points to travel is great for your travel budget. But keep in mind that this travel is not completely free. When you redeem miles for flights, you’ll still have to pay for taxes and fuel surcharges. If you’re flying domestic, it’ll only cost you $5.60 per person each way. But when you travel internationally, taxes and fuel surcharges can cost hundreds of dollars per ticket. Also, travelers booking free hotel stays using points are still responsible for parking and resort fees at most properties.
Never carry a balance on your credit cards. No matter how many rewards you earn, the interest that you’ll pay on your balance will cost you more than the value of your miles or points.
And always factor in the annual fee. If you find that you aren’t using your card’s perks, shop around for a different card that will better suit your spending habits. Make sure that the value you get out of your rewards program outweighs the cost.
Are you ready to start raking in rewards points? First, make a list of your favorite airlines to fly with. Then, note down which hotels you prefer to stay at when you travel. Before choosing a credit card, make sure that their points are redeemable with your favored airlines and hotels.
Need help? SuperMoney compiled a list of top personal credit cards, including the ones listed above and many more. Compare credit cards here to find the right one for your needs!
Lee Huffman is a former financial planner and corporate finance manager who now writes about early retirement, credit cards, travel, insurance, and other personal finance topics. He enjoys showing people how to travel more, spend less, and live better.