Part I: The cent value of miles/points

Best Credit Card Points.jpg

Let us consider a hypothetical situation. Consider the case that you had every cashback/miles/points Credit Card possible. How would you maximize the value of rewards on your spending? This is a complicated question and requires detailed analysis of various credit cards along with the valuation of various miles/points that these cards award. I realize every person might assign different values to miles and points. Nonetheless, to get a reasonably accurate analysis, it is imperative to assign some value (Cent Value – CV) to all mileage and point currencies out there. In the first of the three part analysis, I will try to evaluate all such currencies with a common metric. This will be followed by an extensive research on all credit cards worth our attention. Finally, in the third part, I will analyze the cards considered in Part II based on the valuations in this part.

Value of airline miles

This is a tricky question. I am sure many of you would say that you can redeem about 200k miles in J/F for a round the world itinerary that would have cost at least $20K; giving a 10 cent valuation per mile.

However I value my miles differently. I first calculate the actual dollar price of the itinerary I am about to redeem for, in the cheapest class (that is what I would have paid for!). Let this be P. Now the award flight I am planning to take won’t earn any miles. So I am potentially losing out on say L miles. Now consider the award cost to be A miles and T surcharges+taxes. So, I calculate the net value of the miles used as,

Cent Value (CV) = ((Price(P)-Surcharges (T))/(Award Miles (A)+Miles Lost (L)))*100

After doing this calculation, I can assure you, you would seldom get a value of more than 1.5 cents per mile. This is why unroadwarrior has blogged earlier that the best use of award miles is for tickets of your family and friends who are not frequent flyers.

With respect to the valuation, I must say I find Aeroplan and Alaska miles the most valuable (more than 1.5 cents per mile). Aeroplan has perhaps the most lenient of routing rules and Alaska is the ‘slut of the skies’; it has so many partners in Oneworld and Skyteam, you can almost always use their miles for reward on any route. I would be blogging about that on that in a later post.

However, the whole purpose of the mumbo-jumbo of the CV calculation was to prove my belief that most miles are valued at ~1.5 cents. Note that this valuation is only to compare the value of miles with direct cashback. One can of course never assign precise monetary value to the difference in flying experience between economy, business and first.

I must note however, I find it hard to assign Delta Skymiles a value at par with other miles currencies. It is extremely difficult to get much value out of Delta Skymiles. Though personally I haven’t redeemed Skymiles for less than a Cent Value (CV) of 2 cent per mile, I wouldn’t give Delta miles a CV of more than 1 cent per mile.

So, to summarize,

All airline miles except Delta: 1.5 cents

Delta Skymiles: 1 cent

Other Related Programs

Membership Reward Points: 2 cents

The flexibility of transferring to a number of airlines ensures that you get the best value for your point. I would not value them less than 2 cents/point.

Value of Hotel points

This is relatively straightforward. But again, relative values may differ from person to person. Loyalty Traveler has an excellent commentary on the general range of values for various hotel points. Nevertheless, to compare the value of hotel points earned from credit cards with direct cashback, it is imperative to assign fixed values to the hotel points.

For my analysis, would invoke the same argument as for airline miles to assign CV to all point currencies. Let the price of the cheapest hotel room be P and the points you would have earned on it be L. Let the cost of the award be A points and T taxes. Again:

Cent Value (CV) = ((Price(P)-Award Taxes(T))/(Award Points (A)+Points Lost (L)))*100

The best part of hotel awards is that there are no costly taxes and surcharges (T). Nerdwallet estimates the value of various hotel points by averaging over several redemptions. However, they neglect the value of points lost (L) in their analysis. I have tried to assign CV to all relevant hotel points taking into account the points lost (L). In essence, Nerdwallet’s CV is (P/A)*100 while my CV is (P/(A+L))*100.

A few assumptions

1. To calculate L/P, I have neglected any status bonuses unless the related credit card program comes with a complimentary status. For example, Hilton Amex and Priority Club Visa cardmembers get complimentary Silver and Gold status respectively.

2. I have neglected promotion bonuses unless it is always available. For example, Hilton Amex members get 500 bonus points per booking.

3. The value of L includes the bonus points that you would have earned with the hotel co-branded credit card.

I have included analysis results for the various hotel chains based on Nerdwallet’s point valuation. My personal is different in most cases.

Hotel Reward Program

Cent Value (CV)

Starwood Preferred Guest

2.1

Hilton HHonors

0.5

Priority club

0.6

Hyatt Gold Passport

1.3

Marriot Rewards

0.9

Wyndham Rewards

0.6

Best Western Rewards

0.5

Choice Rewards

0.8

La Quinta Returns

0.8

The details of the analysis for various hotel reward programs are as follows:

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG): 2.1 cents

Nerdwallet value: 2.3 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 2(Base) +2(Amex)=4

The Nomad’s calculation: 2.1 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 3.5-4 cents

Hilton HHonors: 0.5 cents

Nerdwallet value: 0.5 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)=10(Base)+5(Myway bonus)+1.5(Silver Bonus)+ 6(Amex)+500(per booking) ~ 27

The Nomad’s calculation: 0.45 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 0.6-0.8 cents

Note: Stays at Home2 Suites earn only 5 Base points per $. They are excluded from estimation.

Priority club (PC): 0.6 cents

Nerdwallet value: 0.6 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 10(Base) +1(Gold Bonus)+5(Visa)=16

The Nomad’s calculation: 0.55 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 0.6-0.8 cents

Note: Stays at Staybridge and Candlewood Suites earn 5 base points per $.

Hyatt Gold Passport: 1.3 cents

Nerdwallet value: 1.5 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 5(Base) +0.75(Platinum Bonus)+3(Visa)=8.75

The Nomad’s calculation: 1.33 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 1.25-2 cents

Marriot Rewards: 0.9 cents

Nerdwallet value: 1.0 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 10(Base) +3(Visa)=13

The Nomad’s calculation: 0.88 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 0.8-1.2 cents

Note: Only 5 Base points per $ at Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites .

Wyndham Rewards: 0.6 cents

Nerdwallet value: 0.6 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 10(Base) +3(Visa)=13

The Nomad’s calculation: 0.55 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 0.6 cents

Note: Only 5 Base points per $ at Hawthorn Suites .

Best Western Rewards: 0.5 cents

Nerdwallet value: 0.6 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 10(Base) +15(Mastercard)=25

The Nomad’s calculation: 0.5 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 0.5-0.7 cents

Choice Rewards: 0.8 cents

Nerdwallet value: 0.8 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 10(Base) +1(Gold Bonus)+15(Visa)=26

The Nomad’s calculation: 0.66 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 0.7-1.0 cents

La Quinta Returns: 0.8 cents

Nerdwallet value: 0.9 cents

Points Lost per $ price (L/P)= 10(Base) +5(Visa)=15

The Nomad’s calculation: 0.8 cents

The Nomad’s personal valuation: 0.8-0.9 cents

Feedback

The reason I am breaking my post into three parts is to get feedback from you regarding my valuation. If you disagree with any of my valuations, please let me know. I would take that into account and modify the values if required. I must reiterate that the cent value (CV) of various miles and points would be used to determine which cards give the best returns in various spending categories. Hence it is imperative to get the CV of each program in the right ballpark.

Looking forward to your feedback. Please leave your comments below.

- The Nomad

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Posted by The Nomad | 19 Comments

19 Responses to “If you had an infinite wallet, what credit cards would you carry? – Part I”

  1. martin henner says:

    I am not clear.

    Is your analysis of value per point for general credit card charges, or for use when staying at one of the hotels?

    If it is for general credit card usage, have you considered that some cards, like Choice, offer 2 points per dollar spent, while other cards only give one point?

  2. The Nomad says:

    @ Martin, this analysis is for the value of airline miles and hotel points in general. In part 2, I will consider the various credit cards including the Choice credit card. In part 3, I will discuss which credit card gives the best bang for the buck in various spending categories.

    The analysis in this part helps compare the value of rewards earned from various co-branded cards and cashback cards.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Karl Marks says:

    Hey Unroadwarrior! I love your blog and am also totally obsessed with the value of miles and the best use of credit cards. I’ve actually created what I think is the most valuable airline credit card calculator on the internet. It doesn’t do hotels, but it compares every single US airline credit card along with the transfer cards like AMEX and Starwood, and even the cash back cards like Capital One Venture and the Citi Cards. I would love to get your feedback on the calculator. You can use it at http://www.marscreditcards.com. Thanks! Karl

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  5. The Nomad says:

    @ Karl, Thanks for your feedback. Your website is useful. I am trying ot compare all cards out there.

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