This site is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as CardRatings.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. What is written in the article is the editor's opinion.
- Link: Axiom for Bank Points and Airline Miles
- Link: I Use Miles Because I Won’t Pay Revenue Prices… Right?!
Peeps conceptualize their points & miles in various ways. I’ve heard the argument they’re worth as much as you’re willing to pay in cash – logic that has always failed me. I use points because I won’t pay cash… right?
If I get a $10,000 Business Class flight for say, 50,000 miles – but I’m only willing to pay $1,000 in cash for the flight, does that mean the miles were worth the retail value of $10,000… or my “willing to pay” price of $1,000?
To me, they’re worth up to the cash cost because I typically travel for pleasure. Even though I value most points & miles at 2 cents each (at least!). Which in this case, 50,000 miles would be worth at least $1,000 but actually much more because of the retail price.
Knowing the selling price is the thrill of the deal. That’s the point of points in the first place (or First Class). And often, I use points & because only because of the retail value, despite what I’m “willing” to pay.
So I set my minimum value at 2 cents each because under that, you might as well use a 2% cashback card for the same (or better) result. I collect points for those times when I get outsized value – that’s what makes it worth it. And why I set the points value at – benchmark low – 2 cents each. But it all depends.
In This Post
What’s your points value?
The fact that we swap points for award flights or hotel nights means we give them and get something back. That’s the definition of a currency.
And knowing the retail price is always the deciding factor on whether to pay cash or use points.
In the earlier example:
- 50,000 miles got a flight worth $10,000
- I value 50,000 miles for $1,000
- If the flight cost less than $1,000 (say $900), I’d just pay cash for it
- So are 50,000 miles worth $900 to me (my willing to pay price) or $10,000 (the retail value of the flight)? Or what I value them for?
Do you need it?
The other factor is need-based.
Say this is the only seat on the flight but it’s also the last flight of the day and YOU NEED TO TAKE IT. On this day, you only have $500 to spend. So your “willing to pay price” is $500.
The miles let you access a flight selling for $10,000. On this day, did the miles save you $10,000? Or are they only worth $500 because it’s all you have in this case?
Or do you just want it?
Finally, the decision is pleasure-based.
Say you stumble across this flight and it’s to a cool place you’ve kinda always wanted to visit but wouldn’t necessarily plan a trip for. You hit up your buddy and say hey, award flights to XYZ are wide open for 50,000 miles – wanna take it? So you do. You’d never pay cash for it. The street price is still $10,000. Are your miles now worth nothing because it’s a trip you’d never use cash for?
- Kinda wanna go somewhere easy, free, and warm
- Don’t wanna pay for it, would rather stay home in that case
- I’ll use miles if it brings my cost next to $0
- But I won’t just use my miles unless the trip meets my 2 cents each criteria
- Again, are my points worth 2 cents each, the value of the trip, or nothing because my willing to pay price is $0?
I base it on trip value
For a trip like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, if it was close to 2 cents each, I might not take the trip at all unless I was getting real, outsized value – something like 6 to 10 cents each.
I did the same thing when I flew Lufthansa First Class to Munich for Oktoberfest. Did I NEED to take that trip? No. But I wanted to. Would I have booked it if the points value were low? No.
Because I mostly take trips for pleasure – not out of need – I base the worth of my points on the retail cost of the trip.
For the rare times I’ve NEEDED to take a flight for an emergency, I’m willing to charge an insane amount to a credit card if an award flight isn’t available. If an award flight IS available, I’ll book it. Did my points value fluctuate based on need instead of pleasure? Absolutely.
That’s why your points & miles – your currency – are worth what YOU want them to be worth.
Why 2 cents is the benchmark
- Link: Cashback rewards cards
Simply because 2% cashback cards exist, without annual fees. If you choose to earn points, you should get at least that in value. If you don’t, you should’ve just gone with a 2% cashback card and saved yourself the hassle.
I love using 7,500 British Airways Avios points for $340 one-ways from Dallas, for example. I’d need 34,000 points with a 2% cashback card, which requires $17,000 in spending to earn.
At 1 point per $1 spent, I could also spend $7,500 and get the same flight. A stark difference. And a real example of the magic of points & miles. (In this case, each point is worth over 4 cents apiece.)
Exceptions to everything
Of course, there are promotions. Category bonuses. Sign-up offers. 3% cashback cards.
It’s easy for me to earn Citi ThankYou points. So there might be a time I redeem them for less-than-ideal value just because I don’t feel like paying cash. Yeah, I could pay cash. Or I could just use these points that are easy to replace.
Some cards have 2X, 3X, or 5X bonus categories. If you spend a lot in them, you earn more points. And you might decide to use them to save some cash – even for a cheap trip.
Some hotel points are worth much less than 2 cents each (Hilton and Radisson come to mind). So you might just burn ’em if they’re easy to earn.
There’s nothing wrong with that. But in that situation, you’ve made a snap judgement and set a lower value on your points currency. But if the trip makes you really happy, that’s the ultimate X factor, isn’t it?
Your points are a currency because you exchange them for things you want. But they’re unique because you get to decide their value. And that’s based on:
- Your minimum benchmark (which IMO should be 2 cents each)
- Whether you need to take the trip
- How much pleasure you’ll get from the trip
- How easily you can replace them
I’m definitely in the “pleasure” camp. And for that reason, my points are worth the trip price – which is usually much more than 2 cents per point.
Points valuation is a hot topic. I’ve heard every type of valuation based on what you “would” pay, a benchmark or selling price, or the retail rack rate. Those are all fine. But ultimately, it’s up to you.
And using points to take a trip because it makes you happy, to make memories with friends and family, or to experience something life-changing only adds to the value. That’s the ultimate valuation right there: priceless. And on top of it all, the price can change based on the situation. So it’s really all relative – although I do try to keep to my benchmark of 2 cents each.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you personally value your points & miles? Do you have a minimum benchmark?
BEST Current Credit Card Deals
- Chase Ink Business Preferred - Earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points! and 3X bonus points for travel, internet, and all Plastiq payments! Compare it here.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred - Earn 50,000 Chase points with the BEST card for beginners. Compare it here.
- Blue Business Plus Amex - 10,000 Amex Membership Rewards points! Learn more here. - The BEST card for 2X on everyday spending.