Why Do The Values Some Blogs Give For Miles Make Absolutely No Sense?

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Richard Kerr, formerly of The Points Guy and the Award Travel 101 Facebook group who is now with Bilt Rewards, offered a couple of provocative questions in his Instagram feed.

He asks why some people value clearly less valuable currencies more than a Bilt point. He may be asking about individual program members, but I’m going to ask it of those people who are supposed to know – travel bloggers who publish valuations of different mileage currencies. Much of the work those bloggers are doing fails to hold together.

Since I’m not afraid of making people mad, and I don’t shy away from controversy, I’ll take a stab here. I am transparent on how much I value a single point in each program, including comparing my work to others. And I use that logic to lay out which transferable credit card points programs are best too.

    A majority of my spending has been going on my Capital One Venture X card, because it earns 2 points per dollar on purchases that do not earn bonus points on any other card. However a single Capital One point is worth less than a single Chase or American Express point in my opinion. It’s just that the incremental value of a point in one of those programs isn’t enough to offset the greater earning from Capital One.

To be clear: A single Bilt Rewards point is worth more than a single American Express, Capital One, or Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred point pretty easily if you are going to use that point right now. If you want to make a case for another points currency being more valuable,

  • Someone who redeems their points not for transfers to airlines and hotels, but for travel through a bank portal, Sapphire Reserve’s 1.5 cents per point is more compelling than Bilt’s 1.25 cents (which is itself more lucrative than what American Express and Capital One offer most cardmembers).

  • While Bilt Rewards has both American and United as transfer partners, along with Turkish and Hyatt offering exceptional value, they do not have the long track record of Chase in lighting money on fire to defend their value proposition. That’s just to say that Bilt Rewards is new, while Chase has been willing to re-up their United deal early at considerable expense to preserve Ultimate Rewards transfers and has invested hundreds of millions in rewards expense beyond what they anticipated on the Reserve card.

You might value a Chase point higher than a Bilt point as a store of value based on track record, until Bilt has been around a decade and shows they can keep their unique transfer partners and value proposition. And there are use cases where a specific program may be better for you. For instance, American Express drives tremendous value from its ANA partnership – which most customers do not use. And cards that have Avios programs as transfer partners give you access to Iberia business class transatlantic awards from just 34,000 miles each way.

However these aren’t the legitimate arguments that are usually made. I’ll look at the points valuations from The Points Guy which values Bilt points and Citi points at 1.8 cents, Capital One points at 1.85 cents, and Chase and American Express points at 2 cents.

  • They value American AAdvantage miles at 1.77 cents apiece, versus just 1.8 cents for Bilt – though Bilt transfers to American, along with United, Aeroplan, Turkish, etc. and you can use your Bilt points directly for paid travel at 1.25 cents apiece. There is simply no internal logic that holds those two valuations together.

  • Indeed they value American at 1.77 cents and Hyatt at 1.7 cents yet Bilt – which transfers to both, and others – at just 1.8 cents despite the added value of flexibility? (Remember that TPG values Chase and Amex points at 2 cents, without having a transfer partner they value as highly as American AAdvantage, purely on option value – but they don’t extend that same enhancement to Bilt.)

  • How can they value a single Alaska mile the same as a transferable Bilt point? Especially as Alaska has been adding partners at lower value, signaling possible downward trend in valuation, that requires claiming that an Alaska point is better than the option to transfer to all of Bilt’s partners and the option to use points at 1.25 cents apiece for paid airfare.

  • And they value a Bilt point just 10 basis points more than a Korean Air mile when Korean has announced a massive gutting of the value of its points coming this April.

  • They did not appear to increase their published value for Bilt when Bilt added United’s Mileage Plus, Asia Miles, or 1.25 cent travel portal redemptions.

Kerr certainly did not name The Points Guy and plenty of others publish mileage valuations like NerdWallet, Upgraded Points, and One Mile at a Time (this last of which generally does a good job, though we do have some disagreements). I find the values Award Wallet uses to be insanely high.

So I’ll suggest some broad themes as to ‘why’ there’s bad logic here, and this doesn’t apply specifically to any one site.

  • What card you prefer depends on more than the value of a single point, but remember, each of these valuations is valuing a single point in each program. So it doesn’t matter how many points you’re earning, or what kind of spend you’re doing. We’re looking at the generic question of how much 1 point in each program is ‘worth’

  • And that value changes for individual use cases, and for how many points you already have in a program (points that put you over the top for an award are worth much more, while an incremental point when you already have a million may be worth far less).

But when valuing Capital One miles versus American Express Membership Rewards points versus Bilt Rewards points, remember that Bilt Rewards has a referral program and referral credit is available to all cardmembers but they do not have a traditional affiliate program that I am aware of. They also do not do paid advertising on blogs that I am aware of.

A lot of work in miles and blogs, on blogs, is done by people who do not know very much about miles and points. They often do not realize they do not know very much about miles and points, do not have a lot of context for their history and evolution, and aren’t systematic thinkers on the subject. They think of themselves as an old-timer because they were involved before the pandemic and they’ve booked a few awards. Don’t get me wrong, there are good folks out there, but you shouldn’t believe something just because it’s written on the internet.

Some sites may use motivated reasoning when valuing points. Others may just not be very clear-headed. Still others may just take a consensus of what others write, and publish their own for SEO purposes hoping to reach eyeballs.

As for my valuations, you’re always welcome to challenge them in the comments here. Everyone who offers their own valuation scheme should be equally fair and confident in their argument to do that as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. @ Gary — This sounds like another pitch fot Bilt. Bottom line is that without a SUB, this card is a non-starter for me as a homeowner. Talking it up isn’t going to sell the card. They need to add a big SUB. PERIOD.

  2. For me, points have generally been devalued to the extent that they are essentially unusable except to the extent that they can be cashed out. The alternatives to transferring them to airlines and hotels are travel portals. The various travel portals the card companies use have terrible customer service (read the complaints about the Amex and Chase portals on flyertalk). I’m currently favoring Chase, since I can earn 3x on travel and dining and can cash out at 1.5 cents through dining pay yourself back. I find the valuations by those who earn commissions from credit card affiliate links to be laughable for the most part, at least for my use and travel patterns.

  3. “There is simply no internal logic that holds those two valuations together.”.
    The logic here is that paid shills are involved.

  4. My own personal subjective valuations have changed very markedly since Covid. I used to love Amex points on ANA and AA points for use on CX or JL, but ANA/JL/CX have all been decimated and their routes and frequencies gutted and redemption on them is now nearly impossible (totally impossible in the case of CX unless you want to fly through a ghost airport which will be your prison if you misconnect) and I can’t travel to what was my most common destination – China – at all.

    Amex just sent me a 140K MR Platinum offer which was extremely easy to turn down in light of the lower value of the MR points (to me) against the $600 Annual Fee. I’ve never had a higher points balance or fewer ways to spend them.

  5. The change in usability of points between 2021 and 2022 was the most rapid loss of value in frequent flyer history. If leisure travel demand remains at 2022 levels the programs will need to continue devaluation and offer >100k signup bonuses.

  6. My thoughts are similar to those of Mak. The major downturns of certain airlines and the fortunes of some airports, particularly HKG, have impacted my valuations dramatically. I am saddened by the decimation of some of my favorites, including CX, JL, ANA, and Asiana. This change impacts not just the transferable currencies, but also the most flexible airline programs, such as Alaska, which once provided a fantastic way to book premium seating on some of these great airlines.

    Bilt was well thought out as a market niche and nicely executed. It has expanded in a valuable way. Yet, I am a homeowner and sometimes landlord, and not a renter, so the value proposition isn’t quite so obvious. Then Bilt associated itself with the bank with the worst fraud reputation in the USA – Wells Fargo – whose reputation for scamming their own customers is hard to ignore. That made it an easy pass.

  7. @Gene – there is literally no link to Bilt or any other card in this post. I do think it’s a great no annual fee product for anyone who rents, but that’s not the point here, it’s just prompted by a question posed by someone I suspect is frustrated that Bilt doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in all quarters.

    @Mak – ANA has great value as a transfer partner for transatlantic travel, too, albeit with fuel surcharges on many partners. Hard to be 88,000 roundtrip though of course Turkish offers great value, so does Iberia, and if you can scrounge together Asiana or Aegean points… (but expect Asiana’s value to eventually get decimated by Korean Air)

  8. Transferrable points are really financial options (like the stock options). Options derive their values from two components: their intrinsic value and their time value. The intrinsic value is the value when points are cashed or transferred to a mileage program, so it represents the maximum value you can get now. The time value is what distinguishes options from cash-like instruments. We can exercise these options when we need them to maximize their values. The more valuable transfer partners a program has, the more transfer bonuses the program periodically offer, the greater stability the program has, the fewer restriction the program places on redemptions with, the higher the option’s time value.

  9. There’s always been a paradox when valuing flexible points.

    If X points can be transferred 1:1 to A points or to B points, then clearly you’d rather hold X points than A points (or B points), so that means X > A and X > B. But on the other hand, if to redeem you must transfer, there’s no way to get more redemption value out of an X point than out of an A or B point, so when you finally transfer and redeem, X = max(A,B).

    So I guess the question is, what is that flexibility worth? I think it’s debatable. The more options that are near max value, probably the greater the value of flexibility. If a Chase point can transfer to Hyatt or to IHG, how much added value does the IHG option provide vs if Hyatt were the only hotel option?

    So:
    “”They value American AAdvantage miles at 1.77 cents apiece, versus just 1.8 cents for Bilt – though Bilt transfers to American, along with United, Aeroplan, Turkish, etc. and you can use your Bilt points directly for paid travel at 1.25 cents apiece. There is simply no internal logic that holds those two valuations together.

    As long as they have some premium on the Bilt points, then their position is defensible. If they said a Bilt point was worth *less* than a AA mile, or less than the 1.25 paid rate, then that would be illogical. But they’re just saying the flexibility premium is worth less than you think it is. That’s debatable, of course, but not illogical.

  10. @Gene is right. At the end of the day, without a SUB is a difficult value proposition even for renters. (Yes, a renter should have Bilt to pay their rent anyways). You could open a CSP, meet a SUB and be years ahead of Bilt. With a median rent of $2K it will be 2.5 years before you catch up (assumes no MS).

    I can’t comprehend value given to points by any blogger because in all honesty those values are heavily subjective. I would believe it if they used a statistical analysis of an average redemption value. I personally aim for beating 1.50cpp with UR, MR, C1, Citi, Airlines or Hyatt since I have the CSR and use it as my benchmark. (Other hotels are just not included there obviously).

    Answering Kerrs questions: 1) Because you earn it at 2X and you have other valuable partners like AV and BA.
    2) ANA, Avios, DL (economy domestic), AV.

    Side comment: Getting tired of Kerr bullying Bilt into a position of value rather than actually offering it.

  11. I dunno, I kinda dig the 35% back on Amex points with the Biz Plat. I’m always needing 3 biz class tickets which were hard to score at saver rates on the same flight pre-covid and mostly unattainable now. So I am quite happy with 1.55 cents per point to buy cash tickets through the Amex portal. And if you count the points you will earn with the airline, it takes the redemption value of the Amex point up to 1.7 or more depending on your status and the airline.

  12. I feel like these discussions don’t factor in earnings enough. It doesn’t matter if a Bilt point is worth more than a Chase point if it is easier to earn more Chase points. IMO the best points earning card trio available right now is Amex Platinum + Gold + Green. The next fee for me is negative (I get a lot of value out of the Platinum and Gold credits), and you earn 5x on airfare, 4x on dining and groceries, 3x on travel. The extra multiplier on dining, grocery, travel, etc more than cancels out any benefit from Bilt.

    In terms of transferrable currencies vs cash, it depends. Chase still has a lot of value at 1.5 cents for travel redemptions. But if you are having trouble doing points redemptions to Asia or whatever, I find you can still get good value out of basic domestic redemptions. Kerr mentioned Hyatt, which is true, but even Hilton can be a great transfer opportunity from Amex when they run their frequent transfer bonuses. I’m getting 1.2 cents per mile consistently out of Delta for domestic redemptions, sometimes more – I haven’t transferred to Delta from Amex in years but I would do it depending on the situation to top off a 1.3 or 1.4 cents redemption.

  13. There may need to be some value adjustment for BILT points. BILT, and, or their partner devalue points by rounding all purchases downward. If you purchase something for $2.01-2.99, you’ll receive 2 points. With each purchase that isn’t an even dollar amount, you are losing the fractions of a point and with multiple transactions you lose that number of points.

    Chase uses fractions of a point. American Express rounds up at .50 and down below that.

  14. Question: Why do you want an Amex point when you can’t transfer to United or American or Hyatt?(from Richard Kerr of Bilt Rewards)
    Answer: “How to redeem American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value” Richard Kerr
    (by Richard Kerr of The Points Guy)

    I guess where you stand depends on where you sit.

  15. All valuations are subjective (except for cashable points)! And mostly pointless.
    Every user of those points/miles need to come up with its own individual value that they get from actual point/mile usage in the past and potential near-future use.

    A simple way to value any points/miles is to assign a Minimal Redemption Value. This is the value of any given Program point/mile that typically can be redeemed instead of cash. For example, Chase URs can be cashed out at 1.50/1.25/1.00 rate, depending on the card they attached to. So this is their MRV (Minimal Redemption Value). Another example, if a person consistently getting a 1.35 cents per AA mile on ticket redemptions (minus taxes collected), then that’s their MRV for the AAdvantage program miles.
    For transferrable point “currencies”, same logic applies: whatever program you transfer it to – look for its MRV; and if you transfer to several programs – get the average MRV between them. If someone uses Amex MRs mostly to buy merchandise – then whatever they’re getting compared to spending $$ is their own MRV (it could be 0.70 or 1.50).

    With this system it’s easy to see what you are gonna be getting (on minimum) from any given program. Plus you have to remember that for many redemptions you’ll need to have a Minimum Number of point/miles (like with United, Delta, Hyatt, Hilton, etc.) And because of that factor, you need to reduce your MRV expectation at 10%-20% if it takes time to build a sizable point/mile stash (air redemptions start from 7,500 miles; hotels – from 3,000 with points+cash).

    After establishing this baseline, a points/miles collector can figure out if their latest use of those points/miles is at or above the MRV. If its much higher – great, but for the most people it would be right on the money.

    Majority of bloggers don’t establish this simple MRV, but instead shouting aloud about business/first class redemption possibilities and credit card bonus sign-ups. But in reality, very few can score such values because of scarcity of those awards, inadequate point/mile balances and the need to take the whole family of 4-6 people on vacation (hence multiplying the needed award balances X times). I’m OK with both approaches: bloggers and average travelers, but getting the MRV for loyalty programs is much needed step for both.

    Gary – you did a good job explaining your logic, but still need to adjust to the reality of MRV. Then you can write about examples that greatly beat average expectation, and would be aspirational for some readers to follow.

  16. Lots of great debate here, but I think everyone can agree that Hilton points are worthless.

  17. The better question is what value will you redeem points? Because I typically won’t redeem unless I get at least 1 cpm for Marriott and 2-4 cpm for United.

    I find it hard to believe bloggers will actually redeem at the rather low rates on their charts particularly flying biz class or staying at 5* hotels. If so then I guess they must have a lot of miles to blow

  18. @swag, Good arguments, and it really depends on a person’s transfer patterns and alertness in maximizing value. All of these valuations are necessarily estimates based on some kind of medium-value redemption pattern. But, if a person who knows what they’re doing, they can transfer to a given program right at the moment when the value of that particular program’s miles is higher. Let’s say that SkyHigh Airlines has miles that are usually valued at roughly1.5 cents. But this week they’re offering a deal or you simply see an itinerary where you can get much better value than usual from those points. You can jump on it with a transferable currency, but on the other hand if the deal today is with SlabovianAir, you can transfer there instead. The key to smart use of transferable points is to NOT transfer when you don’t have a specific high value award in mind, but to keep your stash on hand to make decisions when the miles gained will outperform their normal value, without having to build a significant ongoing holding in each program to be ready.

  19. People will always value Amex and MR points higher because of their ease of being able to accumulate lots of them without much effort. Most folks probably use MR points for international travel that is typically more expensive than domestic which that by itself makes the points more valuable.

    It also doesn’t hurt that Amex offers huge SUBs that can be churned. NLL, upgrade/downgrade game can be played. What other company would let someone add 99 authorized users with the EXACT SAME NAME and not question it??? Amex! Amex allows for shenanigans and those shenanigans allow for LOTS of MR points that folks love to cash out at 1.1cpp via Schwab. So Kerr can talk about point value all he wants…and doesn’t make him wrong, he just has to realize that he’s up against a points printing machines aka American Express…and folks really, REALLY love Amex.

    Full transparency, I have the Bilt card even as a home owner. But I use it for dining and travel as I’d rather have a no AF access to Hyatt, AA, and United without having to pay for the CSP. I also don’t have the Amex Gold because MR points are my absolute least favorite currency to earn and use.

  20. Kerr is a shill.

    Kerr heavily pushed Wells Fargo points cards in the recent past. As properly noted by @highperf above: “Bilt associated itself with the bank with the worst fraud reputation in the USA – Wells Fargo – whose reputation for scamming their own customers is hard to ignore”

    Kerr is a clown.

  21. I agree with some here: value is based on “earning” as well as “burning.” Points with excellent value that you can only get 1 way or through 1 card with set boundaries are limited in value.

    But as any experienced award traveler knows, point values are subjective and all published “values”, even yours, are just a data point. For me, UR/MR/Cap1/Citi points are all ~ 2 cents, because I’d pay that much if required (i.e. paying taxes), with UR worth a bit more due to Hyatt. Whereas Bilt would be worth around 1.5 cents to me because as a homeowner there’s no outsized value to earning them except dining/travel. With no SUB, there’s no chance to build a large balance quickly

  22. US Bank Connect at $95 per year is worth more than an American Express Platinum to me. Why? 4x on hotels AND I can keep building upon my Accor Gold status?

    AmexTravel.com with their 10% portal markups that don’t let me earn status can shove it right up their a-

  23. Totally agree that all point values are subjective and depend upon what you are planning to use them for. But the fact of the matter is that, other than the occasional sign up bonus (I’m not organized enough to churn), I am doing the card spending that I am going to do whether I had the card or not. The only question is what card to put them on. I use Chase miles for UA saver awards in international business (now mostly available on their *A partners, though that is fine since Polaris is a terrible soft product ) or mileage upgrades (at least before I got 1K). I need Amex miles to transfer to AF and BA and a few other airlines, again for international business saver awards. So I try to make sure I have a certain number on both for when I need them.

    And if I can get a $6K business class RT on AF/KLM for 55K miles each way (110K), like I just did, they are worth a little over 5 cents a mile to me. Pre-COVID, using miles for upgrades on UA international business, they could sometimes be worth as much as 10 cents per mile based on the difference in fares between economy and business.

    The value is all in how you use them.

  24. Bloggers want people to think points are worth more than they are so they can get referral money from the credit cards they recommend. Kind of similar to how some make it seem that is it much easier to find/book business/first class awards. They have a strong incentive to make it so. Just like they do with the Amex Airline credits. All of the bloggers claim to easily redeem them while most cc holders have issues finding ways to do so.

    And yeah, the value of most points are down right now.

  25. Agree completely that most bloggers have secondary gains in mind when posting about credit cards, I’ve often suggested to Gary that he decrease the frequency of such posts. Disagree that points and miles have little or no value and still completely disagree with the popular “earn and burn” theory. I still vaguely recall a MegaDO in southern California 10-12 years ago when Gary (and another blogger) were presenting a discussion about miles and points and I voiced my opinion about “save and occasionally burn” miles and points vice earn and burn. Gary informally polled the audience asking us to raise our hands if we had a current total balance over “x” million points and miles. When mine was the only hand still up at 4 or 5 or 6 million, Gary invited me to the front of the room to explain and defend my theory.

    In a nutshell, my save theory is not unlike the theory of keeping part of a retirement investment portfolio in cash. Granted miles and points devalue over time, USD ($) do as well but we all (hopefully) save $. It gets progressively more difficult to earn points and miles; CC SUB restrictions, fewer BIS miles for the same flights, fewer ancillary promotions (no more pudding points, no more miles for test driving a car or hair loss consultation) so saving may be the only way toward future redemptions. We all have to save for a redemption, it’s just a matter of how long we need to save, few months or a few years. I did a lot of saving years ago, don’t need to save so much anymore, not unlike like a retirement plan. Cash fares, particularly long haul biz class, have increased more significantly than redemption “fares”, I get more relative “bang for my miles and points” than I did years ago. Most importantly my 60-something year old back appreciates a lay-flat seat MUCH more than my 30 or 40 year old back.

    So, when I have to shell out 300,000 (vs 100,000 years ago, a tripling) miles for a RT USA-Middle East biz class ticket it hurts a little, but not nearly as much as my back would hurt if I had to fly that flight in econ because I didn’t want to spend $12,000 (vs $3,000 years ago, a quadrupling) for a biz class ticket and I didn’t have the miles SAVED. And even though the miles required have doubled or tripled in the past few years, I’ve still been able to redeem recently for biz class JFK-LAX (3 times), JFK-LHR (twice), JFK-TLV and JFK-LIM whereas without saved miles I would have skipped those trips or paid big bucks for biz class or stretched the limits of my back’s tolerance in econ.

    Points and miles do still have value. I’ve had a bunch of terrific redemption recently at a better relative value than years ago. Perhaps a little less value than years ago but most definitely still a significant value. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

  26. Points should be valued based on a sampling of various bookings & what those points actually “buy” you.

    All the other subjective factors shouldn’t be factored in because they are only that & are based on personal preferences. Nudging a currency higher because it is “easier to use,” for example, is ridiculous because one person’s “ease” is definitely not another’s!

    A transferrable currency’s value should then be the highest value assigned to any underlying transfer partner. Nothing added for “really good transfer partners” because, again, that is determined by each comsumer’s tastes & best practices.

  27. In general, points are also much more valuable to folks that have schedule flexibility as it becomes much easier to redeem for higher value awards. Same goes for those that have or are willing to invest the time to find the redemptions. They’re there for the taking if you have both flexibility & time.

  28. @Earn and Save: you make a good point about the difficulty of piling up large balances these days. That does make me want to move back towards a little stockpiling. Holding a balance of 1MM+ transferable points probably equals 4 – 5 r/t for my wife and I (using transfer bonuses), and at 1 trip a year that’s half a decade of travel in the books, though of course devaluations will happen.

    However, I do think that beyond that it’s a losing proposition. The game has changed so much in the 5 years I’ve been in, and it looks extremely different than the stories from 10 years ago; working towards a 3MM balance (even if we earn, say, 400K/yr from SUBs) feels like either a second job (no thanks) or a churning exercise. All with the hope that we are able to change with the times.

    For us, it’s better to earn and spend annually, while holding a significant balance for future redemptions, and I think that balance is probably effective for a lot of people.

  29. Kerr is a total sell out. He loves taking advantage of his buddy Ed Pizza to get free promo for Bilt on his pod.

    Keep pumping up the narrow product – wake me up when I can pay my mortgage with Bilt you clown.

    Also, go on a diet

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