To get the most out of your rewards travel you have to maximize the value of your points and miles. In my articles on credit cards I have described the advantages of various credit cards and described how to gather points with tools like spend, bonuses, shopping portals, and dining clubs. Using these tools will build points but in order to maximize these travel assets you have to spend your miles and points wisely and maximize their value.
The first step to spending your rewards wisely is look at your points as assets with value. Rewardstock.com offers a value calculator for your loyalty rewards.
On the top bar of the Rewardstock.com home page you will see the button for rewards values if you push that button you will see the value that day that rewardstock is assigning to various loyalty programs. Above you can see, that along with assigning the loyalty rewards values, they also show a stock market like tracker of the loyalty rewards changing value.
SHOULD I USE POINTS OR CASH?
The first question that I often have to ask when I am purchasing a travel product is, “should I pay cash or purchase the travel product with my loyalty assets (points and miles)”. In order to make this decision I have to assign a value to my reward miles or points. Looking at the chart above I know that my American Airlines miles are valued at roughly 2.02 cents apiece based on rewardstock’s estimator. Most domestic flights in the United States will cost me 25,000 points or $505 (25,000 X 2.02) in loyalty rewards value. There is a school of thought that says, “spend the miles they were FREE.” I agree with that idea, if you have unlimited points or you don’t travel enough to burn the points you have.
If on the other hand you travel extensively and know that your loyalty rewards will not sustain all of your travel the “pay with points or dollars” decision has to be made. Charlene and I saved our loyalty rewards throughout our work years and are good at building points but we also travel a lot so even though we have a lot of loyalty rewards we still pay cash for some of our flights, motels and other travel products.
Let me give you two examples. This week I started looking for tickets from Orlando to Rapid City so Charlene can go home on a family matter. The best deal I could find with points on the dates she had to travel was with American Airlines which would charge us 25,000 miles to fly, round trip, to Rapid City. The cheapest flight I could find on the dates Charlene had to fly to Rapid was $720 so using our American Airlines miles was the right decision.
This week I also looked at flying to Las Vegas. Unlike Charlene’s trip to Rapid our dates were flexible so I was able to find flights for $177 round trip. In this situation I will pay cash for the flight.
An important calculation when dealing with any type of loyalty reward is the “actual value” you are receiving. For example the actual value of the American Airlines miles that we used to purchase Charlene’s tickets to Rapid City was 2.88 cents per point ($720 /25,000 air miles = .0288). The American Airlines miles on the Vegas flight have an actual value of only .0708 ($177 / 25,000 air miles = .00708) cents apiece) so we will pay cash or use a tool like Chase Rewards, that is a point for dollar card to pay for this flight.
The lesson here is that in order to make decisions on weather to pay cash or use miles you have to assign a value to the miles and the website rewardstock.com is a good start to establishing an average value for your points.