Is It Better to Collect Airline Miles or Hotel Points?

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Is It Better to Collect Airline Miles or Hotel Points?

Million Mile SecretsIs It Better to Collect Airline Miles or Hotel Points?Million Mile Secrets Team

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Million Mile Secrets reader, Leslie, commented:

I just added Hilton to my miles and points programs because I want hotel points.  I am wondering if putting all my spending on my Hilton card instead of an airline card is a good idea.

Will this get me less value overall?  How do you value hotel points versus airline miles?

Good question, Leslie!  The best card to put your spending on depends on your travel goals and how you plan to use your points and miles!

Is It Better To Collect Airline Miles Or Hotel Points
Hotel Points or Airline Miles? The Best Award Program Depends On Your Needs

Airline miles are often worth more than hotel points.  But the actual value of your points depends on how you use them.

I’ll compare both kinds of awards.  And show Leslie how to earn points that can be used for flights and hotel stays!

Choosing Between Airline Miles and Hotel Points

There are no right or wrong types of points to collect, as long as they fit your travel plans.  But make sure you know all the options!

No matter what your personal goals are, a goal we all share is Big Travel with Small Money.  Let’s talk strategy so you can achieve it.

1.   Airline Miles Usually Go Further Than Hilton Points

Spending enough on a hotel card for a free weekend in a Caribbean resort is great!  But if you could have earned a free flight to the Caribbean for the same spending, you probably would have earned more value from using an airline card instead.

For example, if you have the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express, you’d have to make ~$33,400 in non-bonus category purchases for a free weekend at the Hilton Barbados Resort ($33,400 X 3 points per $1 = ~100,000 Hilton points).

You’d save ~$340 ($170 per night X 2 nights).

Is It Better To Collect Airline Miles Or Hotel Points
You’d Have to Spend ~$16,700 on the Hilton HHonors AMEX for 1 Free Night at the Hilton Barbados

You can book an off-peak, round-trip award flight to Barbados from anywhere in the mainland US for only 25,000 American Airlines miles.

Using a credit card that earns American Airlines miles, like the Citi® AAdvantage Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, you would only need to make $25,000 in non-bonus category purchases for a free flight.  And you would only need to spend $20,000 if you’re using the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (more on that later)!

Depending on where you live in the US, this will likely save much more than $340!

Off-Peak American Airlines Award Flights Between the US and Barbados Cost Just 12,500 American Airlines Miles

2.   Hotel Points Are Far From Worthless!

Hotel points are incredibly useful, even though they do NOT usually match the value of airline miles.

Lots of folks prefer car or train travel.  If a road trip is your idea of a fun vacation, hotel points are the way to go!

Many hotels help you stretch your points with options like:

Taking advantage of these can add a lot of value to your hotel points!

Complete List Of New IHG PointBreaks Hotels Book Monday For Stays Through January 31 2018
The Crowne Plaza Belfast Costs Just 5,000 IHG Points per Night Through January 31, 2018

Different hotel programs work better for different travelers.

For example, collecting Hyatt points is a good idea for leisure travelers who value luxury hotels.  But road warriors might not get as much use from Hyatt because it has relatively few locations compared to other brands, like Hilton.

Using a card that earns Hyatt points for $25,000 of non-category bonus spending can get you a free night at a great hotel like the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill.  Nights here can go for over $650!

Is It Better To Collect Airline Miles Or Hotel Points
Emily Loved Staying at the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill Back in 2012

That’s like getting 2.6% back for your everyday spending ($650 redemption / $25,000 spending = 2.6%).

Folks who use their travel to visit family instead of vacationing to popular destinations might prefer IHG because they have hotels almost everywhere!

To help you decide which hotel program is best for your situation, take a look at Hotel Hustle.  This is a great tool because it will show you:

  • Chain hotels in a specified city (map or list view)
  • Number of points required for an award night
  • Available award rooms for specific dates
  • Paid cost of the room (for comparison)
  • Value (cents per point and if it’s a good deal overall)

Get the Best of Both Worlds!

Instead of choosing to earn either hotel points or airline miles, Leslie can get a card that earns both!  Cards that earn transferable points give you the most flexibility.  And you don’t have to move points to an airline or hotel partner until you’re ready to use them.

1.   American Express Membership Rewards

Link:   Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Link:   The Platinum Card® from American Express

Folks who have cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points, like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and The Platinum Card® from American Express can transfer their points to 15+ airlines, like Air Canada, ANA, and Cathay Pacific.  And 3 hotel loyalty programs, including Hilton and Starwood (though Starwood offers a poor transfer ratio of 3:1).

Is It Better To Collect Airline Miles Or Hotel Points
Transfer Your AMEX Membership Rewards Points to Hilton for a Stay at the Conrad London St. James

Make sure to check the transfer rates before making any plans!  Because the ratios are not always 1:1, you may end up with fewer points (or more!) than you need.

2.   Chase Ultimate Rewards

Link:   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Link:   Chase Sapphire Reserve

Link:   Ink Business Preferred

If you have the Chase Sapphire ReserveChase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred, or Chase Ink Plus or Ink Bold (no longer available to new applicants), you can transfer points to 7 airlines, including British Airways, Southwest, and United Airlines.  You can also transfer to 4 hotel programs, including Hyatt and IHG.

Or you can book paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point (1.5 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Reserve) for any hotel or flight, even if they are NOT Chase Ultimate Rewards partners.  These options make Chase Ultimate Rewards points extremely useful!  You can even use them to rent cars, book local activities, and attend exclusive events!

3.   Citi ThankYou

Link:   Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

Link:   Citi Prestige® Card

If you have the Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi Prestige, or Citi Chairman (no longer offered) card, you can transfer your Citi ThankYou points to 14 airline partners, including Etihad, Flying Blue (Air France and KLM), and Singapore Airlines.  Citi ThankYou points also transfer to Hilton.

There are other cards that earn Citi ThankYou points, but you’ll need either the Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi Prestige, or the Citi Chairman (no longer available) to transfer to travel partners.

Is It Better To Collect Airline Miles Or Hotel Points
We Used Miles to Fly Etihad to India!

Similar to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you can also redeem your ThankYou points online at ThankYou.com for flights, car rentals, hotel stays, and cruises.

4.   Starwood Preferred Guest

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

Starwood hotels are some of the best in the world!  But similar to Hyatt, Starwood doesn’t have a large number of hotels.  And it is concentrated in popular destinations.

Is It Better To Collect Airline Miles Or Hotel Points
Book the 5-Star Phoenician Resort for 20,000 Starwood Points Per Night

However, because Starwood and Marriott are merging, you can transfer your Starwood points to Marriott at a ratio of 1:3.  So if you collect Starwood points, there are thousands and thousands of hotels to choose from!

Starwood also has 30+ airline partners you can transfer your points to at a ratio of 1:1, including American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, and Singapore Airlines.

And when you transfer Starwood points to airlines in increments of 20,000, you’ll get a bonus 5,000 miles!  This means you’re earning 1.25 miles per $1 as long as you transfer in increments of 20,000 Starwood points.

Bottom Line

Using an airline credit card to earn miles will often give you a better return than spending on a hotel card.  But everyone travels differently!  If you don’t plan on flying anytime soon, and know you will be staying at hotels, you will value hotel points more.

And some folks care more about getting to the destination than the luxury level of their accommodations.

If you don’t have travel plans yet, a card that earns flexible points like the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold or Chase Sapphire Preferred is your best bet!

Do you prefer earning hotel points or airline miles?

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

More Info

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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The math in the examples is very flawed for most people. How many people want to go to Barbados by them self. You need double the spend for airfare if you are traveling with another person. The hotel stays the same. Another part of the equation is how easy is it to spend the currency. Hotel currencies tend to be very easy to spend while airfare redemptions vary greatly by season and destination. From a frustration standpoint, I find hotel currencies a lot more valuable as I am able to spend them consistently where airline miles I often end up having to buy a ticket even though I have the points.

I concentrate on which is more depleted. When hotel points are low, I go for more of them. Same for airline miles.

I USED to love Hilton Honors. I got many good hotel nights for a good redemption rate. Now, however, their redemption rates have increased quite a bit. While I can occasionally find a Hampton or similar for maybe 20k points, most decent hotels now are 30k-60k points. That’s a LOT of spending for one hotel night. I have gradually moved to using my United or American Airlines cards, with for points, and for other perks like free checked bags and earlier boarding. But even these are sometimes flawed. For example, I recently tried to use American points for a European flight, and while the point amount was reasonable, they added a redemption fee of around $150/ticket. Have to watch for that.

With 4 small children that we don’t want to fly anywhere with or leave them for a romantic getaway yet our goal is free hotel nights, and we’ve been getting them too! From huge sign up bonuses we’ve enjoyed 8 free nights from Hilton, and we’re looking forward to 10 more nights from Marriott after transferring SPG points at the terrific 1:3 ratio.