Guide to the Different Types of Frequent Flyer Miles and Hotel Points in 2020 (and Which You Should Collect!)
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Alright folks, we know there are a lot of different types of rewards out there.
Did you know that 100,000 points in one loyalty program is not worth the same as 100,000 points in another program? Not all points are worth the same, just as currencies from different countries have different values. We’ll explain it so you know exactly what you’re getting!
We’re going to walk through all the different types of frequent flyer miles and hotel points that we commonly mention.
Let’s jump in!
The Most Common Types of Frequent Flyer Miles and Hotel Points in 2020
There are 4 main categories of points:
- Fixed Value Points
- Hotel Points
- Airline Miles
- Flexible Points
Fixed Value Points
Fixed value points are points that are worth the same no matter what!
The most popular fixed point rewards are found in the form of Barclay’s Arrival Miles and any card or program that earns cash back. Take a look!
Barclaycard Arrival Miles
Barclaycard Arrival Miles are worth 1 cent each toward travel purchases. Always.
You can redeem Arrival miles for eligible travel purchases of $100 or more made with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® in the past 120 days. Just use your card as you normally would, and then go to your online account and erase the travel purchases later!
Every time you redeem miles for travel, you’ll get a 5% rebate. And because this card earns 2 miles per $1 on all purchases, this effectively increases that 2% return to a 2.1% return on all your purchases when you redeem for travel.
This card has an $89 annual fee, waived the first year. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus comes with a lot of other cool stuff, too.
Note: You can redeem for other things, like gift cards, but your value per mile drops to 0.5 cents per mile, which is NOT a good deal.
Cash back cards have a fixed value, because cash is worth exactly what it’s worth! You can’t get outsized value from 1 cent.
Cash back and fixed value points are good for folks who don’t want to dig too deeply into the miles & points hobby to try and figure out how to get the most from their rewards. Fixed value points are easy to redeem because you know EXACTLY how much value you’ll receive from them.
There are a lot of hotel chains out there. Luckily, the majority fall under the Hilton, Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt portfolios.
With hotel points, you’re often subject to blackout dates, though there are exceptions (for example, Hyatt will allow you to book an award night as long as a standard room is available). That means you’re more restricted than if you use fixed value rewards (like cash back) to book a room at a hotel. But you’ll often get a MUCH better value per point.
For example, if a Hyatt room is selling for $300, you’ll need to use 30,000 Barclaycard Arrival miles to pay for the room. However, award nights are not based on cash price, but award category. You might pay just 15,000 Hyatt points instead of 30,000 Arrival miles!
Here are quick explanations of each program.
What are Marriott points worth and how do you earn them? Check out our guide to understanding the value of Marriott points here!
Marriott has ~6,700 worldwide locations and 29+ unique brands! It makes sense that Marriott points are so valuable.
You can often find award nights that will give you a value of ~0.8 – ~1.5 cents per point. But team member Alex has some Marriott sweet spots that can get you up to 2 cents per point!
What are Hilton points worth and how do you earn them? Here’s a comprehensive guide to calculating the value of Hilton points.
Hilton is another GIANT hotel chain that you can find just about anywhere, including less popular cities. Generally, we see a return of ~0.5 cents per point. If you’re finding an award that is higher than that, it’s a good deal!
IHG also has a massive footprint, and is probably your best bet (on this list, anyway) if you find yourself staying in small towns.
IHG points are valued around the ~0.5 cents per point mark. So you’ll often see folks, like team member Brett, use cash instead of points.
It can be hard to find IHG awards that give a decent value per point. But, you can get great value if you make use of the PointBreaks list released quarterly.
I’ve used my IHG points on PointBreaks awards in Minnesota, Cape Cod, and Springfield, Massachusetts getting as much as 1.0 cents per point and staying in prime locations near the airport, beach, and new MGM Casino, respectively.
The best for last. Hyatt.
Hyatt points are the cream of the crop for hotel points.
They’ve got amazing hotels in popular destinations around the world. It takes relatively few points to stay at top-notch hotels compared to other chains. And Hyatt points are easy to earn, either directly with The World Of Hyatt Credit Card, or by transferring points from cards like the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
I find that you can often get a value of ~1.6 to ~1.8 cents per point. There are a number of ways to earn Hyatt points, so make use of our detailed guide on all ways to earn Hyatt points!
You’ll find that airlines define their pricing by one of the following:
- Geographical zone
- Miles traveled
- Cash value of the ticket
- Whatever they feel like for that month
The more popular airlines programs are Southwest, American Airlines, Delta, and British Airways. A sample of every single one of the above bullets!
Note: Most airlines exist within an alliance, so you can generally use your points with other airline alliance members at different award rates.
If you haven’t noticed, we’re big fans of the Southwest program. We love the free checked bags, free cancellations, and the Companion Pass.
Southwest uses the cash value of a ticket to price its awards. So to calculate the value of each point for your specific flight, use the following formula:
(Cash price of ticket – taxes and fees you’d pay on the award ticket) / number of points required for an award ticket
But, in most cases, you’ll get ~1.5 cents per point.
American Airlines Miles
American Airlines miles use geographical zones for award pricing.
For example, flying one-way from anywhere to anywhere within the contiguous 48 US states will cost as little as 12,500 miles (and 7,500 miles for flights under 500 miles!). Or flying from anywhere in the contiguous 48 US states to anywhere in Europe costs 30,000 miles (or less during off-peak months).
Delta releases frequent sales and promotions for award flights. For example, we recently saw the ability to book awards from the East Coast to Europe for 30,000 miles round-trip!
Check out our regularly updated Delta award sale page for the most recent sales and promotions for using SkyMiles.
British Airways Avios Points
British Airways Avios points are an honorable mention because it’s both a lucrative award system, and it prices awards by miles traveled.
Flights between 1 & 650, 651 & 1,150, and 1,151 & 2,000 miles each cost a specific amount of miles. The increments afterwards increase in pricing every 1,000 miles traveled.
We often see folks using British Airways Avios points for awards from the East Coast to Western Europe for great value!
Now for the fun, and the reason most of us are in this hobby, flexible points.
The big three flexible point programs are:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- American Express Membership Rewards points
- Citi ThankYou points
What makes these “flexible”? You can use your points for cash back, gift cards, redemptions through travel portals, and you can transfer points directly to hotel and airline transfer partners for killer awards!
Just remember, this hobby can be as easy or complicated as you make it. If you’re just interested in cash back, you can usually redeem your points for a value of 1 cent each. But, we recommend using the travel portals or transferring points for maximum value!
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are CRAZY flexible. And that makes it difficult to pinpoint their value with a single number. After making tons of mock bookings and reservations, as well as mulling over his previous experience using points, team member Joseph estimates that you’ll average a value of ~2 cents per point.
That’s a pretty great return, considering some Chase Ultimate Rewards points earning credit cards can earn up to 5 points per $1. That’s like receiving a 10% return on your purchases! And Chase Ultimate Rewards points never expire as long as your account is open.
Our favorite card for folks just starting out in our hobby is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Remember, Chase uses the “5/24 rule“, so we always recommend starting with Chase credit cards first.
Here’s our Chase card strategy for beginners.
This truly is the most popular flexible points program.
American Express Membership Rewards
Alongside Chase Ultimate Rewards in popularity, you’ll find American Express Membership Rewards points.
Folks in the miles & points hobby know earning transferable points, like AMEX Membership Rewards points, are the best way to receive free travel. This can mean a First Class adventure around-the-world, a family trip to Europe, or so many other options! And it’s easy to earn AMEX Membership Rewards points from some of the best American Express cards.
The big rule with AMEX Membership Rewards is that you can only earn 1 welcome bonus per card, per lifetime. So we always recommend applying when the welcome bonus is irregularly high!
Citi ThankYou Points
Citi ThankYou points can be redeemed in all sorts of ways. You can use them for cash back, gift cards, merchandise purchases, and statement credits, in addition to paying for travel or booking award flights.
Most of us on the MMS team have at least one card that earns Citi ThankYou points. They’re a terrific complement to other flexible points earning programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards points and AMEX Membership Rewards points if you’re looking to travel for next to free. I’ve got both the Citi Premier℠ Card and Citi Prestige in my wallet, and have had both for years.
Team member Jason tells us 3 mistakes folks commonly make with Citi ThankYou points.
There are a lot of rewards programs and points out there, and they come in many different forms:
- Fixed value
The most common point programs are flexible, like Chase Ultimate Rewards points and AMEX Membership rewards points. Our unrivaled favorite is Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can collect with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred!
Are there any point programs we didn’t touch on that you’re curious about? Tell us below! And sign-up for our newsletter for more posts like this:
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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! :)