31
Oct

Ranking The Best and Worst Frequent Flyer Miles

Posted By Trav

2. ranking the best and worst ff miles

When many people first start earning frequent flyer miles, they make the mistake of focusing on the NUMBER of miles they are earning instead of the type of miles they are earning.

But here’s the problem:

Not all frequent flyer miles are created equal.

Not by a long shot!

Some are great all around.

Some are good in some instances but bad in others.

Some are super flexible but don’t offer the same value per point.

And some, well, they just generally suck (but are still better than nothing)!

If you’re unsure what types of miles you should be earning, here’s your primer.

Each type will have the pros and cons listed and then be given a score of 0-10 so you can judge them relative to each other.

1.  Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Chase-UR-points

Pros:

  • Transferable to multiple airline partners, including United and Southwest.
  • Transferable to multiple hotel partners, with the best value being Hyatt.
  • Easy to earn since there are many good sign up bonuses
    • Chase Ink Bold [This card is no longer available from Chase]
    • Chase Ink Plus
    • Chase Sapphire Preferred
    • Chase Freedom
  • Possibility of “paying with points” for flights with no award availability.
  • Ability to use for car rentals, hotels, or flights.
  • Instant transfers to partners.

Cons:

  • None

Overall

Score: 10 out of 10.

These are far and away my favorite points to accumulate since they are flexible, easy to earn a bunch of, and transfer instantly.

Your best value usually comes by transferring to United because United miles are great (keep reading for the United breakdown below) and then using for international travel.

Almost all my daily spending is done on a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Bold so that I can earn more Chase points.

2.  Starwood Preferred Guest Points

spg-points

Pros:

  • Transfers to TONS of airlines, with the best in most cases being American Airlines and USAirways.
  • Every time you transfer 20k SPG points, you’ll receive 25k miles, a 25% bonus.
  • SPG points can be used at Starwood hotels with their Cash+Points option, allowing you to stretch your points.

Cons:

  • SPG points have fewer options than Chase points for big sign up bonuses
    • SPG personal card
    • SPG business card
  • SPG’s best transfer partners, AA and USAirways, are a little more restrictive than United.
  • Transfers are not instantaneous and can take up to a week (better plan ahead)!

Overall

Score: 8.5 out of 10

The two keys to SPG are they that they transfer to AA, a great airline program to have miles in, and that they offer a 25% bonus.

60k SPG automatically becomes 75k airline miles, which is an amazing perk!

The major downside is that it is harder to get a large amount of miles through sign up bonuses and that they don’t transfer instantly.

SPG points are a great way to diversify your mileage portfolio, and the SPG cards make good everyday spend cards, especially if you are looking for AA miles.

3.  United Miles

United mileage plus

Pros:

  • United miles never charge a fuel surcharge on their flights.
  • United allows one-way tickets.
  • They allow stopovers and open-jaws (meaning you can get 2 or 3 vacations for the price of 1)!
  • Chase points transfer to United, meaning it’s easy to earn a bunch of United miles quickly.
  • United is a member of the largest airline alliance and oftentimes has the best award availability.
  • It’s easy to book all partner airline awards online at United’s website.

Cons:

  • Unlike Chase and SPG points, United miles can’t be transferred and must be used solely on United.

Overall

Score: 8.5 out of 10.

As far as airline frequent flyer miles go, United is the gold standard.

The big keys are that you can earn them quickly, they allow international stopovers and open jaws and they never have a fuel surcharge.

United miles are BY FAR the most hassle free airline miles you can earn.

I earn Chase points as much as I can, and almost always end up transferring them to United.

Then, I’ll put together a crazy itinerary with stopovers and open jaws and get amazing value out of them!

4.  American Airlines Miles

American-Airlines-AAdvantage

Pros:

Cons:

Overall

Score: 7.5 out of 10

The major advantage AA has over United is their off-peak award chart, which I urge everyone to take advantage of.

The value is unheard of!

The major drawback is that AA miles have a fuel surcharge on them when you fly on British Airways, which makes it very difficult to use them to fly to Europe.

And for most people, Europe is high on their list!

Still, AA miles are a great complement to United miles.

Having both means that if you can’t find space with one airline, you still have a shot with the other.

5.  USAirways

USAirwaysMiles

Pros:

Cons:

  • DOES NOT allow one-way tickets
  • A little more difficult to earn large amounts of USAirways miles
    • Barclays USAirways card
    • SPG Amex personal
    • SPG Amex business
  • USAirways online system does not allow you to book partner flights, so you’ll have to call in each time.

Overall

Score: 6.5 out of 10

USAirways is like a little brother to United.

It has some of the great features, like never charging a fuel surcharge and allowing stopovers and open jaws, but also has one major drawback:

Not allowing one way tickets. 

This cuts down dramatically on your flexibility, not just in how you have to travel but in the amount of points you need to have.

With USAirways, if you want to travel to Europe, you NEED to have 60k miles because you have to fly roundtrip.

Whereas with AA and United, if you only have 30k in each program, you could mix and match.

Fly over with United, fly back with AA or vice versa.

And since earning USAirways miles isn’t as easy as earning United miles or AA miles, you can oftentimes get stuck with an amount that is hard to do anything with.

This can especially be the case with people looking for more than 1 or 2 tickets, since you’ll need a boatload of USAirways miles to get a family of four roundtrip.

Still, USAirways offers great perks, and I urge everyone to take advantage of their stopovers and open jaw rules.

6.  Southwest

southwest rapid rewards

Pros:

  • Every seat can be an award seat, so as long as their is a seat on the plane, you can book with your SW points.
  • No fuel surcharges or taxes when using points.
  • The ability to earn the SW Companion Pass if you get 110k points in a year.
  • SW points are easy to earn through sign up bonuses
    • Chase Southwest personal card
    • Chase Southwest business card
  • Chase points transfer to Southwest
  • No checked baggage fees
  • One-ways are allowed.

Cons:

  • Southwest and AirTran only fly domestically in the US and to a few spots in the Caribbean and Mexico.
  • No separate first class or business class cabins.
  • No stopovers.

Overall

Score: 6.5 out of 10

Southwest is the most difficult to rank because it is totally dependent on your travel habits.

If you only fly domestically, then Southwest may be at the very top of the list.

But for people who need to fly internationally or only fly business or first class, Southwest points are meaningless.

Their program as a whole has many more pros than cons, with the ability to earn the Companion Pass and the anytime award seats being the major benefits.

If you are someone who flies domestically, even if it’s only occasionally, getting Southwest points is a must.

7.  American Express points

american express logo

Pros:

Cons:

Overall

Score: 5 out of 10.

Amex points used to be the king of the castle, but my, how the mighty have fallen.

While the quantity of transfer partners, the quickness of the transfer, and the bonuses they offer are all great, the major issue is the quality of transfer partners.

It’s just not that good.

There are 6 transfer partners that make sense, but all are very situation specific and have major holes.

And this makes Amex points much harder to use than Chase points or SPG points, and therefore, much less valuable.

My recommendation would be to earn Amex points when there is a good offer out there, and then when you see a lucrative transfer bonus, jump on it!

8.  British Airways Avios Points

BA Plane Logo

Pros:

  • Very good in a few specific instances, like these 5 trips, when you don’t have to pay fuel surcharge.
  • No close in booking fee.
  • Easy to earn large amounts since all 3 points (Chase, Amex, SPG) transfer to British Airways.
  • Also has a decent sign up bonus for their own credit card.
    • Chase British Airways credit card
  • Great for short hop flights since they charge per distance flown.

Cons:

  • Most award flights incur a HUGE fuel surcharge.
  • BA’s website is very difficult to book with.
  • Very bad to use to fly to Europe (ironically), due to huge fuel surcharge.
  • Charges per distance flown, so very bad for long international itineraries.

Overall

Score: 4 out of 10

These are the trickiest to use and most situation specific miles out there.

And it’s because of this inflexibility that they are rated so low.

They can offer INCREDIBLE value if you use them to fly domestically within the US, from the East coast to the Caribbean, to South America, or from the West coast to Hawaii.

However, for any other type of international trips, they’ll charge a massive fuel surcharge and you’ll be stuck paying $400+.

Definitely learn what they are good for, use them for those types of trips, and avoid the fuel surcharges.

9. Delta miles

Delta-Skymiles

Pros:

  • Only airline to allow stopovers on domestic award tickets.
  • Won’t charge a fuel surcharge if you originate in the United States.

Cons:

  • VERY, VERY little availability.
  • Does NOT allow one-way tickets.
  • Hefty fuel surcharges if you originate outside of the US.

Overall

Score:  1 out of 10

Having miles is no good if you can never find availability, and this is Delta falls flat on it’s face.

The few good things Delta does, like allowing stopovers on domestic tickets, is overshadowed by the fact that it is EXTREMELY difficult to find availability with Delta.

It’s so difficult, that I personally have never earned 1 single Delta mile.

In fact, they are often referred to as “SkyPesos” because of how little value they have.

And if you’re someone who has been collecting Delta miles, I urge you to flee!

Start earning miles that are much more valuable, like United or American Airlines.

Final Word(s)

Not all miles are created equal.

Don’t just pay attention to the number of miles you have, but more importantly, focus on the TYPE of miles you have.

They are all dramatically different, each with their own good points and bad points.

The sooner you figure out what miles work best for you, the better off you’ll be when it comes to using them for what we all want:

FREE TRAVEL!

Personally, I focus most of my energy on earning Chase points, which I then convert to United miles.

Then, to a lesser extent, SPG points, which I usually transfer AA.

From there, I’ll pick up other miles through good sign up bonuses, but don’t focus much energy in earning extra.

How would you rank the different frequent flyer miles out there?  What’s your favorite, and why?

Let’s open up a lively discussion in the comments below!

78 comments

  1. Santastico says:

    How did you manage to find any “pros” on Delta? LOL Their program should receive a negative rating. Totally useless!!!!!

    1. Trav says:

      @Santastico- In theory, Delta has some pros. But like you say, and like I mentioned, those pros don’t matter if you can’t find availability. I steer everyone away from them. Ick!

      1. Santastico says:

        Unfortunately I am stuck with Delta since I live in one of their main hubs. Have almost 1 million “almost useless” miles with them.

        1. Elis says:

          I live in Atlanta and I *DID* flee them to AA. Been VERY happy. The only negative I have is I now have many more connections than I used to, but that’s (very) partly negated by earning more miles/segments. I got tired of Delta treating me like I owed them my business, and I simply won’t tolerate it, even if it means connections.

          1. Trav says:

            @Elis- Yeah, if you can’t use the points, there isn’t much point to collecting them, and Delta sure makes it hard.

    2. Jim says:

      Here is a huge Delta Pro: if you do find availability, they do not charge a 21 day window fee – like United and American ($80). Delta miles also never expire, so you have plenty of time to find availability. United charges $100 to reinstate up to 50K miles after 18 months expiration. AA charges $200 to reinstate up to 50K miles after 18 month expiration. I have to actively manage your miles there which is annoying for some (like me).

      1. Trav says:

        @Jim- Delta does have some pros, definitely, and the ones you list are actually pretty big. BA also doesn’t charge a close in booking fee, which is nice as well, FYI. I just can’t get past the fact that it’s so hard to find availability!

  2. ron says:

    Trav,

    This is by far the best information you have given, I am one that focus’s on getting points, and really did not know what each would give me. I have 200l Ultimate reward points, 112k SW with a companion pass. 35k SPG, and 200k Capital one points, and I just got 40k with the HH visa signature card this week. I have been doing this for about a year, and have yet to take a trip. I use the Capital one because it gives me 2X on everything, so I buy vanilla reload cards and just pay the bill with Blue Bird hence for $8 I get back $20, which is free money. I got the HH visa signature because it gives me 3X for Pharmacys hence, for $8 I get back $30. They dont transfer to air miles very good but I will be able to fly on my other cards and stay at the Hilton HOtels, so all is good. Sounds like I need to start getting United or American to round out my portfolio of points.

    thanks for all the good advice, I would have never known about this little gem if it had not been for you. I can cash in all my points for money right now and get almost $6k and it sure did not cost near that much. I will be glad when I am not working all the time and can start taking my vacations for free or next to free.

    ron

    1. Trav says:

      @Ron- Thanks, I really appreciate it. One thing I didn’t include was Capital 1 points, but you are right, they can definitely be valuable. And the 2x for $1 is huge. I didn’t include them because they are a fixed value, whereas all these miles and points can vary wildly depending on how they are used.

      You DEFINITELY need to start getting some United miles, although 200k Chase points is a nice start, and AA miles are also always nice to have.

      And the big thing…START TRAVELING! It’s a good problem to have, having so many points, but let’s help you figure out where you want to go and then get you there!

  3. Seth says:

    While some of the info in this article is good, it is over simplified. You are grouping credit card points (Chase Ultimate Rewards), with airline miles, with hotel points (SPG). If this article is purely about which points are best to earn with a credit card then it is more accurate, but you don’t state that from the outset.

    Also, while i love Chase Ultimate Rewards points, they definitely have one big con. They do not have nearly as many transfer partners as SPG.

    1. Trav says:

      @Seth- This article is meant as a general audience article. For more in depth looks at each points or miles, I link to more advanced articles I’ve written for them. But again, this is meant to be simple and general, with links for people who want to go deeper.

      And while Chase’s con is that it doesn’t have as many transfer partners, I don’t think that’s a big deal since the ones it does have are super valuable. United and Southwest are great, as is Hyatt. I prefer quality over quantity.

  4. Gene says:

    C’mon, 1 out of 10 for Delta? SkyMiles aren’t THAT bad. Maybe 4 out of 10 would be more in line with the others listed here, but 1 out of 10 is just exaggerating.

    1. Trav says:

      @Gene- I will admit that some people like Delta more than me, but I feasibly can’t see why I would score them any higher. I’d love to hear your opinion though, as I could be swayed. I just think the fact that they are so hard to redeem makes them almost worthless.

      I’d much rather have Avios, and those are a 4 out of 10.

      1. matt says:

        If you’ve never earned any, how can you comment on ease of redemption? Personally I’ve redeemed skymiles to places ua or aa miles would never get you, without any undue effort or availability issues.

        They just aren’t *that* bad. Not at all.

        1. Trav says:

          @matt- I do tons of award bookings for clients, so even though I personally haven’t earned any, I have redeemed them plenty of times. Of course, I’ve been unable to redeem them plenty of more times.

        2. sanjay says:

          Delta is crap – little availability and almost 60% more mile needed (compared to United) when there is availability.

          1. Trav says:

            @sanjay- The lack of availability is the MAIN factor in my ranking them so low. You’re right, it’s very hard to find tickets.

        3. Elis says:

          As a million miler on Delta having flown them for over a decade, yes, they ARE that bad right now. Enough so that even I bailed to Another airline.

  5. HikerT says:

    Delta 0 out of 10? Seriously? I’d give a 50% haircut, at most. If UR are worth 10, Delta would be a 5 or 6. Delta can be valuable for 40K domestic awards on flights that would otherwise cost $800+ or high level 50K w/o stopover on AA or UA.

    1. Trav says:

      @HikerT- I can see your point, but…I personally have had soooo much trouble redeeming them any time I’ve tried to do it for clients. I know that theoretically they have some decent value options, but I’m rarely able to make it work.

      Any tips and tricks you use for redeeming Delta miles and finding availability? I’d love to hear them, because trust me, I wish I had them rated higher. I’d love to start using them in a more efficient manner.

  6. Seth says:

    Ron,

    Rather than just getting caught up in the hype from bloggers and blindly trying to get points, why don’t you just sit down and try to think about what you want to use the points for? Bloggers make money by getting people to click their link to sign up for credit cards so they just push every credit card out there without providing good advice on how to use those points. Many people end up with tons of points and are then disappointed to find that they aren’t as easy to use as they had hoped.

    Spend some time educating yourself before blindly grasping for points. Flyertalk.com is a good resource.

  7. AJM says:

    This is really helpful information! Thank you so much!

    One “Pro” for Delta is no close-in booking fee. My meager stash of Delta SkyMiles has saved me many times in this situation. I suggest you earn some SkyMiles through a credit card signup bonus so that you can write about your experience with earning and using them from a “real world” experience, instead of just reiterating what others write about SkyMiles. You might be pleasantly surprised!

  8. Seth says:

    As great as United is, I don’t think the other airline transfer partners of Chase are all that great. The versatility that is provided by the hotel transfer partners is not matched by the airline transfer partners.

    The only oneworld member transfer option for Ultimate Reward points is British Airways. As you recognize in the British Airways Avios section of this article, Avios are a pretty crappy product. I don’t think you can say that Ultimate Rewards points have no cons if the only one world alliance transfer option is practically worthless for anything more than a domestic short haul flight.

    In addition, Korean Airways miles are pretty difficult to use which reduces the value of Ultimate Reward points further.

    All in all I still believe Ultimate Reward points are the best points out there, but I can’t say the have no cons. If by some miracle Chase added American as a transfer option the product would definitely be improved. In my book Ultimate Reward points get a 9.25/10 as there is still room for improvement.

    In addition Korean

    1. Trav says:

      @Seth- You are right, the OneWorld option for UR is pretty crap, being just BA. So I do agree that UR could get better, and if they added AA, man, we’d be loving life!

      I guess the no cons basically means “no glaring faults” as opposed to “couldn’t possibly get better”. I’m so in love with United miles, that I just think nothing can be ranked ahead of UR points at this point. But I do think your reasoning is sound, and would love them to add more partners, for sure.

  9. dlnevins says:

    You may be stuck flying Delta, but that does not mean you are stuck earning SkyPesos! Open a frequent flyer account with Alaska, and credit your Delta flights to to them. Alaska (unlike Delta) allows one-way awards, has a very reasonable award chart, and is partnered with lot of other airlines (including American Airlines and British Airways, as well as Delta). Check Alasa’s frequent flyer program out; I think you’ll like what you see.

    1. Trav says:

      @dinevins- Agreed, that is a really great call. Many people forget they can credit their miles from flying to partner airlines. That’s a really good point, and I think Alaska has a very nice award program. I should have added them on the list somewhere.

    2. JB says:

      For that matter, you can credit AA miles and Delta miles to Alaskan!

  10. JB says:

    I agree with your ranking except I would put Amex above Southwest and Southwest and British tie.

    Amex has a lot of international transfers partners like ANA which is has a decent distance award chart, allows a bunch of stopovers, and is star-alliance.

    Southwest with the companion pass is a hell of a value (ex: approx cash value of miles for 2 tickets RT around $130 each). British Air domestically (and in Asia) doesn’t charge any taxes and works great for short one ways.

    A few notes on USAir that make some people rank it higher than American: American points aren’t too easy to get with just with credit card bonuses. Whereas with USAir around twice a year you can share/buy USAir points cheap. USAir uses Star-Alliance network and you can often get funky routings…

    1. Trav says:

      @JB- All really, really good points. ANA is good, only issue I have with them is that they charge fuel surcharges on most flights (unless you can snag United or USAirways). But if you can avoid the fuel surcharges, ANA is a great “secret weapon” for sure.

      Also, I do think USAirways and AA are pretty comparable, value-wise. It just depends on your situation. I love that AA has great off-peak and allows one way tickets, but my travel is different than many people. USAirways certainly has some great value, especially with their funky routings, although it is getting harder and harder with them with the proposed merge. They aren’t showing availability on many Star Alliance partners.

      1. JB says:

        Also as a safety. USAir miles may become AA miles anyway!

        1. Trav says:

          @JB- That’s true…we’ll see if the merger goes through, but not a bad bonus if it does end up happening!

          1. JB says:

            Do you have a US Social security number?

          2. JB says:

            OK now I am going to defend Delta so stop reading if you can’t handle it.
            I managed to build up about 260K in Delta Miles in the last 2 years. 2 years ago I was new to this so I hired Points Miles and Martinis to help us book biz class JFK-Beijing (stopover) Beijing-Urumqui (central/western china) then open jaw Shanghai to JFK – all biz on China Eastern/South. Ugh. But, we ticketed during Chinese New Year and China Eastern delayed 2 days to ticket those legs and in that time the award seats went away (I really to this day don’t understand what happened). Me and my wife spent 3 days and about 18 hours on the phone with CE and Delta reps when finally a super-supervisor said I am giving you 80,000 each so you can just fly Delta metal. And the Delta product to China is sweet – reverse wishbone, great food and wines.

            Now today I am a little smarter – in Early Oct 2013 I managed to book a JFK-PVG-SGN-HAN|REP-SGN-KIX-JFK on a mix of China Eastern, Vietnam, China Air FOR XMAS! The biz class on those airlines are Ugh and the fees were $600 a ticket. Then suddenly Delta opened up saver space JFK-NRT for our outbound! And, I switched our return around and suddenly we got refunded $400 per ticket (minus $150 change fee). There is also a good chance I can reroute the return too.

            So that’s Delta. Miles can be easy (if you live in the Northeast) and you must shed blood, sweat, and tears to redeem, but if you don’t quit you might make some Skyrupee or Skyshilling or Skyrubles out of it!

          3. Trav says:

            @JB- Haha! Loving the new terms for Delta miles, and very well done. Thanks for sharing your tips. Anything that makes Delta a little easier is a major win in my book!

  11. Rachel says:

    I’d argue that Ultimate Rewards points do have cons. Probably the biggest is that there are no transfer bonuses, unlike SPG and Amex MR. Although they are quite valuable.

    1. Trav says:

      @Rachel- Yeah, the one “con” is that they don’t have transfer bonuses. If they added them, watch out!

  12. James Ward says:

    I had a fantastic trip this summer using SkyMiles. LAX-SYD-PER-MEL-SYD-LAX in Virgin Australia Business Class (a very nice product) for 150,000 SM + £115 (~$150). Loads of availability too. I accept that SM are harder to redeem than some programs, but they’re not nearly as useless as you’ve suggested.

    1. Trav says:

      @James Ward- Very, very nicely done. That’s quite a steal. How’d you rack up 150k SM? Credit cards or a lot of flying with Delta? And do you have any suggestions or tricks for people looking to redeem with Delta?

      1. matt says:

        We also visited Australia this year – msp-lax-syd(stop)-CNS(destination),DRW-SYD-LAX-msp in our case. Even had a change of plans and rejoined everything a couple of months out with no issue getting availability. Filled in the oj with avios onqantas. 150k per seat and yes virgin Australia is a nice product. Last year we did msp-cdg(day in Paris),ory-run(destination),mru-cdg(stop)-yul(overnight with friends)-map for 120k per ticket. Next year we’re visiting Tahiti.

        All of these are itineraries to desirable destinations at reasonable price. They’re also All (coincidentally) destinations/itineraries that you can’t do with united miles (although on the one itinerary RUN is the sticking point and that you can mostly do with one additional short paid flight.)

        As far as advice is concerned, actually number 1 is to ignore most of the bloggers, with a couple of exceptions. All you get there is an overly pessimistic outlook at best and frequently outright misinformation. I’m amazed at how much blatantly false info is out there. There are a couple of sticky threads on flyertalk that would be the bet resources for more accurate information, but mostly you just need to know who and how to search, which is fine by me. With routing rules aapparently tightening up at UA and the partner chart now worse than Delta’s devalued chart the gap closes considerably, as long as delta doesn’t do something like move to fare based redemption which is always a concern.

  13. jennifernice says:

    Thanks for a very timely blog post. I purchased your program a few months ago and just today listened to your fabulous audio (while driving) for probably the 4th or 5th time. I learn something new each time I listen! It’s a lot of information to digest…. slowly but surely I’m getting the hang of it! I want you to know that the education you’re giving the EPOP community is priceless. Thank you for your enthusiasm and professionalism. So glad I inadvertently found you on Twitter all those months ago!!

    1. Trav says:

      @jennifernice- Thank you so much, the compliments mean a lot to me!

      Glad you loved the audiobook, I’ll tell my friends who produced it for me…he’ll be pumped to hear!

      If you like the audiobook, you may also want to consider subscribing to the EPoP podcast if you don’t already. Then you’ll get to listen to me weekly!

  14. Robert says:

    You really gave Delta too high of a score

    1. Trav says:

      @Robert- Man, Delta sure brings out the fire in people on both sides!

  15. soewnearth says:

    Any thoughts on what is best to do if you live in Australia?

    1. JB says:

      Do you have a US Social Security number?

  16. Ben says:

    Already time for a total overhaul of this post… Ironic isn’t it?

    1. Trav says:

      @Ben- UGH!

  17. Marilyn B says:

    You might need to re-evaluate this based on UA’s announcement last night of massive change to their award chart which will kick in Feb. 1, 2014.

    1. Trav says:

      @Marilyn B- Yeah I do, but I’m too depressed to even start thinking about it!

  18. JB says:

    And Just like that. United/UR points fall bellow American and SPG. This sucks.

    1. Trav says:

      @JB- Yes, yes it does.

  19. Jim says:

    Do you have a rule of thumb value per point for the different programs? I’ve seen another blogger that assigns values, but those values seem to be inflated because he bases them on premium redemptions rather than coach redemptions. For example, would you recommend always saving UR points to transfer rather than redeeming at $0.0125/point for travel?

    1. Trav says:

      @Jim- It is very hard to put a number value on them, and I do know that Lucky at One Mile at a Time does it, and does a good job of it. But you’re right, he is considering it from the fact of premium first and biz class redemptions, whereas I look at it more from an economy standpoint.

      To give you rough numbers though, I consider Chase points to be close to 2 cents per per, as well as SPG points. United and AA are a touch behind, probably around 1.6-1.8 cents per point.

      So looking at that, it definitely makes more sense, value-wise, to transfer the points rather than redeem them at 1.25 cents per point for travel. However, I do think there are times when that makes sense, such as when you need specific flights and you can’t get them because there is no availability. One of the reasons I love Chase points is that you can do both; transfer points or “pay with them” for travel, just like Wayne did for his car rentals.

  20. Ed Chandler says:

    Consider the following additional “con” for US Airways:
    They allow NO changes to award tickets after travel has begun.

    1. Trav says:

      @Ed Chandler- Agreed, that is a major pain. Definitely another con! Thanks for the heads up.

  21. KENNETH PHILLIPS says:

    UNITED STAR ALLIANCE SUCKS!!! THEY HAVE NO FLIGHTS AVAILABLE, CHARGE 20X THE PRICE IF YOU ARE LACKING FEW POINTS, FAIL TO CREDIT FOR FLIGHT WITH PARTNER AIRLINES, AND NEVER HAVE ANY GOOD REWARDS SEATS. PLUS THEY RECENTLY DEVALUED THEIR POINTS AND MAKE THEM EXPIRE EVERY YEAR IF YOU DON’T HAVE ACTIVITY. THEY ARE RAKING THEIR CUSTOMERS OVER THE COALS, ESPECIALLY THOSE OF US WHO HAD CONTINENTAL, WHICH WAS A FAR SUPERIOR PROGRAM THAT ACTUALLY REWARDED CUSTOMER LOYALTY. AVOID STAR ALLIANCE AND UNITED AT ALL COSTS, YOU WILL GET VERY LITTLE OUT OF IT. OTHER AIRLINES (SW) HAVE FAR SUPERIOR REWARDS PROGRAMS!!!

    1. Trav says:

      @Kenneth Phillips- United certainly has gone downhill in the last few years. That being said, I’ve still been able to find good availability most times with them, especially with economy seats. Unfortunately, it seems like almost all airline programs are going down across the board, little by little.

  22. Sharon K says:

    With all due respect, your irrational hatred of Delta reduces your overall credibility. I have never had a problem getting Delta award tickets for the route I fly most often (MSP to the Bay Area). And we usually fly at Thanksgiving, not the easiest time to get award tickets. Please consider that not everybody lives where you live and uses miles for the same types of trips that you use miles for. IMHO, the most “valuable” miles are the ones that you are likely to get use out of. If you live in a Delta hub it does not make sense to turn up your nose at Delta miles to chase after miles on airlines that barely even fly out of your local airport.

    1. Trav says:

      @SharonK- My apologies if I come across as “hating” Delta. I don’t really hate any miles as long as they can help people travel for free, but there are some I like much more than others. And to be honest, if I lived in a Delta hub, I probably would explore how to use the miles MUCH more thoroughly and probably be a bigger fan (or maybe I’d dislike them more because I’d never be able to get flights).

      Truth is, I don’t pay much attention to them because when I have tried to help people use them, it’s been very difficult and discouraging, and since I don’t live near a Delta hub, I’ve never felt the need to delve deeper.

      I do 100% agree with you that the best miles for people are ones that they can specifically use, and so if that is Delta, then your list will be much different than mine. Keep in mind that this is MY opinion, and I appreciate that you took the time to tell me yours. I’m also very happy that you’ve had success with Delta. Maybe I should come to you when I have Delta questions, because I’ve never been able to make them work for me!

      1. Sharon K says:

        @trav, thanks for a gracious reply.

  23. Aaron Kelley says:

    Hey Trav,

    I was wondering if you have any plans to update this list. There have been several changes with the merging of USAirways and American Airlines, and the changes to the miles programs for Delta And Briish Airways. As well as the general devaluation of almost all the frequent flyer programs. Since you originally wrote this list a few years ago, would you change anything today?

    1. Trav says:

      @Aaron Kelley- Yes, I’m going to go through and do another ranking, probably pretty soon. Honestly, there wouldn’t be toooo much change in the order. AA has definitely gone down since they don’t allow stopovers anymore, and United upped prices for biz and first class tickets. But still probably a pretty similar ranking.

      I’m going to wait until after AA/USAirways merge and see what their new rules are.

      1. Mindy R says:

        I would love to see the update too! I’m just getting into the world of travel hacking and this post and comments have cleared up many questions I had. So far I have just ~90K Chase Marriott points, a couple thousand each in United and Delta, and a meager amount in Southwest. I’ve got an IHG card on the way with a 80,000 points bonus with $1000 min spend :) and I’m working up the courage to go for the Sapphire (the $4K min spend scares me, but I’m trying to learn the bill paying tricks to help with that). Anyway, thanks for all the info!!! I’ll be a devoted fan from now on :)

        1. Trav says:

          @Mindy R- Yeah, this list is still pretty much in order. A few minor changes here and there, but the general order and idea is still almost exactly the same.

          If you ever want recommendations on which cards to get, just fill out this form: http://www.extrapackofpeanuts.com/free-credit-card-consultation/

          So far, so good, and congrats on getting those hotel points. Now it’s time to work on airline miles!

  24. Season says:

    Another good card for miles is the Barclays arrival+ card. Relatively new but you get 2 miles per $1 spent and 10% miles back when you redeem. Might be worth looking into and adding above.

    Great blog! I hit it looking for a way to pay mortage with credit cards and love your Target REDcard idea!

  25. TomT says:

    I think you should lsit Alaska Airlines miles. Great for West Coast travel to Hawaii and Mexico. Easy to earn miles due to BofA credit card allowing multiple cards opened in one day with 25k miles per card w/o minimum spend. They now have an offer for $100 statement credit with $1,000 spend in 1st 90 days after card opening to more than offset their $75 annual fee (not waived).

    1. Trav says:

      @TomT- Agreed…it will make my next list. I don’t use them much, so my lack of experience meant I didn’t include it this last time, but they are one of the most valuable.

  26. Jeff says:

    Without question the worst frequent flyer program is Air Canada’s Aeroplan program.

    They take your reservation and then they take forever to issue a ticket. Because they are a separate company they essentially are buying tickets at whatever point cost Air Canada charges them.

    It is a complete rip off and incompetently managed. Yikes

    1. Trav says:

      @Jeff- But they allow stopovers and open jaws, and they don’t charge fuel surcharges sometimes. Soooo, I don’t think they are that bad. Might be incompetent, but that is pretty par for the course!

  27. JGJ says:

    Trav, loving your site. Thank you for so much valuable information.

    I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on Flying Blue. I’m seeing some really great deals such as Continental US to Hawaii and Virgin Islands. Seems like you could also use Flying Blue for Delta flights to other parts of the world. Am I missing something?

    1. Trav says:

      @JGJ- Glad you’re loving it. To be honest, I don’t have any experience with Flying Blue. Not for any specific reason, just haven’t used the program at all. I have heard good things though as a place to use your Delta miles.

  28. Linda says:

    Can you use points for hotel rooms on a Southwest Chase card?

    1. Trav says:

      @Linda- Southwest points can only be used for Southwest flights.

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