Ranking The Best and Worst Frequent Flyer Miles

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



  • 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.


  • None


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



  • 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.


  • SPG points have fewer options than Chase points for a big welcome offer/bonus.
    • 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)!


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 the welcome offer/bonus 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


  • 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.


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


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





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




  • 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.


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


  • 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.


  • 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.


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




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


  • 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.


  • 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.


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



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


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


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:


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.

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!

How to Use Orphaned Chase Points to Save Money on Car Rentals

Chase Car Rentals Screen 2

You guys all remember Wayne, right?

He’s the guy who wrote the epic “How to Circumnavigate the Globe for Less Than $500” here on EPoP that just got published in the brand new Travel Beyond Excuses Magazine.

Exclusive bonus just for EPoP Readers: Because both Wayne and I were featured in the latest issue, you can get a free 3 month subscription to the magazine. 

Well, now he’s back, and he’s here to teach you how to use orphaned Chase points to save money on car rentals.

Have at it, Wayne!


I consider myself The Practical Traveler. I do what I can to save money while also maximizing convenience and fun.

I have had a few extra expenses as of late which led me to try and save money on a recent trip.

That is when I realized how AMAZING and flexible the Chase Ultimate Rewards system is for travel whether you’re booking Flights, Hotels, Cars, Activities, or Cruises.

A few weeks ago I went on a trip to Kansas City for the lovely wedding of a couple friends.

I didn’t know anybody there, so I’d have to get a rental car.

Using Points for Getting a Rental Car

Since I was trying to save money, I decided to try to use my points to snag a rental car.

I’m sitting on a stash of Amex and Chase points, so I decided to do a little digging and see which offered the best value.

I bet you can guess which one won out!

Using Amex Points- A Major Hassle

With AMEX MR the booking process is a bit odd as you get an electronic certificate to redeem.

5,000 points will land you a $50 certificate, 7,500 for a $75 certificate and so on.

All point levels are a 1 cent per point value.

Not great.

You are instructed to search for the vehicle you want (Avis, Enterprise, and National are the only three options) and you have to search on the actual rental car site.

Once you find what you are looking for, return to the MR site to buy the proper e-certificate with points, then go back to the rental car site and make your purchase entering in the proper number from the certificate on checkout for your credit.

Sound like a hassle?

That’s because it is.

Using Chase UR Points- A Treat

I decided to check out the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to see what they had to offer and boy, am I glad I did.

First, with Chase UR everything is done through one website.

No searching rental car sites, no certificates.

Second, no rigid point tiers.

You only use the amount of points required for the booking or less if you choose!

The process is simple.

  1. Log into the Chase UR website.
  2. Mouse-over the Travel menu.
  3. Select Flights, Hotels, and Car Rentals from the drop down.
  4. Perform your search for a car.

Chase Car Rentals Screen 2 chasecar1On the Chase UR site you get the ultimate selection. You can choose from Thirfty, Dollar, Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise, Budget, National, and Avis.

As you can see, the information is posted in a nice grid letting you know how many points or how much cash it will cost you for each vehicle tier under each company.

This is where the magic of Chase UR really shines.

When you find the vehicle you would like to rent and select Payment Options you see a new section open.

This section contain your option for car redemption.

Chase Car Rental

You’re given 3 options:

  • using all points,
  • all cash
  • or points + cash!

Start adjusting the amount of points in the left box and the cash in the box on the right automatically adjusts.

The great thing about this is you can use any amount of points between zero and the full amount needed for your purchase!

Any person who has ever joined the points/miles game knows that orphan point totals are common.

“How am I ever going to use 2,374 points?”

If they are Ultimate Rewards points, Chase handles that issue masterfully.

Since you can use any amounts of points you want, you’re never left with stray points!

The points are also worth a fixed value of 1.25 cents per point, which 25% more valuable that AMEX MR in this situation.

Once you decide on the points you want to use, simply select Add to Cart and checkout when you’re ready.

Just like that, I was able to achieve my two goals:

  • Use my orphan Chase points.
  • Save $58 on my car rental.

Bonus: Quick Tip for Getting a Hotel

I also needed to find a hotel in Kansas City, so I checked out a few options for booking hotels with reward points.

In the end I thought they weren’t worth the cost in points, so I opted to use Priceline to book the hotel.

If you go the Priceline route, you should definitely use a really helpful site called Bidding Traveler, which will show you the lowest prices that get accepted for cities around the world.

Accepted bids on Priceline can be over 50% off the regular rate, saving you a huge chunk of money.

Final Word(s)

Using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a car rental is the ultimate way to save a few bucks, use orphan points and book with the complete ease.

The $58 I saved on a car rental?

I was able to use that money for dining and drinks over the weekend with my friends, which took a lot of strain off my weekend budget.

It was a wedding trip, after all, and weddings are about celebration.

Who wants to spend that kind of trip thinking about expenses?

Have you ever used your Chase UR points for something other than a transfer to a partner?  If so, what did you find to be the best use?

PS- Don’t forget to get your free 3 month subscription to Travel Beyond Excuses!

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