Before you step-foot into the miles world, these tools will help point you in the right direction. Some points or miles can be tough to redeem depending on your travel style or preferred destinations. That’s why it is key to have a plan of redemption before you start racking up the points.
Types of points:
- Airline miles
- Hotel points
- Reward points
If you are going to truly travel for free, it is going to take a combination of all three point-types. Flights, hotels, rental cars, and even vacation activities, can all be redeemed with the right miles and points.
Universal ‘reward points’, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, can be used in many ways. The most lucrative redemption for these points come when transferring points to airline and hotel partners. (such as Hyatt where free nights start at 5,000 points per night)
We recently traveled completely around the globe for just 97,000 miles/points. Having a variety of points helped tremendously and ultimately allowed us to travel further for fewer points.
Redeeming airline miles:
The first thing to keep in mind when redeeming airline miles is that partners are your friend. There are three major airline alliances; Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and OneWorld. On top of that, airlines who are not in an Alliance, such as Alaska, can still be booked via partners. (IE: British Airways and American Airlines)
Without going too in-depth on redemption options, let’s talk about AwardAce. You simply plug-in your starting and destination airports, along with one-way/round-trip and class. From there you’ll be presented with all the loyalty programs that qualify as well as the number of miles and fees required. Keep an eye on the $ surcharges, they can make or break a “good redemption”.
What AwardAce will do is display all the redemption options for your inputted route. In this example, I plugged in Los Angeles to Cancun as a one-way. You might assume that a one-way to Mexico is close to 20,000 miles, not so!
I also love their discover tool that allows you to plug-in your start point and “points budget”. This is great if you really want to make your points stretch.
What you’ll find is that American has select dates that are “off-peak”, requiring just 12,500 miles to Mexico, one-way. In addition, you can fly non-stop using British Airways Avios, on American metal, from LAX to CUN for the same 12,500 points. The difference here being British Airways will need to be booked as a non-stop BUT does not require specific off-peak dates.
Fly on Delta, but don’t use Delta miles?
You may soon discover that most loyalty programs you are familiar with are not the best redemption options. Delta SkyMiles are extremely abundant but don’t hold a lot of value. Many times it makes sense to book Delta flights under their partner, FlyingBlue.
Via FlyingBlue, you can book from North America to Northern Africa, such as Morocco, for as little as 25,000 miles one-way. That same itinerary booked using Delta SkyMiles will run you 35k-40k points one-way. The great news is that FlyingBlue points can be earned by transferring from both Amex and Chase!
Check out FlyingBlue’s promo awards if you are flexible and want to save up to 50% of your points!
Redeeming points on hotels:
Hotels points are very easy to mess up. On one side you have Hilton points, worth about .5 cents a piece, and on the other you have Starwood SPG points, worth about 2.5 cents a piece.
If you don’t have an idea of what a “free night” will cost in points, you can easily be enticed by an artificially “large” sign-up bonus. The highest Hilton bonus has been 100k, where Starwood SPG has seen 35k. The SPG sign-up bonus, even though you’re getting far fewer points, are worth nearly double the Hilton points.
My favorite site for finding hotels by “points needed” is AwardMapper. With this sweet tool, you can easily toggle each parent hotel group, such as Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt. You will then use the sliders to control the “points per night”.
Keep in mind that Hilton, with their weak loyalty program, uses variable redemptions. The other hotel programs either have award space or not, no jacking-up the points required during peak season. (for the most part)
Pro-tip: Most hotels can be booked risk-free when redeeming points. If you have points to spare, lock-in a couple of dates and cancel the unneeded bookings as you narrow down your travels. And don’t forget about IHG’s PointBreaks for only 5,000 points per night (a Chase transfer partner)
The takeaway should be this; don’t start collecting miles or points before you’ve researched how to redeem them. You don’t have to become an expert on every sweet-spot, but you need an idea of how, when, and where it makes sense to redeem them.
The general rule-of-thumb is to get at least one cent per point when redeeming. If you are booking a hotel using 15,000 points and the cash price is $75, that is a poor redemption. (just .5 cents per point) If possible, aim for 1.5 cents per point, that means a 50,000 point sign-up bonus can be worth $750!