I’ve written extensively about the US Bank Flexperks Travel credit cards, which earn 2 Flexpoints per dollar spent in at either gas stations or grocery stores (wherever you spend the most each statement cycle) and 3 Flexpoints per dollar spent with charitable organizations. The American Express version of the card, unlike the Visa Signature version, also gives 2 Flexpoints per dollar spent at restaurants.
Flexpoints can only be redeemed in bands, starting at 10,000 Flexpoints for hotel stays costing up to $150 and 20,000 Flexpoints for paid, mileage-earning flights costing up to $400. Clearly, the value of Flexpoints depends largely on chance: where the cost of your hotel stays and flights falls within each band determines the value of each Flexpoint, and therefore the value of a dollar of manufactured spend put on a Flexpoint-earning credit card.
Redeem Flexpoints for paid air travel
When redeemed for paid air travel, the US Bank Flexperks Travel cards blow the Ink cards and other fixed-value points like Barclaycard Arrival+ miles out of the water. Here's a chart showing the redemption value for paid flights of the three currencies for different levels of gas station spend:
This chart shows Flexpoints quickly lapping both Arrival+ miles and premium Ultimate Rewards points when used to book paid airfare.
Hotel stays muddy the picture
Here's a similar chart I drew up for hotel stays:
This picture is less decisive than the first for two reasons. First, the redemption values of the three currencies are much closer since the value of a Flexpoint maxes out at 1.5 cents, rather than 2 cents, each when redeemed for hotel stays.
That makes Flexpoint windows of opportunity quite small in the lower redemption bands: hotel stays between $151 and $222 will require less manufactured spend with the Arrival+ MasterCard than a Flexperks Travel card, while Ultimate Rewards points earned with an Ink card at gas stations are cheaper for stays costing up to $250. Only stays between $250 and $300 will be earned more cheaply with Flexpoints than the other two currencies.
In the higher redemption bands it does become possible to save real money using Flexpoints instead of the other two currencies, which is certainly something to keep in mind.
The second complication, however, is that hotel stays booked through the Flexperks and Ultimate Rewards travel portals will not typically earn elite-qualifying nights and stays or loyalty points with your hotel. If you make a reservation using your Arrival+ MasterCard, on the other hand, you have the option of booking directly with your hotel of choice or taking advantage of other stackable savings like clicking through TopCashBack to Hotels.com and saving 7% or more on your stay, plus another 10% rebate earned through Hotels.com's loyalty program, Welcome Rewards.
What's a Flexpoint worth?
Of course this analysis so far has ignored the elephant in the room: the fact that flexible Ultimate Rewards points earned with Chase Ink cards can be transferred to Chase's hotel, air, and rail partners and be redeemed for potentially much more than 1.25 cents each.
What would be really useful to know is the value of Ultimate Rewards points that would make it worth earning 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations rather than 2 Flexpoints per dollar. Then users could look at their own Ultimate Rewards redemption pattern and see whether they get more or less value than that.
At the high end, if you get more than 2 cents in value for every Ultimate Rewards point you transfer, then you should put all your gas station spend on Chase Ink cards since it's strictly impossible to get more than 2 cents in value from Flexpoints.
On the low end, if you get less than 1.1 cents in value from your Ultimate Rewards points, you should put no gas station spend on your Ink cards, since you'd even be better off putting it on an Arrival+ MasterCard with its fixed return of 2.22% cash back.
So what value between 1.1 cents and 2 cents is the right break-even point? What redemption value need you receive from flexible Ultimate Rewards points to speculatively accumulate more of them, rather than Flexpoints you'll be able to redeem for paid flights?
You blog with the data you have, not the data you might like to have
The US Department of Transportation publishes average domestic airfare prices for flights departing from the top 100 domestic airports by passenger volume. I manually coded the second quarter 2014 prices by the corresponding Flexperks Travel redemption band and calculated the value per redeemed Flexpoint.
Unfortunately, this data is necessarily imperfect since the DOT doesn't publish standard deviations, so it's impossible to use the data to generate a range of likely values. But it's the data I have, and using it the value of the average Flexpoint redeemed for the average flight from those airports is 1.62 cents per Flexpoint. While it's possible to "goose" the value of Flexpoints by calling into the reservation center and asking to be booked into the highest fare class within a given redemption band, I think 1.62 cents is as fair a place as any to peg the value of a Flexpoint.
Note that this is not affected by increases or decreases in the price of airfare: it's strictly a measurement of the location of average prices within each redemption tier. Averages are not ideal, or even particularly good, values to use for this purpose but, again, they're the values I have.
Are flexible Ultimate Rewards points worth more than 1.62 cents?
Let me be clear: your own redemptions should drive your earning, not blog posts about First Class suites or island resorts. If you're not going to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for the same rewards as your favorite aspirational travel bloggers, then whatever valuations he or she comes up with are worse than useless if they cause you to make bad decisions.
Having said that, there are a few generalizations we can make. Seth the Wandering Aramean has recently posted some data from his hotel search tool that gives us some insight into the redemption value of various rewards currencies. As Chase transfer partners, the relevant hotel loyalty programs are:
- Hyatt Gold Passport. Median point value: 1.681 cents. Average point value: 1.807 cents.
- Marriott Rewards. Median point value: 0.630 cents. Average point value: 0.699 cents.
- IHG Rewards. Median point value: 0.564 cents. Average point value: 0.611 cents.
In other words, of the three Chase hotel transfer partners, Hyatt is probably the only one in which it makes sense to speculatively accumulate points for award stays. The extremely limited exception is transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott Rewards in order to "top up" a Hotel + Air package as a backdoor way to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to one of Marriott's numerous airline partners.
Chase's airline transfer partners offer a wide range of potential values:
- British Airways Avios can be redeemed for expensive short-haul flights on American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines.
- Southwest Airlines miles can be redeemed for up to 1.69 cents on Wanna Get Away fares, or roughly twice that if you have a Companion Pass.
- United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Korean Air (temporarily unavailable for transfers) miles can be redeemed for award travel on Star Alliance, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam flights, respectively.
Finally, if you're interested in long-haul Amtrak travel, Amtrak Guest Rewards offers phenomenal value. 25,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points is enough for a one-zone bedroom redemption like the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans or Coast Starlight between Las Angeles and Portland or Seattle. Those are 2-4+ cent per point redemptions, and a fantastic use of Ultimate Rewards points.
I can't answer the question of whether you should put gas station manufactured spend on a Flexperks Travel, Ink, or some other card like the Amex EveryDay Preferred (3 Membership Rewards points at gas stations under certain conditions). But these are the kinds of questions you should ask when making that decision: given your actual travel plans, which currency are you most likely to redeem at the highest value?
Personally, I'd much rather speculatively acquire Flexpoints, since it's a dead certainty that I will, at some point, need to fly somewhere on a paid airline ticket, and I'd much rather do so at a 69% discount (or more) by redeeming Flexpoints than pay full price.
On the other hand, if you have your heart set on a particular Hyatt property, a Marriott Air + Hotel package, a long-haul Amtrak trip or a premium cabin international flight, it's simple enough to figure out whether that redemption is worth more or less than the roughly 1.62 cents per Flexpoint you're giving up by earning Ultimate Rewards points instead.