As my regular readers know, I don't chase "aspirational" redemptions; I earn the miles and points I need to pay for the trips I want to take as cheaply as possible.
But many of you do chase aspirational redemptions! That gets me into hot water whenever I point out that a Chase Ultimate Rewards point is worth 1 penny (its cash redemption value), or that American Express Membership Rewards points are hard to redeem for cash.
So in the spirit of reconciliation, I though it would be fun to put together a list of the absolute best redemption values for the transfer partners of each flexible rewards currency. Since I'm most familiar with Ultimate Rewards points, let's start there.
As a reminder, here are the Chase Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners:
- United MileagePlus
- British Airways Executive Club
- Korean Airlines SKYPASS
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Two of the best international first class products, Lufthansa and Singapore, belong to the Star Alliance, and United MileagePlus miles can be redeemed for first class on either airline at their partner award prices. But which is the better redemption?
One-way award seats in Lufthansa first class between New York and Frankfurt cost 110,000 MileagePlus miles, plus $5.60 in taxes and fees. Unless you're a MileagePlus elite, you'll also pay a $75 close-in ticketing fee, since Lufthansa first class seats are generally made available to United only a few days or weeks before departure.
At the time of writing, Lufthansa first class seats between New York and Frankfurt cost $11,049 on October 10, a date Lufthansa first class award seats are also available. Less the $80.60 in taxes and fees, that gives a redemption value of just about 10 cents per Ultimate Rewards point.
We can actually do a hair better than this by flying not to Frankfurt, but to Tokyo's Haneda airport via Frankfurt. This itinerary also costs 110,000 MileagePlus miles, but retails for $952 more, at $12,001, giving us 10.8 cents per MileagePlus mile:
By comparison, Singapore's JFK-Frankfurt flight costs a mere $7,108. In any case, since Singapore Air is also a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, Lufthansa walks away with an easy victory here.
British Airways Executive Club
A safe choice for best British Airways redemption is a 4,500-Avios American Airlines short-haul flight like Norfolk, VA, to Charlotte, NC, which can get you about 9.9 cents per Ultimate Rewards points.
Knowing that Brazil forbids airlines from adding fuel and passenger surcharges to tickets, I was hopeful that a route like Sao Paulo — London would generate an astronomical value per Avios. But it turns out those flights don't get more expensive by distance in the way that Avios redemptions do! A first class seat from Sao Paulo to London costs just $5,783, which at 120,000 Avios gives a piddling 4.8 cents per point.
You're better off moving to Norfolk.
Korean Airlines SKYPASS
A popular use of SKYPASS is to book cheaper award tickets from the US mainland to Hawaii than those available on domestic US carriers. So, for example, while a Delta Skymiles award ticket to Hawaii from the continental 48 costs a minimum of 45,000 miles roundtrip, a SKYPASS award ticket costs just 35,000 miles.
Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta to Honolulu, so let's use that as our basis for comparison. A roundtrip departing March 8 and returning March 16, on which there's low-level award availability, costs $1,134. Less $11.20 in taxes and fees, that returns a SKYPASS redemption value of 3.24 cents each. That's not bad for SKYPASS miles, but it's not the best.
That's because Korean Airlines SKYPASS miles can also be redeemed for first class on Korean. On April 4, 2016, a first class flight from New York JFK to Seoul Incheon costs $10,032, but just 80,000 SKYPASS miles plus $104.20 in taxes and fees, giving 12.4 cents per SKYPASS mile, the highest transfer value for Ultimate Rewards we've seen yet!
It should be possible to kick that up another few cents per point by booking a single first class award from New York to Sydney for 120,000 SKYPASS miles, but I cannot for the life of me get the Korean Airlines website to price out such an award.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Remember the disappointing, $7,108 New York - Frankfurt flight operated by Singapore that I mentioned above? The good news is that it costs just 57,375 KrisFlyer miles (after their 15% online booking discount) and $203.30 in taxes and fees, or just over 12 cents per KrisFlyer mile.
There are more expensive Singapore Airlines routes, but they cost many more KrisFlyer miles such that you're unlikely to do better than the above. For example, it costs $984 to continue in first class to Singapore from Frankfurt, but 36,125 more KrisFlyer miles. At 2.7 cents per mile, that's a pretty good redemption in its own right, but it drags down the overall redemption value significantly.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
Since Southwest is a revenue-based program, you're not doing to do better than 1.6-1.7 cents per Rapid Rewards point unless you have the Companion Pass. If you do, congratulations, you can get up to 3.2-3.4 cents per Rapid Rewards point when booking Wanna Get Away fares.
For example, with the Companion Pass you could fly two passengers from Baltimore, Maryland to Aruba for 11,620 Rapid Rewards points and $31.20 in taxes and fees, a $407.60 value, giving you 3.24 cents per Rapid Rewards point.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic has a number of partner airlines that could potentially offer some value, like South African Airways. Their website even contains this mysterious language:
"Economy Class Mileage* 40,000
Business Class Mileage* 50,000
Between Dakar and New York***"
Mysterious because South African Airways does not fly from Dakar to New York, although it's possible to book itineraries connecting in Washington Dulles. Maybe that's what they mean?
Virgin Atlantic does partner with Delta, which basically makes it a poor man's Skyteam partner. You can fly from the US to Europe for 100,000 Flying Club miles roundtrip, as long as you can find Delta low-level availability, compared to 125,000 Skymiles for the same awards. You can fly anywhere in Africa for 120,000 Flying Club miles roundtrip in business class, compared to 140,000 Skymiles to northern Africa and 160,000 Skymiles to South Africa (I think — no award charts, remember?).
I couldn't find any low-level availability on Delta metal to Johannesburg, but a roundtrip business class flight with award availability between New York and Dakar priced out at $3,375. Assuming Virgin Atlantic charges the same taxes and fees as Delta, $127.60, you could get about 2.7 cents per Flying Club mile on such an award.
Here are the Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel transfer partners:
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Marriott Rewards/Ritz Carlton Rewards
- IHG Rewards Club
Hyatt Gold Passport
There are two places you can look for the highest redemption values in a program like Hyatt Gold Passport. You can look at properties in the highest categories during the property's high season (after all, they're there because they're expensive!), or you can look at properties in the lowest categories during major events. So, which approach yields the highest redemption value?
I looked at a range of top-tier properties, and the best I could do was at everyone's favorite aspirational beach resort, the Category 6 Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa, where rates go up to $2027 in early January, or 8.1 cents per point. Then Grant pointed to a May 29, 2016, stay at the Park Hyatt Milan, when the Hyatt Daily Rate is $4577 — and rooms are still available for 30,000 Gold Passport points, or 15.26 cents per point.
Other top-tier properties offer fine redemptions, but nothing like that: the Category 7 Park Hyatt Sydney charges about $814 on January 25 (the day before Australia Day), or 30,000 Gold Passport points, for about 2.7 cents per point.
What about on the low end? During CES in Las Vegas, you can book the Hyatt Place Las Vegas for 8,000 Gold Passport points or $338, about 4.2 cents per point. My main problem searching for these low-end redemptions is that enough people have obviously had the same idea that room rates are extremely difficult to find during the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, and other high-profile events! So if you want to secure an outsized value during those events, book as early as possible!
Obviously the best Marriott Rewards redemption will involve a Hotel + Air Package, which allows you to buy much more valuable airline miles at a deep discount. Since we've already established that 110,000 MileagePlus miles are worth 10.8 cents each ($11,880), let's use that as our baseline and figure out where to redeem our 7, Category 5 nights.
The most expensive Category 5 Marriott Rewards property I found is the Courtyard Paris Saint Denis, where you can redeem your 7 nights for a stay that costs $3,027, bringing your total return on 250,000 Marriott Rewards points to $14,907, or 5.96 cents per point. That's true, however, If and only if you begin your 7-night stay on July 4, 2016.
Award rooms are not available for those dates. Marriott Rewards is a terrible program.
IHG Rewards Club
IHG Rewards properties get so exorbitantly expensive in points, so fast, that the best awards will invariably be on their PointsBreaks list. I've spent a couple lovely summers in Brno, Czech Republic, so I was pleased to see that I could get 3.6 cents per IHG Rewards point at the Holiday Inn Brno on October 13, which would otherwise go for $180.12.
The best rates found on Hotel Hustle's Hot Rates page top out at 1.94 cents per point (exclusive of taxes), so if you're looking for outsized value from your Ultimate Rewards points, stick to the PointsBreaks list (or look elsewhere).
When I started writing this post I thought this would be an easy and fun exercise. It turned out to be difficult, time-consuming, and boring, which I hope speaks to my basic point: seeking the "best" value from your miles and points is a thankless chore.
You'll always be better off redeeming your miles and points for the trips you actually want to take, rather than the ones some blogger tells you are the best.