Is the American Express Rocketmiles deal a dud?

If you followed the instructions in this post, all your American Express cards, including authorized user cards issued by American Express, should now be enrolled in an offer for $50 off Rocketmiles reservations of $200 or more, valid for purchases processed by Rocketmiles by October 30, 2015.

What is Rocketmiles?

Like Pointshound, a service I've written about in the past, Rocketmiles allows you to pay rates which can be comparable to those offered directly by hotels, while earning airline miles instead of the hotel loyalty points you'd earn by booking directly.

Is Rocketmiles a good deal at chain hotels?

If you're booking at chain hotels, which don't participate in the near-constant promotions being run by the big online travel agencies like Expedia and, then you have a straightforward choice. Will you get the most value:

  • earning airline miles using a portal like Rocketmiles or Pointshound;
  • earning an OTA's proprietary currency, like Orbucks through Orbitz or free hotel nights through;
  • or earning a hotel's proprietary currency by booking directly through the hotel's website?

Keep in mind that in the latter two cases, you also have the option of earning cash back by clicking through a portal like TopCashBack.

For all the dates and properties I searched, among these choices Rocketmiles is strictly inferior to the others.

At the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, for October 22, 2015, here are my search results:

  • Pointshound. $214.06 rate, $31.04 taxes and fees, $245.10 total. 1,700 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles (2,300 if you're Level 3 with Pointshound). Net rate (valuing Mileage Plan miles at 1 cent each): $228.10 (Level 1) or $222.10 (Level 3).
  • $229 rate, $33.21 taxes and fees, $262.21 total. 17% back clicking through TopCashBack and earning a Rewards night. Net rate: $223.28.
  • $218 AAA rate, $31.61 taxes and fees, $249.61 total. 4% cash back clicking through TopCashBack, 2,180 base HHonors points, plus any elite, "Points & Points," and promotional bonus points (up to 2,180 additional HHonors points). Net rate (valuing HHonors points at 0.35 cents each): $229.44 (general member) or $225.63 (Diamond elite member).
  • Rocketmiles. $229 rate, $54.96 taxes and fees, $283.96 total. 2,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. Net rate: $263.96.

Note in this case that Pointshound is both cheaper and earns more Mileage Plan miles (for Level 3 members).

Is Rocketmiles a good deal at non-chain hotels?

Once you've decided to stay in a non-chain hotel, you're suddenly eligible for the fantastic discounts the online travel agencies are always offering, and Rocketmiles will simply never be able to compete with those massive, upfront savings.

Here's the hotel we stayed at in Florence, the C-Hotels Club Florence, for the same October 22 date as above:

  • Pointshound. Net rate: $153.90 (net 700 Mileage Plan miles).
  • Net rate: $109.54.
  • Net rate: $139.79.
  • Rocketmiles. Net rate: $175.34 (net 1,000 Mileage Plan miles).

Does the American Express Rocketmiles promotion make Rocketmiles a good deal?

Obviously in the above two scenarios I haven't taken into account the $50 American Express offer this post is supposed to be about!

The best use case for this Rocketmiles offer seems to me to be the following:

  • individual nightly room rates very slightly above $200, and
  • Rocketmiles room rates that are the same or only slightly more expensive than the cheapest option otherwise available.

In this precise situation, your $50 American Express offer will bring the net price below the otherwise-cheapest option, and you'll be rewarded with a handful of airline miles for your trouble.

Price compression strikes again

Unfortunately, all of the above analysis ignores the single most important thing about travel hacking: price compression.

Price compression is a term I coined to describe two related benefits of generating miles and points through manufactured spend (and to a lesser extent, through credit card signup bonuses):

  • More expensive trips don't cost more miles and points;
  • Even when more expensive trips cost more than less expensive trips, the difference is smaller in absolute terms — the prices of the two trips are compressed.

You can see this at chain hotels, like the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, where rooms cost 30,000 or 40,000 HHonors points per night, depending on season. Buying HHonors points at 0.35 cents each at grocery stores buys you a night for far less than any of the OTA's are asking.

But you can also see it at non-chain hotels, like the C-Hotels Club Florence. Even if Rocketmiles did have the best rate for the nights in question, the $50 discount off a $200 room rate requires you to pay with an American Express card, and therefore forfeit the ability to redeem Arrival+ miles against the reservation. In other words, it requires you to pay with cash (albeit at a steep discount).


This post isn't meant as a promotion or indictment of Rocketmiles in general, but rather to show how I think about these periodic promotions that come along (like the generous resale opportunity Marriott offered late last year).

This specific Rocketmiles offer may pose an opportunity: if you pay for rooms with cash; and you don't have an Arrival+ card; and Rocketmiles rates are competitive with other OTA's; and nightly rates are above, but only slightly above, $200.

In that situation, it would be well worth considering making Rocketmiles reservations with all your American Express cards (one per card!).