Upgrade Your Redemptions: How To Redeem for the Best Value

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Part 12 Featured Earning Travel

So, now you’ve got a bunch of points and you’re ready to redeem. Congratulations!

If you’re confused about where to start, don’t worry. It can be quite overwhelming to figure out if you’re getting the best deal or not, but we’ve got you covered.

We will have more guides describing some best practices for redeeming points soon.

Until then, understand that our goal is to get the most value for your points, usually calculated in $/pt or $/100pts. For you personally, remember that value can also come in some intangible forms as well (such as a status upgrade, experience, etc.).

Tools To Help You Use Miles and Points

First, if you’re going to be traveling internationally you will need to have a passport. You can learn how to get your first passport or how to renew your passport with the guides here on Upgraded Points.

In addition, you may be interested in having some advanced security access and expediting your time through customs. In this case, you may want to check out the Global Entry program, which allows you to do just that.

Before going abroad, you may want to review some security tips to help you prevent fraud in case your things are stolen. Check out our guide on how to prevent credit card fraud.

Finally, finding great fares and flights that you can use for redemptions isn’t always as easy as signing into your account. You may have to get creative and do some research!

The ITA Matrix is a great tool to do that. Learn how to use the ITA Matrix with our detailed guide, and then move on to some more advanced techniques.

Hot Tip: Until recently you could not book any itineraries you found in the ITA Matrix very easily. Now, a couple of guys have created BookWithMatrix.com, which makes it simple!

Advanced Strategies For Using Miles and Points

Now that you’ve got the basics started, you may be curious about the advanced strategies that allow people to get multiple redemptions per year and really maximize value.

We are still updating our advanced strategy guide, but below are a few tips to start with.

Maximizing the Open Jaw and Stopover Rules

Open jaws are perhaps the most powerful feature to help you to maximize the value of your redemption. The caveat? You’ve got to be a little more flexible or have some extra time on your hands to use them.

If you can, you’ll be able to visit multiple cities on your vacation, all for the price of a single ticket!

An open jaw means you’re going from Destination A to Destination D, but you’re going to get from B to C in some other fashion (perhaps train or car), then depart from Destination C for Destination D.

Stopovers are more like layovers, except you spend more than 24 hours at your destination.

Here are some airlines that allow these types of flights and the number allowed:

Airline Open Jaws Allowed Per Round-Trip Stopovers Allowed Per-Round Trip
Alaska 2 2
Asia Miles 2 4
Lufthansa 2 2
United 2 1
Air Canada 1 Up to 2
Delta 1 1
Emirates 1 Up to 2
Flying Blue 1 1
JAL 1 7
JetBlue 1 0
LATAM 1 1
Thai Airways 1 2
Virgin America 1 1
Virgin Atlantic 1 0
British Airways 0 Unlimited, within reason

*Note: Always check rules with the airline before finalizing plans, as rules can change or include caveats (such as non-eligibility within North American flights).

How To Make Your Own Points Valuation and Choose the Optimal Redemption

In general, you want to try to get an absolute minimum of $0.02 per point to get the highest quality redemptions. The typical redemption value is $0.01 per point, so the better you can get the better you are doing!

Let’s go through an example to show you how to calculate the optimal value for points. How about a trip to Frankfurt, Germany? We’ll assume we’re starting from the Dallas airport (DFW).

Example 1 – Step 1: Log in and Search

First, you’ll log into your AA account:

AA_Acct_Login
The AAdvantage login screen.

Once here, you’ll need to go into the screen for redeeming miles:

AA_Redeem_Miles
The redeem miles location.

You’ll have to scroll down and click on “Book now” to get to the flight booking screen. Alternatively, you can go back to the home page and just input your parameters there. Don’t forget to check “Redeem Miles.”

AA_Book_Combined
Click on “Book now” and make sure to select “Redeem Miles.”

From here, you’ll put in your search parameters. Since we’re using the example of going from DFW to Frankfurt (FRA), you’ll see that in the above search boxes.

Once you have chosen your dates and the number of travelers (1 for the ease of example), you can click “Search” and the next screen will show up.

Example 1 – Step 2: Choose a Flight and Determine its Cost

The next screen will ask you to confirm your dates and show you the cheapest flight option on that date.

AA_Dates_and_Cost
The AAdvantage award flight screen.

Click continue to move on to the specific flight selection. On this screen, you will choose the inbound and outbound flights you want on the chosen dates.

AA_Flight_Choice
Choosing your specific awards flight.

After clicking continue, you’ll see how many points and dollars it will cost to book this flight.

AA_Final_Cost
The summary screen for your awards flight, including points and taxes/fees.

For this flight, you can see the total is 40,000 miles PLUS $114.60. If you wanted to book this, you’d just continue putting in all your information and going through the rest of the screens.

Example 1 – Step 3: Find an Equivalent Full Fare Flight for Comparison

The next thing we would do to find the valuation would be to see what an equivalent flight would cost on the same dates. This shows us how much cash we would be spending so we can compare the 2 costs and find a value for our points.

Grab the same flight details and search for a non-redemption flight to find the cost.

AA_Final_Cost_Comparison

The comparison cost for this flight is $1,540.50; how does that stack up? To work through this evaluation, you need a way to compare the value of one versus the other.

This means we need to know how much the points are worth in terms of dollars. Unfortunately, that means a little math!

Example 1 – Step 4: Calculate the Value of the Points (WARNING: MATH)

The following basic equation will help you understand what your points are worth. Your full fare flight is equal to the taxes of the award flight plus a number of points at some unknown value.

$1,540.50 (full-fare flight) = $114.60 (taxes/fees) + 40,000*[x] (awards flight cost in points)

[x] = value of the points in $/pt

We want to solve for [x] in order to find out what portion of the full fare our points “pay for.”

When we solve the equation for [x], we find that [x] = $0.036. That’s a pretty good value! (Remember we discussed above that some points only get you $0.01 each in value.)

Bottom Line: To find the best value, you should search for awards flights and choose a desired one, then find an equivalent full-priced fare and solve the above equation to determine the value of the points you are spending.

Part 12 Cost Versus Value

Example 2 – Step 1: Find a Full Fare Flight to Compare

Let’s try another example so to make sure you understand. This time, you’ll go from New York to Berlin. By searching on Kayak, you find that United has a decent price on a flight to Berlin (TXL) from LaGuardia (LGA).

United_LGA_to_TXL

*A United flight from Kayak.com

Then, you sign in to your United account and get to your redemption screen for these same dates to check the rewards cost (we won’t go through all the screens again this time).

Example 2 – Step 2: Find the Equivalent Cost in Points and Taxes/Fees

Air_Canada_Reward_Flight

*United’s award flight screen showing flights for 30k points

You find that United doesn’t even have any rewards flights out of LGA, but you do see Air Canada partner flights under their rewards screen.

Next, you go ahead and select the similar flights on Air Canada. (Note that you won’t always be able to find exact matches, so just choose the best deal to compare.)

Air_Canada_Awards_Flight

*United’s award summary screen after choosing Air Canada flights

Example 2 – Step 3: Calculate the Value of the Points (WARNING: MATH)

The final cost of this flight is 60,000 points and $134.50 in taxes versus the $1,791.60 flight from Kayak.com. Applying the same formula:

$1,791.60= $134.50 + 60,000*[x]

You find that [x] = $0.027. Not as good as value as the previous example, but still above the $0.02 minimum you want to shoot for.

Points Valuation Summary

Now you know a little more about points valuation. As your skills of comparison improve, you’ll find yourself squeezing great value out of the points you’ve earned!

We are always interested in hearing your best valuations since sharing and feedback from our community is how we get better. So let us know your favorite valuations and redemptions!

In summary:

  1. Find the cash value of the flight you are looking for
  2. Find the award value (points + taxes/fees) of the flight
  3. Find out how much value the points add to the award compared to the full fare

[FULL FARE] = [POINTS]*[X] + [TAXES/FEES]

[X] = Value of the Points

Part 13: Must See Resources >>

Photo Credits/Credit/Copyright Attribution:
Travel Boys Featured Image: Vasilyev Alexandr/Shutterstock
Cost Versus Value: Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
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FAQ

When is the best time to use credit card points?
The best time to redeem credit card points is when you have some place you want to go. We recommend setting travel goals and using your points to meet those goals rather than blindly earning and then trying to find redemptions.

Both strategies can work, but the latter may leave you lost and uncertain about how to use your points. When you know where you want to go, it makes it more fun, gives you something to shoot for, and allows you to use the points right away when you have enough.

The only other thing we will say is this: use your points before they expire!

How do I use or redeem credit card points?
To redeem points you must access the appropriate points portal. This may be your credit card account or the specific loyalty program you will be using.

Credit card portals include Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

Go into your account and find the link to “using” or “redeeming” points (or miles). That screen will either take you to a general screen with all the options for using your points, or take you to a screen where you can input desired travel information.

Input your trip details and select your desired reservation. In the end, it will tell you how much the reservation costs in points plus any taxes and fees necessary to redeem the reward.

Do my points ever expire?
In many cases, yes, but not in all circumstances. Points typically expire in inactive accounts (6-18 months). So if you’re actively using an account, you likely won’t have to worry about expiration.

In some cases, just owning the credit card for a certain loyalty program exempts you from having your points expire, which is great! Be sure to look into this for each credit card and loyalty account.

How do I complete a points valuation?
There are many ways to do one. A simple way we use is to find the full priced cost of the reservation and compare it to the cost in points plus taxes and fees.

Subtract the taxes and fees from the full priced fare, then divide that by the total number of points you need to book the reservation.

For instance, if a trip costs $800 full fare vs. 40,000 points plus $100 in taxes in fees when booking a reward, you can find out the value of the points by doing some math:

$800 = 40,000[x] + $100

40,000[x] = $700

[x] = $0.0175

In this case, the points are worth almost 2 cents each, which is a pretty good value. Anything over $0.02 is typically considered a good value.

Most points can be exchanged for $0.01 each or less, so when you can double that you are getting a good value!

Remember that you are collecting these points for free when you use your credit cards, so you can see that the 40,000 points in this example are worth $700 in free value! Pretty great, huh?

My points valuation came out to less than $0.02; should I wait to use the points?
We would recommend waiting in general, but if the trip holds value to you in ways outside of straight cash, then by all means factor that into your decision.

Say, for instance, you have an opportunity to take a business class flight somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. You won’t be able to do this ever again. But the value of the points are only $0.015. Should you take the trip?

Of course! A one-time experience for you far outweighs the cash value of the trip in this case. Don’t overlook these important pieces of the valuation process!