Now for the fun part – you’ve been diligent about earning miles through your everyday spend, but now redeeming points and miles for your next trip is on your checklist. For a fun read before diving into our tutorial below, check out how I booked my honeymoon with points and miles.
Using Transferable Points
Transferable points (most commonly Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou Points) can be redeemed two ways – either by transferring them to the programs’ travel partners or by redeeming them through their travel portals. Chase Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed on their travel portal for a value of 1.25 – 1.5 cents. You can redeem Membership Rewards on the Amex Travel portal for values ranging from .5 to 1 cent.
Depending on the card type, you can also transfer points to a number of transfer partners:[table id=4 /]
Being able to redeem 125,000 points to fly around the World in business class is a great example of why transferable point are great.
How to Use Airline Miles
On the surface, airline miles are pretty straight forward – certain airlines require a certain number of points to fly from Point A to Point B.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. We’re going to try to simplify it. For the sake of this exercise, we’re going to primarily focus on domestic airlines in the United States. While it’s most common to redeem airline miles on it’s specific airline, airlines also allow you to redeem their miles with their partner airlines.
Different airlines have different award charts.
We’ll use United Airlines as an example here. United has two types of awards: saver awards and everyday awards. Saver awards are cheaper, but also harder to find. Everyday awards are much more pricey, but much more common.
Example United Award Chart[table id=5 responsive=scroll /]
(Please note this is an incomplete award chart. Other destinations and exceptions exist)
This is a very general outline to ease you into it. United has some quirks. Here are just some of them for an example:
- When booking premium transcontinental service between New York/Newark and Los Angeles, New York/Newark and San Francisco, and Boston and San Francisco, it’ll cost an additional 10,000 miles.
- To travel to Alaska from the mainland USA, it’ll cost 5,000 additional miles for a Saver award or 10,000 additional miles for an Everyday award.
For the full award chart, click here.
United is just one example of airline redemption, but hopefully this gives you an elementary view of how to redeem points with airlines that have award charts.
Domestic airlines that have fixed award charts: American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines
Some airlines don’t publish exact award charts.
Nothing says airlines are required to have award charts. In 2015, Delta took down their award chart without notice, and it’s been a guessing game ever since. If you are thinking about redeeming Delta miles for a specific flight, play around with a bunch of dates to give you the general average of the number of miles you will need.
For example, when searching for a random flight between Atlanta and Chicago in April, you find there are award redemptions for 20,000 miles and also award redemptions for 32,000 miles.
Generally, redeeming Delta miles to fly on partner airlines is more expensive. If you’re on a Virgin Atlantic plane instead of a Delta plane, it’s going to cost you more. However, when searching for a random flight between Atlanta and Seoul, you find it’s just 70,000 miles to fly on Korean Airways instead of 115,000 on Delta – both nonstop flights.
Until we get one on our own site, here’s a nice write-up from Awardwallet about Delta Skymiles.
Other airlines that don’t have a published award chart: Alaska Airlines (range, doesn’t publish exact chart)
Other airlines have fixed value for redemptions.
Some airlines have fixed redemption values, like Southwest Airlines.
What does this mean? If the flight is more expensive in dollars, it will be more expensive in points.
There’s nothing bad about this, but you’re not going to get a ton of “value” for your miles because the number of miles is relative to the cost of the flight. Southwest has three different fare classes: Wanna Get Away, Anytime, and Business Select. When redeeming for a Wanna Get Away fare, each point is worth 1.6 cents – Anytime is 1.1 cents and Business Select is .9 cents.
Other domestic airlines that have fixed value awards: JetBlue
Understanding Complex Airline Alliances
You probably know that airlines have alliances (a network of partner airlines), but you may still be trying to figure out how this affects you when redeeming points and miles. There are three airline alliances that are important to understand: Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam. Member airlines are below (domestic carriers in bold):[table id=6 /]
Airline alliances allow you do several different things. Generally, they allow you to earn miles for your preferred airline when flying on the airline’s partners. For example, if you book a Korean Air flight, you can still earn Delta Skymiles. Elite status on an airline in an alliance usually spills over into benefits on other alliance airlines.
You are also able to redeem miles on a partner airlines. Again, let’s use United Airlines for this example. The chart below is the same as above, but we’ve added in partner award redemptions:
Example United Award Chart w/ Partners[table id=7 responsive=scroll /]
Using partners will also allow you to use United Miles on flights outside of the United States. When flying in and out of the United States, there is almost always a United option. But what about if you want to redeem United miles on a flight from Europe to Japan? There isn’t a United plane that flies that route, but you could fly on Thai Airways using your United miles.
Don’t worry too much about knowing the complexities of airline alliances right now. The point is this: If you have specific place you would like to go, do some research and see what you can find. It’s a confusing concept, but it can really make your domestic miles go much further when traveling around the World!
How to Use Hotel Points
Hotel points are our favorite way to use points. We frequently transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards into Hyatt points because we think the redemption is great, but we’ll quickly outline all of the major chains.
Hilton and Marriott bookings can also be a good value. They both have a fifth night free benefit – the fifth night is free after redeeming points for the first four. Terms vary, so be sure to look into it, but definitely something to make the value of your points go further.
All of the four major chains allow for points and cash redemptions. The rates vary, but this allows you to pay for rooms with a combination of cash and points. This is helpful when you don’t have quite enough points for a free night.
Marriott is one of the largest hotel chains in the world. There are more than 6,700 properties in 130 countries ranging from from JW Marriott and St. Regis to Courtyard by Marriott and Springhill Suites.
Marriott’s award chart is pretty easy to understand. It consists of eight categories with three variables on point totals:
Marriott Award Chart[table id=9 responsive=scroll /]
Hilton has more than 5,500 different hotels worldwide. Hampton Inn is the most prolific brand, but Hilton has a plethora of other brands including Conrad, Doubletree, and Embassy Suites, just to name a few.
Hilton doesn’t publish an award chart, but there are ten categories ranging from 5,000 points per night to 95,000 points per night.
Categories 5-10 are variable based on the time of year.
Hyatt is the smallest hotel company listed here, but it’s our personal favorite. Across all of its brands, it has less than 2,000 properties around the world. Many business travelers don’t like this because Hyatt’s aren’t “everywhere” like Hilton or Marriott, but for the everyday person, we love Hyatt because of the value you can get when redeeming points and miles.
They have a very simple award chart (with “cheap” rates). It’s also incredibly easy (and instantaneous) to transfer points to Hyatt from Chase.
Hyatt Award Chart[table id=8 /]
IHG, which stands for Intercontinental Hotels Group, is best known for their Intercontinental brand of hotels, however brands such as Kimpton, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, and Crown Plaza are also under the IHG umbrella.
Award redemptions range from 10,000 points to 70,000 points. IHG is a transfer partner with Chase so it’s easy to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards into the IHG program.
Another cool thing about IHG is their Pointsbreaks promotion. Every three months, IHG releases its Pointsbreaks properties for the quarter. These are a combination of hotels available for 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000 points per night. Don’t be shocked when the Intercontinental in San Francisco isn’t on there – most hotels are in places you would never stay, but every now and then, there are some great values.
Go have fun!
That’s a wrap for our beginners guide! Just remember, the points and miles game is supposed to be fun. Over time, you will learn more and become more comfortable using points and miles. If you have a question, we are more than willing to help you!
And remember to check out the other parts of the Everyday Points and Miles Beginner’s Guide:
- Points and Miles Beginner’s Guide
- Best Credit Cards for Each Bonus Category