This has been an unusual year for currencies, period. Rising inflation has sent all sorts of costs skyrocketing (including travel prices). Meanwhile, the euro and British pound are falling in value relative to the U.S. dollar, making a European vacation somewhat … affordable?
With all of these fluctuating prices, how are the currencies of airline and hotel loyalty programs, better known as points and miles, being affected?
To get to the bottom of that question, NerdWallet turned to the data. The results of our annual analysis of the value of airline miles and hotel points is finally here, and it has some interesting stories to tell.
To get our estimates, we collect real-world data on thousands of flights and hotel stays and compare cash prices and award prices to determine the baseline value of each loyalty program’s points.
Here’s how the value of miles and points compares to last year — and what changes you should make to your travel rewards strategy as a result.
Most airline miles are worth more
The good news is that almost all points and miles are worth more now than they were last year, possibly due in part to inflation, which has driven up the cash prices of flights and hotel nights.
Airline miles are now worth an additional 0.1 cent-0.3 cents in value across the board. For example, United Airlines MileagePlus miles were worth about 1 cent each in our last analysis, so 50,000 miles should have been able to get you a free flight worth about $500. If you didn’t use those miles last year, those same 50,000 miles are now worth 1.2 cents each. That means you can likely redeem them for a flight worth about $600 today.
Keep in mind though, inflation has driven travel prices much higher. According to the latest set of Consumer Price Index data, airfare prices are up 33% year-over-year in August. Meanwhile, the valuations of airline miles are up only 8.7% on average from last year. So even though your miles are valued higher, you might still have to shell out more miles for a flight than you would have last year because the flight itself is likely more expensive.
Hotel points-wise, one brand stands outs
Hotel points saw a similar increase to airlines exacerbated by inflation. But there is one huge jump that stands out: World of Hyatt.
Hyatt has long been a favorite of travelers because of its high value redemptions, and it has consistently had higher valuations than other hotel loyalty programs. Its fixed award chart has further cemented its value in this high-inflation year.
This year, Hyatt’s valuation jumped almost an entire cent, from 1.9 cents per point in 2021 to 2.8 cents per point now. That means its points are four times as valuable as competitors’ like Marriott Bonvoy (0.7 cent), Hilton Honors (0.6 cent) and IHG One Rewards. (0.7 cent).
This discrepancy is likely due to Hyatt being the only hotel loyalty program with the aforementioned fixed award chart. The award chart specifies a limit for the highest number of points a night can cost at a certain property, even if the cash rate may go much higher. That’s where you’ll find Hyatt sweet spots.
How you might change your points and miles strategy
Based on our findings, there are a few key takeaways to remember as you book travel into 2023.
Consider flying airlines besides Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways. Last year, JetBlue and Southwest had the highest-value airline miles, around 1.5 and 1.4 cents respectively. Now, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and Southwest miles are all worth the same — around 1.5 cents. If loyalty with American or Delta is more convenient for you, start collecting their miles knowing that you’ll get about the same return.
Target high-value transfer partners. If you have a travel credit card that earns transferable points, you might spend less points by transferring to a high-value partner like Hyatt instead of booking a Hyatt hotel through the credit card’s travel portal.
Calculate the value of your redemption before you book. NerdWallet’s valuations are a baseline value, meaning you should aim to get that value when you cash in your points for a free flight or hotel stay. But not all redemptions are created equal. Make sure you divide the equivalent cash price of the flight or hotel by the number of points they want to charge you. If that number is lower than NerdWallet’s valuations, you might want to save your points for a better redemption. You can use an airline miles calculator to simplify your calculations.