A Delta mile does not equal an Alaska Airlines mile. The former has a more expensive award chart, imposes fuel surcharges in more situations, and has access to less Saver award space.
All miles are worth different amounts.
In this post, I’ll list the top 11 most valuable miles to me and my valuation for those miles. First a few caveats:
- I am not including transferable points. For reference, I value Starpoints at 2.5 cents, Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards at 2 cents, and ThankYou Points at 1.9 cents.
- The value of a mile depends on how many of that mile you have. Your 100,000,000th American Airlines mile is worth nothing because you can’t redeem that many. For all my valuations, I’m valuing the miles assuming you have a balance of around 50,000 to 200,000, which is a few awards worth.
- The value of your miles tends to go up the more types of miles you have. If you only have British Airways Avios and want to travel all over the world, you’ll probably average 1 cent of value per Avios or less. But if you have Avios and several other types of miles, so that you can use your Avios only on high value Avios awards, you can squeeze a lot more value out of them. I am assuming you are like me and have lots of types of miles.
- The value of a mile depends on the trips you like to take. My favorite places to start and end trips, Hawaii and South America, happen to be fuel-surcharge free. That means I value miles that normally collect fuel surcharges–but don’t collect them on trips to Hawaii and South America–very highly. If you only want to go to Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia, these miles will be much less valuable.
Here’s my top 11 list (note that programs #1 and #4 will be combined in the next few years, I’d guess in 2018):
1. Virgin America points (2.3 cents each)
High Value Awards: Getting 2.3 cents per point toward Virgin America cash fares. Los Angeles to Australia in flat beds on Virgin Australia for 80k Virgin America points roundtrip with no fuel surcharges.
Get the Miles: Virgin America credit cards with tiny sign up bonuses, but 1 point per dollar on spending. SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Virgin America points with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 transferred. Membership Rewards and ThankYou Points transfer 2:1 to Virgin America points though both run transfer bonuses.
You can use the points toward any Virgin America flight with no blackouts. You will get 1.5 to 2.3 cents per point of value. The number of points needed is determined by the equivalent cash ticket’s price.
Or you can redeem points for Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, Emirates, Hawaiian, and Singapore flights. Each has its own award chart. Virgin America collects fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic and Emirates (plus doesn’t allow Emirates First Class redemptions.) Virgin America does not collect fuel surcharges on Hawaiian, Virgin Australia, or Singapore flights (and Singapore Suites Class is bookable.)
All the award prices are deflated compared to other American programs.
- Los Angeles to Australia in Virgin Australia Business Class: 80,000 points roundtrip
- Auckland to Honolulu: 35,000 points roundtrip
Oddly, one way awards are usually about 60% of the roundtrip price, not 50% like we like or 100% like we hate.
2. Asiana miles (2 cents each)
High Value Awards: USA to Southern South America in Business Class for 35k Miles and no fuel surcharges, USA to Europe in Lufthansa First for 50k Miles Plus Fuel Surcharges
Get the Miles: Transfer Partner of SPG
To some regions, Asiana’s award chart is so under-priced that some awards are a good deal even after fuel surcharges. Plus, as mentioned above, I love flying to South America, and no Star Alliance flights to South America have fuel surcharges, meaning I get the insanely good award chart without having to pay much cash out of pocket.
If only Asiana miles were easier to get.
3. Singapore miles (1.75 cents each)
High Value Awards: Mainland to Hawaii in United First Class (30k), Intra-South American Business Class (20k), and Singapore Suites starting at 32k miles
Get the Miles: Transfer partner of UR, MR, TY, and SPG. Right now the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offer 50,000 and 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points respectively after $3,000 in spending that can be transferred to Singapore miles.
I probably value Singapore miles more than you. My travel preferences are heavily South America and Hawaii based. These miles are awesome for flying Flat Bed First Class to Hawaii and Business Class from Colombia to Argentina.
Watch out for fuel surcharges on most awards, but not within the Americas or on United flights.
4. Alaska miles (1.75 cents each)
High Value Awards: USA to Fiji to New Zealand or Australia for only 55,000 miles one way in Business Class with a free stopover in Fiji
Get the Miles: Churnable personal and business cards. Transfer partner of SPG. Decent mileage sales around 2 cents each.
Alaska has a diverse and interesting set of partners. I do wish you could combine partners on one way awards though, and I wish you could book all Emirates flights. Currently you can only book Emirates awards from the United States to Asia, Africa, and Europe and vice versa.
5. & 6. Iberia and British Airways Avios (1.6 cents each)
High Value Awards: short, direct, economy flights on partners/routes with no fuel surcharges like 12,500 Avios from the west coast to Hawaii
Get the Miles: British Airways Visa. Transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and SPG.
I value Avios highly because I use them a lot from Hawaii to Los Angeles and sometimes for hopping around on the East Coast, in South America, in Africa, and in Australia.
You might value them even more highly if you live at an American Airlines hub like Dallas or Miami. You probably value Avios very little if the only trips you ever take are from your small home airport to Europe in Business Class.
Iberia and British Airways Avios are very similar but have slightly different award prices. Iberia Avios are slightly more valuable because they can book Iberia flights with lower fuel surcharges and because they offer a lower miles price on Business Class from the United States to Europe. You can freely transfer the two types of Avios if both accounts have been open for a few months.
7. & 8. United and Copa miles (1.6 cents)
High Value Awards: Six Under-Priced Awards on the United Award Chart
Get the Miles: United personal, business, and Club cards; Ink Plus; and Sapphire Preferred. Transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards. (Those are ways to get United miles. There is no easy way to get Copa miles.)
United and Copa used to both use the MileagePlus program jointly. Copa broke free this year to create the Connect Miles program, but its chart is basically identical to United’s, so I value the miles equally. If only there were an easy way to get Copa miles.
I’m as bummed as anyone that the vast majority of United partner awards in First and Business Class are terrible values (though not this one), but there are enough good deals in United economy and United Business Class to keep me interested. Plus the Star Alliance has great availability to every continent in economy and good availability in Business Class to most continents, which is a huge plus for United miles.
9. Korean miles (1.6 cents)
High Value Awards: Korean First Class from 45,000 miles one way, Delta First Class to Hawaii for 45,000 miles roundtrip
Get the Miles: Transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards and SPG
You can book a roundtrip from anywhere in the United States to Hawaii on Delta flights for 25,000 Korean miles. First Class is only 45,000 miles roundtrip. That makes my 1.6 cents per mile valuation look way too low, but I’ll stick to it because Delta doesn’t release enough award space to Hawaii to make this a consistent award–instead you’ll need to be very flexible.
I also love Korean First Class awards, which are widely available from the United States to Northern Asia for 80,000 miles and mild fuel surcharges each way.
10. Avianca LifeMiles (1.6 cents)
High Value Awards: 63,000 miles in Business Class to Europe (~$1,000 at 1.5 cents per mile purchased)
Get the Miles: Buy them during frequent sales for 1.4 to 1.65 cents each.
Like United and Copa miles, Avianca has a Star Alliance program with a mostly fair award chart and no fuel surcharges. I bumped up the value of LifeMiles in January 2016, since LifeMiles began to allow mixed-cabin awards like every other airline allows. I often need to book an award that has one segment in Business and another in economy or one in First Class and one in Business Class, so this was an important change for me.
11. American Airlines miles (1.5 cents each)
High Value Awards: Off peak to Caribbean, Mexico, Central America for 12,500 miles one way, Business Class to Europe or Southern South America for 57,500 miles one way, Business Class to Peru for 30,000 miles one way, others
Get the Miles: Several AA Credit Cards including the the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®
Even after the March, 2016 devaluation, American Airlines miles still have plenty of solid uses, plus they are very easy to get from a variety of sources.
While I don’t love award availability to Africa or Europe, I find acceptable space to Asia, Australia, the Middle East/India, and throughout the Americas. Plus there are no fuel surcharges on American Airlines awards unless you fly British Airways or Iberia.
Somewhere much farther down the list:
?? Delta SkyMiles (1.3 cents)
High Value Awards: Coolest Things You Can Do with 12,500 to 92,500 SkyMiles
Get the Miles: Delta Gold, Platinum, and Reserve personal and business cards from American Express. Transfer partner of Membership Rewards Rewards and SPG
The reason SkyMiles are worth so much less than American and United miles is an expensive chart, the worst award space of any American airline, and the fact that Delta collects fuel surcharges on more partners than United, Delta, and Alaska combined. Delta even charges fuel surcharges on all awards that originate in Europe, including one way awards back to the United States.
Basically there are a lot of times when Delta miles are nearly useless, so if you find a time when a Delta award costs nearly the same number of miles as an American, Alaska, or United award, burn those Delta miles.
What’s too high? What’s too low? What’s missing from the list?