The title of this article is arguably the most important question in higher flying and yet there’s no clear answer to it. Unlike real currencies (i.e. Dollars, Euros, etc.), there’s no authority to objectively assess and define how much a mile is worth. This task instead falls to the users of them — higher flyers mostly — all of whom have different perspectives on how award points should function and how they’re best redeemed. No one’s valuation is any more right or wrong than another one’s, but nevertheless, here are The Higher Flyer‘s own for your consideration.
Some key contextual information first…
The standard unit used to measure the value of a point is “cents-per-mile” (CPM). When spelled out: one mile is equal to x.x cents.
Travis at One Mile At A Time wrote a hugely useful guide explaining the process of how to value miles. You can read that by following these links — Part 1: How to Value Your Redemptions; Part 2: How to Value What You Earn; Part 3: Establishing an Overall Value — if you’re curious about the nitty-gritty and/or want to learn more about how you can do this on your own.
The Higher Flyer considers five questions when determining the value of a frequent flyer mile. In no particular order, they are:
1. Can you accrue miles easily? Being able to quickly amass miles is inherently more useful — and more valuable — than earning them at a snail’s pace.
2. Is it easy to redeem miles? What’s the point (har har har) of having a nest egg of miles if it’s near impossible to redeem them for what you want?
3. How much do award tickets cost? More-valuable currencies usually require fewer miles for redemptions than their counterparts do. No one likes spending more than they have to, after all.
4. Can miles be used for more than just award flights? A “free” flight sure is nice, but so is upgrading an economy class ticket with points or flying on a more-luxurious partner airline… among other things!
5. Is there potential for outsized value in a redemption? If you play your cards right, you can redeem points for an award ticket at a cents-per-mile ratio that’s significantly higher than the “default” value stated here or elsewhere.
And lastly, THF‘s point values are no more authoritative or no more correct than everyone else’s. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below or send in an email!
- Aegean Air Miles+Bonus: 1.50 CPM
- Air Canada Aeroplan Points: 1.55 CPM
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue Points: 1.35 CPM
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Points: 1.75 CPM
- ANA Mileage Club Points: 1.35 CPM
- American Airlines AAdvantage Points: 1.25 CPM
- Avianca LifeMiles: 1.50 CPM
- British Airways Avios: 1.30 CPM
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 1.25 CPM
- Delta SkyMiles: 1.15 CPM
- Emirates SkyWards: 1.10 CPM
- Etihad Guest Points: 1.35 CPM
- Iberia Avios: 1.25 CPM
- JetBlue TrueBlue Points: 1.30 CPM
- Korean Air SkyPass Points: 1.35 CPM
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Points: 1.45 CPM
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Points: 1.30 CPM
- United MileagePlus Miles: 1.40 CPM
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Points: 1.15 CPM
If you’re curious, keep reading for brief explanations of The Higher Flyer‘s point values.
Aegean Air Miles+Bonus Points: 1.50 CPM
This is the most underrated loyalty program in higher flying; be sure to take advantage of it before it goes mainstream.
- Aegean’s award chart for flights operated by its Star Alliance partners is remarkably lucrative. Some of the best first class products (like Lufthansa and ANA) cost less than what United charges for business class on the same routes.
- You can transfer your Marriott Bonvoy points to your Aegean Air account, as well as buy miles at relatively low prices if you want/need to increase your balance.
- Aegean has one of the simplest, most easy programs to navigate in the world of higher flying. The rules and restrictions are straightforward and fair, and its website is fast and functional.
- For what it’s worth, qualifying for Star Alliance Gold is decently easy thanks to this program as well.
- You have to pay fuel surcharges on awards, which can sometimes add up to hundreds of dollars.
- No credit card transfer partners means that it’s still difficult to accrue miles.
Air Canada Aeroplan Points: 1.55 CPM
Aeroplan is a shell of its former self, but it still manages to offer some compelling redemptions for those willing to look for them.
- Redemptions on the Aeroplan award chart are some of the cheapest in North America.
- Air Canada offers an excellent product, but if that doesn’t excite you, you have access to its high quality partners thanks to its membership in Star Alliance.
- You can build stopovers and open jaw routings in to your award ticket for free, setting you up for more compelling redemptions.
- American Express Membership Rewards Points and Capital One Miles, as well as Marriott Bonvoy Points, can be transferred in to Aeroplan.
- In some cases depending on the airline, Aeroplan levies taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges worth hundreds of dollars on top of award tickets.
- The Aeroplan website is clunky and difficult to navigate, and over-the-phone bookings are exercises in tedium.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue Points: 1.35 CPM
This is easily one of the most controversial loyalty programs in higher flying. When it’s not being extremely valuable (more often than not), you’ll want to rip your hair out.
- Flying Blue’s Promo Awards offer great opportunities to redeem for longhaul travel without spending an arm and a leg.
- There are a number of sweet spot redemptions on partner airlines, such as flying Delta to Hawaii or to the Caribbean.
- You can transfer American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Marriott points in to your Flying Blue account.
- This is the only way you can redeem for Air France’s legendary La Premier first class product…
- …but you have to have elite status AND you’re subject to paying hundreds of thousands of points for it.
- Flying Blue relies on dynamic pricing instead of charts when determining the cost of award tickets, leading to some ludicrously priced flights.
- The award search engine can be a little bit finicky, and that in turn leads to some strange and/or failed redemption opportunities.
- Flying Blue levies fuel surcharges and other fees.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Points: 1.75 CPM
A wonderfully valuable currency offered by an unfortunately niche regional airline.
- Despite being a regional airline, Alaska has an incomparable number of international partners that are otherwise quite difficult to redeem points for (looking at you Emirates, Fiji Air, Icelandair, and Hainan!)
- On a similar note, there’s a staggering number of “sweet spots” available for outsized-value redemptions.
- You can add free stopovers on to one way (and round trip) award tickets.
- Miles are awarded based on “distance flown” rather than money spent on airfare, which makes Alaska unique among the US carriers.
- Unless you live on the West Coast, actually having miles/status issued by Alaska has limited value.
- If you don’t fly Alaska or its partners often, it’s hard to accrue miles. It doesn’t have any transfer partners beyond Marriott Bonvoy.
- Finding award availability, and subsequently completing a reservation, can be challenging at times. Not everything can be booked online, unfortunately.
ANA Mileage Club Points: 1.30 CPM
Great redemption prices abound, but otherwise confusing rules make the entire experience needlessly difficult.
- ANA permits a number of interesting award redemptions, such as round-the-world tickets for as low as 85,000 miles, in addition to open jaws and stopovers.
- Award availability is generally good, especially in premium cabins.
- Because ANA is a member of Star Alliance, it offers higher flyers opportunities to redeem points for cheaply-priced flights on an elite group of airlines.
- ANA partners with American Express and Marriott Bonvoy, so acquiring points through those two channels is decently easy.
- While the prices for award tickets are remarkably low, one way award redemptions are forbidden.
- ANA levies fuel surcharges on most, but not all, of its redemptions, which can total several hundred dollars per person.
- There are multiple award charts, and while that’s a win for transparency, they make figuring out the price of a redemption more difficult than it needs to be.
- There are dozens more rules and restrictions that you have to be wary of.
American AAdvantage Points: 1.45 CPM
When AA isn’t playing games with availability, this is the most valuable US award currency.
- As of this publication, American is the only carrier of the Big 3 to still use award charts, so hooray for transparency and not joining the race to the bottom…yet.
- Redemptions for business class are generally pretty cheap, and AA’s product is competitive. Its partners’ offerings are even better!
- AA has a few “niche”/out-of-alliance partners that you can redeem points for, like Etihad and Air Tahiti Nui.
- It’s relatively easy AND cheap to use your points to upgrade your economy class ticket in to a more premium cabin.
- American Airlines offers plenty of co-branded credit cards to help earn you certain perks and, more importantly, plenty of points.
- AA doesn’t have as many alliance partners as its US counterparts do.
- Fuel surcharges on partner redemptions — like on British Airways — can be especially brutal
- American plays games with award availability; sometimes you won’t find ‘SAAver’ level tickets for months at a time.
- AA has no major point-transfer partners outside of Marriott Bonvoy, so it’s a lot harder to build up your balance without flying a lot.
Avianca LifeMiles: 1.50 CPM
Accruing LifeMiles is easy and there’s plenty potential for incredible value, but actually redeeming your stash is a test of patience.
- In addition to transferring points in from American Express, Capital One, and Citi, you can frequently buy LifeMiles for cheap…sometimes even at rates lower than the currency’s valuation.
- Avianca has competitively priced redemptions for awards on its own metal as well as on its (high quality) Star Alliance partners.
- You’ll have to pay a $25 fee on award bookings, but that’s a fair tradeoff for no fuel surcharges (!!!).
- If you prefer, Avianca makes it easy and affordable to book an award ticket with a combination of points and cash.
- As of late-Spring/early-Summer 2019, Avianca looks to be in a dicey financial situation. Collect LifeMiles with caution, because if the airline were to go belly up, you’d be out of miles without any form of recourse to recover the value lost.
- Avianca’s website could use some TLC from the tech team; glitches abound, and you shouldn’t expect better service from the phone agents either.
British Airways Avios: 1.30 CPM
The distance-based award chart offered by BA’s Executive Club is compelling for shorter itineraries on partner airlines, but avoid it like the plague on long-haul routes.
- You can transfer in points from American Express, Chase, Citi, and Marriott, so accruing Avios is seldom a problem.
- British Airways makes redemptions relatively easy thanks to its decently-powerful online search engine and pretty-good award availability.
- Because of its distance-based award chart, Avios offer the undisputed best options for short-yet-expensive flights. Flights under 650 miles cost as low as 4,000 Avios!
- If you’re willing to be creative with your itinerary, Avios can prove to be very rewarding…
- …but having to do lots of extra work for a good deal isn’t a characteristic of a compelling loyalty program.
- British Airways frustratingly charges for award itineraries by the segment, so if there are no direct flights between your city pairs, get ready to pay up.
- Stay away on long haul premium redemptions, especially if you have to make a connection. Europe to the Middle East might cost 40,000 AAdvantage miles — a pretty good price — but it might be more than double that on British Airways (!).
- You’ll be on the hook for every single tax and fee (i.e. everything except for the price of the airfare) when booking an award ticket. You might pay over a thousand dollars extra in addition to tens of thousands of points. That’s terrible!
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 1.25 CPM
An easy-to-use program for an excellent airline with mediocre — but not terrible — redemption prices.
- American Express Membership Rewards Points, Capital One Miles, and Citi ThankYou Points, as well as Marriott Bonvoy Points, can be converted in to Asia Miles.
- Redemption prices are right about average. While that may not be a strong endorsement, you can take solace in the fact that you’re paying fair prices for your award tickets.
- In a few (very) specific situations, Asia Miles presents some interesting opportunities for redemption, such as five stopovers on a single booking (flying multiple oneworld partners), cheap companion tickets, and open jaws.
- Because Cathay Pacific uses a distance-based award chart, there are a few loopholes that can be exploited for exponentially greater value. Cathay, unlike British Airways, doesn’t charge per-segment either.
- There are some befuddling rules and limitations; heaven help you if you mix carriers or make multiple connections on your award itinerary… or really do anything more than redeem for a flight between two cities.
- Not all awards can be booked online, and Cathay’s phone agents aren’t always aware of the many, many rules in place. Even if the terms and conditions permit a specific itinerary, a supervisor might otherwise contradict and overrule you.
- Cathay occasionally passes fuel surcharges on to the customers when booking awards with Asia Miles.
Delta SkyMiles: 1.15 CPM
There are plenty of reasons why these miles are referred to as “SkyPesos.”
- In addition to being able to transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points and Marriott Bonvoy Points in to your SkyMiles account, Delta offers tons of co-branded credit cards with attractive sign-up bonuses.
- If you’re a top-tier flyer on Delta (and thereby collect a ton of SkyMiles), the award currency is significantly more valuable than others; all award flights are, in effect, fully refundable.
- Delta routinely offers SkyMiles fare sales, which often lead to stunningly good values on round trip award tickets.
- You can redeem SkyMiles for a whole host of things beyond award tickets, such as upgrades, lounge access, and special perks like luxe champagne.
- You’ll learn the virtues of patience while scavenging for a good deal…
- There’s no published award chart, which leads to a lack of transparency. Because of this, volatile, inexplicably expensive award ticket prices abound.
- Delta’s president has said that management doesn’t want passengers to “use those miles to fly for free.” Uh, okay, but that’s EXACTLY what frequent flyer miles are for. Proceed with caution!
- Upgrading with points (among other things) looks nice, but Delta pegs the value of a SkyMile at a piddly 1.00 CPM. That means that a $350 upgrade on a domestic flight costs 35,000 SkyMiles, and that’s far from a good value.
Emirates SkyWards: 1.10 CPM
Use these only if you like upgrading from economy class to business class… or paying exorbitant fuel surcharges on top of already high award redemption tickets.
- You can convert American Express Membership Rewards Points and Capital One Miles, as well as Marriott Bonvoy Points, in to Emirates Skywards.
- No matter the cabin you redeem for, you can count on your SkyWards getting you high-quality accommodations on Emirates flights.
- Emirates makes it easy to upgrade a paid economy class fare up to business class (and from business to first) with SkyWards…
- …but upgrades on longer routes can be pretty expensive. From North America to the Middle East, you should expect to pay at least 50,000 SkyWards. At that rate, you’re better off just redeeming miles exclusively on a different airline.
- Outside of Emirates flights, there are limited uses for Skywards. Compounding this issue is the fact that Emirates has few compelling partnerships with other airlines.
- There are very few situations in which you’ll get a bargain; thanks to inflated mileage costs and fuel surcharges, award tickets are always very expensive. You get what you pay for, sure, but still…
Etihad Guest Points: 1.35 CPM
An eclectic roster of partners creates some interesting opportunities, but actually finding and redeeming a good-value award ticket takes a bit of effort.
- American Express Membership Rewards Points, Capital One Miles, and Citi ThankYou Points, as well as Marriott Bonvoy Points, can be transferred in to Etihad Guest Points.
- There are plenty of interesting uses for Guest Points on Etihad flights. In addition to traditional award flights and upgrades, you can also (among other things) bid for an empty seat(s) next to you in economy class and purchase lounge access.
- Despite not being a member of an alliance, Etihad boasts dozens of partners that offer compelling redemptions for award tickets. American, ANA, Brussels Air, and Royal Air Maroc offer particularly noteworthy deals.
- While there are great values to be had on other airlines, the same can’t usually be said for flights on Etihad. There are no award charts, and at times the prices seem especially arbitrary and random…and always too high!
- Etihad passes fuel surcharges, taxes, and other fees on to passengers. They’re relatively high, totaling several hundred dollars in some instances.
- The Etihad Guest website is glitchy and it’s hampered by its inability to display some of its partners’ award availability. You might have better luck calling to book, but the quality of the phone agents is, at best, hit-or-miss.
- Etihad Guest is rewarding to the most patient of us all. Booking an award ticket shouldn’t be so complicated.
Iberia Avios: 1.25 CPM
The Spanish sister of British Airways has somewhat better prices — cheaper fuel surcharges helps — but the user experience is stunningly customer-unfriendly.
- You can turn American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy Points in to Iberia Avios.
- Like its sister company British Airways, Iberia uses a distance-based award chart to calculate prices. It’s also particularly valuable to those searching for shorter flights on otherwise expensive routes.
- Unlike British Airways, there are a number of compelling redemptions on long(er) haul itineraries too. The East Coast (+ Chicago) can be flown in business class for as low as 34,000 Avios!
- The program has a number of complicated rules that make generating award itineraries much more difficult. For example, you can’t book one way legs on American Airlines; you can only have round trips instead.
- Iberia’s website is a mess — it’s hard to use and it frequently displays phantom award availability — and its phone agents aren’t much more helpful either.
- Iberia levies fuel surcharges, and while they’re not as extreme as British Airways’s fees, they can still total several hundred dollars.
JetBlue TrueBlue Points: 1.30 CPM
JetBlue ties the value of its points to a standard cash value (~1.30 CPM), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good deals to be had.
- All transferrable points currencies — so American Express Membership Rewards Points, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points, plus Marriott Bonvoy Points — can be converted in to TrueBlue points.
- You can redeem as few as 800 TrueBlue Points for extra-legroom seating, which represents a potentially excellent value.
- JetBlue sells entire vacation packages. If you buy one, you can use your TrueBlue points to discount the total cost.
- Because the value of TrueBlue points are tied to a specific value, award prices are stable and unchanging. You don’t have to worry about getting ripped off as you would on say… Delta.
- TrueBlue Points are substitutes for cash. If lowering your bottom line on your travel expenses is your sole goal, then these will serve you very well.
- The points are *just* a substitute for cash, and it’s nearly impossible to get outsized value out of your points. Completely un-aspirational loyalty programs are sorta lame.
- JetBlue seriously lacks when it comes to airline partners. You can earn TrueBlue points on only a half-dozen or so airlines, and you can’t redeem points on any of them except for Hawaiian Airlines.
Korean Air SkyPass Points: 1.35 CPM
When you could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards in to SkyPass, this was an excellent program. Now that you can’t do that anymore, extracting value from it is MUCH harder.
- Marriott Bonvoy Points can be converted in to SkyPass Points, which is at least offers one way to accrue points without flying.
- There’s plenty of award availability for travel on Korean Air. This is especially true in premium cabins, where it’s easy to find multiple seats available on any given flight.
- Award tickets are not only plentiful, but they’re remarkably cheap on both Korean Air and its partners. Korean charges the least out of any competing airline on a significant number of routes. It can be add up to a great value, but…
- Losing Chase as a transfer partner made earning points for this program significantly more difficult. You can only accrue miles by flying (duh) or by transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy. That’s not ideal.
- Searching for and booking award tickets is immensely complicated on the SkyPass website. It’s glitchy to the point where it borders on non-functional, and the agents over-the-phone aren’t much better equipped to help you.
- Korean imposes a few strange rules; for instance, you can only redeem points on behalf of people in your immediate family. And yes, Korean manages to find a way to enforce this.
- You have to pay decently expensive (but not over-the-top) taxes and fees and fuel surcharges. It’s not as bad as some other airlines, but it’s far from ideal either.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Points: 1.45 CPM
Recent changes have hindered the value of KrisFlyer points lately, but they still remain one of the best currencies for those searching for luxury on the cheap.
- You can transfer points from American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi, as well as Marriott Bonvoy, in to KrisFlyer.
- Singapore Airlines is one of the premier members of Star Alliance, so not only can you redeem points for an excellent passenger experience on Singapore, but you can also “fall back” on other top-tier airlines for your award booking needs.
- When flying Singapore Airlines, there are a few noteworthy perks such as: the ability to add a complimentary stopover on round-trip awards, and not having to pay fuel surcharges.
- There are a number of sweet-spots on Singapore’s partner award chart — particularly in the Americas — that can represent fantastic values.
- Singapore Airlines’s website appears to have last been updated in 2002. Unsurprisingly, using it to search for and book award tickets is excruciatingly time-consuming.
- KrisFlyer has some convoluted rules; for example, you’re not allowed to ‘backtrack’ (the exact phrase is “Travel must be made via the most direct route”), although there’s no clear definition of what that means.
- Singapore has steadily been devaluing KrisFlyer year-in and year-out. There’s still plenty of value to be had, but this is nevertheless a worrying trend.
- You’re responsible for fuel surcharges on certain partner award tickets, and while paying for these isn’t fun, nothing is priced too outrageously.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Points: 1.30 CPM
The value of Southwest Rapid Rewards Points are tied to a set cash equivalent (~1.30 CPM), but special deals and perks can significantly add to certain higher flyers’ experiences.
- You can convert Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy Points in to Southwest Rapid Rewards.
- While not exactly tied to Rapid Rewards Points, you can’t mention Southwest’s loyalty program without mentioning the Companion Pass. Such a perk allows a designated companion to travel with you for “free” (you have to pay the taxes).
- Holders of the Companion Pass only have to redeem points for one traveler because the other flies “free.” So, in effect, you have double the miles when traveling with a partner.
- Rapid Rewards are effectively substitutes for cash. While they’re not particularly flexible, they’re great if you need to lower your overall travel expenses.
- The points are *just* a substitute for cash, and it’s nearly impossible to get outsized value out of your points (if you don’t have a Companion Pass, of course). Completely un-aspirational loyalty programs like this one are sorta lame.
- Southwest lacks ANY airline partners. Seriously, it has none. Zero!
- Southwest has almost no international presence. If you have dreams of going to far-flung places on award points, do not count on Rapid Rewards getting you there.
United MileagePlus Miles: 1.40 CPM
United has been racing Delta to the bottom when it comes to “enhancing” its award point currency, but at least it still offers compelling redemptions on its Star Alliance partners.
- Chase and Marriott partner with United, so you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards and Bonvoy points (respectively) in to your MileagePlus account.
- United has been retrofitting its fleet with an excellent business class product. If you don’t want to redeem miles for that, you can instead turn to United’s elite roster of Star Alliance partners. This all makes for potentially excellent deals.
- While pre-determined prices for award tickets are now a thing of the past (see below), at least United reduced/eliminated some of the fees it typically levies.
- Unique features like the Excursionist perk (for example) allow clever higher flyers to tack segments on to their award itineraries without spending any more miles.
- United is desperately trying to race Delta to the bottom. First step: cut award charts and introduce dynamic pricing. Get ready for some inexplicably expensive redemptions!
- Over the past few years, United has slowly but surely been cutting perks on award tickets. In practice, this means that the value of your points is decreasing. There’s still value to be had, but who knows for how much longer…
- Not to be melodramatic, but at the time of this writing (June 2019), we’re witnessing in real-time the decline of a once-great program.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Points: 1.15 CPM
Superbly priced redemptions sometimes allow Flying Club to be forgiven for the atrocious fuel surcharges and other fees that it levies. Only sometimes though.
- Off-peak redemptions are stunningly cheap; like 20,000 miles round trip from North America to Europe in a well-respected economy class cabin cheap.
- Delta and Virgin Atlantic are closely aligned. Through the Flying Club program, you can redeem miles for certain longhaul flights on Delta…usually at much cheaper rates than what Delta would charge.
- If Delta doesn’t excite you, maybe terrific redemption rates on other carriers like ANA, Air China, and South African Airlines can.
- Virgin has some of the most competent customer service agents in the business, so booking awards through them is always a breeze.
- You can transfer in points from American Express, Chase, Citi, and Marriott Bonvoy, so accruing more of them is never a problem.
- The taxes and fees and fuel charges levied on award tickets on Virgin Atlantic metal are nothing to scoff at; they’re typically several hundred dollars (north of $500, sometimes) one way.
- Virgin has a relatively limited set of partners, so there’s only so much you can do with your stash of points beyond redeeming for flights on a few airlines.
- Award availability is dicey at best. Sometimes it’s there, but when you really need a flight, it always seems to fall short.
- Did I mention awful fuel surcharges? They’re that terrible!
Keep in mind that just because a certain currency is valued higher than another (on THF‘s list or elsewhere), that doesn’t mean the one currency is “better” than the others. Not only are the cents-per-mile values dynamic — they can change based on availability trends and new program rules and devaluations and more — but they’re also entirely subjective. What’s important to The Higher Flyer may be meaningless to you and vice versa. If you think there’s a glaring omission here on this list or you want to discuss something further, please don’t hesitate to comment below or send me an email. In the meantime, thanks for your consideration and stay tuned for future updates when changes come about!