Debating my 1.67 cents screwed up math

In response to my recent post “Up to 1.67 cents per point value from ThankYou points,” some accused me of publishing junky and screwed up math.  I answered those accusations in the blog comments, but there’s more to the story…

When news first came out that the Citi Prestige card would allow 4th Night Free bookings online and with points, a blogger published a questionable conclusion.  Through the ThankYou portal you can now choose to pay with cash or with points.  If you do the latter, you’ll be charged 1 point for each penny of the cash price.  In other words, Prestige points are worth exactly 1 cent each towards hotels.  But this blogger compared the number of points required to the original hotel price before the 4th Night Free discount.  And he concluded that points were then worth up to 1.33 cents each.  I thought that was nuts.  It was 100% clear to me that the point value was straight up 1 cent per point.  If a total booking costs you $300 after the 4th Night Free rebate, then the point price would be 30,000 points.  There’s no mystery there.  Prestige points are worth a penny each towards hotels.  Period.

I considered writing a rebuttal to this blogger’s post, but then I thought about the situation from a different perspective:

Imagine a couple where one has the Premier card (which offers 1.25 cents per point value for all travel, including hotels), and the other person has the Prestige card.  If this couple wanted to use points to pay for a four night stay, which card should they use?  The answer is the Prestige card.  Let’s take an example:

Example: 4 night hotel stay at $100 per night (to keep things simple, no taxes)

  • With the Premier card, the hotel stay would cost 40,000 / 1.25 = 32,000 points
  • With the Prestige card, the hotel stay would cost 40,000 – 10,000 (4th night free) = 30,000 points

Conclusion: For 4 night stays, Prestige points are worth more than Premier points

In the above example, you’d clearly want to use the Prestige card to book the stay since the stay will cost fewer points that way.  Therefore, it seems that Prestige points are worth more than 1.25 cents each.  And so, 1.33 cents per point is reasonable.

I was still not convinced

I was still not convinced that the Prestige offered 1.33 cents per point value, but the above thought process at least stopped me from writing up a rebuttal.  I still believed that if you value your ThankYou points at more than 1 cent per point, then you shouldn’t use those points to pay for Prestige 4th Night Free stays (regardless of whether you do so before or after the stay).

Then I realized that you can do even better by pooling Premier and Prestige cards….

When you pool Citi ThankYou points from multiple cards, you automatically get the best redemption value.  So, a person with both the Prestige and Premier card would get both the Prestige 4th Night Free and the Premier 1.25 cents per point value towards hotels.  That’s cool, but I was left with the same confusion as before.  On the one hand, points are clearly worth exactly 1.25 cents each in this scenario.  On the other hand, pooled Prestige + Premier points are worth more towards a 4 night stay than other point programs where points are worth 1.5 cents each.  Let’s look at an example:

Example: 4 night hotel stay at $100 per night (to keep things simple, no taxes)

  • With Chase Sapphire Reserve (where points are worth 1.5 cents each towards travel), the hotel stay would cost 40,000 / 1.5 = 26,667 points
  • With pooled Prestige and Premier cards, the hotel stay would cost 40,000 – 10,000 (4th Night Free) = 30,000 / 1.25 (Premier) = 24,000 points

In this example, ThankYou points are worth more than Sapphire Reserve points.  Sapphire Reserve points are worth 1.5 cents per point towards travel.  In this example, the pooled Prestige and Premier points are worth 1.67 cents each.

I was still not convinced

Pooling points clearly leads to a way to spend fewer points for a 4 night stay.  It is counter-intuitive, though, to say that the points are worth 1.67 cents each.  After all, when it comes time to pay, you clearly get only 1.25 cents per point value compared to the cash price.  For this reason, in my previous post on this topic I added a section titled “Wait, isn’t the value really just 1.25 cents per point?”  I wrote and re-wrote that section several times.  In a way, today’s post is yet another re-write of that section.  But, I still mostly agree with what I wrote there:

Ultimately it depends on whether you compare the point price to the original hotel price or to the price after the 4th Night Free.  If you compare to the former, then your pooled points are worth up to 1.67 cents each.  If you compare to the latter, then they are worth exactly 1.25 cents each with the Premier card.

In other words, if you take it as a given that you are using the 4th Night Free benefit and you’re simply trying to decide whether to use points or pay with your Prestige card, then your points are worth 1.25 cents each with a pooled Premier card.

On the other hand, if you are trying to decide which points to use for a hotel stay, and if all paid price options are equal, the 1.6 to 1.67 per point value is accurate since you can’t use other point currencies to book 4th Night Free stays.

More intuitive to think of it as a discount

In retrospect, I think that the entire topic is better understood in terms of discounts rather than point value.  When a card offers more than 1 cent per point value towards travel, that means that travel rewards cost fewer than 1 point per cent.  For example, with a card that offers just 1 cent per point value, a $100 award would cost 10,000 points.  But with a card that offers 1.25 cents per point value, a $100 award would cost 8,000 points.  That’s a 20% discount.

Via this approach, we get:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 33.33% pay with points discount towards travel rewards
  • Citi Prestige: 4th Night Free = 25% discount for 4 night stays with no taxes, but no additional point discount
  • Citi Premier: 20% pay with points discount towards travel rewards
  • Pooled Prestige plus Premier: Prestige 25% discount combines with Premier 20% discount = 40% discount 

I’m sure some readers will tell me why the above is wrongheaded, but to me it’s clear.  The Prestige card offers up to 25% off hotel stays.  And if you have a pooled Premier card, the Premier card offers an additional 20% discount that applies only if you pay with points.  Whether or not it’s a good idea to pay with points is a whole different story…

The ultimate nail in the 1.67 cents per point coffin

I’m now convinced that when combining a discount or rebate (4th Night Free) with point values, we should discuss the combination as discounts rather than point values.  While I don’t think that my math or logic was wrong, I now think that I was wrong to describe the combined benefit as “up to 1.67 cents per point value.”

I still think that it is logically correct to say that the combination of the Premier and Prestige card can offer up to 1.67 cents per point value towards a hotel stay, but only until you take it as a given that the Prestige benefit will be used.  The problem is that it is not helpful to think of point values in that way.  Here’s an example of where it would be problematic to think of it this way: If you took the 1.67 cents thing at face value, you may excitedly sign up for both cards in order to get that value from 4 night stays. But then, once you decide to use the Prestige 4th Night Free benefit, the 25% discount becomes a given and the decision to use your ThankYou points comes down to whether or not you want to get 1.25 cents per point value from the Premier card.  And, at that point, you would say no because you believe that you can get up to 1.67 cents per point value!

I now think it is much better to say that it is possible to stack the Prestige 4th Night Free discount with the Premier 20% pay with points discount.  Whether you want to do the latter depends on whether you value your ThankYou points at or below 1.25 cents each, and whether you’re willing to accept the ThankYou portal’s online booking limitations (inability to apply promo codes, possibility that you won’t earn hotel points for your stay, etc.).

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. No matter how words are applied to this logic, from a math perspective 1.67x one way is exactly the same as 40% discount the other way.

    24,000 x 1.67 = 40,000
    40,000 x 0.60 = 24,000

    • Exactly. But people (including me) get confused by the fact that the value changes once you take the 4th night free as a given. I think that it is more intuitive to think of it as a discount. Then I think it is clear. You start with a 40% discount. Once you decide to go with the 25% discount (4th night free) you are then left with the decision of whether or not to apply the additional 20% discount.

      • Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get what there is to get tripped up about. If you have the points for the redemption, it’s a no-brainer to go for the 40% discount (or 1.67x value). Because of their unpredictable long term value, points are for spending, not hoarding.

  2. For me this is crystal clear. I don’t understand why people get worked up over this.
    IF you decide that you want to use your thank you points you could get up to 1.67 cents hotel value per point.
    If you use cash hopefully you get for than $1 of hotel value using discounts like that 4th night free prestige benefit or AAA etc.

    The fact that you can combine the two is very valuable. Thanks Greg!

  3. Greg – I appreciate all of your blogging and deals (Truly!). But I just can’t get onboard your math.
    It’s fine as a promotional piece for someone that isn’t aware that Prestige has a fourth night free.

    The only way that the math makes sense at 1.67 is *if* the only way you got 4th night free was by paying with points. At that point, I completely agree.

    However, as you stated in your very first example, the cost for 4x$100 nights is either:
    $300
    OR
    30K points (from Prestige).
    24K Points (from Premier)

    It’s very clear that the prestige points are with one cent per point.

    Put another way – if Prestige points were still worth 1.66 points towards AA flights (and you still fly AA), there is no way that you would EVER use the prestige points towards a hotel booking.

    • Not trying to argue with you here — just interested in the discussion. The comparison looks like this I believe:

      Only hold Premier = 32,000 points
      Only hold Prestige = 30,000 points
      Pool Premier/Prestige (must have both) = 24,000 points

      But then you’re right that we have to compare those points costs against the alternatives, which include:

      Pay cash with Prestige = $300
      Pay cash with any other card = $400
      Pay with UR points and hold the CSR = 26,666 Ultimate Rewards points
      Pay with UR points and hold CSP = 32,000 Ultimate Rewards points

      (or we could also compare to other currencies)

      So let me ask you this:

      If you hold a Prestige card, are Ultimate Rewards points still worth 1.5 cents each towards hotels with the CSR? Or are they worth less because we should compare them to the cash rate we could pay with the Prestige?

      Not a facetious question. Cross-currency comparison is important in determining which points to earn, valuating signup bonuses, etc. Does this ancillary benefit (4th night free on paid stays) devalue other currencies in your opinion?

      In this case, I think it’s clear that pooled Prestige/Premier points are more valuable than Ultimate Rewards points as they buy you the same hotel room for less. At a minimum, they are worth more than whatever your valuation of UR points is in this scenario, no?

      • If you hold a Prestige card, UR are worth less for hotels. We’re only debating semantics here, but if you’re measuring in terms of $ per point, the cash amount should include all available discounts. So if we use the example of someone with Premier, Prestige, and CSP, their options are (for $100/night for 4 nights):

        Cash: $300
        TYP: 24,000 (1.25 cents per point)
        UR: 26,667 (1.125 cents per point)

        Think of it this way. The most you ever would have spent in cash is $300. So redeeming 26,667 UR saves you $300, not $400. This means the value is $300 / 26,667 = 1.125 cents per point.

        This would also help you realize that since UR points are still worth 1.5 cents toward flights and other travel, if you are a Prestige cardholder, redeeming UR points for 4+ night hotels stays is a bad value.

        • This all goes back to what I wrote before: If you take the Prestige 4th Night Free as a given then points are worth 1.25 cents. Prior to taking it as a given you get the 1.67 cent value. I think it also reinforces why I believe it’s better to discuss discounts rather than point values!

      • I agree with Andy – *if* you’re going to be spending 4 nights in a hotel and *if* you have the Prestige, it definitely does devalue Chase UR for that hotel stay.

        I do get where you’re coming at from now though – Chase UR are “always” worth 1.5 cpp when redeeming.
        However, because I can get another big discount by paying with the Citi Prestige 4th night, in that scenario the UR aren’t actually worth 1.5 cpp because the max I would have paid is $300, not $400.

        Because of that, I would think of 4th night free in terms of a discount that can only be applied to certain bookings.

  4. Can’t reply to your comment, so I have to start a new one.

    >> I think it also reinforces why I believe it’s better to discuss discounts rather than point values!

    I think point values are a necessary part of the equation. Considering the same example, let’s say we’re debating UR vs. cash, and you have both CSR and Prestige.

    UR is a 33.33% discount, and cash is a 25% discount. Doesn’t thinking this way make it sound like you should use UR? However, I think we’d all agree that in this scenario, you’re better off saving UR for flights or other travel if you have the 4th night free benefit available.

    I suppose the proper way to look at the above is to say you probably shouldn’t use UR for a 33.33% discount when there is a 25% discount since there are other cases (flights, etc.) where UR gives you a 33.33% discount, and there is no cash discount (0%) available. Personally, I think this way of thinking is more complicated than just calculating point values.

    It’s also a challenge to compare redeeming points for travel expenses vs. transferring to partners if you’re thinking exclusively in discounts. I don’t think you can get around that one without calculating point values eventually. Thus, I’d argue it’s easier to just calculate point values from the beginning.

    The only reason there is any confusion regarding point values is that some people are calculating the cash cost of your example as $400 for 4 nights for a Prestige cardholder. Well, there is absolutely no scenario where a Prestige cardholder would every pay $400 for the 4-night stay. Cash cost is $300, period, and point values should be based off of that.

  5. I must be getting old. I skip over all the math portion.

    I feel a lot of this point hobby is mistaking trees for the forest. People are trying to get most out of their points, whether the redemption makes sense or not.

    I have some amazon credit, I am about order crap I don’t need because I don’t want the credit to expire unused. The whole points hobby sounds like the same. Ordering crap you don’t need just so that you can get the most money out of it.

  6. The problem with the 1.67 cent per point viewpoint is that it attributes the entire 1.67 value to the POINTS and not the Prestige CARD, when in reality the value comes from a combination of the Premier TY POINTs’ 1.25 cent value and the CARD’s x1.33 feature (aka buy 4 get 1 back).

    I think if one were to claim “each Thankyou point is worth 1.67 cents if used this way”, that person should also say: “each $0.01 USD cash is worth 1.33 cents if used this way”.

    The impressive x1.33 comes solely from having the Prestige, not from TYP. Similarly, the x1.25 feature comes from having the Premier, not intrinsically TYP.

    In short, yes 1.67 cent per TYP is achievable and correct and helps compare the Citi Prestige+Premier combo vs. CSR for a specific use – booking 4 nights of hotels – but it is NOT for a generic value comparison between TYP and UR. Points are points and card features are card features! (nobody is blending/confusing travel protection or any other features with point values, so why these features?)

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