What are oddball airline miles worth?

Updated 2/13/2017: Added Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

“Regular” airline miles are those in which 25,000 miles can be redeemed for a US round trip domestic flight.  AA, Alaska, Delta, United, and many other airline miles fit this profile.  For details, see: What are airline miles worth?

Many airline loyalty programs do not fit this pattern though.  Here, I refer to the others as “oddball airline miles”:

  • British Airways Avios are worth 1.17 cents each
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles are worth 1.17 cents each
  • Frontier Bonus Miles are worth 1.02 cents each
  • Hawaiian Miles are worth 0.81 cents each
  • JetBlue TrueBlue points are worth 1.46 each
  • LATAM Pass kilometers are worth 0.67 cents each
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards are worth 1.6 cents each
  • Virgin America Elevate points are worth 2.1 cents each

What this means

With British Airways Avios, it is reasonable to expect to get at least 1.17 cents per point value.  With JetBlue TrueBlue points, it is reasonable to expect to get at least 1.46 cents per point value. The actual value you get from your miles will vary depend upon how the miles are used.

Overview

With most frequent flyer programs, the value a person gets from airline miles depends entirely on how they’re used.  It’s often possible to get very high value (above 2 cents per mile) or very low value (less than 2 cents per mile).  By cherry picking the best opportunities, you should be able to get better value for your miles.

My goal is to identify a value with which it is reasonable to get that much value or better.  I call this value the Reasonable Redemption Value (RRV).

Methodology

In a recent post I argued that with most airline miles it is “reasonable” to expect to get at least 1.4 cents per mile worth of travel.  I call this the Reasonable Redemption Value (RRV). See: Airline Miles are worth 1.4 cents each. A simplified approach to Reasonable Redemption Values.

To get to that number, I had to make a number of BIG assumptions:

  • Most people in the US use their miles to book domestic economy flights.
  • Most frequent flyer programs offer 25,000 mile round-trip economy awards within the continental United States.
  • It is reasonable to assume that people who are flexible with their flight dates and times can find saver level awards (e.g. 25,000 mile round-trip).
  • The average domestic round-trip flight price is $361 (Found here, based on 2016 data).

Given the above assumptions, I calculated the Reasonable Redemption Value:

  • RRV = (Average Flight Price – TSA Fee) / (25,000 miles) = 1.4

The prior post’s argument applied only to airline loyalty programs that offer round-trip domestic award travel for 25,000 miles.

In this post, I used variations on the above methodology in order to calculate RRVs (Reasonable Redemption Values) for each of these airline programs:

  • British Airways Avios
  • Frontier Bonus Miles
  • Hawaiian Miles
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • LATAM Pass
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Virgin America Elevate

All values calculated below are subject to change without notice.

British Airways Avios: 1.17 cents per Avios point

British Airways has a distance based award chart.  Points required for a flight depend upon miles flown and are tallied separately for each direct leg of travel.

Within the US, British airways charges the following rates for each direct leg of economy travel:

  • Between 0 and 1,150 miles: 7,500 Avios
  • Between 1,151 and 2,000 miles: 10,000 Avios
  • Between 2,001 and 3,000 miles: 12,500 Avios
  • Between 3,001 and 4,000 miles: 20,000 Avios
  • Between 4,001 and 5,500 miles: 25,000 Avios
  • Between 5,501 and 6,500 miles: 30,000 Avios
  • Between 6,501 and 7,000 miles: 35,000 Avios
  • 7,001 miles and more: 50,000 Avios

I believe that all domestic flights are less than 3,000 miles, so only the first three rows of the above chart are relevant for non-stop (direct, actually) one-way flights.  In other words, direct one-way flights range in award price from 7,500 to 12,500 Avios.

One-stop one-way award prices, then, would range from 15,000 to 25,000 Avios.  But, the higher end is unlikely since it would require two segments above 2000 miles each.  More realistically, one-way one-stop prices range from 15,000 to 20,000 Avios.

So, we now can say that round trip award prices range from 15,000 to 40,000 Avios.  Let’s somewhat arbitrarily assume that an “average” trip includes one-way non-stop at 12,500 Avios plus one-stop 10,000 Avios + 7,500 Avios.  That gives us a total round trip award cost of 30,000 Avios.

Using the methodology previously documented, we can then estimate British Airways Avios’ Reasonable Redemption Value:

  • The average domestic round-trip flight price is $361 (Found here, based on 2016 data).
  • TSA fees, round-trip = $11.20
  • Flight value = $361 – TSA fees (rounded down to $11) = $350
  • RRV = 35,000 cents / 30,000 Avios
  • RRV = 1.17 cents per Avios point

Note that this is a very conservative value estimate.  If you use Avios for short distance non-stop travel you can do much better.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 1.17 cents per mile

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles has a distance based award chart.  Actually, it has a number of different distance based award charts.  The one that applies depends upon whether you will fly Cathay Pacific or partners, the number of partners, the phase of the moon, etc.  The award charts can be found here.

Some awards can be booked online, others must be booked by filling out and submitting a form.  Here are the details from the Cathay Pacific website:

Redeem your miles for our flexible range of flight awards. Simply use the Flight Award Finder to find out how many miles you’ll need for your flight. You can redeem flight awards for Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia Airlines, Qantas Airways and Qatar Airways directly at Asia Miles Travel Services Limited online booking website or fill in the Airline Award Request form for travel on other carriers.

The chart that I believe is in effect when flying either American Airlines or Alaska Airlines (the two domestic options we have), is the Asia Miles chart (where award zones are based on one-way distance):

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Award Chart

Cathay prices economy AA flights JFK to LAX at 30,000 miles round trip.  This makes sense because the one-way distance between JFK and LAX is just under the 2,500 mile threshold.  Boston to LAX, though, is just over the threshold and prices at 45,000 miles round trip.  Short trips price lower (either 20,000 or 15,000 miles round trip, depending on the one-way distance).

To make things easy here, I’m going to assume that the “average” domestic flight will fit into the 30,000 mile bucket.  With that we can calculate the RRV:

  • RRV = (Average Flight Price – TSA Fee) / (30,000 miles)
  • Average Flight Price = $361 (Found here, based on 2016 data).
  • TSA Fee = $11.20
  • RRV = ($361 – $11.20) / 30,000 = 1.17 cents per mile

Frontier Bonus Miles: 1.02 cents per Frontier Mile

Frontier is a low cost carrier that charges 20,000 miles per round trip award flight.  Since Frontier’s prices tend to be lower than traditional airlines, it doesn’t seem right to use the average domestic round trip flight price to calculate Frontier’s Reasonable Redemption Value.

Instead, I used FlightAward Insight to find Frontier’s median prices for undisclosed and unrestricted fare classes on several routes:

  • Denver to LaGuardia: $104, $141
  • Denver to Miami: $109, $120.50
  • Denver to LAX: $98, $99
  • Denver to Seattle: $104.25, $106.75

The unweighted average (mean) of the above flight prices comes to approximately $110.  Frontier’s round trip average price, then, can be estimated at $220.

  • Average domestic round-trip: $220 (as estimated above)
  • Award fees: = $5 (Frontier) + $11.20 (TSA) = $16
  • Flight value = $220 – $16 = $204
  • RRV = 20,400 cents / 20,000 Frontier Miles
  • RRV = 1.02 cents per mile

Hawaiian Miles: 0.81 cents per mile

Hawaiian Miles can be redeemed several different ways.  One option is to redeem for JetBlue flights as follows (found here):

use-hawaiian-miles-on-jetblue

The above chart gives us an idea of the value of Hawaiian Miles:

  • $99 ticket at 10,000 miles = .99 cents per mile
  • $100 ticket at 15,000 miles = .67 cents per mile
  • $179 ticket at 20,000 miles = .9 cents per mile
  • $180 ticket at 25,000 miles = .72 cents per mile
  • $259 ticket at 30,000 miles = .86 cents per mile
  • $260 ticket at 35,000 miles = .74 cents per mile
  • $339 ticket at 40,000 miles = .85 cents per mile
  • $340 ticket at 45,000 miles = .76 cents per mile
  • $419 ticket at 50,000 miles = .84 cents per mile

Mean value: .81 cents per mile

JetBlue TrueBlue: 1.46 cents per point

Wandering Aramean has a great post (found here) in which he found the median per point value of JetBlue points equals 1.46 cents.

LATAM Pass: 0.67 cents per kilometer

LATAM Pass Kilometers can be redeemed for American Airlines (and other OneWorld partners) flights at the following rates (found here):

latam-pass-award-chartIn the British Airways Avios calculations (above), we estimated that an average domestic round trip flight may include three segments, as follows: one long segment (2,000 to 3,000 miles), one medium segment (1,150 to 2,000 miles), and one short segment (less than 1,150 miles).

We can convert those segments to kilometers, as follows:

  • Long segment: 3,220 to 4,830 Km
  • Median segment: 1,850 to 3,220 Km
  • Short segment: Less than 1,850 Km

Award prices then would be:

  • Long segment: 3,220 to 4,830 Km = 27,000 LATAM Pass Km
  • Median segment: 1,850 to 3,220 Km = 14,000 to 27,000 LATAM Pass Km
  • Short segment: Less than 1,850 Km = 6,000 to 14,000 LATAM Pass Km

Let’s then pick the following point values:

  • Long segment: 27,000 LATAM Pass Km
  • Median segment: 17,000 LATAM Pass Km
  • Short segment: 8,000 LATAM Pass Km

Total award cost for round trip domestic flight = 52,000 LATAM Pass Km

  • The average domestic round-trip flight price is $361 (Found here, based on 2016 data).
  • TSA fees, round-trip = $11.20
  • Flight value = $361 – TSA fees (rounded down to $11) = $350
  • RRV = 35,000 cents / 52,000 LATAM Pass Km
  • RRV = 0.67 cents per LATAM Pass Km

Note that significantly better value should be obtainable when using LATAM Pass kilometers for LATAM flights.

Southwest Rapid Rewards: 1.6 cents per point

As found in the Frequent Miler post “The new true value of Southwest points,” observed values of Rapid Rewards points when used for Wanna Get Away fares ranged from 1.61 to 1.69 cents per point.  For this exercise I’ll simply use the minimum observed value and round down to 1.6.

Note that I am not using the post’s “enhanced valuations” that take into account the fact that Southwest points are earned only on paid flights.  The reason?  This trade-off has not been included in other RRV calculations, so I’m excluding it here too to remain consistent.

Virgin America Elevate: 2.1 cents per point

Using the Virgin America website, I randomly looked at many flight paid prices compared to point prices for the same flights.  After accounting for TSA fees, I found per point values ranging from 2.1 to 2.6 cents.  I’ll err on the conservative side here and pick 2.1 as the RRV.

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