TRAVEL REWARDS Credit Card Analysis

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Updated 11-21-2014

Travel reward credit cards are a great way to earn rewards that can help pay for your next vacation. But how much are those points, miles or other rewards currency really worth? We put the leading travel reward cards to a real-world test by booking actual flights and hotel rooms with each card's currency. Our results show how much real money you can expect to earn for every $100 you spend with each card. For more on how we did it and the methodology behind ranking the cards, see the sidebar on the right.

Our Results Summary

A summary of the travel rewards card values for each category appear in the charts below. For the full context and explanation, see the detailed information for each credit card by clicking the "+" button to the left of the credit card name. To see a specific category, click on one of the links below.

Best Average Flight & Hotel Rewards Avg. of Flight & Hotel Rewards per $100 spent:
  $2.20*  
  $2.11  
  $2.00**  
  $1.94^  
  $1.50  
  $1.41  
  $1.35  
  $1.32  
  $1.25**  
  $1.21  
  $1.16*  
  $1.14  
  $0.90  
  $0.74  

Because some people use travel reward cards primary for flights and aren't as interested in free hotel stays, we created a separate ranking for cards with the best Flight Value. This ranking only takes into consideration the Flight Value each card provides - the Hotel Value is not incorporated into the rating.

Best Flight Rewards Flight Rewards per
$100 spent:
  $2.49  
  $2.20*  
  $2.04  
  $2.04^  
  $2.00**  
  $1.75  
  $1.60  
  $1.50  
  $1.41  
  $1.25**  
  $1.16*  
  $1.06  
  $0.91  
  $0.89  
  $0.80  
  $0.63  
  $0.58  

If you're more of a road warrior, interested in free hotel stays and not as concerned about free flights, this is the list for you. The Best Hotel list ranks each card by its Hotel Value, and doesn't include the Flight Value in the rating.

Best Hotel Rewards Hotel Rewards per
$100 spent:
  $2.82  
  $2.20*  
  $2.00**  
  $1.84^  
  $1.84  
  $1.50  
  $1.38  
  $1.25**  
  $1.16*  
  $1.09  
  $0.90  
  $0.89  
  $0.78  
  $0.66  

* This value assumes card holders will redeem their earned points for travel, thereby receiving an extra 10% point bonus.

** This value assumes that the card holder will redeem their earned points for travel.

^ This value assumes the user transfers their points 1:1 to a participating travel program. For the purpose of this study we transferred points to Hyatt Gold Passport and Southwest Rapid Rewards because they offered the greatest value. We then used the 2014 Travel Rewards Analysis values for Hyatt Gold Passport and Southwest Rapid Rewards to calculate the Chase Sapphire Preferred point values.

HOTEL
Analysis

First we looked at what it costs to book hotel stays with each program. We did this by comparing the standard prices of hotels in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washingon D.C. at different times of year with the number of points required to book a free stay. We used the same dates and locations for each program, and picked dates in the high summer season as well as less traveled fall season to account for seasonal fluctuation. When possible we also attempted to book stays in the same hotel for each card.

FLIGHT
Analysis

Next we employed the same real-world type of test to determine the point exchange value for free flights. We booked flights through each rewards program website, then compared the number of points required to book an economy flight with the actual dollar value of the flight. The dollar value of the flight was obtained by matching up the exact same flight with the cost on the actual airline site. We booked roundtrip flights from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and Los Angeles to New York in both the summer and fall, and used the same criteria for each program.

REWARD
Analysis

To calculate the actual reward card value, we employed a basic formula. First we took the dollar value of the reward and divided it by the number of points required to purchase that reward.

Point Value = Reward Price / Number of Points Required to Purchase

Then we assumed a spend of $100, with 5% ($5) spent on high-point rewards like hotel stays and flights. The remaining 95% ($95) was allocated to standard point earning spends.

Value per $100 Spent = (High Point Earn * $5 * Point Value) + (Standard Point Earn * $95 * Point Value)

For efficiency purposes, we use the term "points" to descibe the rewards earned, even though programs members can earn either miles or points. The final value per $100 spent is displayed in U.S. dollar currency ($x.xx). You can see the values in the results section to the left.

RATINGS
Analysis

We created 3 different categories of rankings; one for both hotel and flights, one for flights only and one for hotels only. The methodologies differ between the categories.

The Best Hotel & Flight category took the average of both the flight and hotel values for a card. For example, if the hotel value was $2.00 and the flight value was $1.50, then the average came out to $1.75. This average was then used to rank the cards in order of value. If a card did not offer the ability to redeem rewards for both flights and hotels it was not included in this category — instead it is featured in either the Best Flight or Best Hotel category.

The Best Flight category only used the flight values for each card, not taking into account the hotel values. If a card did not offer the ability to redeem rewards for flights then it was not included in this category.

The Best Hotel category only used the hotel values, and not the flight values. If a card did not offer the ability to redeem rewards for hotel stays then it was not included in this category.

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Advertiser Disclosure: NextAdvisor.com is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most but not all of the companies whose products and services we review. For credit cards, we review cards from all of the top 10 US issuers by purchase volume (according to Issue 1035 of The Nilson Report, Feb 2014) excluding issuers that require additional accounts to be a cardholder and private label issuers. We may also review cards from other issuers in select cases. We do not review all products in a given category. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.