TRAVEL REWARDS Credit Card Analysis

Updated 04-16-2014

Travel reward credit cards are a great way to earn rewards to 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, see the sidebar on the right.

Our Results Summary

A summary of the travel rewards card values appears in the chart 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.

Values per $100 spent:
Program Name Flight   Hotel
  $2.00   $2.00  
  $2.00   $2.00  
  $1.35   $2.61  
  $1.50   $1.50  
  $1.72   $1.00  
  $1.75   $0.92  
  $1.33   $1.33  
  $1.80   $0.84  
  $0.82   $1.68  
  $1.25   $1.25  
  $1.05   $1.05  
  $1.05   $1.05  
  $1.05   $1.05  
  $0.64   $1.13  
  $0.59   $1.06  
  $0.63   n/a  

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.

To see the results of last year's Travel Rewards Program Analysis, click here.

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