Now that Quarter 3 of 2021 has arrived, it’s once again time to revisit our Points Valuations, which we update on a quarterly basis.
Over the last three months, we haven’t seen too many big movements across loyalty programs. Instead, several programs have implemented a few small changes here and there, with minimal impacts on our fair valuations.
We’ve therefore taken the opportunity to add new valuations for the major US-based bank currencies: Amex US MR points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and Citi ThankYou points.
Before we delve into the valuations, I should remind you that the focus of these valuations lies in the target redemption value of each points currency, rather than the acquisition cost that you might incur (which can vary significantly depending on how you prefer to earn points).
Alaska Mileage Plan: Holding Pattern, For Now
Alaska Airlines joined Oneworld on March 31, 2021, although the program has held off on announcing any major changes to the Mileage Plan redemption rates in the months since then.
We’ve been assured of at least 90 days’ notice if any changes to existing charts are announced, and we also know that Qatar Airways redemptions will be coming in August 2021, so we should have a clearer idea of the redemption chart for Qatar Airways flights by next quarter.
Since last quarter, we’ve seen offsetting impacts to the overall utility of the Mileage Plan program:
- On one hand, we’ve learned that Alaska’s partnership with Emirates will be ending entirely as of July 31, meaning that Emirates business class redemptions will no longer be available; this follows on from the phasing-out of Emirates First Class awards earlier this year
- On the other hand, the “technical issues” that have plagued Japan Airlines First Class awards have been fixed, bringing these redemptions back online in advance of any mooted changes to the JAL award chart later this year
With the above in mind, I think it’s fair to keep Alaska’s valuation flat to last quarter at 2.2 cents/point (CAD), as we continue to keep an eye out for what the new Mileage Plan award charts look like by the time we revisit our valuations in Quarter 4.
Amex MR Points: Value in Flexibility Again?
Around this time last year, we had lowered our valuation of Amex MR points to match its highest-valued transfer partner, Aeroplan, for one simple reason: the flexibility of having multiple transfer partners wasn’t very valuable at a time when we were hearing reports of unilateral account shutdowns by American Express.
For many who had perhaps opened and closed more than their fair share of cards, there was a genuine fear of losing all MR points at a moment’s notice due to an account shutdown; many cardholders opted to transfer out their points as a result. In those uncertain times, this phenomenon had chipped away at the value of having a flexible, transferable points currency.
In 2021, reports of unilateral account shutdowns have been far less common. Even though we can’t be sure that no one is getting into the bad books anymore, we’re no longer hearing about these account closures on a widespread basis.
Furthermore, there’s at least one confirmed instance from the Prince of Travel Club Lounge of a cardholder who had been shut down in 2020 successfully re-entering the good graces of American Express with a new credit card application in 2021.
In light of this, I’m happy to bump up the valuation of Amex MR points from 2.1 cents/point (CAD) to 2.2 cents/point (CAD), accounting for the inherent value in the versatility of being able to convert your MR points to a handful of different airline and hotel transfer partners.
- Previous valuation: 2.1 cents/point (CAD)
- Updated valuation: 2.2 cents/point (CAD) ▲
BMO Rewards: A Poor Valuation Gets Even Worse
BMO Rewards implemented a change in May 2021 that brought its already pitiful valuation even further down a notch.
Previously, the maximum value one could attain from BMO Rewards was by booking travel through the BMO Rewards portal at a value of 140 points = $1, or 0.71 cents/point. As of May 5, this ratio has been modified to 150 points = $1, or 0.67 cents/point.
It may be a tiny change, and the valuation may still round to 0.7 cents/point at the end of the day.
However, this just speaks to how dire and directionless the BMO Rewards program has proven to be – especially considering that the BMO’s supposed flagship new products, the eclipse Visa Infinite and eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege, were only launched late last year.
As travel picks back up, one would expect that BMO may wish to take advantage of this momentum and compete for a larger slice of the Canadian travel rewards market share – but I’m not holding my breath.
- Previous valuation: 0.71 cents/point (CAD)
- Updated valuation: 0.67 cents/point (CAD) ▼
New Valuations: US Transferable Points
Last quarter, we added new Points Valuations for a few key US-based loyalty programs that Canadians have easy access to: American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, IHG Rewards, and World of Hyatt.
This quarter, we’re further building out our US valuations with the transferable points currencies from the major US banks.
American Express US Membership Rewards
In my books, American Express US MR points are the easiest type of US-issued transferable currency to earn.
That’s true from a Canadian perspective because getting US credit cards for Canadians typically involves starting off with an American Express US credit card.
However, I’d also argue that it’s true from an American perspective: Amex welcome bonuses in the US tend to be bigger than its rivals, and Amex is also more lenient with approvals compared to Chase and Citi.
On the redemption side, I also find the greatest value in the Amex US ecosystem of transfer partners.
Some of the most popular US-exclusive airline loyalty program partners, such as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Emirates Skywards, and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, are in fact common to all three major transferable currencies between Amex, Chase, and Citi.
However, Amex packs the greatest punch with its own exclusive airline partners, such as ANA Mileage Club and their great-value round-the-world awards. Amex also tends to offer more frequent transfer bonuses to partner programs compared to Chase and Citi.
Taking into account the fact that Amex US MR points are also seen as more valuable than Canadian MR points on a point-for-point basis, we’re launching our valuation at 1.8 cents/point (USD), equivalent to 2.3 cents/point (CAD).
- Starting valuation: 1.8 cents/point (USD), 2.3 cents/point (CAD)
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase credit cards are a popular starting point for Americans who are getting into the rewards game, given the strategic considerations around the “Chase 5/24 rule”.
For Canadians, the program tends to be a further step along the US credit card journey, since Chase generally requires at least one year of US credit history before approving you for a card.
In terms of Chase Ultimate Rewards, however, I personally find the incremental value in Ultimate Rewards points to be the least impressive among the three major US transferable currencies.
Among Chase’s exclusive partners, the only airline partner that really jumps out as potentially valuable is United MileagePlus, although those same Star Alliance flights can also be booked at a good value using a program like Aeroplan.
Meanwhile, on the hotel side, Chase has exclusive agreements with World of Hyatt and IHG Rewards Club, both at a 1:1 ratio.
In my view, Hyatt is the only truly “aspirational” exclusive Ultimate Rewards loyalty partner. Since we currently value World of Hyatt points at 1.5 cents/point (USD), I think it’s fair to account for some degree of flexibility in Ultimate Rewards and peg them at 1.6 cents/point (USD) – equivalent to 2 cents/point (CAD).
Keep in mind that Chase Ultimate Rewards will soon add the ability to transfer points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. When that happens (and it should happen by next quarter), expect our valuation to increase.
- Starting valuation: 1.6 cents/point (USD), 2 cents/point (CAD)
Citi ThankYou tends to be the third-highest priority among points collectors on both sides of the border, primarily because of the more limited set of credit cards on which you can collect ThankYou points, compared to Amex US MR or Ultimate Rewards.
Nevertheless, the Citi ThankYou program has a fair few unique airline partners, including Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles for high-value North America redemptions, as well as Qatar Airways Qmiles that can offer good value on Qsuites business class bookings.
That’s in addition to well-established airline partners that are common to all three, like Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines, plus other popular programs like Avianca LifeMiles and Air France/KLM Flying Blue.
ThankYou points can certainly be very useful to collect as a supplement to your US MR points, in case you need to pool together a big balance in a certain program on short notice.
In light of its rock-solid redemption possibilities, our valuation of Citi ThankYou points begins as 1.7 cents/point (USD) – equivalent to 2.1 cents/point (CAD).
- Starting valuation: 1.7 cents/point (USD), 2.1 cents/point (CAD)
Points Valuations, Quarter 3 2021
Here’s a summary of our Points Valuations for Quarter 3 of 2021. You can refer to the Points Valuations page for a full list with additional notes.
2.1 cents/point (CAD)
11.5 cents/mile (CAD)
15 cents/mile (CAD)
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
2.2 cents/mile (CAD)
American Airlines AAdvantage
1.4 cents/mile (USD)
American Express (Canada)
2.2 cents/point (CAD) ▲
American Express (Canada)
1.5 cents/point (CAD)
American Express (US)
1.8 cents/point (USD)
Best Western Rewards
0.7 cents/point (CAD)
0.67 cents/point (CAD) ▼
British Airways Avios
1.7 cents/Avios (CAD)
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
1.6 cents/mile (CAD)
Chase Ultimate Rewards
1.6 cents/point (USD)
1.2 cents/point (CAD)
1.7 cents/point (USD)
1.2 cents/point (USD)
0.5 cents/point (USD)
0.7 cents/point (CAD)
0.4 cents/point (USD)
0.9 cents/point (CAD)
1.9 cents/point (CAD)
1 cent/point (CAD)
0.5 cents/point (CAD)
$1.02/WestJet Dollar (CAD)
World of Hyatt
1.5 cents/point (USD)
The third quarter of 2021 has been marked by minor movements in the world of loyalty programs as global travel enters the recovery phase in earnest.
As we look ahead at Quarter 4, I’m keeping an eye out for the following potential changes in our valuations depending on how things play out:
- Aeroplan may yet introduce new airline partners for redemptions; if these partners are exciting enough, a boost to its valuation may be on the table.
- The future of American Express Membership Rewards (Select) points is somewhat uncertain; given the upcoming changes to the Cobalt Card and the Choice Card’s transformation into the new Green Card, that would leave the Business Edge Card as the only card that earns MR Select points going forward.
- As discussed above, Alaska Mileage Plan is almost certain to introduce a new redemption chart(s) now that it has joined Oneworld, which will significantly inform the future valuation of Alaska miles.
- As discussed above, the upcoming Chase and Aeroplan partnership may well bump up our valuation of Chase Ultimate Rewards points.