Guide: When Is Buying Points & Miles A Good Value?

by | Jan 13, 2023

Almost every airline and hotel will sell points and miles directly to members but it’s tricky to know when it’s worthwhile. Some programs will only ever sell points and miles at prices that mean it won’t ever make sense but others regularly run promotions that offer significant value.

Buying points and miles can be an excellent travel hack if you’ve done the math. Generally speaking, buying points and miles is rarely a good value. Programs don’t benefit from selling the points for cost that is lower than their redemption value. However, for savvy travelers, there are times that buying points and miles makes sense especially if you’re aiming for redemptions to stay at five-star properties or flying in premium cabins.

Buying airline miles and hotel points can be a great way to get a better value for your travel, but it’s important to understand when it makes sense to buy points and when it doesn’t. So when does it make sense to buy to buy points? Let’s take a closer look at the different scenarios in which buying points can be a good deal.

When Does It Make Sense To Purchase Hotel Points?

You can find significant value over the cash price by booking hotels by using purchased points at many hotels. This phenomena is most likely to take place with luxury points hotels charging high cash rates.

Among hotels, World of Hyatt points are ordinarily sold for 2.4 cents per point. Hilton Honors and IHG One Rewards both have a regular price of 1 cent per point while Marriott Bonvoy charges 1.25 cents. Each of the programs regularly run promotions that allow members to buy points at even lower rates.

We’ll run through a couple examples of when that might be the case.

IHG Maldives Maamunagau Resort

Many examples of when buying points for a redemption can be found in the Maldives. Our first example comes from there. Let’s say you’re planning a trip and want to book a night at the InterContinental: Maldives Maamunagau Resort.

A night in an Overwater Pool Villa in December 2023 will cost you $2,425 or more a night. On the other hand, a points redemption will cost just 120,000 IHG One Rewards points.

Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort cash - points & miles
Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort points - points & miles

At standard prices (1 cent per point), you could buy the IHG One Rewards points for one night in the Overwater Pool Villa for $1,200 – a full 50% off of the cash price of the booking.

But it gets better. IHG regularly runs promotions on buying miles. Their most recent promotion (that ended on December 31, 2022) offered a 100% bonus on IHG One Rewards points purchases. If you had purchased points during the promotion and redeemed them here, you would’ve paid just $600 a night for the same villa that other guests are paying 4x as much for. Clearly a fantastic value.

Alila Ventana Big Sur

The next example of a case when buying points can make sense we’ll go over is well-known within the travel hacking community. Hyatt’s all-inclusive Alila Ventana Big Sur is known for being a fantastic value to book with points.

We took a look at some upcoming dates in April 2023 at the start of the peak season in Big Sur, California. Booking a room here with cash would start at $1,890 before roughly $300 in taxes and fees are added. On the exact same dates, booking by redeeming World of Hyatt points would cost just 45,000 points a night.

Alila Ventana Big Sur cash - points & miles
Alila Ventana Big Sur points - points & miles

At standard cost (2.4 cents per point), the cost per night if you booked with points after buying the World of Hyatt points would be $1,080. That’s over 50% off the cash cost once taxes and fees are factored in (World of Hyatt doesn’t charge fees on award stays).

However, even more value can be achieved by buying World of Hyatt points. If you bought the needed points to stay at the Alila Ventana Big Sur utilizing the current World of Hyatt promotion offering 25% off purchased miles, the cost per mile would be just 1.8 cents per point. That brings the cost per night by buying points to $810 a night, almost a full 2/3 off the cash price.

When Does It Make Sense To Buy Airline Miles?

Both Delta and United sell miles at a “regular price” of 3.5 cents each. Alaska’s standard rate is 2.75 cents per mile. American Airlines even starts regular priced sales of AAdvantage miles at 4 cents per mile!

There are situations where it can make sense to buy miles. For example, if you need to book a last-minute flight, the cost of buying a last-minute ticket can be incredibly high. But, airlines never want to leave empty seats on a flight, so they may release award availability for more flexible travelers. In this case, using miles to book a last-minute flight can be a good deal.

Another situation where buying miles can make sense is for business and first-class awards. By utilizing a mileage sale and airline sweet spots, you can get an incredible experience for a more reasonable out-of-pocket cost.

For example, you can buy 120,000 United miles for $2,100 and use them to book a one-way business class partner award to Europe for two people. This works out to $1,050 per person plus just $5.60 of taxes and fees on the award. This can be a much better value compared to paying cash for the same flights which can cost thousands of dollars.

Qatar Airways Q Suite - points & miles

When It Doesn’t Make Sense To Buy Points

Fixed-Value Programs

Some programs only offer a fixed value for redemptions which makes finding outsized value tougher. These programs have no incentive to ever sell points at a cheaper rate than its redemption level. This means that you’re unlikely to get outsized value even if the bonus for purchasing miles looks good in the promotional copy.

Southwest Airlines is one program with fixed-value redemptions. When you redeem Southwest miles, the value is almost always is 1.37 cents per mile. In other words, 10,000 Southwest miles gets you roughly $137 in airfare.

In a recent promotion, Southwest Rapid Rewards offered a bonus of up to 70% when buying points. If you did the math, the lowest cost you could get buying Southwest points as part of the promotion worked out to 1.62 cents per point. While this may seem like a good deal, it’s 18% more expensive than the actual 1.37 cents that a Southwest mile is worth. JetBlue operates on a similar model while Delta does as well for flights on its own metal.

What this means is that you’re unlikely to find good value from buying Southwest or JetBlue TrueBlue miles. Similarly, buying Delta SkyMiles is probably only worthwhile if you have a partner redemption in mind.

One exception here is when you need just a few more points to have enough for a redemption and you have no other source of getting those points. Generally, you’re still better off finding another source of points in these cases either by transferring from another program or from credit card spending. Or using cash for the purchase rather than redeeming points, saving the point or miles and letting you earn more points or miles for your next redemption.

That’s why it’s important to consider the value of the points you’re purchasing and compare it to the cost of the flights you’re interested in redeeming them for before making a decision. It’s possible that the value is there. Always do your own math and calculate the value of the redemption you have in mind vis-à-vis the cost of purchasing miles or points before pulling the trigger.

a jet blue airplane is on the runway
JetBlue TrueBlue is a fixed-rate redemption program where point purchases are unlikely to make sense.

When There’s No Promotional Or Bonus Bonus

It also rarely makes sense to buy points and miles at full price. The standard purchase price for most airlines is quite high. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines both sell miles at a “regular price” of 3.5 cents each. Alaska Airlines‘ standard rate of 2.75 cents per Mileage Plan mile. American Airlines even starts regular priced sales of AAdvantage miles at 4 cents per mile!

Among hotels, World of Hyatt points are ordinarily sold for 2.4 cents per point. Hilton Honors and IHG One Rewards both have a regular price of 1 cent per point while Marriott Bonvoy charges 1.25 cents.

These prices aren’t great value because loyalty programs sell points and miles at a higher price than members can redeem them for. Programs generate a lot of money through these sales but they’re usually not great value for consumers. Promotions can change that math.

Luckily, many programs regularly run promotions offering discounts or bonuses to incentivize members to buy miles and points. That means that unless you urgently need miles, waiting until the next bonus is usually the best move.

That’s not always the case. Buying World of Hyatt points to redeem on a stay, even at full price, can be cheaper than booking with cash. Similarly, Etihad partner redemptions can offer outsized value even when buying miles at full price.

Whether it makes sense to buy the points and miles all depends on the program and redemption you have in mind. So once again, it’s important to run your own numbers and do the math to see if it’s worth buying the points or miles for your redemption.

Alternatives to Buying Miles & Points

It’s always important to consider alternative options before buying miles.

Transferring points from a transferable currency or earning miles through a credit card is almost always a better option than buying miles. Banking points in transferable currencies that can be transferred to your preferred airline and hotel programs when needed is a great way to ensure you have the needed miles and points for a redemption.

Another alternative can be buying points through a shopping portal to earn bonus miles on purchases you’re already making. Most programs offer a shopping portal, where you can click through before making an online purchase and earn bonus points, miles or cash back.

The Upshot

Buying points and miles can be a tricky game even for the most expert travel hackers. Some programs sell points and miles at prices that make it not worthwhile, while others frequently run promotions that offer significant value. It’s important to understand when it makes sense to buy points and when it doesn’t. By understanding these nuances, you can make an informed decision on whether or not buying miles or points is the right choice for you.

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