Consumer Reports Money Advisor offers the following comparison to see if you’re getting the best deal when spending your frequent flyer miles:
A Saver domestic roundtrip award flight is 25,000 miles. If the ticket is worth about $350, then your miles are valued at about 1.4 cents. And if you have to spend more miles to get that domestic roundtrip award, let’s say 35,000 to 50,000 miles, the value of a mile is closer to one to 1.2 cents each.
Compare those numbers with redeeming your miles for merchandise. For example, Delta SkyMiles recently offered a $50 gift card at 1-800 Flowers or Macy’s for 18,000 miles. That equates to about 0.28 cents a mile. Also with Delta SkyMiles was a pair of Bose noise-canceling headphones for 68,100 miles. You can buy those same headphones on Amazon.com for $300. That comes out to about 0.44 cents per mile.
Your miles will be worth more with hotel and car rentals, depending on the frequent flyer program. One night at the Hilton Los Angeles near LAX over a weekend in late May cost 22,832 miles with Delta, 13,795 miles with Continental and 8,900 miles with American. American also offered the best deal in rental cars, followed by Continental and Delta. For example, Consumer Reports Money Advisor compared the cost of renting an economy Chevrolet Aveo for that same Los Angeles trip through Alamo. On Alamo’s website the rental would cost $60.77 a day. Using miles, it would cost 2,800 miles on American (2.2 cents a mile), 5,575 miles with Continental (1.1 cents) and 8,506 miles with Delta (0.71 cents).
Consumer Reports said that there is one merchandise category that qualifies as a good deal–using your miles for magazine and newspaper subscriptions. For example, a one-year subscription to Entertainment Weekly, which is $20 on Amazon.com, costs 1,300 miles with American and Continental. That works out to about 1.5 cents a mile.
But we say, would you rather read in a magazine about traveling the world, or do it?