TL;DR — I made an award calculator that compares business class redemption rates across 10 of the most popular programs. Economy class, first class, and several more carriers are coming soon. You can specify the number of cents you value each mile to get an apple-to-apples comparison of value. It’s not free, but it’s not expensive. Read this post to learn how to get a discount.
I’m a big fan of making airline programs compete against each other.
Almost every airline has their own currency of frequent flyer miles, and in many ways they act like global currencies, where the relative value of miles can increase or decrease depending on whether the program adds or removes partners, devalues the redemption chart, or changes the rules for earning them.
But frequent flyer miles DON’T act like major global currencies in one area that really matters — transferability.
I can trade US Dollars for Euros fairly easily, and while the rates change gradually over time and commissions are made, it’s a relatively frictionless process. But for most of us in this hobby, it really matters whether we credit our flights and spending to one airline and currency or another.
This is starting to change. With the advent of transferable currencies like Chase, AMEX, SPG and Citi, many points collectors have a choice whether they should use one program or another when they want to make a redemption — and they can wait to make that choice. No longer do you save for a rainy day only to have the plug pulled out of your piggy back without notice (*cough* Delta *cough*).
How this Award Calculator is Different
There are other award calculators out there, but one of the key features to remember is that a mile is not equal across all programs. 40,000 United Miles are not equal to 40,000 ANA miles, even if it’s for travel between the same regions. Your ease of obtaining them matters!
So I spent some time last week looking at a lot of award charts and mapping every conceivable region they list into an apples-to-apples comparison across 10 programs. You can specify your personal valuation of each currency. (I already supplied the rates you pay if you buy from the airlines themselves, common promotional rates, and the “market rate” or what mileage brokers will pay for major loyalty currencies.)
QUICK NOTE: Brokering, buying, or selling miles through unapproved channels can get your account shut down by the airline. None of us at Travel Codex condone taking this risk or doing anything that violates terms and conditions. This information is simply provided as a benchmark. You can turn those rates on and off on the control panel.
But for manufactured spenders out there, you probably have an idea of how much a Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards point is worth to you (your cost to acquire). In many cases you can simply buy miles from the airline and redeem immediately, effectively creating a price cap on tickets, provided you’re flexible enough to wait for award availability.
Here Are the Details
- 10 programs currently supported: United, American, Delta, Alaska, TACA/Avianca, Air Canada, Singapore, ANA, Korean, Virgin Atlantic.
- I’ve provided business class award redemption rates from North America to over 300 destinations, countries, and regions. Really, it’s every conceivable country and territory. Several of these programs do not publish charts or make it very convoluted to understand what country is placed in what region
- Economy and first are coming very soon. I had to start somewhere, so why not business class?
- A dollar value for a ticket on each program is calculated by looking at the redemption rates and the cost to acquire each mile.
- AMEX Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, SPG Starpoints, and Citi ThankYou Rewards costs are provided if transferred to the best value program for a destination.
- We’ve sourced the cost of an “average” business fare and “low” business class fare to over 100 of the most popular countries or destinations to establish a rough benchmark on whether an award ticket saves you money over simply buying a cash fare. (For Angola, yes it saves hundreds. For Bahamas, a cash ticket is better.)
- Yes, it’s not free. It took a decent amount of time to build and I think that is worth something. But it’s not expensive by any means. Travel Codex readers can get it for 50% off by using the promo code “travelcodex” at checkout, which reduces the price to $10. Buy me a drink 🙂
How to Download the Calculator
The calculator is an Excel spreadsheet you can download at http://gum.co/awardcalculator in .xlsx format. It works great on Excel for Mac or Windows. However, OpenOffice and Google Spreadsheet are not supported (for now).
I had to start somewhere, and points and miles collectors are a very harsh, critical community to release any product to (so I’m ready for the flames in the comments). Right now this is available for North America-to-Anywhere. But Europe-to-Anywhere will be soon (mid-Oct) and Anywhere-to-Anywhere will follow. It’s just harder logic to implement.
I will be releasing the next version around September 30, which will include economy and first class rates from North America-to-Anywhere and include Air France/KLM, Lufthansa, Alitalia and Aeromexico. It will be (slightly) more expensive than this version, but anyone that buys this version will get a code that gives them a free download of the next several versions, so you’ll save a few bucks if you download it now.
British Airways/Iberia Avios and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles will also be supported soon, but because they are distance based, the logic is not nearly as straightforward as region-based charts.
But what about YQ!? I’m sure you’re all asking. Fuel surcharges are fairly hard to model reliably because airlines frequently adjust them to alter prices across entire markets. I’ve been working with a few folks to find a way to ballpark it, but it’s unlikely anyone will ever be able to give you an exact estimate. I think it will be a banded approach (<$100, $100-200, etc.) If you have ideas, feel free to contact me at boromisa [at] gmail [dot] com
How Can You Help?
Lastly, this is very much a work in progress, and there is always room for improvement. If you have constructive feedback on how to make it better, or ideas for cool features to add (yep, I want to add a map and “where can X miles take me” features), then please email me at boromisa [at] gmail [dot] com. I’m also fairly active in San Francisco and am happy to meet up in person.
Whew, that was a long post! But I hope it gives you another tool in your tool kit to get the best value you can out of your miles. Many of the best redemptions actually surprised me, since they go against the conventional wisdom in a lot of niche areas and I’d rather have a computer just tell me about sweet spots than stumble upon them with trial and error. I’ll be highlighting the quirks and sweet spots over several posts coming in the next few weeks.