All Miles/Points Are NOT Equal

When talking to people about this hobby of points and miles, I’ve found explaining that a point in one program is not worth the same as a point in another program is one of the most difficult concepts for people to understand. Using two hotel chains as an example, why are a Starwood point and a Hilton point not equal? You have 1 mile/point in each program so they are worth about the same, right? Wrong!

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I’ve gone over the different types of points you can earn in a previous post, here. Now  let’s talk about how even the same type of points can have very different values.

I’ll use the above mentioned hotel points and two previous credit card offers as an example. Which one would you sign up for?

Hilton Surpass American Express 100,00 point sign up bonus

or

Starwood American Express 35,000 point sign up bonus

On the surface, it would seem the offer for Hilton is much better than the one for the Starwood card. After all, it’s more points and more is better, right?  Not necessarily. I actually signed up for the Starwood points – I feel they’re worth much more than those for Hilton. I estimate that the 35,000 Starpoints are worth around $800 to me and 100,000 Hilton points are only worth about $400.

How did I come up with those values? I used what I’ve read from other websites like The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time, combined with my personal experience redeeming points with each hotel brand.

I’ve used my Starwood points to stay in some wonderful hotels, like the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. I used a combination of 18,000 points and $330 cash to stay here for 3 nights in 2015. At the time, if I used only points it would have cost 12,000 points a night (the amount of points needed has since gone up to 20,000 points per night).

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Garden Court of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco

I’ve also talked about our wonderful stay in London at the Great Northern Hotel. Our 4 nights in an upgraded room cost us 71,000 points. If our schedule had allowed, we could have stayed an additional night at no charge because if you are paying with Starpoints at a category 3 hotel or above, the 5th night of a stay is free.

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A stay at the Great Northern Hotel in London at King’s Cross Station cost you 12,000 to 16,000 Starpoints a night for a standard room.

So with my 35,000 Starpoints from the AMEX offer, I could stay at either of these hotels again for 2 nights and still have some points left over. That’s a pretty good deal.

Let’s look at what I can get from the 100,000 point bonus currently offered for the Hilton Surpass AMEX card. To be fair, I’ll try to look at comparable hotels to the ones mentioned above.

While there isn’t a Hilton in San Francisco that would compare to the history of the Palace, one of their more popular hotels is the the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. Hilton has changed the Honors program so it’s impossible to quote exactly how many points a room would cost, but a room would have previously cost 50,000 to 60,000 points a night. Remember, a night at Starwood’s fancier Palace Hotel now goes for 20,000 points. Are you starting to see why not all points are of equal value?

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The very convention oriented San Francisco Hilton will cost you up to 60,000 points a night

Lets look at London as well. One of the standout hotels you can book with Hilton points is the Conrad London St. James. I’d definitely like to book a stay here.

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A newly remodeled hotel resides behind the classic facade of the Conrad London St. James hotel.

This is a top category hotel in the Hilton program and costs around 90,000 points a night to book a room. That’s almost the entire sign up bonus for the Hilton AMEX. I looked and the lower level Hilton hotels in London cost at least 60,000 points a night. Remember that  I stayed 4 nights (and could have stayed 5) at the Great Northern for only 71,000 points (and that was paying extra for an upgraded room).

With these examples, I’ve limited my comparison to two large hotel chains to show how much difference there can be in the value of a “point.” It’s easy to see that all points are not created equal, and it pays to do a little research to find out what value people are placing on points in a specific program before going out to earn them. That will give you a starting point for reference. When you’ve been at this for a while, you can factor in your travel patterns and needs. Then you can come up with your own values because, as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

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