When To Buy Points and Miles
Details on buying points and miles for airlines and hotels. Learn when it makes sense to do so. Covers cost per point/mile, active promotions, and more.
Buying points and miles are frowned upon within the credit card rewards world. This is because buying rewards will generally not be worth what you paid for them... which is true most of the time. But every blue moon comes a time in which buying points or miles can save you money or give you that extra push you need for your next redemption.
The thing you have to remember about buying rewards is that you need to run the math before making the purchase. Buying points and miles just to buy them because they're on sale or because you "think" it's a good deal will lose you money in the long run.
Another thing to note is that not all points and miles are created equal. There's some programs that you can easily buy rewards for and find great value and there's some programs in which you should probably never buy rewards for (outside of topping off your account). Below are the main reasons for buying points and miles.
Top Off Your Account
The most common reason for buying points and miles is to top off your account. If you're a few rewards shy of a redemption, this could be an easy way to purchase those few extra points or miles. For example, I frequently visit Tampa, Florida to visit family for the weekend. My favorite IHG hotel down there is the Holiday Inn Express & Suites near Ybor City which will cost me 20,000 IHG Points per night.
Looking at the rates for a weekend stay, the hotel is hovering around $198.55 per night which would be a total of $456.67 for two days after taxes are factored in.
This means that redeeming IHG Points for this hotel would give me a value of 1.14 cents per IHG Point which is higher than the 0.7 cents value I give them. That makes this an excellent redemption... but I happen to be about 2,000 points shy...
Since I don't have any way to transfer points to my IHG account, this is a prime opportunity to buy points. Jumping over to IHG's Buy Points page, I can buy 2,000 points for $27. No... it's not the best rate to buy points at, but paying $27 to give myself enough points for 2 award nights at my favorite hotel is easily worth it to me.
Outside of buying points, there were several other options I could go with. This includes:
- Using points for 1 night and paying cash for the other
- Using IHG's points + cash option
- Transferring points to IHG from other rewards programs
Using Points For 1 Night
Redeeming 20,000 of my IHG Points and paying cash for the second night would mean that I would have had to dish out $198.55 plus tax. I, personally, would rather use the points I have to make the entire trip cheaper. Sure, I could hold off and use those points at a later time, but I don't like holding on to points as they could devalue, the program could change, or the hotel may not be available for rewards bookings the next time I want to stay there (this has happened many times).
IHG's Points + Cash
IHG does have a points + cash option for reward bookings. For this particular hotel, it would cost me 30,000 Points + $108 to book. This would give the IHG Points a total value of 1.16 cents each which is slightly higher than booking in all points. That makes this a valid option if you don't mind dishing out $108. Plus, you'll earn some IHG Points on the small cash portion you paid so it could easily be worth taking this route. Again, I personally would rather pay out $27 total, but that's just me.
Transferring Points To IHG
You can earn airline miles and hotel rewards points by transferring rewards directly to your account (more about that below). For example, if you're part of Chase's Ultimate Rewards Points program, you can transfer earned points in that program directly to your IHG account. So you can take 2,000 Ultimate Rewards Points and turn them into 2,000 IHG Points. Now whether you take this route depends on how much you value the points you're transferring. Ultimate Rewards Points are worth an easy 1.25 to 1.5 cents each with the possibility to be worth a lot more. I can get more than $27 in value out of 2,000 Ultimate Rewards Points. So while I personally wouldn't take this route, it's a possibility that you may. This will be more of personal preference.
This is just one of the many examples on how you can use points and miles to top off your account. If you're a few rewards short of a redemption this something you'll want to consider especially if points/miles are on sale.
Save Money On Bookings
From time to time, you'll find a promotion in which the points/miles being sold are at a value that are close to their average redemption value. This can create opportunities in which it becomes cheaper to buy rewards and redeem them versus paying straight cash. This happens primarily with hotels and not-so-much with airlines. This is the most overlooked reason when it comes to buying rewards.
Let's use IHG's popular 80% more promotion as an example. This particular promotion (or a variation of it) comes around a few times per year. Using the same example listed in the Top Off Your Account Balance section above, a 2-day stay at the Holiday Inn Ybor City costs $456.67 in cash or a total of 40,000 IHG Points.
Let's pretend that I have 0 IHG points and that I'm not even a member, but there's an event going on at the Holiday Inn Ybor City and that's where the entire family is staying. I could dish out $456, but with the IHG 80% more promo I would actually save money buying points.
For this promotion, I can buy 23,000 IHG Points and receive a bonus of 18,400 IHG Points for a total of $238.05. I can then redeem those points of the 2-night stay at the Holiday Inn Ybor City.
So buying enough IHG Points for a 2-night stay would be cheaper than paying the cash price. This would save me whopping $218.62. It's sales like this that makes buying hotel rewards points worth it.
What About Airline Miles?
This is possible to do with airline miles, but it's on more the extreme side of the fence that will generally apply to expensive (overpriced) business/first class tickets. First and business class tickets can cost thousands of dollars. In more instances than not, buying airline miles when they're on sale will generally be cheaper than dishing out thousands for an upper class ticket.
As an example, let's look at Business/First class flights on United from Atlanta to Rome, Italy during mid July. We will also use United's 85% more promotion when it comes to buying points.
Looking at Business/First class, these tickets are going to be on the expensive side costing you between $3,368 and $4,668 round-trip.
Jumping over to United Miles, you can generally find one-way flights for around 70,000 United Miles in each direction. Here's the cost in miles from Atlanta to Rome (one-way):
And flying back from Rome to Atlanta is a little cheaper in some instances even though you'll have to dish out a little more in taxes/fees.
So overall, this flight would cost 130k-140k United Miles plus around $80-$100 in taxes depending on the flight.
During United 85% bonus miles promotion, you can buy United Miles for as cheap as 2.03 cents each. This means I can buy 140,000 United Miles for $2,859.50. This saves me between $500 and $1,800 depending on the cash price of when I was planning on going.
If you're a frequent flyer of United, you'll want to take into consideration the amount of miles you would earn if you had paid cash for the flight. Yes, you would earn a lot of miles... but would you earn $500 to $1,800 worth of United Miles? Probably not, but you'll also want to take into account your credit towards United Premier Status if that's what you have or what you're going for.
This really only works for international air travel. This method is a very rare occurrence for domestic flights.
Holidays and Inflated Prices
While this technically falls under 'Saving Money On Bookings', I treat holidays and inflated prices a tad bit different. During the holidays or peak-travel times, hotel and airfare tends to become a little pricey. For the most part, some loyalty programs do not increase the cost in rewards (at least right away) which gives you the opportunity to buy points and miles to save money on a booking.
The most popular example includes stays during the New Years holiday. Looking at some Marriott hotels around Times Square, it will run you as much as $609 per night or 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points. At the standard rate, Marriott Bonvoy Points will cost you 1.25 cents each. That means purchasing 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points would cost you $437.50 which is cheaper than paying $550-$600 per night. If you were planning on paying cash, this is one of those prime opportunities in which buying points would be the better option. And like IHG, Marriott also has sales several times per year. Marriott Points can be purchases for as low as 0.875 cents several times during the year.
When Marriott Points can be purchased for 30% off, you can get an even better deal. At 0.875 cents each, I could buy 35,000 points for $306.25 and save $260 to $300+ staying at these two Times Square hotels.
You'll want to make sure that you've exhausted all other ways you can go about earning Marriott Bonvoy Points. This includes transferring rewards directly into your Bonvoy account with transfer partners. With these examples, both hotel redemptions will give your Marriott Bonvoy Points a value of more than 1.6 cents per point making it easily worth transferring points from popular programs such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards directly to your Marriott Bonvoy account.
Any Other Time It Makes Sense
I can come up with plenty of examples on when buying rewards is worth it. The main thing to remember is that if you can redeem them for more than what you paid for them, it's more than likely a good redemption. If you're planning on booking a hotel or purchasing airline tickets, you'll want to check more than just the cost in cash as you can save some serious money buying points and miles as well. Just be sure to do these things:
- Run the calculations and make sure that it is worth the purchase
- Have a redemption in mind before buying points and miles
- Don't buy points/miles just to buy them regardless of the deal
- Don't let others tell you that it's always a bad idea to buy rewards, because it's not
As long as you remember to buy rewards responsibly, you can benefit from the purchase of rewards.
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