After a prolonged hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, money expert Clark Howard says he’s traveling a lot more as of late. And like many other people, he’s racked up vast amounts of reward points and miles.
If you have a lot of travel points stored up, Clark says you might want to redeem them sooner rather than later.
Here’s Why You Should Use Your Travel Points Now
“Now, because of all these points in people’s accounts, the airlines and hotels are going through vast waves of devaluation, where your points suddenly are worth a tiny amount compared to what they were before,” Clark says.
The point devaluations are not happening just in the airline industry, but hotels as well, according to Clark. Here’s what you need to know about airline points; then we’ll talk about hotels.
For International Flights
Clark says point devaluations are hitting hard, especially for travelers who are mega-volume chargers on credit cards and who have historically used their airline points to go to the front of the plane for international flights.
“Don’t cry a river for them,” Clark says, “but the redemptions have been devalued on several of the airlines by 75%, meaning it now takes four points or miles equivalent for each point it took before.”
As an example of how steep of a decrease these devaluations have been, Clark says a flight that cost 150,000 points a couple of years ago may now cost you 600,000 points.
For Domestic Flights
Clark says the increases have not been as great for domestic flights, particularly in coach, but there’s been a clear loss in value in points.
“I don’t see that the trend is ever going to be your friend again with how airlines treat your points,” he adds.
How To Get the Most Out of Your Travel Points
If you’re sitting with a large pile of points, the key is to look into variable reward levels, Clark says.
What Is the Variable Rewards System in Travel?
The variable rewards system is a dynamic method that travel providers use to award their best customers with perks, discounts and various deals. While the system used to be governed by a static formula, in recent years travel providers are fluctuating their point values.
“The airlines used to use a system where this zone was this many points, and that zone was that many points, but now they’re doing all variable dynamic demand kind of points redemptions,” Clark says.
Because the point redemptions can change frequently, you need to shop around before you book a flight.
Clark says he was recently helping a friend book a round-trip business class flight to London. The first flight they found was priced at 595,000 points. When they looked at arriving in other parts of Europe, they were able to find a flight for only 140,000 points.
Clark points out that the most expensive flights, points-wise, will be to London, Rome or Paris, because that’s where American travelers want to go.
Be Flexible When Trying To Redeem Your Points
Not only should you consider a different destination to stretch your points, Clark says you should look at several different airlines.
He says most U.S. travelers think about redeeming their points only on the airline they normally fly or through whatever frequent flier credit card they have, but that’s no longer the best deal.
“Often, the redemptions to a destination will be better if you go on one of the partner flights or redeem through the codeshare rather than with that airline itself,” Clark says.
Find an Airline’s Partners
In the airline industry, airline websites typically have a list of the carriers they partner with. For example, Delta Air Lines has a webpage that lists its partner carriers.
Look for Codeshare Flights
Similarly, codeshares, flights that are shared by two or more carriers, can be found online as well. According to Scott’s Cheap Flights, while you’re booking, you can find a codeshare “usually under the flight number with the words ‘operated by,’ displaying the operating airline’s name.”
Are Hotels Devaluing Points, Too?
Clark says hotels are also reducing what your points are worth. He says one hotel chain is particularly guilty of this.
“Marriott has been so actively devaluing their Bonvoy [loyalty program] points that a lot of people are saying ‘Bon Voyage’ to Marriott,” Clark says.
As a result, Clark says that travelers can get a better deal looking outside of their hotel loyalty programs.
“Unless you’re a corporate traveler and the company is paying for all your hotel stays, book with third-party discounters. Don’t ever book with the hotel chains anymore,” Clark says.
How to get a good deal on a hotel room.
Clark says over the past couple of years, airlines have been devaluing the points you may have accumulated. To get the best value, look into redeeming your points with your favorite airline’s partners and on codeshare flights.
For hotels, don’t restrict yourself to accepting devalued point redemptions just because you’re a member of a certain hotel chain’s loyalty program.
“You become a free agent if it’s your money, and you book whatever the best deal is at the best quality hotel that you can find for where you’re staying that night,” he says.