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Best use of frequent air miles? best CPM comparison?

Best use of frequent air miles? best CPM comparison?

Old Apr 1, 16, 11:25 pm
  #1  
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Best use of frequent air miles? best CPM comparison?

new to this game, so please forgive me....we all know that it is generally not a good use of miles to use on domestic flights (i know there are exceptions), using 25,000 points for a $250 roundtrip flight isnt that great (1 cent per mile).

international flights/business/first class is the usual sweet spot to maximize mile usage.

i booked some flights from USA throughout asia, and am getting between 3-5 cents per mile average for all the bookings. is this considered good? what is the threshold of what is "worth" using miles for? 3 cents or more? 2 cents or more?

thanks in advance.
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Old Apr 2, 16, 10:28 am
  #2  
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There's no one breakpoint for everyone. Someone who had several million miles and not much time to take big trips may have a lower breakpoint than someone who is struggling to find the miles for just one trip. Also, people who are really cash poor but miles rich and only need to fly domestically might look at it quite differently than someone who can afford to pay for all cheap domestic coach trips and can save their miles for stuff that costs much more in cash.

Also, what's relatively good in one program may not be so good in another program.

Also, actually being able to get the flight you want with miles can trump a theoretically better value that is not actually available for where and when to fly.

So your ballpark is right, but I don't see the point of worrying about where exactly to draw the line.

Finally, a lot of people will argue that the cost per mile should be evaluated based on what you would actually pay, not what the cost in cash was of the flight you took. If you agree with that approach, the CPM might be quite different than if you use the actual cost in cash of the flight you took. So if people can't even agree on how CPM should be calculated, how can they possibly agree on a single number? (I personally have quibble with this "what you would really pay" approach, which is: What if I wouldn't fly at all if I couldn't get a premium seat using miles? How to I evaluate "what I would really pay" if I wouldn't really pay and wouldn't really fly? )

Last edited by sdsearch; Apr 2, 16 at 10:34 am
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Old Apr 2, 16, 1:38 pm
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yea, all good points...im just trying to decide when one should use miles vs pay for the flights. i guess everyone has different levels of threshold as to when they would choose one over the other.
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Old Apr 2, 16, 2:03 pm
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3-5 cents per mile is a good redemption rate. In order to get better, you'd have to ask about a particular routing and cabin class.
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Old Apr 3, 16, 10:01 am
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Originally Posted by jlucero View Post
yea, all good points...im just trying to decide when one should use miles vs pay for the flights. i guess everyone has different levels of threshold as to when they would choose one over the other.
I think many don't even look at CPM. They just assume that business/first class longhaul international flights are usually pricey, they just assume that a "saver" redemption at a decent rate is a good value. Then there's others who simply look at the price of the flight, and "instinctively" decide whether it's worth paying cash for it or whether they'll try to use miles.


In fact, how do you calculate the cash cost of the flight to evaluate CPM? The cash cost of the flight can vary a lot over time, while in most programs the "saver" amount of miles needed is fixed whether you redeem 11 months out or 1 day out. But "saver" awards are not necessarily available at the same time that the best fares are available. So do you compare just against the fare that was in effect on the day you booked the award, or against the lowest fare that was ever available from whenever the flight first was made available for sale (typically 11 to 12 months out) up through the time it went to airport control?

I thus posit that the CPM value for a particular redemption is actually a range, not a single value (because the lowest price charged for that seat in cash covers a range). If someone treats the CPM as "absolute", the paradox is that two people redeeming the same amount of miles for the same flights for the same date but doing the redemption at a different time can come up with a different CPM for the exact same "seat", simply because they used the "blind men and the elephant" means of looking only at the cost of the flight at the moment of award booking.


Meanwhile, I'm confused about your use of "one" ("when one should use miles"). Are you asking when you yourself should use miles (that's much easier to answer), or when any abstract person should use miles (that's nearly impossible to answer)?

Last edited by sdsearch; Apr 3, 16 at 10:07 am
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Old Apr 3, 16, 10:47 am
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i guess what im asking is this---when you pros evaluate a flight to decide whether to pay cash for it or use miles, there must be some criteria right? surely one wouldnt use 50,000 miles for a $200 ticket. (maybe some would). but i agree--it varies and there is a range. im finding that 3-5 cpm is also a great way to use miles as well. 1-2 CPM not as good.
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Old Apr 3, 16, 11:35 am
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Originally Posted by jlucero View Post
i guess what im asking is this---when you pros evaluate a flight to decide whether to pay cash for it or use miles, there must be some criteria right? surely one wouldnt use 50,000 miles for a $200 ticket. (maybe some would). but i agree--it varies and there is a range. im finding that 3-5 cpm is also a great way to use miles as well. 1-2 CPM not as good.
I would't redeem 50,000 miles for a $200 ticket, but I've redeemed 25,000 miles for $400 tickets a number of times. I've been op-upped to business class a number of times over the years and while it's nice, I just don't value it at what the airlines are charging for it. The airlines are charging to try to maximize revenue from the seats, and there is no real intrinsic, definitive "worth" for them. I simply prefer to maximize the number of trips I get out of my miles, rather than trying to maximize an inherently subjective "value" from them. Everyone has their own priorities.
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Old Apr 3, 16, 1:12 pm
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I've been using a value of a penny a mile for ages. Coming out of Delta "owned" MSP and using SkyMiles, it seems the best I can do for the trips I am choosing.

I do also consider the value of miles "foregone" from a purchased ticket. Both the miles toward status and the miles that could be used for future travel.

And I consider myself lucky if I earn miles at a nickel each. Again - MSP and Delta.

As mentioned before, a lot depends upon your personal circumstances.
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Old Apr 3, 16, 3:05 pm
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The Points Guy has a series on points valuation. Plenty of folks here will say "I once got xxx on my flight from AAA to BBB", but I find the values to be a decent guideline.

What Are Points & Miles Worth? March Monthly Valuations


You also need to take into account your points balances - I have a large stash which I'm sure will devalue by the time I use the last one of them, so I'll err towards points when it's close.
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Old Apr 3, 16, 4:35 pm
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The best use of miles is to take a flight you wouldn't or couldn't take otherwise. Trying to attach a hard number to "value" is really a fool's errand.

People will always justify unrealistic redemption values by (a) assuming price and value are the same thing, and (b) comparing to a price they would never pay. The only value that matters is your own personal decision as to whether you'd rather pay points or cash.
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Old Apr 4, 16, 7:26 am
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I wouldn't to Omaha (no reason to go there) or Cleveland (2 hr drive) - I don't think those make good redemptions.

I agree that only chasing "value" based on ridiculous pricing is pointless. I'd never pay $17K to fly F overseas, so I don't get $17K of "value" from redeeming that flight. My entire family is flying to Australia in MCE in June - 50% of the miles but only 8% of the "value" (really? - $19K in F?). But we now have the mile to go to HKG next summer, or Europe, of the Carribean twice, etc.

I figure out where we want to go on vacation, then the most economical way to get there, then have fun for 7-14 days there, vs. fun on the 3-14 hours in the tube. If I hadn't done that, I'd have run out of miles long ago.
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Old Apr 4, 16, 10:39 am
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Originally Posted by jlucero View Post
i guess what im asking is this---when you pros evaluate a flight to decide whether to pay cash for it or use miles, there must be some criteria right? surely one wouldnt use 50,000 miles for a $200 ticket. (maybe some would). but i agree--it varies and there is a range. im finding that 3-5 cpm is also a great way to use miles as well. 1-2 CPM not as good.
Again, we don't tend to do the CPM math. It's more like "can I afford / do I want to just pay for this flight?". We "pros" know by "instinct" that most domestic flights are not worth using up 25,000 miles for, with possible exceptions for very expensive flights (such as during certain holidays, perhaps, or to non-competitive destinations).

OTOH, it's clear to many of us that we can't "afford" to pay $4k or $5k or more (typical prices) for every longhaul international flight "up front". So "instinctively" we tend to use miles for most of those (except, perhaps, when there are "deep" sales on such flights).

And if we hardly ever fly anything in between (where it's more murky whether to pay or use miles), then we hardly ever have to do anything other than use this very general "instinct".


This approach of "can I afford to pay for it" is simpler, IMHO, because it adjusts to each person's situation automatically. CPM, OTOH, has to be adjusted to each person's situation manually. Too much work if you ask me.
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Old Apr 4, 16, 11:32 pm
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The short answer, as Safigan said, is "3-5 cpm is a good rate", especially in economy class. Unless you have unlimited or excess miles, allocating miles to flights with higher cpms is just good business. I would never use miles for a 1 cpm flight. Even on Delta I've always managed at least 2 cpm on domestic flights. About the best I can get is 6 cpm on international biz class flights. Admittedly I wouldn't pay that price in cash but the lie flat beds are worth it to me using miles since I have a nice inventory of about 1 million in 6 programs.
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Old Apr 5, 16, 1:27 pm
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I'd also add that at Southwest it's irrelevant what the CPM is, because it's always the same. So if you've got enough Southwest points for a flight you'd otherwise pay with your own money, you might as well use them (unless there's some credit card bonus you're chasing that makes paying in that case better, perhaps), because they'll never be worth more (absent tiny little differences with taxes that may not be included on points redemptions).

Some of the other LCCs/ULCCs where both earning and redemption of points is at a simple fixed ratio to cash cost may be the same (in CPM never varying), I dunno, I don't belong to any of the others.
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Old Apr 5, 16, 3:10 pm
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Here's my perspective on FF mileage redemptions. I don't look at CPM.

I know that I can afford pretty much any domestic ticket, and just buy them myself. I don't feel the need for domestic first -- even transcon to California I can put up with.

However, when traveling to Europe, we really do want to fly business class. But I don't want to pay thousands per ticket for business class. So we pretty much use our miles exclusively for that. It's a comfort thing, and a cost factor because of the cost of the Europe tickets.
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