Winter 2015 Buy Points and Miles Promotions Wrap-Up: Are They Worth It?

Nov 24, 2015

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The approaching holiday season typically brings a plethora of limited-time offers and special deals on a variety of purchases. Fortunately this also includes the points and miles universe. Some of these involve shopping portals (like United’s current promotion), but many others have been announced this month that involve purchasing or gifting points or miles. Today I’ll do a wrap-up analysis of these offers and identify which ones offer the best bang for your buck.

Earn up to 85% bonus miles with the latest buy miles promo from United.
You can earn up to 85% bonus miles with the latest buy miles promo from United.

As a quick reminder, there are currently 8 different promotions going on:

As you can see, these promotions are all over the place, so it may be a bit challenging to decide if any of them are worth it. Let’s take a closer look at each one through a few different lenses:

TPG’s Valuations

As you may or may not know, TPG does monthly valuations posts where he identifies how much a single point or mile is worth across a variety of loyalty program currencies. Here’s a table that breaks down the values from TPG’s most recent valuations and compares them to the prices you’ll pay if you max out (or are targeted for the top bonus) for each of the above program promotions (all values are in cents per mile/point):


TPG’s Valuations

Promotional Price

Percentage of Valuation

Alaska Mileage Plan




American AAdvantage




Hilton HHonors




Hyatt Gold Passport




IHG Rewards




Southwest Rapid Rewards




Starwood Preferred Guest




United MileagePlus




As you can see, several of the promotions actually drop the price to at or below TPG’s valuations:

  1. IHG: TPG pegs IHG Rewards points at 0.7 cents apiece, yet any points purchases through this promotion will drop your price to between 0.575 and 0.675 cents per point. If you purchase at least 26,000, your cost is just 82.1% of TPG’s valuations. These points can be used at a variety of luxurious hotels or at the program’s PointBreaks properties (check out the latest list here).
  2. Alaska: Mileage Plan miles are among the most valuable out there, and if you’re targeted for the 50% bonus, your price will drop to ~1.97 cents apiece (or just 98.5% of TPG’s valuation). There are many terrific redemptions out there using Alaska miles like Emirates first class and Alaska fights to Hawaii.
  3. Hilton: Hilton’s promotion is also targeted, though if you receive the 50% bonus, your price will drop to 0.5 cents apiece, matching TPG’s valuations exactly. While the program did undergo a massive devaluation back in 2013, there are still some terrific redemptions available that could make this promotion worthwhile.
An aerial view of the stunning La Verriere Restaurant in the InterContinental Paris-Le Grand
IHG’s flat 100% bonus can be a great way to book an award at the InterContinental Paris-Le Grand.

Simplicity and Flexibility

Another interesting aspect of these promotions is how different they are in terms of both duration and how targeted they are. Some run for almost two months and offer the same bonus for all members, whereas some aren’t nearly as lengthy and restrict the higher bonuses to certain members or certain thresholds. Here are some notable offers that represent some solid flexibility:

  • IHG: The best thing about IHG’s promotional offer is that it’s a flat 100% bonus for every member across all purchase thresholds (though the regular price to purchase IHG Rewards points does vary slightly depending on how many points you buy or gift). However, this one is only running through November 30, so you only have a few more days to take advantage of it!
  • Hyatt: Hyatt Gold Passport has a similar bonus offer, giving every member a flat 30% bonus when you buy or gift points. Unfortunately, this too only goes through November 30.
  • SPG: A final solid one is SPG. Even though the bonus is tiered (with 25% being used only for the maximum allowable purchase per account per calendar year of 20,000 points), you’ll still have through the rest of this month and all of December to decide whether or not to purchase. I know that I’d be ecstatic to get some bonus Starpoints for Christmas in case anyone out there needs an idea for me!
You can use your Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific first class, including a stopover in Hong Kong!
Purchasing and then redeeming AAdvantage miles for Cathay Pacific first class is one “sweet spot” within these promotions.

Sweet Spots

The final way I’ll consider these offers is by identifying those that offer a “sweet spot” (in other words, ones that will give you the perfect number of miles for a very valuable redemption). Here are a couple of notable promotions that fit the bill:

  • Alaska: You’re allowed to purchase 60,000 Mileage Plan miles in a single transaction, and it just so happens that with a 50% bonus, you’ll take home enough miles (90,000 to be exact) for a one-way flight from the US to Dubai in Emirates first class. There are (of course) many other ways to make the most of your Alaska miles, so be sure to check out Jason Steele’s post on How to Book Award Flights with Alaska Mileage Plan.
  • American: If you purchase 85,000 AAdvantage miles (at 2.02 cents apiece), you’d take home a bonus of 50,000 miles for a grand total of 135,000 miles. This happens to be the exact amount you need for a round-trip flight from the US to Asia in Cathay Pacific first class. Unfortunately the AAdvantage program’s award chart will be undergoing a major devaluation in March 2016 that will push these redemptions to 220,000 miles (an increase of over 60%), but you can still book award tickets using the old chart until March 21st.
  • Hilton: Hilton HHonors allows you to purchase up to 80,000 points per transaction per calendar year, and if you’re targeted for the 50% bonus, you can snag these points for just $400. Many Category 9 properties can easily exceed this price; for example, at the time of writing, I see the Conrad Hong Kong with standard reward rooms available on New Year’s Eve. The revenue rates are HK$5,830 (including taxes), which is roughly $752 at current exchange rates! You’ll also see some top-tier Category 10 properties fall to 80,000 points during certain times of the year, so check your desired dates and see if this makes sense.

Credit Cards

It’s important to note that these purchases (with the exception of AA) are all processed by and thus aren’t eligible to earn bonus points or miles on a credit card by being categorized as a travel purchase. However, before you spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars purchasing these points or miles, remember that opening a new credit card or two can make it even easier to boost your account balances or open up additional redemptions.

For example, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of two free weekend nights at participating hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio after making $2,500 in purchases within the first four months after account opening. You could also consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which recently increased its sign-up bonus to 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. These points can then be transferred to United, Hyatt, Southwest and IHG, so it may be a better option than shelling out to purchase points, even with these promotions.

Alaska Airlines plane over Hawaii Oahu featured
I’m thinking about taking advantage of Alaska’s promotion this holiday season.

Bottom Line

Buying points or miles generally isn’t a great option, especially when there are easier ways to boost your account balances. However, many of these promotions are quite interesting, and a few actually drop your price per mile/point to at or below TPG’s valuations. As always, be sure to crunch the numbers to make sure you’re getting more value out of your intended redemption than you’re paying to buy them.

What promotion(s) are you planning to take advantage of?


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