Category Archives: Chase

Get 5x United Miles at Amazon, Zappos, Sears, and More

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Chase Freedom is offering 5% cash back at amazon.com, zappos.com, and dozens of department stores from October 1 – December 31, 2014. You must activate those category bonuses, and you can do so now.

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 11.19.01 PM(It’s too late to activate the 5x at gas stations and Kohl’s that runs through September 30. If you haven’t hit $1,500 in spending yet, hurry.)

The Freedom markets itself as a cash back card, but it actually earns Ultimate Rewards that do NOT transfer to airline or hotel partners like United and Hyatt.

You can, however, transfer the Freedom’s Ultimate Rewards to your Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold account or your spouse’s. From there, you can transfer the Ultimate Rewards to a dozen incredible airline and hotel partners like United and Hyatt.

That means that if you play this right, you can earn 5x United miles per dollar at amazon.com, zappos.com, and select department stores for the fourth quarter of the year.

  • How can you register for the Freedom 5x categories?
  • How can you indirectly transfer the Freedom’s Ultimate Rewards to airline miles and hotel points?
  • Why is transferring the points more valuable than cash back?
  • Who are the Ultimate Rewards partners?
  • What department stores will earn 5x? Which are excluded?

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Top Ten Credit Card Offers for Travel, March 2014

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Whether you’re looking for free luxury hotel stays, first class flights, flights home to see family, or big rewards on gas or groceries, there are some fantastic credit card bonuses out there.

I’m writing this post from Raleigh, North Carolina near the end of a six-week world tour that would have been completely impossible without miles and points earned from credit cards.

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My trip is taking advantage of American Airlines miles, Starpoints, Ultimate Rewards, Lufthansa miles, and Arrival miles, all of which I got from credit cards.

How can you earn rewards for the trip of your dreams? What are the best credit card offers for March 2014?

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Activate Your Freedom Category Bonuses to Earn 5x at Gas Stations, Movie Theaters, and Starbucks

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Activate your Chase Freedom 5% cash back categories for 2014 to earn 5x Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations, movie theaters, and Starbucks until March 31.

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Each quarter, you can earn 5x Ultimate Rewards per dollar on your first $1,500 in the bonus categories as long you register your Freedom card. Max out the $1,500 each quarter, and you’ll earn 30,000 Ultimate Rewards.

That’s on top of the current sign up bonus of 10,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $500 in three months on the card.

All these Ultimate Rewards on the Freedom can be redeemed for 1 cent cash back, so 50,000 Ultimate Rewards would be $500. Or the Freedom’s Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed at a much, much better rate.

How?

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INCREDIBLE: Up to 55,000 Bonus Ultimate Rewards for Opening a Sapphire Preferred and Adding an Authorized User

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There is currently an offer for 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $3k in three months on a new Chase Sapphire Preferred. Plus you can get 5k more points by adding an authorized user.

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This is one of the absolute best personal card offers on the market, so I would recommend folks jump on this offer before it disappears, which may be very soon, if they’re in the market for a new rewards card.

Where can you apply? What else is different about the offer?

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Now No Annual Fee on Chase Hyatt Card

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The Chase Hyatt Credit Card no longer has an annual fee the first year, a $75 savings.

The Hyatt card has my 11th favorite sign up bonus from Chase, but it’s a solid card to hold forever, and one that I have. The big draw is the sign up bonus of two free nights at almost any Hyatt worldwide after spending $1,000 in the first three months. In fact, I just booked my two free nights today.

What 10 Chase cards have better sign up bonuses? What are the other perks and drawbacks of the card? Where did I use my free nights?

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Chase Freedom Fourth Quarter Category Bonuses

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Register now for the Chase Freedom’s fourth quarter category bonuses. From now through December 31, 2013, you’ll earn 5x Ultimate Rewards per dollar on purchases at amazon.com and these department stores.

Every quarter, the Freedom has a new category or categories in which you can get 5x Ultimate Rewards up to $1,500 spent. Maximize the category throughout the year for 30,000 Ultimate Rewards.

The Ultimate Rewards earned on a Freedom are not transferable to airlines or hotels. That’s why to get maximum value from a Freedom, you need to have a Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus. Transfer the Ultimate Rewards from your Freedom to one of those cards, and then you can transfer them 1:1 to United, British Airways, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more.

The Chase Freedom comes with 10,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $500 in the first three months.

The Freedom has no annual fee.

A few weeks ago I wrote that Chase is offering folks 5,000 Ultimate Rewards to refer the Freedom to their friends. Here’s my referral link–and one from a loyal MileValue reader–to earn me or him 5,000 Ultimate Rewards if you get a Freedom:

 

Top Ten Credit Card Bonuses That Are About to Disappear

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Update: Several–if not all–of these offers have expired. For the current best offers for free travel, see Best Credit Cards Offers.

When signing up for a credit card, I think there are four factors to consider:

  1. What is the value of the sign up bonus?
  2. What is value of putting my pattern of spending on the card? (category bonuses and the value of the base point earned)
  3. What are the benefits of holding the card? (lounge access, free checked bags, discounted awards, etc)
  4. When is the deal disappearing?

All things equal, you should apply for a card with a limited time sign up bonus over one that is stable. You can get the stable card next time.

With so much excitement around the disappearance tomorrow (9/3/13) at 5 PM ET of the SPG cards’ 30k offers, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of other cards offers that are soon to disappear.

What are the top nine credit card offers that are about to disappear? When are they disappearing? And how much worse will the upcoming offers be?

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Amazing Deal: Ink Bold and Ink Plus Offers Increase to 60k Ultimate Rewards for One Week Only

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From now until June 22, Chase is increasing the sign up bonus on the Ink Bold and Ink Plus to 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in three months.

These are two of my absolute favorite cards. I’ve gotten the Ink Bold for two of my businesses and the Ink Plus for one, earning about 200,000 Ultimate Rewards in the process that I’ve used to book Rookie Alli on her first flat bed business class experience, my United Global First flight to Australia to see the Aussie Open, and my upcoming trip in Thai First Class on an A380 with an hourlong massage on the ground.

What’s the full deal, how can you use 60k Ultimate Rewards, and what has my experience been with the Ink Bold and Plus?

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The Three Best Credit Cards for Free Luxury Hotel Nights

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For me, first class flights would be out of reach without miles. I can’t spend $10,000 for a first class flight on an airline like Emirates.

Luckily I don’t need to because I have plenty of miles, and I could fly economy class in a pinch.

Fancy hotels are similar. I can’t pay $1,000 a night for a hotel like the Park Hyatt Sydney.

And luckily I don’t ever need to stay in fancy hotels. When I travel, all I need is a roof and a pillow. But for those special occasions when I want to indulge in absolute luxury, I can by opening a single credit card.

What are the three best credit cards for luxury hotel experiences?

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Anatomy of an Award: Roundtrip from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires with a Free Oneway

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The second you move abroad, you become a lot more popular! That far flung country looks a lot better to family and friends as soon as they know they’ll have a free bed and tour guide. My sister wanted to come visit me in Argentina in mid-May, so we set out to find her the best award ticket possible. Only one minor problem. As of two months ago, she had zero miles.

We ended up booking her n roundtrip from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires for a weeklong trip for 60,000 United miles. We even added a free oneway to Hawaii for next year for no extra miles and only $2.50 in taxes. This Anatomy of an Award should illustrate how to get from zero miles to a dream trip in two months, United free oneways, United’s hold policy, and the secret United award space open to United card holders.

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3 Ultimate Rewards per Dollar on First Friday Dining with Chase Sapphire Preferred

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The Chase Sapphire Preferred will offer three Ultimate Rewards per dollar on dining expenses on the first Friday of each month until the end of 2013. Those are some nice free points.

As an award booker, I love Ultimate Rewards for their flexibility. Ultimate Rewards can be transferred 1:1 to United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and many more.

I eat out a lot, and especially on Friday nights (and especially on First Fridays when I am in Honolulu!), so this deal will be great for me. I also notice that most of my bar spending is coded as dining by the Chase Sapphire Preferred, so it will earn 3x points on First Fridays also.

But in the scheme of things this promotion is unlikely to earn you more than 1,000 Ultimate Rewards, so it doesn’t make a huge difference to the value of the Chase Sapphire Preferred. In fact, I can think of 10 better reasons to get the card. Continue reading

Free First Class Next Month: Transferable Points Program Basics

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This is the eleventh post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go. Previously An Easy Way to Meet Multiple Minimum Spends at Once.

Transferable points programs are loyalty programs, usually run by banks, that allow a person to earn points that can be transferred to several different airline or hotel programs. The three most important programs are American Express Membership Rewards (MR), Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR), and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Starpoints.

First I’ll describe the basics of those three programs, then I’ll talk about how to make the most of your transferable points.

American Express Membership Rewards

American Express Platinum, Gold, Green, Centurion, and Corporate cards earn Membership Rewards points.

Points are transferable to dozens of air and hotel loyalty programs including Delta (1 MR to 1 SkyMile), British Airways (1 MR to 1 Avios), Singapore Airlines (1 MR to 1 KrisFlyer miles), and SPG (3 MR to 1 Starpoint)

There are near constant transfer bonuses, which temporarily improve the transfer ratios of certain programs.

Membership Rewards can be frustrating if you want premium international travel because Delta has the worst award space of major US carrier, and the other airline transfer programs charge huge surcharges on redemptions.

There are ways around these frustrations, depending on where you want to go. Tahsir and I are in the process of publishing a series on Membership Rewards transfer options, so you can better understand your options. The first post was about transferring to Singapore Airlines.

Your Membership Rewards can be transferred to anyone’s loyalty account. This is why when I sometimes do giveaways on Twitter, I give away Membership Rewards that I transfer to the program of choice of the winner.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

The Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, Freedom, and other Sapphires and Inks earn Ultimate Rewards.

Points earned on the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus are transferable to several air and hotel loyalty programs including United, Southwest, British Airways, and Hyatt–all at a 1:1 ratio.

Points earned on the Freedom and other Sapphires and Inks are not transferable to those loyalty programs, but they are transferable to your other Ultimate Rewards accounts. So you could transfer your Ultimate Rewards from Freedom to your Sapphire Preferred, and then from there to United.

Chase has not gotten into the transfer bonus game yet.

Ultimate Rewards can be combined among your Chase accounts and your spouse’s. You can also send the points to your airline or hotel accounts or your spouse’s. But Chase prohibits sending points to anyone else and has shut down accounts for transfers that don’t comply with Chase’s rules.

SPG Starpoints

Starwood Hotels’ loyalty program is a much-loved transfer program. Many hotel loyalty programs let you transfer your points to airlines, like many airlines let you transfer your miles to hotels. However, it is almost always a bad deal. By contrast, SPG points transfer to airlines at a good rate, so it is an outlier.

The SPG AMEX card earns 10,000 Starpoints on first purchase and 15,000 more after $5k spending in the first six months.

A complete list of airline transfer partners is here. Notable 1:1 transfer partners include American, British, Delta, US Airways, Alaska, and Hawaiian.

And the reason everyone loves SPG points is that you can do better than 1:1 on airline transfers.

For every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get a bonus 5,000 miles in the transfer partner’s miles. Example: If you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to American, you receive 25,000 AAdvantage miles. Thus if you transfer in exactly 20,000 Starpoint increments, all the 1:1 transfer partners are really 1:1.25 transfer partners!

Starpoints can be transferred to anyone’s loyalty accounts.

Now that you know about the big three, let’s talk about how to get maximum value from transferable points programs.

1. Keep you points in the transferable points program until you have an award in mind, then transfer. Holding on to your points in the transferable programs retains your option value: you can still transfer them to any of the partners. Once you transfer, that option value is destroyed, so don’t transfer until you have an award in mind. Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards make following this easy because points transfer instantly to most partners. Starpoints do not transfer instantly, so you have to transfer with some anticipation, but still you should hold those as Starpoints as long as you can before transferring.

The one exception to this hold-the-points approach is if you close your last Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards earning card. The points disappear in that case, so send them out first.

(This is not a worry with the SPG AMEX and Starpoints because those points are in your SPG hotel account. Nor is this a worry with airline cards like the Citi American Airlines Visa because your AA miles are in your AA account.)

2. Make sure the award you plan to book with your transferred points is worth more than your other transfer options. For instance, you can transfer UR points to United and Southwest. Checking the Mile Value Leaderboard, we see that a Southwest Rapid Rewards point is worth 1.69 cents. If you’re transferring to United for an award worth less than 1.69 cpm, and you should check that at the Mile Value Calculator, you’re probably making a mistake and could get more value from a transfer to Southwest.

3. Make sure the award you plan to book with your transferred points is worth more than your other non-transfer options. For instance, your other best option with Starpoints is hotel stays. Many people report getting several cents per point from using their Starpoints for hotel awards using the Cash & Points option–even after its recent devaluation.

4. The best use of a transferable program is often topping up an account that is just short of an award. If you’ve got 85,000 United miles and want to book a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe, your miles are practically useless. Transferring in 15,000 UR points to reach 100,000 provides immense value, taking you from having no ticket to having the business class ticket in hand.

And this is often the best way to think about the transferable-points programs. Don’t get the Ink Bold thinking it’s 50,000 more United miles or 50,000 Southwest points. Instead pursue strategies to get huge amounts of United and Southwest miles other ways, and use your 50,000 UR points when you’re just short of the miles needed for an award in one of its partner programs.

I love transferable points programs for their flexibility and immense value. They should be a key component of any miles enthusiast’s strategy for exploiting frequent flier miles.

Continue to Category Bonuses.

Are No Foreign Transaction Fee Cards a Scam?

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A reader wrote to me:

For credit cards, HSBC is by FAR the best for foreign purchases but not sure if it is because it is HSBC Premier rather then regular HSBC. HSBC Premier gives me the same exchange rate as what they get when exchanging money between other banks with no mark-up. It is crazy how much I save. I’ve found Chase to be the most expensive and American Express somewhere in between. The difference in exchange rates negates any benefit from earning miles etc even though all the cards say no foreign transaction fee.

Many American credit cards charge a 3% fee when the origin of the charge is foreign. This is frustrating, and swamps the value of the miles you earn usually since one mile is rarely worth three cents.

You’ll get hit with the fee even when the charge is in dollars, as I found out when I paid a 3% fee on the taxes charge on an Avios booking made at BA.com in dollars.

But there are several cards that advertise no charge for foreign transactions. The Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus all mention the benefit in their marketing.

But there are two ways banks make money on foreign charges. The first is the fee they might charge. The second way banks make money on your foreign purchases is by converting the purchase into dollars at a bad rate for you. This is what the emailer suspected Chase was doing.

To test out how much of that was happening, I’ve made two purchases with my Ink Plus in New Zealand.

The first purchase was NZD 260 for a 440 foot bungee jump. The second was NZD 109 for a Milford Sound cruise. In both cases, those amounts were the exact amount charged to me since New Zealand follows the enlightened practice of including all taxes in quoted prices.

Both are showing as pending in my Chase account online.

Doing a little math, the conversion rate was 1 NZD to $0.8289. (I’ll be using “$” to denote US dollars and “NZD” for New Zealand dollars.)

How does this compare to the prevailing rate? The easiest way to check is to google “1 NZD to USD.”

Google says I would need to spend 84 cents to buy 1 NZD. Chase sold me 1 NZD for less than 83 cents! For whatever reason, Chase offered me a better deal than the prevailing rate.

Maybe you could see this more easily if we look at one $1 should buy me according to google and Chase.

Google: $1 = 1.19 NZD

Chase: $1 = 1.21 NZD

Chase is clearly giving me an incredible deal. Even more so when you compare it changing money on the street.

Street Rate

Banks throughout Auckland and Queenstown show their prices for buying and selling dollars. The one I saw today in Queenstown would sell NZD for $0.8815. This is about 4% worse than the prevailing market rate according to google. (Remember the fewer dollars we spend for 1 NZD, the better.)

If I had taken dollars to a New Zealand bank and changed them to NZD to book my tours, I would have needed 369 NZD total. That would have cost me $325.27 at the bank. Chase charged me only $305.86.

Conclusions

Today in Queenstown, New Zealand, I was way better off paying for tours with my Ink Plus than I would have been changing American dollars or using another card with a 3% foreign transaction fee.

I’ve made that conclusion very specific because I am very surprised by the results of my experiment. I expected Chase to offer me about the same rate than if I had changed at a bank.

Clearly my results were different than the emailer’s experiments of splitting foreign charges halfway between Chase and American Express cards. He found both to offer a bad rate with American Express offering a slightly better exchange rate.

I do think New Zealand’s banks and change houses offer bad rates for cash, implying about a 3% fee. I generally notice rich world countries offer way worse exchange rates than developing countries. For instance, in Arequipa, Peru there are dozens of change shops that have only a 1% spread between their dollar buy and sell prices, meaning they are only shading about half a percent on each side.

Recap

Today in New Zealand dollars, I got a better deal by charging to my Ink Plus than I would have gotten from an exchange house. Your exchange rate may not be as good when you use a credit card for a foreign transaction.

But I was very happy to see that a “no foreign exchange fee” card like the Ink Plus didn’t try to make up for that lack of a fee with a bad exchange rate. A reader’s email made me fear that “no foreign exchange fee” cards might be a scam, but in my experience they aren’t.

I got a great exchange rate and paid no foreign exchange fee.

Anatomy of an Award: How to Book an Award on Southwest

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The other day I helped a friend book a roundtrip Southwest award from Los Angeles to Denver for 11,761 Rapid Rewards and $5, taking advantage of a 1,000 Ultimate Rewards transfer to make up a shortfall of points in her account. For some people, this post will be very basic. But this post touches on some topics of interest to all, including the valuation of Southwest points–not 1.67 cents as commonly thought.

Most of my friends know that I am miles obsessed–perhaps because I wear MileValue tank tops and t-shirts to dodgeball pretty frequently. They generally combine jealousy of my trips with indifference or skepticism toward my methods. I only hear from them a few weeks before a trip: “How can I get a cheap ticket from XYZ to ABC in a few weeks?” I always suggest using kayak.com, and applying for a credit card now for their next trip.

So when my friend Allison said she wanted to go from LAX to Denver in a few weeks, and she had Southwest points, I was happy to help someone whom I could actually help. We signed into her account, and she had 11,659 Rapid Rewards. That’s about $200 worth of travel, so we searched for flights to see what we could do.

Rapid Rewards Primer

Southwest has a very different frequent flier program than the legacy carriers’ programs you may be more familiar with. Southwest has a revenue based program. Purchased Wanna Get Away fares earn 6 Rapid Rewards per dollar of base fare plus excise taxes. (10-12 if you buy a more expensive fare type.) Then you can use those points on any Wanna Get Away fare at a rate of 60 Rapid Rewards per dollar of base fare.

That means that the program basically amounts to a 10% credit on purchased fares, which can be used on future flights.

The 60 Rapid Rewards per dollar formula also means that you can score domestic awards for way fewer than 25,000 miles, the rate that the American legacy carriers charge. A $100 roundtrip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas would be fewer than 6,000 miles.

And I want to mention as many times as I can that Southwest domestic awards are temporarily capped at 19,200 points per roundtrip, subject to availability, because of a trick that exploits Southwest’s merger with AirTran. See How to Exploit the Southwest-AirTran Merger. This trick is useful when roundtrips are over $330 or so. It was not useful in Allison’s case.

How to Book a Southwest Award

Once signed into your account, perform a regular flight search on the home page, typing in your cities and dates.

On the results screen, you can toggle between seeing fares in dollars and seeing them in points.

If you’re happy with the prices or your dates are inflexible, you can choose the best flight for you. If you are flexible, click on the dates above the results for the fares on those dates. Or click Try our Low Fare Calendar to see a month-long view.

The total price of Allison’s preferred flights was 11,761 Rapid Rewards and $5. Allison only had 11,659 points, so she needed 102 more.

Southwest sells points directly for 2.5 cents per point with a minimum purchase of 2,000 points for $50.

This might be a decent deal if you need to top off for an award, and you have no other options. But in general 2.5 cents for a Rapid Reward is steep.

Luckily, there is a better option. Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Rapid Rewards instantly at a 1:1 rate. After clicking on your Ultimate Rewards balance after signing into your Chase account, select a transfer to Southwest.

Ultimate Rewards can be transferred instantly to your Rapid Rewards account in increments of 1,000.

The points transferred instantly, and we ticketed the award in a matter of moments.

For 11,761 points and $5, she had her flights to Denver booked. For comparison, the cash ticket on the same flights would have cost $217.60.

And here’s how that $217.60 breaks down:

Only $196 was the base fare plus the excise taxes. $5 was the 9/11 Security Fee. The rest was Segment Fees and Passenger Facility Charges. From taking a close look at Southwest award pricing in previous posts–see How Much is a Rapid Reward Worth?–I know that the award price is calculated as 60 times the base fare plus excise taxes. 11,761 points equals 196 times 60 (plus a phantom 1 that seems to be a part of all the awards I price on Southwest.com lately.)

Here’s where some confusion occurs. Rapid Rewards are often valued at 1.67 cents because 60 of them equals $1 of flying. But awards don’t include some fees and charges that cash tickets do include, and that valuation doesn’t take into account that paid flights don’t earn points.

For Allison’s flight 11,761 Rapid Rewards + $5 equaled a cash ticket that cost $217.60 and would have earned 1,176 Rapid Rewards. Typing those numbers into the fields of the MileValue Mile Value Calculator, we find that she earned 1.64 cents per point from her award. (Plug in 217.6, 5, 11761, 1176.)

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In general, the way to get a higher CPM on Southwest flights is to book cheaper awards where the avoided Passenger Facility Charge and Segment Fees represent a higher proportion of the ticket cost or to use the merger-exploiting trick previously mentioned.

But Southwest points are very close to being fixed in value, so I recommend using them for domestic flights when Southwest has the cheapest fare, and you don’t need to earn status miles on a legacy carrier. Or when you need to check two bags each way, since those fly free on Southwest.

Recap

Booking an award on Southwest is very easy since all Wanna Get Away fares can be purchased as awards at a price of 60 times the base fare plus excise taxes. Awards are made even easier by the fact that you can top up a deficient Rapid Rewards account with instant transfers from an Ultimate Rewards account.

Southwest points aren’t completely fixed in value. You get a little more value out of awards on cheap fares and awards that are capped at 19,200 points than you do out of $200 to $300 fares.

If you have the chance, help a friend or family member book an easy award. It’s easy for you, but not for them. You can make someone’s day, and hopefully convert them to the miles religion. If more of your friends have miles balances like yours, you can have more companions on your next trip!