Not sure how many dollars you have to spend to get that coveted reward? Here’s a look at how point currency really works
It’s easy to get excited about a credit card that pays you back for spending, until you start trying to figure out the details. A rewards credit card can get you some great stuff just for using it, but first you need to figure out how. With points ratios and tiers to further complicate matters, it’s no wonder some users end up not using them at all.
Before you start comparing rewards credit cards to find the most suitable deal, you will need to know the basics of reward point currency. This is where you figure out how many dollars you need to spend to get points, and how many points you have to earn to get your reward. Once you have that down, you’re just a simple math equation away from determining how much the rewards will cost you.
Rewards credit cards comparison
How to calculate the value of rewards points
Since each rewards program is different, you’re going to have to do the calculations for each one you are considering. To make it as comparable as possible, at least try and narrow your search down to the type of rewards program you want first. For example, if you love shopping rewards, choose a few of this type to make it a fair comparison. Then follow these steps to see how much value you are getting for your points:
- Step 1 - Calculate. The easiest way to determine point currency is to calculate the points you will need to buy $1 worth of rewards. To do this you will need to divide the number of points needed to redeem a reward by the retail price of that reward.
- Step 2 - Compare. Let’s say you used a $50 gift card as your reward to compare and it costs 7,500 points, you would need 150 points for every dollar the reward is worth – 7,500 (point cost) / 50 (retail value of reward) = 150.
- Step 3 - Result. After doing the same equation on comparable rewards with different credit cards you can pick out those with the greatest value by looking for the ones with the lowest result. The lower the number of points, the better value to the consumer.
- Step 4 - Earn rate. Now you will want to look at the earn rate. Using the same example, if the card has a one to one ratio on point to dollar, then you need to spend $150 in order to get $1 of rewards value. With a better earn rate ratio, such as two to one, you would only be spending $75 in order to earn $1 back.
In order to make sure that your calculations are as accurate as possible for comparisons, do everything you can to find rewards that are the same with the various cards. Gift cards and vouchers are the easiest, as their retail value is the same as their face value.
You can compare reward programs here at Credit Card Finder. There are usually two categories of credit cards; standard vs gold and platinum cards.
How to calculate the value of frequent flyer rewards
Using miles as the point of reference is the easiest way to calculate the value of a frequent flyer rewards card or you can also use the actual ticket price to do the comparison:
- Step 1 – Price Calculation. Divide the value of the reward in dollars by the points needed to earn it. The value of the reward would be the actual dollar cost of the flight. This will give you the ticket value in relation to your frequent flyer points.
- Step 2 – Mile calculation. If you prefer to compare rewards points for miles, you would simply divide the number of miles between two of your favourite destinations by the number of rewards needed for that flight. This will give you an idea of the point value for mile, helping you to make your comparisons amongst different credit cards.
See the below table to how you can use your points currency to calculate the value of your rewards.
|Figuring cost per mile||Sydney to Melbourne|
|Cost for flight||$289|
|Rewards points needed for flight||8,000|
|Rewards points are worth||0.04 cents each|
What other factors should I consider?
When trying to figure out the value of a credit card rewards program, there is more to think about than the points and how much they are worth. Other factors should weigh in as well, and some will add to the value while others can significantly decrease it:
Fees and interest will put a big dent in the value of your rewards card if you don’t choose wisely. Interest rates and fees can be high with these types of credit cards, and is something you should definitely be concerned with when making comparisons.
For example, you have earned 14,000 frequent flyer points and plan to use them to fly from Sydney to Melbourne. For the purpose of this explanation, let’s say that normally that flight costs $230. Now you are thinking “what a great deal!” until you factor in an annual fee of $100. That just about halves the value, which will be reduced even further once you factor in the interest.
The higher the annual fee, the lower the value of the rewards program. This is why it is recommended that you only apply for one of these cards if you spend a lot of money through credit annually.
Certain rewards credit cards come with added features that just may make those fees and interest worth it. Travel insurance, concierge service, and rental car discounts are just a few of the perks you may find with a rewards credit card. These services and features add value to the rewards card.
For example, if you were to travel to Thailand yearly, traveller’s insurance would be approximately $80. If your card allows you to avoid that fee, then you can now offset any annual fee with the one you normally pay for traveller’s insurance.
You have to weigh all of these costs and discounts if you want a true estimate of what each rewards program will be worth to you.
How can I make the most of my points?
Treat your points like you would cash when it comes time to redeem them. If you are rewarded with vouchers or gift cards, shop for items that are on sale. With frequent flyer miles, go for the flights that are more expensive and generally never marked down.
For example, a domestic flight from Melbourne to Sydney may be as low as $85, while one going to London could cost $1630. If the domestic flight costs 7000 points with the rewards program and the international 62,500 then the value of flying to London using your rewards is higher since each point is roughly 2.6 cents while with the other they would be 1.2 cents.
Again though, you have to factor in other costs, such as the higher taxes that are added on to an international flight. These usually cannot be paid for with your points, and will reduce their value.
How to compare reward programs
When it comes to comparing the programs that accompany rewards credit cards, there is certainly a lot to think about:
- Points currency. How much of a savings benefit you are getting with a rewards card lies in the real value of the rewards offered compared with the value of the points and any fees. Taking the time to make the calculations will ensure that every dollar you spend is being stretched to its limit.
- Fees. Remember, the lower the fees and interest the more value you get from the rewards. Few rewards cards have no fees, but you can avoid those that are exorbitant.
- Perks. You also have the little extras that can go a long way in increasing a rewards program’s value. Look for things like complimentary insurance and hotel discounts if you want to maximise your rewards potential.
- Features. Some rewards cards also come with features that may be valuable to you outside of the rewards program. Balance transfer offers, for example, could save you thousands of dollars if the interest rate is significantly lower than what you are paying now.
The few minutes of work involved in calculating points currency will be well worth it once you start earning your points. Just like with a bank account for real currency, you want a rewards program that costs the bare minimum to gain from.