Most of the miles and points community gets obsessed with a metric called “cents per point” (CPP) or “cents per mile” (CPM).
What it refers to is how much value you got for your points. If you spend 10,000 points and got $1,000 in value (meaning, $1,000 is the lowest price you’d reasonably expect to pay for that same thing), you got 10 cents per point in value (or 10cpp).
Yet, it’s a debate as old as time in the miles and points world.
If the First Class seat to Japan costs $20,000 round trip and you spend 200,000 miles, your CPP is 10 cents. But you’d never reasonably have paid $20,000 for that ticket so, to some, that metric is meaningless. Some will say you should compare it to a coach ticket because that’s really what you would have bought. But that makes no sense, since you didn’t fly in coach. Others would say you bought an experience that your money couldn’t have bought – and that makes it real.
What follows is the cost of a two week trip in Italy, assuming I either earned transferable points and redeemed those, or earned 2% cash back (the gold standard for cash back and spent that). We’ll see the difference in flights and hotels and see not just “CPP” but an overall return on spend.
Note, in a perfect world I could account for things like signup bonuses and bonus multipliers that go higher than the 2% cash, but to even the playing field, we’ll just compare 1 point against 1 cent of cash back – because that really is the difference on the redemption side.
In fact, you could pick apart this chart a million ways, based on earn rate, point value, etc. But in all data analysis, you have to find a way to standardize and you’ll see if anything, my methodology slightly hurts the points case, though the end results remains the same.
But let’s take a look at how I used points for a 14 day trip to Italy, with Lake Como and Florence the primary stops.
Emirates Business Class (A380) JFK-Milan
5 Nights: Sina Villa Medici, Florence Italy
2 Nights: Hyatt Centric Centrale Milan
As is always the case in big cities, you don’t tend to win huge with points. This has been the case for as long as I’ve been in miles and points (20 years, if you can believe it). When I go to Paris, for example, I can find nice hotels sub $200, so I feel no need to drop immense amounts of points to stay at a Marriott or Hyatt.
Even in a place like New York City, you can do pretty well shopping around for cash rates at a non-chain when you consider just how many points the nicer chain hotels cost.
So I wasn’t surprised to see the big difference was in the flight and Lake Como.
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My wife was very wary about traveling with a 17 month old overnight to Europe and then 8-9 hours back during the day. It was our first trip of this nature and her trepidation was understandable. I’m sure someone will chime in that she was being “high maintenance” but everyone has what turns a trip from fun to not fun, and her ask was that we fly direct and in business class, or it would stress her out too much. (We’ve been together 6 years, so it’s not like she didn’t know I could make Business Class work.)
Therefore, connecting flights were out – eliminating some cheaper points options via CDG or AMS. In reality, with ITA not available yet via partners (it is available on Virgin as of this week (HT to Tim for discovering it!), but I booked this a year ago).
When you see all the gear we travel with when we fly and if you have kids, you may understand – and some of you are probably just better at it than we are and don’t mind coach. Like everything else in miles and points (and life!) what you may find perfectly fine, others may consider a deal breaker.
As you can see, this was the 2nd biggest win by the numbers, but actually the biggest win in terms of making this fantastic trip happen. All CPP wins are not ordered by the actual CPP value!
If we’d earned cash back on a 2% card like the Citi® Double Cash Card, we could have taken the same flight in coach. A grueling flight, overnight, with a baby.
For the exact same cost in points, I booked us two fantastically comfortable business class seats, including a bassinet placed in the best possible position (diagonally in front of my wife, attached to her seat). We had lounge access both ways and boarding in Milan, we actually boarded from the lounge AND got the nice staff to allow us to store our stroller on board instead of gate check as we didn’t want to risk not having it for the walk through customs. Our son slept about 3 hours each way in the bassinet and gave us both some time to sleep on the way there and relax on the way back (OK, I worked – what else is new?)
By the way, this flight was on an Emirates A380, so when our son got restless we were able to walk him around by the bar in the back – a nice touch we also would not have had in coach.
Verdict: I wouldn’t have paid the $11,000 for business class tickets. We wouldn’t have taken the trip.
I care about hotels, a lot. Maybe more than my wife. With an infant, having a nice hotel room and nice hotel amenities means a lot, because you inherently spend more time at the hotel!
In fact, as our hotels went down in quality over the trip, it had a noticeable impact on our mood. With a child in tow, there is more down time and the room is even more important, but to be clear, it’s been important to me ever since I got into points and learned the difference! I don’t need fancy things like butlers and all that, but I care immensely about a modern room, on-site amenities, and the level of service.
By the time we got to the room in Milan, a standard room around 160 sq ft and with the hotel lacking any amenities (there is a spa like thing in the basement that is a 30 Euro access fee, even for Globalist, and was frankly awful), we were ready to come home.
The 7 days we spent at the Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa, Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy were just heaven on earth. We loved every minute of it and would have liked a few more days. But it wasn’t that we wanted more days in Lake Como! We wanted more days at this hotel.
Had we stayed at the Hotel Villa Aurora which would have been a cramped room and with no amenities like a pool, I don’t know if we’d have even wanted 5 days.
The hotel made the difference and while I wouldn’t have turned down some time to explore Lake Como, the only reason we want to go back is this hotel and that we can use a reasonable amount of points to be in a nearly flawless hotel / resort AND be on the Lake.
In Florence, the hotel was just “OK” which probably was in line with it being roughly equivalent to pay cash or points.
The room was small (they were sold out, so no Titanium upgrade was available, understandably in summer). The first room they gave us was in the “old” wing and was full of hazards for our baby. Despite being told no other rooms were available, the manager on duty magically found us a similar room but in the new wing. While the same size, it had a small balcony and was much more modern, with a lot fewer ways for our son to hurt himself.
It was great to have the pool (below) for a respite and we used it 3 of the 5 days. But it was hardly the luxury of the Lake Como hotel. The food and drink service was managed by “Harry’s Bar” which, if you know the brand, meant 30 Euro pizzas and 30 Euro cocktails.
They also had no umbrellas for the chairs (not shown) except one, so we couldn’t actually lounge there. That said, the pool was much better than no pool! It was HOT.
The location of the hotel was “OK” although one night we almost missed the parking garage closing time and I asked about leaving the car in front of the hotel. I was told it was fine, but that there was a decent chance of a broken window by morning. Luckily we made the garage!
Lastly, our hotel in Milan. We liked that it was free. Better than paying even the $300 for a somewhat equivalent hotel. It was super easy to take the Metro to the center (the line by the Centrale train station had elevator access for a stroller as did the Duomo stop).
It’s undeniable that having a stack of points made this entire trip not just as good as it was – but possible at all. Sure, I knew to book a year in advance to ensure booking success on the Emirates non-stop, but that’s part of the hobby!
80% of our enjoyment from the trip came from a hotel we couldn’t have (wouldn’t have) paid for with cash and we would not have been happy at what the equivalent cash to points would have bought us.
And if not for the flight (not free, but discounted to the cost of flying economy thanks to points), we almost certainly would not have gone.
So sure, CPP may not always be an exact “value” of what you got for your points. But there is also no doubt that high CPP redemptions are awesome – and they make travel better.
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New to all of this? My “introduction to miles and points” book, MilesTalk: Live Your Wildest Travel Dreams Using Miles and Points is available on Amazon and at major booksellers.