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Using points marketplaces for gifts – Delta costs 30% more than United; Citi cheapest

by on Wed December 11, 2013 • No Comment

Gift boxMost seasoned frequent fliers know using miles for gifts isn’t nearly as lucrative as using them for award flights. But as many of us become frustrated with the ability to use miles for flights, airlines and banks are increasingly offering ways for us to use miles for actual merchandise, ranging from toys to electronics to luxury jewelry. That can come in handy during the holidays.

The four biggest mile marketplaces are from Delta SkyMiles, United MileagePlus, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou. American and Southwest Airlines don’t offer miles for merchandise options. And Chase Ultimate Rewards operates a marketplace, but with significantly less selection than the big four.

We reviewed the mile and point prices of 12 popular holiday gifts currently available in mileage marketplaces. The results showed a wide range for the exact same merchandise depending on which miles or points you use:

  • United had lower prices than Delta for all 12 items, with Delta charging 30% more on average
  • Citi ThankYou offered the lowest points price for 10 of 12 items – 31% fewer points than the average
  • The value you get for your points is not great – every 10,000 points gets you about $48 in merchandise value on average among the marketplaces studied
  • The most expensive gift of all? 20,195,760 American Express Membership Rewards points for a limited edition Chopard L.U.C. Quattro Tourbillion Mens’ watch – which has no listed price, but similar watches are available for resale for tens of thousands of dollars
  • If you’re using bank points, consider a gift card redemption instead. You’ll usually get about $100 per 10,000 points in value and can use the gift card to buy the merchandise yourself, saving a lot of points.
  • If  you’re using airline miles, gift cards aren’t an option, but you’ll usually get better value using them for a flight. Why not make a memory and use the miles for a special holiday trip? A 25,000 mile domestic ticket can save you about $300, a much better deal.
  • If you’re a very frequent flyer, you’ll get better prices if you log in to your account. Both Delta and United offer discount prices for their most frequent flyers – about 14% less than general member pricing for Delta and 22% for United.
  • Shipping is included. You won’t need to lay out any cash to take advantage of merchandise awards, unless you want to expedite shipping.
  • Expect to wait about 10 days for your items to arrive – so order this week to get them in time for Christmas

So Delta continues down its path of being more stingy with the value of your miles than other airlines like United. But your best value comes from bank points programs. And that makes sense – since bank points programs are less likely to have members with ultra large balances, since you can only earn bank points like Membership Rewards via credit card spending, while airline programs let you earn miles from both flying and credit card spending.

A rundown of the gifts we compared is below…


1. iPad Mini 16GB Wifi

ipad Mini

  • Delta SkyMiles: 67,300 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 56,100 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 53,040 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 36,400 points
  • Google Shopping: $315

 2. Bose QuietComfort 15 Headphones


Bose headphones

  • Delta SkyMiles: 52,400 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 51,500 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 33,193 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 36,200 points
  • Google Shopping: $269

3.  Keurig Platinum Brewing System


  • Delta SkyMiles: 52,200 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 34,000 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 38,000 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 22,000 points
  • Google Shopping: $176


4. Canon Powershot A2500 16mp

Canon powershot


  • Delta SkyMiles: 43,600 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 19,300 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 25,030 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 8,800 points
  • Google Shopping: $69

5. Michael Kors Bead Fireball Stretch Bracelet

Michael Kors bracelet

  • Delta SkyMiles: 16,000 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 11,600 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 12,150 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 10,600 points
  • Google Shopping: $85


6. Radio Flyer Classic Red Wagon



  • Delta SkyMiles: 43,600 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 32,700 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 33,060 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 16,200 points
  • Google Shopping: $69


7. Samsung 32″ 720p LED TV


  • Delta SkyMiles: 80,600 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 72,300 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 62,430 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 40,900 points
  • Google Shopping: $280


8. Fisher Price Lil Quad

Fisher Price Lil Quad

  • Delta SkyMiles: 23,800 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 17,100 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 16,700 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 11,400 points
  • Google Shopping: $69


9. Samsung 3D Blu-Ray Player

Samsung Blu-Ray

  • Delta SkyMiles: 26,100 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 20,800 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 21,410 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 19,700 points
  • Google Shopping: $88


10. Samsung 3D Blu-Ray Player


  • Delta SkyMiles: 50,500 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 40,200 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 38,021 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 33,000 points
  • Google Shopping: $200


11. Michael Kors Lexington Gold Watch


Lexington Gold Watch


  • Delta SkyMiles: 43,900 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 28,200 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 31,610 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 20,100 points
  • Google Shopping: $119


12. Ray-Ban Aviator Sunglasses

Ray Ban Aviator

  • Delta SkyMiles: 26,000 miles
  • United MileagePlus: 19,800 miles
  • American Express Membership Rewards: 21,560 points
  • Citi ThankYou: 18,600 points
  • Google Shopping: $90
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