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How NOT to Use Loyalty Points for PreCheck

It’s a basic premise of savvy loyalty-program participation that the best return-on-investment is to be had by redeeming points for the program host’s own services. Airline miles are best redeemed for flights, and hotel points are best redeemed for free room nights. Sure, all major programs offer alternative award opportunities—consumer electronics, clothing, event tickets, and on and on—but when you do the math, it inevitably turns out that such options offer very poor value.

Points for PreCheck – Deal or No Deal?

In recent months, both Alaska Airlines and Southwest have allowed members of their mileage programs to redeem points to cover the application fee for the TSA’s PreCheck trusted-traveler program. And predictably, both redemption options offered sub-par value, compared to cashing in points for free flights. In Southwest’s case, redeeming 9,000 points for the $85 PreCheck application amounted to getting 0.94 cents per point, versus around 1.4 cents when points are used for Southwest tickets. Not the optimal use of points, from a financial standpoint. Still, there are scenarios in which redeeming Southwest points for PreCheck might be justified.

No arguments can justify the latest loyalty-program PreCheck offer, however. Carlson hotels is offering Club Carlson members the option of redeeming an eye-popping 65,000 Gold Points to cover the cost of PreCheck.

That’s 0.13 cents per point, around one-third the value of Club Carlson points when used for free hotel nights. Or, to put it differently, instead of covering the $85 PreCheck fee, those 65,000 points could be cashed in for seven nights at Category 1 hotels, or four nights at Category 2 hotels, or two nights at Category 3 hotels.

That goes beyond poor value. It’s flagrantly bad value. It’s an insult to the intelligence and loyalty of Club Carlson members.

No deal, Carlson!

Reader Reality Check

Is this any way to run a loyalty program?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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