Award tickets are great. I can vouch for them. When you spend your daily expenses – phone bills, groceries, gas, restaurants, Internet/Cable etc. you accumulate points and with a 1:1 transfer to airlines like chase sapphire or hotels like Hyatt card, you can easily accumulate points.
If you want to say – travel to Guangzhou (China, near Macau) in September 2014 from Northeast cost (i just checked yesterday from IAD, a united HUB) it quoted me a whopping 4000+ USD via Beijing, but just 67000 Points + fees on United, but checking the travel matrix today i got a quote for 1167 usd including tax from China Eastern. Now converting the points to dollars i get 67000X.035 + 7% excise tax = 2520 USD!! Which is to say, buying tickets via dollars is good in this scenario instead of points ( Miles cost US $35 per 1,000 miles plus a 7.5% excise tax (same for delta) )
the unfortunate news is that delta started devaluing their miles
from flyer-talk i have gathered this a) US-EU low 100k->125k b) US-Asia (both north and SE) low 120k->140k c) US-Australia
low 150k->160k d) US-South Africa low 140k->160k e) US-South America low 100k->125k
For Continental USA and Caribbean it has not changed much.
Now we still have to wait and see American-US Airways merger would bring…