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Your approach to travel awards

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  • Your approach to travel awards

    I am not a travel hacking type but have, over the years, racked up hundreds of thousands of points in various travel award domains. Whenever I think of redeeming an award:

    1) I look at the process, say to myself, "Gee, I have lots of points, but this looks complicated."

    2) I look at the checking account and see that the money is there to pay for the plane ticket, hotel, or tour.

    3) I buy the ticket, hotel, or tour with cash (usually a credit card) and accumulate more points.

    Lather, rinse, repeat....

    There probably is a math solution to this, but it seems to be that it might be in my interest to use the rewards now because:

    1) Programs may change in a manner that is disadvantageous to point holders.

    2) Programs could disappear entirely, which would be extremely disadvantageous to point holders (TWA miles, anyone?h

    3) The value of the points accumulated may be constantly eroded by inflation.


    On the other hand, sometimes programs expand and add new partners that could synergize with the current program.

    Finally, I have this idea that while I am earning money and can, I should pay for the trips outright. Someday, hopefully soon, I will not be earning money, and will have greater opportunity and flexibility to maximize the travel awards, at a time when the ability to pay for travel will be diniminshed.

    What's your approach, and what are the errors in mine? (Is this OP too long?)

  • #2
    I agree that redeeming travel points always seems to be a hassle.

    Where ever possible, I have switched my credit cards etc. to cash-back rewards rather than travel points. The reward ratio may not be quite as favorable, but getting cash back is much more flexible, and can be used immediately.


    • #3
      I have a lot of airline miles.  Don't spend too much time analyzing the best way to use these miles, but I tend to redeem them for personal travel if the conversion to dollar amount for same ticket is greater than 1 cent per mile.

      Unlike cash, airline miles or CC points don't earn a return, so I see no reason to stockpile them and use cash instead.



      • #4
        There's a whole industry for travel hacks.  We've lived off them since college and continue to leverage this for cheap travel---it's our hobby

        If you have plenty of $$$-mid/late career, it's probably not worth your time and the best card would be a cashback card and the Chase Amazon card for all the amazon purchases (5% cashback).

        We routinely rotate cards to get points bonuses for cheap travel and hotels for the family.   eg:   Southwest Card for companion card+Sapphire Reserve  -- took family of four to Costa Rica for two week trip:  garnering 300,000 points on $800 spend



        • #5
          Not a hassle at all to use points. I have the chase sapphire reserve. So far this year - free rt flight to Hawaii (CME, rest of trip paid for by work), 2 rt flights plus hotel to Paris. Very easy to book via the chase portal.

          I'd use some points now for sure -points may change in future or even expire.

          My only other card is the Amazon card that I really just use for Amazon purchases.


          • #6
            Chase Sapphire Reserve users here.  Opened two accounts for the original bonuses.  Found the flights we wanted on google (couldn't find them on the chase website); called Chase SR, booked the flights.   Was super easy, no blackout dates.  Round trip tickets to the other side of the world.

            We have enough points for 4 round trip tickets to Europe easily already again.


            • #7
              If you aren't sure where or how to use your points maybe you should simplify.  Just get one card that earns points instead of multiple cards earning different types of points or miles (Amex, chase, citi, united, delta, etc).

              In the long run, if you are going to collect those types of points, develop a plan of what to do with them so you don't sit on a pile of miles that become less valuable with time.

              Another option if you have that many points to burn is to buy flights for other people.  Feel free to send me to Singapore in style.


              • #8
                There is a philosophy in the travel rewards space to "earn and burn". Airlines and credit card programs are always devaluing their points. Inflation in the world of miles and points is high, and you can't invest your miles in any sort of travel rewards stock market.



                • #9
                  i am too old to remember to do this, but when i see people get all these miles, i usually discover later that they had both spouses independently apply for a card so each would get the 50,000 mile sign up kicker.  don't forget to do that.

                  i too am sitting on approximately 600,000 points of airline miles across three different airlines.   ops:



                  • #10

                    Where ever possible, I have switched my credit cards etc. to cash-back rewards rather than travel points. The reward ratio may not be quite as favorable, but getting cash back is much more flexible, and can be used immediately.
                    Click to expand...

                    In every card I've checked out, I've found the reward ratio for cash back to always be better than points.

                    (Is this OP too long?)
                    Click to expand...


                    I have small piles of miles on 10 airlines. However, they are constantly being devalued, and (even for work), I can't bring myself to always fly 1 airline, it's just too expensive. We use a cashback card, so our spending doesn't really generate points.

                    free rt flight to Hawaii
                    Click to expand...

                    However, we went to a CME conference on miles this spring for the first time. I found I had just enough on one airline to get the ticket that was on sale. Woo! First time I'd used the miles for anything significant. I do use them to buy magazines, and send those as gifts to folks. Silly, but 200 miles buys a lots silly reading and coffee table clutter for folks.


                    • #11
                      I will admit that I have never understood how to travel hack and have just paid for flights because my timing was usually inflexible.  I also like to stay at the same hotel where a meeting is being held.  I use cash back credit cards.  They are simple to understand and use.  My husband accumulated some points from his business that were going to expire so I got a free purse and makeup travel bag.


                      • #12
                        Chase Reserve user here, was previously using a Chase Sapphire Preferred prior to the Reserve coming out.  I'm surprised to hear people using this card's points to book through the Chase portal, I've always found that the points are worth much more when transferring to Chase travel partners, particularly United and Southwest.

                        The point transfer one-to-one, and occur instantly, so if you see a flight that is cheap on the points you can immediately transfer the points and book.  Takes a little more work but you save WAY more money this way.  But then again, the Chase portal is super easy, plus you then have Chase travel support in case anything goes wrong.  But I personally transfer to the travel partners.  I've paid for numerous round trip flights with points alone using this method.

                        But to respond to the OP, based on your current use of points, I think you would be MUCH better off using a cash back card, since you don't seem motivated to "travel-hack".  It takes a lot of effort and unless you enjoy it, its not worth it and you might as well make things easy on yourself and mindlessly get cash back.


                        • #13
                          I transfer all awards to my delta skymiles account.  Then use this for gift cards (less often, now that they are so devalued), upgrades, apply to new ticket (still get miles for travel), or award travel for family (no miles are earned).  Once, I used miles for a montblanc pen; not a good use economically (terrible conversion rate), but I love that pen and the fact that I "earned" it from traveling!

                          I tend to keep a balance of 1-200k miles;  I guess that could be considered part of my e-fund -- it would cover a ticket or two in a pinch with no money needed.


                          • #14
                            Thanks for all of the responses.

                            I do use a cash back card (Fidelity) for the majority of my regular credit card functions. The cash reward (2%) gets automatically credited to my Fidelity brokerage account on a monthly basis.

                            I use Ally credit card (2.2% cash back for gas and groceries) and the Chase Amazon (5% back toward future Amazon purchases).

                            I was using the Chase Freedom card for the rotating (but limited) 5% back categories, but keeping track of all of this has gotten out of hand and particularly annoying for my wife, who always seemed to be using the wrong card at the wrong time. I have left her with two cards, Ally (Gas and groceries, written in Sharpie on the card ) and Fidelity (everything else).

                            I have been using the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, primarily for travel and occasionally for dining, and have accumulated nearly 300,000 or so points. Based on what I am reading here, I will probably use the points to purchase two RT flights to London over spring break ($3000 value, based on current pricing) and should have some points left over for other stuff.

                            I also have Marriott points (over 300,000) which I have been saving/hoarding for a special vacation, but I might as well start spending those down, too, when the occasion arises.


                            • #15
                              Right now I use my USAA 2.5% cashback card for everything I can.  Zero annual fee.  If you are eligible, you should definitely look into it.

                              The miles are a PIA for me.  In my experience with both Southwest and Delta, sometimes using points on a flight is a good deal, and sometimes it's not.  Adds another layer of complexity that's not worth it for me.  After my bonus 50,000 mile offer or whatever, I usually cancel the card before they hit me with the annual fee (seems like all of these airline cards have pretty steep annual fees).  And I usually exchange the miles for things like amazon or restaurant gift cards.

                              Perhaps if I started flying a lot it would be worthwhile to maintain a card and save on baggage fees and whatnot, but personally I hate having annual fee cards that I rarely use.