There is nothing wrong with earning free miles/points from the lowest hanging fruits, and only earning with a couple programs. Many people read my articles on how to do 7 stopovers with JAL and then they start to wonder if they are doing something wrong by only earning US Airways miles, or only earning Delta miles or something. No! There is nothing wrong with simplicity, and this post is about how I do 90% of my travel with two airline rewards programs and two hotel rewards programs.
While this blog is half about helping people maximize the points they do have, the right focus in this game, if there is one, is still dependent on earning. Now earning is relative to redemptions. Earning 1 Delta SkyPeso on average will get you half as far as 1 AA mile, so even before earning it’s important to talk about redemptions.
Knowing that earning is relative, I proceed to earn as much as possible. This year our opportunities for earning were very high for four programs: AA, United, IHG and Club Carlson.
“Should I be earning with more programs?”
Obviously, since I mostly earn with a few programs, I’m not going to say it’s wrong. And again, I’ll actually emphasize the value of simplicity and earning lots of miles with a program instead of spreading it out.
The relationship between Citi and AA has continued to be generous to product consumers, to say the least. This proved to be one of the most generous years in earning AA miles (and $200 credit a pop).
Maybe to a slightly lesser degree United miles have many possibilities to be earned via Chase. Chase has had many products that not only earn Chase points but that transfer to United. There are 2 cards that transfer to United miles: Chase Ink Plus, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred (and there used to be the Ink Bold). And the Ink Cards had bonuses of 70,000 this year. Plus, the two United cards (personal and business) with Chase.
In terms of miles earning, I see these as two possible contenders in the best and most free examples of earning miles in singular programs. AA and United.
With hotels my strategy is largely from paid stays, and is therefore a lot less free. I’m spending about $2,000 on IHG hotels this quarter. That’s a lot of money. There, I should reemphasize my stance on earning hotel points, and why my strategy is largely based on a combination of paid nights and hotel promotions.
My stance has been and will continue to be, and I’ve shown by example, and get many emails showing more examples: anyone can get a free two week vacation each year.
If this is a contended fact, my guess is it’s contended by those who either have more money than sense, “require” ultra-luxury, or are ignorant of how this hobby at it’s best works.
That being said, you need to know that we live out of hotels. Year round, we are in hotels. I’m actually writing this from my room on the 27th floor of yet another InterContinental hotel.
Recently, I’ve been saying that my vague but general goal is to spend an average of $30 a night and live in 4-5 star hotels. However, I generally find that hotel points are worth less than miles. First of all, flights are more expensive than hotels. Secondly, I don’t need to live in 4-5 star hotels and if I’m out of hotel points I can find other frugal options. Thirdly, there are more opportunities to earn cheap free nights than there are to earn free flights. Period.
Therefore, the opportunities I do have to earn free flights, via miles from credit cards for example, should be opportunities used for free flights and not free hotels.
The difference for most people is that they don’t have to choose. They can have both enough airline miles and hotel points for the year from credit cards. However, we need 300+ nights a year in hotels and credit card points would not only be wasteful, it would be largely insufficient.
Some how I got off track…
My main point is that IHG and Club Carlson has continued to offer better promotions and more earning opportunities than anyone else, so why would I bother earning anything else? Why bother investing with Marriott, SPG, or Hyatt, when you can objectively say that in terms of free nights, you certainly get less out of the program.
I’d like to say the benefits that IHG and Club Carlson are missing are vain. Lounge access, and free breakfast are completely vain if you’re paying more to get it. If I can get hotels for $30 a night with IHG but don’t get free breakfast, isn’t that still better than spending $100 a night with Hyatt and getting free breakfast? Breakfast and status is a vanity, a red herring, and proves that we’re suckers for gamification.
And the original point: is it wrong that you haven’t done the Park Hyatt Paris? Heck no. You’re probably better off.
I think a lot of the misconnections in this hobby are forged by in an incredibly crappy understanding of “value” in relation to miles and points. Value is not determined by the price tag of the hotel, it is determined by how much money you’ve saved.
For example, if you go to Best Buy and you redeemed your Best Buy points for a $1,000 camera, most bloggers would say “see, you saved $1,000″ and then calculate the “miles per dollar value” based on this price tag.
However, you knew full well that Dan’s Deals had been posting about this same Camera for sale online for $500.
This is my problem with the absolute values given to miles and points and it’s why I don’t do it. It’s at best crappy mathematics.
All that is to say, don’t think you’re missing out on some huge value at the Park Hyatt Paris, because you’re not. There’s some other way to get a hotel with less cost than the price tag shown. Furthermore, there’s often a way to get the same hotel for significantly less than the price tag.
“So, are IHG and Club Carlson THE best programs??”
There are of course deviations in my plan for IHG and Club Carlson. Tomorrow night I’ll be in the Hotel Wentzl on the beautiful city square of Krakow. Orbitz had a CyberMonday sale (which I shared on our Facebook page) giving $100 off a $100+ hotel booking. Well, I found a number of examples of hotels that were about $100 a night and booked the sale over and over again in 1 night increments.
This also goes back to my point about the price tag value being completely inaccurate, because your opportunities aren’t limited to paying the price tag or points.
Anyways, I don’t stick to one thing and call it the best value, I just play the game as I see it. I’ve called the latest IHG promotion the best yet, and I promised to do it to it’s fullest potential.
There is no one size fits all solution and you may not need to pay to complete hotel promotions to sufficiently earn enough points for travel. For me, given that we’re full time travelers, this is the best plan.
What are the best aspirational hotel redemptions?
There are no objective aspirational awards unless you can say that all people have the same aspirations.
Goodness, are we so far removed from the “travel” part in this hobby that we focus on hotels and airlines as some sort of status symbol instead of what they are: they are solutions to help people travel. What are you traveling for?
If your aspirations are to take your family out to see the American west, use your miles and points to do that. If you want to go to Amish country, do it. If you want to fly your parents to Europe in Business Class do it.
You see, these things don’t actually have value. At most the dollar value would be what you would have paid without miles (which for me is the cheapest economy flight on any airline), but it doesn’t actually speak to aspirations.
No one can tell you what your aspirations should be, and if that was the case, we’ve certainly lost all imagination.
Can I make my route better?
I get this question quite often. “Look at the ticket I booked and tell me if I can make it better?”
Well, unless you want to pay a change fee, it’s too late. But regardless, what does better mean? And to what logical end do I take that?
“Well, let’s see your route is from New York to London… And for only 10,000 miles more you can throw in Japan. Then instead of London you take it out and add Cape Town.”
I mean, do you see why this question is hard to answer? What am I maximizing to? To fly as many miles as possible? To see as many places as possible?
How about to see the places you’ve always wanted to see? That’s what this is all about and don’t forget it.
May you forget that the Park Hyatt exists and share a meal sitting on a mat on the floor eating with your hands and struggling to communicate. That will teach you more about the world you’re going to “experience” than St. Regis or Hyatt ever will.
Are your aspirations the experiences of the rich and famous? If so, stay home. Why go to Thailand to do that? You can surely do that in your own region for less money and effort.
If you want to experience the cultures of which you know nothing about, you need to get on a plane.
There is no right way to do this hobby, but there are cheaper ways. Just because I write about getting more out of your miles doesn’t mean that you need me to review your routing for feedback. You don’t need the best route, but you do need to route what you want. That’s what I’m about, helping you see what you want. You don’t need the best hotel, you need a hotel.