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“Could I be getting better value out of my miles/points?”

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

 

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17 Comments

  1. Hi Drew, I got 75% bonus points promotion from IHG if I purchase points. I believe it’s targeted. My question to you is, should I buy that or should I do the points + cash option to get 10k points back if I cancel the reservation. Which is better deal to top up some points for my soon future stays.

    Reply
    • Not sure if there are any added fees added to the cost of buying the miles but the offer would give you 105K points for $690. The points+cash option would cost $740 for the same amount of points.

      Reply
  2. ::::slow clap::::

    Very nice Drew. I’m planning a big trip and find myself getting sucked in to this hobby’s emphasis on luxury, when in fact I should be getting excited about getting to go where I want to go for far less that it would have cost otherwise.

    Thanks for the continued great content.

    -Max

    Reply
    • I couldn’t agree more.

      Reply
  3. Amen.

    Reply
  4. You are right on point. Too much focus on luxury and lie flat beds. The lie flat beds are not really worth the value that many bloggers attach to these seats. That is why airlines actually sell about 20% though that may be going up as the cost of such seats drop. But the point is that they really are not worth twice as many points as economy. You still get to the same place. So you can lie down on the 6 hour flight to Europe…big deal. But then again I don’t have the understanding that most bloggers have meaningful jobs or incomes (from actual work they do) so the status things they can attain themselves are these travel benefits…might as well talk about your accomplishments.

    Reply
  5. Good post! I’m currently experiencing booking paralysis because I have too many options for my next trip to SE Asia and I can’t decide which super interesting country to include as my stopover. This is a great problem to have, but I admit that it’s partly fueled by all that I know about maximizing the “value” of my miles and I keep having to remind myself to focus on what I want to do and see as that’s the only way to really maximize my value.

    Reply
  6. Well said. Too many seem to be blinded by the culture that it’s all about aspirational properties which is crazy if you can’t afford to buy a cup of coffee at the hotel restaurant. We should only aspire to stay at the locations that we individually desire rather than follow the herd. I’ve never been able to understand the mentality of taking 3 flights to try 3 different carriers when there is a direct flight available. People need to think for themselves. Have to agree I totally agree with your assessment of not assigning value to points.

    Reply
  7. Good reminder here Drew. Staying at lux accommodations insulates you from the destination you are seeking to be enlightened by in the first place.
    Begin with the end in mind.

    Reply
  8. This is why I read your blog and skim through all the others. You write and others just post. Thanks again for all your contributions, as they are always interesting reads.

    Reply
  9. GREAT POST!!! Love it!

    Reply
  10. Couldn’t disagree more! Same old tribe that something is only worth what you would have paid. That’s total bullsh….t. Because I would only have bought a Yugo if I was paying, doesn’t lower the sticker price of the Benz I just won. That value does NOT change.

    Reply
  11. I completely agree with you Drew, though those who accumulate miles to burn with little time to use them can be justified for spending them rather than hoarding them. I move fast through those endless posts on some blogs with pictures of premium cabins, luxury hotels, first class lounges and the like. If my goal is a lie flat bed, I can just go to a Motel 6 down the street (they all have them). My goal is to get to lots of exciting destinations, and I can see more by spending my miles and points economically to take more trips to more destinations.

    Reply
  12. Thanks again for a great post. Even though 3 of us are flying first and biz to Europe this summer, I don’t have to do my vacation in luxury. Just being able to fly 3 people virtually free is great. Sometimes we get too caught up in the hype.

    Reply
  13. In my 20s I would totally concur. At 70 your view changes. My wife says lay flat sine qua non as otherwise 1st and maybe 2nd nite is recovery mode…hence wasted hotel fee.
    With less than 10% deviation all points/miles earnings are low hanging fruit. Getting awards for spend all ready in place,makes med/den less onerous with 10-25 bonus working.

    Reply
  14. You are absolutely correct about being in the”tourist bubble”
    It can seem you are in the popemobile.

    Reply
  15. A well-argued piece. To me, points are just the booster rocket for the trips that define my travel.

    Reply

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We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
Go to About Me to learn more.
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