Obsessing Over Travel Reward Points

I realized something recently after I earned our latest bonus on some IHG cards.  I enjoy collecting all of the hotel/airline/credit card rewards, but I am afraid to spend them.  What if I don’t get enough value?  What if I run out?  That was when I realized I might have a problem.

Collecting points is fun.  It lets you imagine all of the fun things you can do for free or for a major discount from just paying cash for a vacation or get away.  Then I was looking at how many points it would take to fly back at Christmas to visit family in the Midwest and freaked out. 

I spend all this time collecting points and it will cost 200,000 of them to fly four of us round trip in the US?  It’s not even to a beach destination.  I know part of it is just being stingy, but it seems like the points are the most valuable for times when you don’t need them!

American and United are my only real choices for our closest airport.  I am thinking of driving to a larger city to make it a cheaper trip if that works out (also easier to get home with flight delays when there are more options- that last leg to a small airport is tough and limited).  We could always use some of our hotel points to stay close to the hotel for an early flight if needed.

We might even be able to transfer Chase Ultimate Reward points to Southwest if it works out.  I am not sure of my points vs cash threshold yet, but I am thinking if tickets are more than $500 each (need 4), we may use all points.  I can always earn more right?

ritz cartlon room

The Ritz room

A More Normal Points Update

Circling back to reality, our latest card was the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express.  We opened a bunch of cards in the late spring, so I had been laying low for a while.  Too many credit inquiries is not good, plus Chase has been cracking down lately.  I currently have the Costco AMEX, but with that being phased out in March 2016, I was looking for an AMEX card to add to the fold.

Right now all spending is going on to the Starwood AMEX except for the following:

  • Gas still goes on the Costco AMEX as it is a 3% rebate (at any gas station, not just Costco gas)
  • Cell phones and AT&T cable/internet goes on the Chas Ink card for the 5% points
  • The next travel expense or hotel would go on a Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite card to use the last $200 of its bonus
  • We haven’t been utilizing the 5% quarterly rotating categories on the no fee Chase Freedom card- obviously we are missing out there!

As a side not about my new Starwood card, the points can be transferred to a ton of airlines like American and United, so it really helps us have back-up miles for those two airlines.  Plus, you get a 5,000 point bonus for each 20,000 points you transfer.  I like that bonus.  But enough about that specific card, let’s talk about my travel points and what goals I have for them. 

I am not sure what card we will get next, but after the Starwood card bonus is earned, it will be our main Costco card.  Regular spending would then probably shift to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card in the absence of a new one to earn a bonus.  My wife might be due for a Starwood card next now that I think about it.  Her score has actually gone up a lot in the last 2 years as I have opened cards for us, so she can easily get an AMEX now!

Also I switch from my to our and I to we a lot.  I hope that does not cause confusion.  The balances I refer to are combined for the two of us.  My wife gives the input on the destinations and I make sure we have the points and cash to pull it off. 

Plans for the Points- Update

Our biggest balance is in Marriott points.  I have mentioned in the past that we are looking at the Ritz in Grand Cayman Island for a hotel/air package.  Using the points for 7 days gets 1 day free AND gets 50,000 airline points.  In my opinion it is the best way to get value out of Marriott points.  At this point, we have enough for the room and probably a couple of flights.

On a side note: we did use some points in May to stay at the Ritz Carlton in downtown San Francisco and it was a great experience.  The customer service might be the best I can remember for a hotel.  Everyone was friendly, helpful, and paid special attention to our kids.

We also need to figure out the best way to get to Kansas around Christmas.  Our youngest turns 2 in early December, so now we have to buy 4 tickets instead of 3!  The Chase points can be moved to United and we have a lot of American points, too.  As I mentioned earlier, there is an outside chance we could convert to Southwest points and use a different airport as well.

ritz carlton bathroom

The Ritz bathroom

I also want to take my wife to New York next year (2016).  She has never been.  We will definitely have the hotel rooms covered, but I need to figure out how to get flights covered if we will be using points for Christmas and the Caribbean (that is 8 round trip flights not counting the New York one). 

Based on that, I need to focus on airline miles or cards that can covert to airline miles or reimburse tickets purchased on the cards.  It will be sad that I only hit the million point mark briefly before having to use ~200k points for flights at Christmas (and not even get first class!).

Our current airline/hotel/credit card balances are below:

travel reward chart

I don’t really have any specific plans for the IHG points right now, but those might be useful for a nice stay during a NYC trip next year.  I was able to transfer 3,000 Chase points to IHG and get Spire Elite status thanks to a tip from Million Mile Secrets.  I also got 25,000 bonus points for reaching the tier.  I will be doing the same for my wife’s account this week (3,000 Chase UR to get 25,000 extra IHG points is a no brainer right?).  It would probably be best to have a plan for points before you open a credit card, but it was a good offer and we jumped on it!  Edit: it worked and we now have 200,500 IHG points (and 4,000 less CHase Ulitmate Reward points).  That is an increase in value of about $120.

At least the Chase and Starwood points can be used in multiple ways depending on my plans.  Maybe a Capital One or Citi Thank You should be our next card?  I could book at least one of the flights on the Capital One card and not use any points or cash if the sign-up bonus is high enough.

I think the big question right now is do I want to clean out my balances to avoid airfare costs or try and make decisions based on cash costs to maximize point values?  The answer is probably somewhere in between, I just want to avoid having points expire!

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

As a final note, I don’t have any referrals for any of the cards I mention.  I point them out (along with how I use them) so people see real spending and how it works to try and amass lots of points.  I don’t go buy gift cards for churning purposes as I think that is more gaming the system.  Please feel free to ask any questions or point out a strategy I am missing!

You may also like...

16 Responses

  1. I totally get where you’re coming from. It can be hard to pull the trigger on a redemption and make sure you get the most value out of each point. Especially when seeing what others are doing, you want to make sure you get a ton of value and not feel like you’re missing out on something. The funny thing about this hobby is that when you spend so much time collecting points and building up your balances, it’s almost depressing to see what they look like after to redeem them. The hard part is to know when enough is enough and when it’s time to start enjoying spending the points. There are those that earn and burn and it seems like that is a more optimal strategy. You can avoid the analysis paralysis and risk of program devaluations when you have a plan for the points beforehand.

    • vawt says:

      I agree. I am still hesitant even though I knew I had a plan for most of them. Pulling the trigger on flights for the holiday season is a tough one through as there is less availability!

  2. I’m the exact same way! I collect points to save money, but then have a tough time deciding whether to say “hey, it’s free regardless of how many points I’m using” or “that’s not worth that many points.” It’s a tough line. If you figure out how to navigate it well, I’ll be happy to follow your lead. 🙂

  3. It’s interesting to read different approaches to point usage! We are definitely in the camp of consolidating with many fewer companies in order to maximize points — mainly by getting elite status with those chains (in our case United and Marriott), which then helps us accumulate points faster AND gives us increased access to award flights and hotel rooms, and with smaller co-pays. We also are in the camp of maximizing our redemptions in the form of finding the cheapest ways to redeem. So while your Ritz stay sounds wonderful, I nearly gasped at that, because that takes so many more points than staying at a lower tier hotel, which would be more our style. Same goes for flights — we wouldn’t try to redeem points around the holidays, because then you’re definitely stuck using 50K points per ticket, whereas the rest of the year you can usually use 30K per ticket in the U.S. But that’s just our style, and you are certainly getting a nicer experience by using your points at fancier properties!

    • vawt says:

      United has angered me too many times and I am done with them! The Ritz stay was more of a Mother’s Day gift, an usual splurge if you will.

      I think we will be able to get 4 round trips for about 110k miles on Southwest for the holidays. It’s not the best, but better than spending $2,400-$4,000 on airfare!

  4. The DJ says:

    Since you will soon have 4 members need fully paid (or on points) tickets to fly, have you considered getting the Southwest Companion Pass for both you and your wife? That way each of your kids can be a companion of yours. Of course it depends on where you guys fly, but it has worked well for us! We are three years in with having Companion Pass “status”.

    I can totally relate about being obsessed over miles and points. I too am a miles/points hoarder. I recently redeemed my miles for my parents and brother to come visit us. At first, I was thinking how I could have made “better” use of those miles for a nice vacation for ourselves. But seeing how happy they were to see their nephew/grandson was priceless 🙂 Btw, I too am hoping to go for the Marriott air/hotel package in 2017 – I will have to look at the hotel in Grand Cayman Island you mentioned.

    • vawt says:

      I will actually earn the companion pass from this, but if I open southwest cards for both of us, we might be able to save the points, both get the companion pass and travel for a lot less. I just don’t know if we can hit two credit card spends fast enough to get the tickets before they go way up in price. Thanks for the input!
      Also, we haven’t done it before because it’s a 3 hour drive to the nearest airport that has southwest. United has made me so mad that I don’t mind the extra drive at this point!

  5. I’m like you. I have a tendency to want to hoard my points. It’s silly.

    Scoring the Southwest Companion Pass this year was a huge win for us (I wrote it up on the blog if your interested). It’s let my significant other fly free until the end of 2016 plus 100k in points. Our vacations definitely improved.

    • vawt says:

      Even though it’s a 3 hour drive to an airport with Southwest, I just decided to do the companion pass. I opened a new card last week and will transfer points for the rest.

      • The DJ says:

        vawt, not sure where you were transferring points from and whether this transfer was to make up the remaining points needed to reach 110K points for CP. Not all transfers count towards CP – e.g. transfers from ultimate rewards to southwest RR does not count towards CP. I think some hotel point transfers do count. Just something to keep in mind!

        • vawt says:

          Good to know. I thought the UR points did count for some reason. I may just use the 50k bonus and transfer some UR points for the Xmas trip and get the companion pass later. Thanks!

  6. I can relate to this article. I travel on business quite frequently, so I accumulate a lot of hotel (SPG, Hilton, Marriott), car rental (mainly Hertz) and air miles (United). But when it comes to redeeming, it hurts so much to see the points going away in one click! I found taking very luxurious weekends getaways (at St Regis, Fairmont, etc..) with my wife are more enjoyable than trying to use point longer (but less fancy) trips. Or giving away flights to friends or family as gifts. Maybe because it feels like doing something I couldn’t afford if I had to pay. Either way, I’m all for consolidating (memberships in only a few major chains) because it accelerates your status in most programs.

    • vawt says:

      Luxury travel on points is the best! I lean towards that side, but don’t mind using points for a lower redemption rate to save money, too. I guess I can’t make up my mind!

  1. September 16, 2015

    […] Travel Rewards […]

  2. December 15, 2015

    […] to people).  Anyway, there has not been a lot of movement in the last few months since I posted my reward point balances in […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *