Five Signs You are Carried Away with the Airline and Hotel Point And Miles Game

Five Signs You are Carried Away with the Airline and Hotel Point And Miles Game

You can earn tremendous value through opening and using credit cards that reward your patronage and your spend with airline miles and/or hotel points.    I personally have found that travel and rewards credit cards give me more value than any cash back card possibly could, and give me access to a form of travel that might otherwise be more “aspirational” than realistic, such as access to hotel suites and first-class lounges that I would not otherwise pay for.

But, there are clear signs to be on guard for that you have gotten carried away, and it is important to understand when you have crossed the line.  Here are some signs:

1. Staying in hotels that are a great distance geographically from where you want or need to be, just to get points or use nights of credit.  For most people, this simply doesn’t make sense, except in the very rare circumstance where you are a night or two short of obtaining premium status at the end of the year.  For the most part, staying in a hotel just for the purposes of earning or redeeming points will wind up being damaging to your vacation or make your business trip less productive.  This having been said, there are some places where the line is kind of hazy.  When I go to Maine in August, for example, it is very difficult to find a nice place to stay for less than $450 to $500 a night.  I have no problems staying at the Hyatt Place in Portland, a Hyatt category 3 hotel, for 12,000 points as there is plenty to do in and around Portland.   However, staying at the Sheraton at the airport in Bangor for 7,500 points in order to visit Acadia National Park is far less sensible.

2. Traveling circuitous and indirect routes to rack up points.   This practice used to be widespread among seasoned business travelers seeking to get premium status before year-end.  Now that all of the major airlines have moved over to a revenue based status system, it is less common.   It is silly to do it unless you are trying to get premium status.   It simply makes no sense to fly from LA to Tokyo through JFK and Heathrow to get airline points (unless you need to pick your passport up in New York).

3. Traveling circuitous routes to fly a specific airline or to qualify for a specific class of service.  The point of travel is to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently.  If the shortest travel time from New York to a small city in Eastern Europe is on Austrian Airlines, I will fly Austrian Airlines (which is perfectly fine with me anyway because it is a United and a Singapore partner).   Among the most stupid articles I have read on this issue is this one - traveling from Madrid to JFK through Moscow is madness, especially if you are doing it to “experience” Aeroflot and Sheremytyvo.

4. Getting overexcited by 2x or 3x point earning opportunities.  Getting 2x or 3x points on a credit card is just not a way quickly to run up points, unless you are prepared to spend gobs of money in one specific category.  Cardholders are more wise to focus on categories where they can get 5x or more points.  I personally use an Amex Platinum card for airline expenses and use a Chase Freedom card for the rotating quarterly spend category, but otherwise do not choose one card over another when making a purchase just to get 2x or 3x.

5. Allowing oneself to fall for those hawking point you don't want or need.   I was walking down the street in New York yesterday and saw a sign outside of Vitamin Shoppe saying that they were giving out bonus points to anyone who walked in the door that day.  For a moment, I briefly forgot that vitamins and supplements are a scam directed at people who don’t eat well or exercise properly.  That was when realized that I needed to write this article.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

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What My Midlife Crisis Has Taught Me About Travel Points and Miles

What My Midlife Crisis Has Taught Me About Travel Points and Miles

I’ve been earning travel rewards since I got my first credit card, and at a certain point in the late 1990’s the Starwood card became the best.

Over the intervening years, I have earned tons of points and miles through credit card spends, putting both my own personal spend and business spend on credit cards that maximize my travel rewards whenever possible.  For a long period, I even deposited my cash in savings and CD products offered by a Texas bank that paid interest in American Advantage miles.

As a result, I have traveled personally for leisure and taken family vacations that might have otherwise been too expensive.   And, as credit card companies have benefitted from higher interchange fees over the last several years (and passed some of those benefits on to the customer in terms of higher sign-up bonuses and more points per dollar spent on certain products) the opportunities have only increased.

Conventional wisdom, expressed just the other day in this New York Times piece, is that the greatest value in each mile or point accrued is ordinarily extracted when points are used to redeem for travel in Business or First Class on routes where airlines charge a real premium for fares in those classes (eg., New York to London, New York to LA or New York to San Francisco).   It is true,, in fact, that  it is ordinarily on these routes where you can achieve 8, 9 or even 10 cents per mile redeemed.

Now that I am in my late 40s, I view the opportunities associated with travel rewards very differently.  Most importantly, I no longer need to travel in business class or first class just to get the highest value per point or mile.   Rather, because I have reached a point in my life where I now spend literally hours at a time sitting on hard benches next to unsavory people (think of jury duty), I have no trouble traveling for 5 or 6 hours in coach class.  Since I am based in New York, that pretty much means that I can get anywhere in this country or Europe on a coach fare. 

Likewise, the idea of traveling Singapore Suites to Asia and Frankfurt, and being pampered with caviar and champagne, while very attractive and a great redemption value, is wasteful to me.   I do perfectly well in a business class seat to Singapore or Australia.  Plus, I really don’t like caviar and I don’t drink alcohol at all when I fly.

At this age, what I really need is to be very comfortable when I get where I am going.   Since I do not do AirBNB, hotel points are much more valuable to me.  While the redemption value for hotels compared with business or first class air travel is almost never as high (althought I have found one or two occasions where they are – such as 8,000 points for the Hyatt Place in Portland, Maine in August when rates are over $500), I can easily find Starwood and Hyatt redemptions that are well over 4 cents per dollar.   Fairmont, Hilton, and Club Carlson (Radisson), while significantly devalued over the last several years, are also decent programs.

Hence, as I age, my own preferences have moved significantly towards earning hotel travel rewards points, and for that I tend to look especially closely at the Starwood Preferred Guest card, the Hyatt card, and the Chase Ultimate Rewards program as my cards of choice.

See the best sign up travel bonuses today.

See BestCashCow's ranking of the most valuable cards for racking up points and miles.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

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Barclays Study Suggests Amex Platinum Card Falling Behind Competitors

Barclays Study Suggests Amex Platinum Card Falling Behind Competitors

American Express recently announced changes to its flagship credit card product.  The Platinum Card ®, which recently began giving 5x points per dollar spent directly on airlines, will now also offer 5x points per dollar spent at hotels when booked through Amex travel, and a $200 annual Uber credit.  The annual fee is rising from $450 a year to $550.

A recent Barclays credit card use study suggests that these changes are still not strong enough to for Amex to remain competitive with Citibank’s Prestige card and Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card.

The Barclays study assumes an average customer earning $150,000 a year and uses government data on average household spending across different categories to estimate which card offers best rewards.

The study suggests that the Amex Platinum card now delivers an effective rewards rate per dollar of 1.48% (up from 1.22%) whereas the Citi Prestige cards delivers 1.78% and the Chase Sapphire Reserve 2.06%.

The Barclays study, in our view, is flawed on at least three levels.  First, it fails to identify how the rewards rate is calculated (for example, while all points are transferable to Singapore, Amex points remain transferrable to British Airways and Delta which may allow a more valuable redemption than Citibank points which are not).  Second, it fails to account for the fact that most cardholders have two or more cards in their wallet and spend according to category bonuses; Amex is arguably more valuable than the other cards to those who travel because of the 4x and 5x categories (Citi and Chase have only 2x and 3x categories).   The use of, say, an Amex Platinum card, coupled with the use of a Chase Freedom Unlimited card (which offers 1.50% cash back or 1.5x transferrable points on a spend that can be worth well over 3 cents per dollar at Hyatt, enables a customer to generate far more valuable rewards than Prestige or Sapphire Reserve alone.  Third, the study fails to take into account other factors, including service and purchase protection.  To many, Amex continues to be the gold standard in purchase protection and in resolving disputes with vendors.

It is, therefore, BestCashCow’s position that, while Prestige and Sapphire Reserve are both very compelling and while Chase has significantly better transfer flexibility than Amex, the Platinum card is an important tool in a strong travel rewards strategy.

See the best cards for racking up travel rewards here.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank advertiser, card issuer, airline or hotel.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.