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.