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Flying in a Different Direction: Why I’m Questioning A Long-Held Belief

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Airline Miles or Hotel Points

Do you prefer earning airline miles or hotel points?  Many, including this writer, would first say, “Neither – I’d rather have bank points and/or cash back, instead.”  Another group, probably with some joining from the first one, may also say, “All of them!  I’ll earn everything I can.”  But today, I’m leaving bank points and cash back out of the equation.  Would I rather earn airline miles or hotel points?  My long-held belief has been that I pick hotel points first.  But I’m starting to question this notion.  What’s making me chase more airline miles while I shy away from hotel points?  Here are the big factors right now.

We’re Using More Airline Miles

My wife and I have historically banked plenty of airline miles for years of future travel.  But one of my 2023 resolutions is to start enjoying air travel again.  To that end, I’m redeeming for more flights, and I’m sometimes splurging on premium classes over economy, too.  I’m getting outsize value on these miles while meeting my goals, and I’d like to replenish my balances a bit.  We’re nowhere near using up any airline currencies, but we like to have plenty on-hand for whatever we want to do, for many years to come.

We’re Drowning in Hotel Points

Meanwhile, our hotel points balances continue to steadily grow or stay at the same level, depending on the chain.  But we’re also staying in hotels more often now, too.  How is this possible?  The hobby’s generosity with free night certificates is a major factor.  The Amex Platinum’s Fine Hotels & Resorts credit is another.  In our current life season, my family and I aren’t extremely active travelers.  Right now, our travel mostly tops out at using our free night certificates and FHR credits.  We rarely get around to significantly touching our hotel points.

Airline Miles or Hotel Points

American Airlines

For some of us, myself included, American Airlines has single-handedly made earning airline miles fun again.  Their development of the Loyalty Points program, including the plethora of ways to earn the miles beyond credit cards, has made the game even more attractive.  What once was just an airline mile is now an airline mile and a (small) step closer to elite status, something I carefully, infrequently pursue.

With More Knowledge Comes More Value

For the 22 years or so I’ve been involved in our hobby, the one thing I’ve probably enjoyed the least is booking award flights.  It’s just not how I’ve wanted to spend my time.  Not coincidentally, I learned relatively little about it.  Going back to my air travel resolution, I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying the process of preparing for it.  The learning is fun, to an extent.  The minimal skills I’ve picked up have enabled more value.

I definitely don’t want to overstate this one, though.  I certainly still have blind spots, primarily since I have no interest in some of the more advanced stuff.  For instance, I have close to zero interest in the minutiae and extra work of maximizing partner awards.  But overall, I’m taking baby steps in the right direction.

Airline Miles or Hotel Points

The Mailbox

Excellent airline credit card offers continue to flow in for many of us.  My wife just received an elevated Amex Delta Gold welcome offer via snail mail which, most importantly, is of the no lifetime language variety.  Many of you have received similar offers.  Why would we turn these easy miles down?

More Innovations

Banks and airlines are offering even more attractive angles for us to maximize.  For instance, Delta recently introduced the 15 off benefit which gives Amex Delta cardholders a 15% discount off award flights.  Inevitably, other innovations will arrive, and I’m excited to see what they are.  Of course, with all these perceived improvements, we must be vigilant for any future devaluations.  But I’ll choose to be simultaneously optimistic about new options the airlines and banks create.

I Know John Ryan

If you don’t know who John Ryan is by now, you should.  Recently, I’ve learned more about air travel redemptions from this fifteen-year-old points and miles savant than probably anyone else.  Bigger picture, I encourage you to leverage your network of family and friends to learn more about maximizing airline miles, as well as the other hobby angles.  I can always learn more, and I often do so unexpectedly.

Airline Miles Or Hotel Points


All things being equal, I’d still rather pick up more hotel points than airline miles.  But things are rarely equal, at least in my situation.  And right now, my needs weigh toward more airline miles than hotel points.  I encourage you to take a beat and reevaluate your goals.  Are more airline miles or hotel points the best move for you right now?  Share in the comments section!

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Benjy Harmon
Benjy Harmon
Benjy focuses on the intersection of points, travel, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently roams throughout the USA close to expense-free. Benjy enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. I have had free airfare for years now but it was the hotels that were harder to earn for me and now that I’m focused on that I’m doing much better with more annual free nights (which I overlooked the value before), platinum status at Marriott and getting the new cards really boosted my balance. Still have a ways to go but getting at least half of my nights covered now – need to do more MS for Wyndham…

  2. Different people, different circumstances, different objectives, different answers. I think that each person needs to discover what’s best for oneself. And, the desire for that discovery must come from within oneself.

  3. The best currencies are transferable points. That said I always have plenty of airline miles but never enough hotel points. The free credit card nights are virtually useless to me due to expiration dates and limited to low value properties.

  4. Are more airline miles or hotel points the best move for you right now? I remain as I have for pretty much 40 years, the “best move” is to be evenly focused on fulfilling boosted earning opportunities both SUB and post-SUB whether they be for hotel or air, and now more than ever reserving air travel as soon possible while monitoring reservations for lowered costs all the way until departure. Boosted earnings are so highly leveraged over routine earnings that missing out on them is the real “devaluation.” I also focus on airline bookings because the mile costs are so dynamic now – our December 2022 coat-to-coast travel involved three re-bookings as award fares gyrated +/- 10k per seat over 60 days prior to departure, and now for October 2023 to Europe in a matter of a week our United Polaris seats went from booking at 122.6k to rebooking at 120.3k to 160k, yet not a single additional Polaris seat has been reserved on the flight since the original booking. So, in short, the focus is not on the type, but on the earn and on the spend of every type.

  5. I’m in the earn any points/miles you can. Right now I just hit my SUB on the Chase Aeroplan card 70K offer. Almost completed the SUB for my wife’s Citi Premier card 80K offer. Working on my DL Reserve upgrade offer 40K and DL Platinum upgrade offer for my wife 30K.

    Regular spend is primarily on AX Gold for Rest/Groceries, Venture X for many other categories and AX Platinum for Air and FHR/HC and Cap1 Travel credit for a hotel booking.


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