Maximizing Rewards and Benefits
Many travel and rewards hobbyists, especially ones who read Miles to Memories, enjoy pulling as much value as possible out of loyalty programs, elite levels, and credit card benefits. Some stretch this beyond travel. For the past several years, I’ve prioritized everyday rewards over anything directly related to travel. I’m also that weirdo at the Kroger fuel center with gas cans obtaining exactly 35 gallons on each fill-up. I have a tendency to focus too much on maximization, and I need to check myself now and then. I know I’m at risk of losing out on superior experiences due to my tendency to “chase the deal.” I feel that we can unnecessarily limit ourselves with such behavior. Today, I’m sharing a couple examples, one new and another old, which reflect how maximizing rewards and benefits can lead to unintentionally inferior outcomes. I’ll then describe related matters now and in the future.
I enjoyed my whirlwind Las Vegas trip where I jumped hotels nightly to maximize benefits in conjunction with the recent MtM Diamond meetup. A portion of this trip involved two individual stays at the Conrad in Resorts World. It’s the only property where I stayed more than one night, and that was primarily due to stacking various Amex (Platinum and Fine Hotel & Resorts) and Hilton Diamond benefits.
On paper, the Conrad stay was a huge win. In total, I had $104 in out of pocket costs for two nights and $482 in credits. In reality, staying here a second night was completely unnecessary. I had my fill with the first stay, even before completing it. Indeed, I couldn’t possibly consume all my credits. I wouldn’t have considered a second stay at this average property without the various benefits. And in the end, I didn’t care much about those additional benefits during the second stay, anyway.
My Encore at the Wynn stay was clearly inferior to the Conrad on paper. I went out of pocket $98 for one night and $185 in credits. But in reality, my Encore stay was close to perfect and put the Conrad stays to shame. By loosening up on the travel budget just a bit, I was exponentially rewarded. I felt and was treated like a valued guest at Encore. At the Conrad, I was one of many being processed through the Resorts World semi-satisfied customer factory.
I felt like a slug leaving the Conrad, but Encore made me feel like a million bucks. I was curious about staying at the Conrad and had additional reasons to be there, anyway, but I must admit maximizing backfired a bit.
Previously, my wife and I took international vacations much more than we do now. Years ago, I valued and maximized elite status more. I enjoyed Hyatt stays as a top-tier Diamond in their previous Gold Passport loyalty program. The Park Hyatt Hamburg breakfast is probably the best I’ve ever had in Europe. The all-around experience at the Park Hyatt Milan was impeccable. The suite upgrade at the Grand Hyatt Berlin was killer. And we accomplished this all while enjoying elite benefits and using points according to the extremely low Hyatt chart (looking back).
But I knew I wanted to mix it up in Asia. I generally prefer Asian hotel chains over domestic ones. We picked certain properties where we dreamt of staying – The Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La in Singapore, the Peninsula in Bangkok, another Mandarin Oriental in Chiang Mai. We paid completely out of pocket for these stays, and they were worth every penny in terms of service and quality at these iconic properties. Picking points hotels, many relatively bland in these locations, wouldn’t have accomplished our goal in the way we wanted.
I know I couldn’t take the “you get what you pay for” philosophy to the extreme. That wouldn’t match my guiding financial principles. We filled out the rest of our vacations at SPG, Hyatt, and Hilton properties we found intriguing with points. Free stays at points hotels are a great tool, but we can’t let them unwittingly overtake individual goals.
The Present, and Looking Ahead
I’ve spoken ad nauseum about how cash back is my favorite rewards currency. Sure, I still efficiently acquire hotel points, airline miles, and rail points, but I don’t see cash ever being unseated as my top priority. Tapping my cash back rewards for those “you get what you pay for” experiences definitely helps, but I know there’s a limit. On an everyday basis, I know cash is useful for other rewarding experiences unrelated to travel.
Balancing how we maximize with our goals is an ongoing challenge. We must acknowledge that every credit card welcome offer isn’t right for us. I’m probably not maximizing Chase as much as I could since I quit caring about 5/24 years ago. I may be missing out with Chase, but I’m okay with that. Also, these days, I’d rather infrequently pay for a luxury (non-points) hotel high on my list than spend money and time on degrading elite status and related stays.
In the future, I only see my tendency to focus on a la carte travel experiences increasing. In the meantime, I’ll focus on earning currencies (cash back, points, and miles) at high rates to make up for the perceived “extra” I have to pay to reach my goals.
Maximizing Rewards and Benefits – Conclusion
Some of you may be with me here. I also understand others may find my philosophy clear as mud. But I understand it myself, in this moment. And that’s all that really matters. We each use our rewards differently, and that’s okay. What I do and do not earn and redeem is not an indictment on others’ habits. It’s merely a reflection of my own goals. Regardless if you’re into maximizing rewards and benefits or not, go after what you want and don’t let anyone else’s beliefs unnecessarily discourage you. But do try to learn from others along the way. I still am, and it’s a blast.
How much effort do you put into maximizing rewards and benefits? How do you prevent yourself from taking it too far?