Points and Miles Decisions – What I’m Currently Redeeming and Holding
Points and miles hobbyists enjoy debating which points they earn, the best and worst currencies, etc. But I don’t feel we discuss enough the currencies we redeem, the others we hoard, and our various methods for making those determinations. I enjoy listening to hobbyists spell out their strategies – I usually pick up a perspective or idea I hadn’t previously considered. Today, I’m sharing what I’m currently redeeming and piling up – and why. I must periodically conduct this exercise to stay sharp. I know routinely analyzing my points and miles decisions helps me improve. Maybe a few of you will consider something new, or enjoy the ride, at least.
What I Redeem
I redeem virtually all of my major bank currencies – Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points – for cash. I enjoy the immediate freedom in doing so. By cashing out, I can use those rewards on my highest priority, changing goals, travel-related and otherwise. Instead of those points sitting in my rewards accounts earning nothing while I’m not traveling, I’m happy to have them sitting as actual money earning (small amounts of) interest in bank accounts. I can freely and quickly access those funds when I need them for travel or otherwise. This is my primary redemption strategy – it has been for years. I haven’t traveled enough to consume them all during my current life season – and that’s before the pandemic hit. Current events have made cashing out even more of a no-brainer for us.
There’s one minor exception currently. Citi is temporarily allowing transfer of ThankYou points to American Airlines miles at a 1:1 ratio. We will transfer over a small amount to my wife’s American account to easily extend her mileage expiration date. (Yes, American miles still expire.)
While I’m not good at actually consuming airline miles currently (more on that later), I do consistently speculatively book with Southwest Rapid Rewards points. News flash: Many consider flying domestically an unpleasant experience. I am one of those people. But when I do, I prefer Southwest – no baggage fees, their superior change and cancellation policies, and boarding practices. I’ve experienced better customer service from Southwest than the other major domestic airlines, as well.
Thanks to our US Bank shutdowns, we don’t pile up Radisson Rewards points anymore. We’re definitely consuming plenty of them on travel needs, primarily seeing family members who aren’t getting any younger. We happily burn these points on predictable Country Inn and Suites stays. These aren’t sexy redemptions, but our current travel needs aren’t, either. Free lodging while seeing family is an undeniable win for us.
What I Hoard
I have hardly any air travel planned (beyond future MtM Diamond meetups), but I still hoard airline mile currencies. Why? I have an overarching goal of never using my own savings to pay for airfare ever again, especially on domestic airlines. In addition to Southwest (described earlier), the wife and I have healthy balances in American, Delta, and United currencies. Right now, we’re primarily adding to Delta with a little bit of American, as well. We don’t add to our United balances at all, mostly since I’ve permanently given up on new Chase cards and we have no need to transfer Ultimate Rewards there, anyway.
Hilton runs our favorite all-around hotel loyalty program and is where we stay most often. Hilton Garden Inn is my preferred hotel line, by far. I enjoy the consistency, breakfast, and general lack of stuffiness from these properties. When traveling, I don’t need my hotel lobby to feel like a nightclub. I love Hyatt hotels, also, but we can find a Hilton family property pretty much anywhere we travel. I enjoy the ease of earning and using Hilton points at scale on travel, solo or with my family. I’ll therefore always hold one Hilton Amex card. Right now, I have the no fee version, as I hope to take advantage of upgrade opportunities again. I’m patient here for now, but I may decide to upgrade to a Surpass even without a bonus points-earning offer (more on that below).
While I do actively redeem with Hilton, I earn way more than I redeem. I don’t see our lodging preferences changing long term. Recently, I’ve decided to hoard even more since I’ll look to chain hotels, predominantly Hilton, to replace Disney World resort stays on future trips.
Mitigating Against Devaluation
On its face, hoarding airline miles or hotel points without near term plans to consume them may seem misguided. How do I hedge against inevitable devaluations if I’m not redeeming? Here are a couple of my strategies.
Airline Miles – High Earning Rates
We focus on primarily earning airline miles on credit card welcome offers. We don’t tend to spend at all on airline cards beyond the welcome offer. For example, we’re working on a 90k mile welcome offer on my wife’s new Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex with $3k spend. That’s at least a 31x-earning card on exactly $3k spend (incorporating the welcome offer and the normal spend earning). If or when Delta miles devalue prior to us using them, the fact we earned at such a high rate softens the blow of the devaluation. If we were only earning in the 2x-3x categories, or at 1x (gasp), the devaluation would be hard to stomach. The same logic applies for any hotel cards and currencies we have no near term plans to consume. But when would I spend on a hotel card beyond meeting a welcome offer?
Hotel Points – Concurrent Benefits
There are times I may focus on earning hotel points beyond a welcome offer without near term plans to use them. Why? Because cardholders often have opportunities to earn concurrent benefits when spending. For instance, a Hilton Amex Surpass cardholder can earn 6x in broad, staple spend categories like US supermarkets, gas stations, and restaurants. That same spend contributes to the $15k required annual spend for the cardholder to receive a free weekend night certificate at most any Hilton property.
Other hotel cards, such as Chase’s Hyatt card and US Bank’s Radisson Rewards card, offer free nights with big spend. For those who care about elite status, ongoing spend on certain cards get cardholders closer to higher tiers. With an inevitable devaluation, a cardholder can point to the acquired benefits beyond points to mitigate the situation. Of course, airline card fans can apply similar logic to big spend benefits on those cards.
The Non-Travel Currency We Feverishly Hoard and Redeem
Like all parents with growing children, we endlessly face the challenge of clothing them without breaking the bank. We’ve found a way to do so without even going to the bank, so to speak. The Banana Republic Visa! The card routinely targets cardholders for periodic bonus earning offers with ongoing spend. Since my wife and I each opened card accounts a few years ago, we have been targeted for 5x or 10x offers in broad categories most of the time. Points are worth 1 cent each, so earning at those rates to use on necessary clothing expenses for our kids is a game changer.
The loyalty program has recently undergone an update where Gap/Banana Republic, not the bank, manages it. So far, I’m generally pleased with the changes. In the future, Barclays will take over these cards from Synchrony, and current cardholders will be transferred to the Barclays version. This card certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s huge for some.
Points and Miles Decisions – Conclusion
While the above summary isn’t all-inclusive, I’ve addressed our major points and miles decisions currently. Whether you’re hoarding, redeeming, or both, it’s important you know what you’re doing (or not doing) with each of your rewards currencies and why. Otherwise, you may be losing value, or worse, wasting your time collecting points and miles you’ll never use. Points and miles aren’t worth anything until you actually use them. What are you currently redeeming? What are you hoarding? Why?