There’s Too Much of This Stuff in the Points and Miles Hobby

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Points and Miles Overload

Points and Miles Overload – There’s Too Much of This Stuff in the Hobby

The other day at a local grocery store, I came upon a terrifying sight.  The cereal section expanded to a second aisle.  You see, I often feel we have too many options for everything in our country.  But I guess that’s just one reason we are the USA.  Similarly, our beloved points and miles hobby dabbles in excess.  Many of these items are great – it’s how we end up with more points, miles, and bigger travel.  But there’s some points and miles overload that concerns me.  I’ll cover just a few of those areas today.

Hotel Brands Per Chain

Not too long ago, the major hotel chains only had six or so unique hotel lines, at most, per brand.  I was busy enough understanding the niches of each hotel brand, which gave complimentary breakfast, which ones were too hip for me, and so on.  But in the past few years, I’ve given up keeping track.  Why?  Because there are so freakin’ many different hotel brands.  Here’s a quick look of how many brands the major chains hold:

  • Marriott:  30
  • IHG:  16
  • Hilton:  18
  • Wyndham:  20
  • Hyatt:  15

I understand that much of this can be attributed to acquisition and consolidation amongst major hotel chains.  Regardless, I feel this hotel brand arms race is out of control.  From my perspective, the companies are trying so hard to acquire new identities that they fail to define one common identity for their respective chains.  Quite conveniently for the chains, these expansions makes their “stay at each brand” bonus points promotions tougher to accomplish.

Whatever it is, no thanks from this writer.  Instead, I’ll predominantly focus on a comfy, predictable stay with breakfast included.  And most of the time, the points redemption rates are economical.  Hello, Hilton Garden Inn and Holiday Inn Express!

Points and Miles Overload

A New Contributor to Points and Miles Overload – Premium Card Perks and Credits

I’ve professed my love for the expansion of everyday rewards over the past few years.  I enjoy having more options for rewards not directly related to travel.  They’ve been increasing for years, and the pandemic turbocharged them.  So, by no means am I complaining when I say this, but it’s come true – there are way too many credits and perks on ultra-premium and premium cards for us.  While we have more options for value here, it also takes more effort to obtain that value.  This is just another situation where it’s virtually impossible to benefit from everything offered.

I find my happy place by focusing on the ones that provide my family and me the most meaningful value which directly contribute to our travel and life goals.  Therefore, we focus on the benefits that save us the most money on our pre-existing consumer and travel behaviors.  For example, Amex’s food delivery service and PayPal credits are big with us; their “Cruise Privileges Program”, not so much.

Bank Account Bonuses

A close sibling to credit card welcome offers, points and miles hobbyists routinely take advantage of bank account bonuses.  Similar to premium card perks and credits, the increasing availability of bank account bonuses isn’t a negative in and of itself.  With more access to these offers, I must be more discerning with the ones I pursue.  I simply can’t pursue them all, nor would I want to.  I’d be easily overwhelmed with tracking all the various bonus requirements, and my least favorite task in the hobby, closing bank accounts after receiving bonuses.

I discussed my more selective bank account bonus strategy here.  DDG also does yeoman’s work highlighting the top bank account bonuses every month or so.

Points and Miles Overload
From my perspective, those who adhere to Chase’s 5/24 rule have become a crowdsourced marketing team for the bank.

Surrender of Control

In my view, members of the points and miles community have too often and easily given up control to banks, hotels, and airlines.  How so?  By willingly accepting and waiting out draconian credit card application policies, such as Chase’s 5/24 rule (here’s why I quit caring).  When consumers wait to achieve eligibility for new Chase welcome offers, they naturally focus on the lucrative rewards they may receive if/when they are approved for new cards.  But do these individuals think of how they are self-selecting out of credit card rewards freedom?  They give up big rewards with other banks while they await one more Chase card a few years away.

Hobbyists also cede control to airlines and hotel chains when they overly focus their loyalty to one brand, often due to an overvaluation of elite status.  On one hand, they are taking advantage of elite benefits while requalifying for the next year.  On the flip side, they’re begrudgingly making unnecessary airport layovers since the non-stop option isn’t on their preferred airline for elite status.

Elite status is decaying on an ongoing basis.  As Ron Burgundy so eloquently said, “I will NOT eat that cat poop!”  Consider opening your eyes to other options and taking back control of how you travel.

Hyatt points can provide a great per-point value but can also skew one’s travel plans.

Homogeneous Redemption Strategies

Sweet spots are great.  People get big value from them, myself included (sometimes).  But with some currencies, I feel like the masses overly rely on similar redemption behavior.  The first one that jumps out to me is transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt.  Indeed, Hyatt is a reliably high-return partner in Chase’s program.  I feel like some have redeemed this way to a fault.  On multiple occasions, I’ve heard hobbyists pick one vacation destination over another simply because there was a Hyatt in one place.  So what if it wasn’t their #1 preferred travel destination?  They got great per-point value from their Ultimate Rewards!  We often succumb to following one another in this hobby, and I fully realize I may contribute to this from time to time.  Regardless, I remind everyone to focus on their own goals.

Full disclosure, I’m guilty of playing a role in cash back groupthink.  I love the freedom that cashing out provides for accomplishing travel and other goals.  I’ve followed easy, predictable pathways to cash out points for years.  Unfortunately, I think I’ve gotten too comfortable with this redemption strategy.  Not coincidentally, my enthusiasm and skills with other redemption strategies has atrophied.  I need to do better at finding other redemption plays farther outside the norm.

I feel we don’t challenge ourselves enough to find innovative redemption strategies.  At least, I don’t.  There’s plenty out there to be discovered – it’s just a matter of putting in the time, effort, and creativity.

Points and Miles Overload – Conclusion

So much in this hobby can be overwhelming.  As I ruminate more, I’ll invariably dive into this topic again.  But for now, I’ll take my own advice and not talk too much about stuff there is too much of.  More options for most everything can lead to bigger advantages but also formidable distractions.  How do we resist the continuous noise and obfuscation?  I haven’t fully figured it out, but I know staying focused on my principles and goals are the guiding light.  What do you feel there is too much of in the points and miles hobby?  How do you overcome it?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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19 COMMENTS

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry to post again but I forgot one. It’s 2021, I think Amex, Chase, BofA and others can just “register” us for all the “Deals” associated with the cards we carry. I don’t usually miss out on too many good targeted deals because I don’t buy stuff from many of the weird companies they pimp but it’s just so time consuming. They want us to engage more with them I guess but the problem is when you miss out on a deal and then see that later on their app or website it just makes me mad at them.

  2. Benjy,

    I definitely don’t want to seem as though I’m echoing Ronnie but lately it does seem like this hobby bothers/frustrates your more than it excites you and makes you happy.

    Be thankful for the options. You’re kind of whining about something others would love to partake of and will probably never have such an opportunity.

    I’ve read your articles for a while so I know you’re not a negative person but if you could allow yourself to not get angry over my comment or the one made by Ronnie, and honestly go back and look at your past articles of say the last year or so…you’ll feel the tone that we do.

    It’s okay to be frustrated, we all get that way sometimes. And this hobby certainly isn’t free. It comes at the expense of giving up A LOT of time that most (myself included) could use to do other things that enrich our lives.

    I too have to tell myself that there’s more to life than points, miles, and traveling.

    Take a moment if you will, read over some of your previous writings and if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that your tone is certainly no as upbeat as it once was. It also comes off as you’re looking a gift horse in the mouth.

    Count your blessings and be thankful that you a skill and knowledge that allows your to take advantage of a system that allows for amazing experiences. Every time you want to look that gift horse in the mouth, remember that are a many of folks who would happily trade places with you in a heartbeat.

    Never loose sight of perspective. I’m not tagging on you, I too have to remember that and I have a wife who reminds me as well when my thoughts and comments about this hobby start to seem negative and unappreciative.

    Shake off whatever it is that’s eating at you man…take a break this if you must…but keep being that informative and positive dude you’ve always been.

  3. I agree about too many cereals. Too many car choices too. And too many travel/points&miles blogs. That’s not a complaint about blogs, either, since most of what I know about this hobby I learned from a blog. I think all these choices help perpetuate FOMO. Or, as they used to say, keeping up with the Joneses. I’m at a point in my life that trying to maximize value on every part of a trip just isn’t important enough to me. I don’t calculate what my return rate is. Yes, I like staying at nice hotels, in a suite, that I reached from the front of the plane. If that’s what you strive for, great, I hope you achieve it. If I achieve it too, great. If not, that’s great too. There’s always another credit card/hotel/flight/bank bonus coming because the companies offering us these things know there are plenty of folks looking for that. I will never experience all the places to go or things to do in this world. And honestly, don’t know that I want to. I wouldn’t have anything left to dream about.

  4. What we have here is an embarrassment of riches. Only in the USA is this possible. The wealthiest nation on earth trying ever harder to create more wealth. The more I travel the world and become acquainted with people of other lands, the more I realize just how peculiar our banking and financial dealings really are. Cash is not king here. People who use it are unknowingly punished as they quietly subsidize those of us who game the system through credit cards, bank bonuses, certificates for free goods and services, and other “special” offers only available it the realm of plastic. Now, then those perks pile up, one on top of another. We have to track them, increase them at every opportunity, keep them from expiring, maximize the potential uses, and constantly stay on top of the latest giveaways for fear of missing out. Yes, I’m guilty of these things and more in the name of all which is excessive and “free”. At times I’ve felt like a hoarder. Indeed my hoard is large and extensive, yet though I didn’t pay for these privileges, I expend them in a miserly fashion. Commiseration over poorly used points has haunted me from time to time. I love the game. I’ve been places and seen things that, in truth, a very small percentage of the population will experience. I have enriched my soul without emptying my wallet. As a community, we are a rag tag band of travel hackers all chasing our own special dreams with different goals and varying levels of moral flexibility in regard to how we feel about leveraging our education and inside information to acquire special advantages before the next guy beats us to it. Personally, I have no qualms about it. I’m not ruthless by any means, but someone will get the last slice of pizza. Why shouldn’t it be me?

  5. Hilton Garden Inn does not have free breakfast without status which is up in the air also. HIX all include free breakfast, unless, well, Covid at some locations.

    I agree with you on much of this. Never have I sat thinking that gee if we just had another hotel brand to consider. It’s all silly and stupid from a marketing standpoint.

    I’m also really really tired of entitled folks, many newbies to this “hobby” and to hotels in general all upset about not getting free breakfast at the Ritz or whatever because they hacked their way to some level of elite status. I like breakfast but it doesn’t define my resort or hotel experience enough to ruin my entire trip over it.

    I understand that Hyatt is great. I love staying at Hyatt but this is hardly a big enough hotel chain to be my main loyalty program. I haven’t checked but I’ll bet there are entire states in the US where there isn’t a single Hyatt hotel. I am glad they have so many loyalist so they won’t be at the hotels I’m at as much.

    But what I’m really really tired of is blogs posting click bait headlines about some targeted offer that only a few have. Do I want to be aware of it? Sure but I don’t want to be made a fool by clicking on that blog either. It makes me never go there again.

    And I will throw in a bonus item. I’m sick of affliate marketing links being thinly sold as “Look here at the top 10 must have travel items” only to find a bunch of links to Amazon junk that nobody needs and wouldn’t want to haul either. I get that income needs to be made but it shouldn’t be made at the expenses of good taste in blogging. We are better than that.

    I enjoy your blog and podcast btw.

    • DaninMCI,

      Thanks for the kind words and sharing some great thoughts yourself!

      FYI, I submitted this article prior to the Hilton breakfast change. For me, the Hilton Garden Inn is still pretty much free even after Hilton’s change. You can read about my perspective of the changes here, if you’d like.

  6. Thanks Benjy for the observations. Some of these I’ve noticed, such as hotel brands per chain and inconvenient-to-track card perks and benefits. Your most useful insight in the post IMO is that points hobbyists can let reward program earnings and redemptions excessively influence behavior.

  7. I am going to have not read your blogs anymore. When you share something helpful that is awesome. It seems more often you just want to tell us what bothers you or complain about nothing. There is a big difference between useful and useless. I would rather see your blogs to be useful.

    • Ronnie, I am going to have not read your comments anymore. When you share something helpful that is awesome. It seems more often you just want to tell us what bothers you or complain about nothing. There is a big difference between useful and useless. I would rather see your comments to be useful.
      😛

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