Forget “Aspirational” – When Travel Needs Overpower Wants

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Points and Miles Priorities

Points and Miles Priorities – Reality Overtakes Aspirational Redemptions

I’d done it.  I had accrued Radisson E-Certs, waited out a large phase of the pandemic, and booked the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.  I’ve wanted to stay at this property for years, and my plans were finally set.  But then, I realized that while this was a lucrative redemption that met one of my high-priority travel goals, it wasn’t the right redemption.  At least, not right now.  You see, while I went along my way collecting points, miles, and way too many free night certificates, life happened.  My points and miles priorities, redemptions in this case, needed to change.  This situation spurred me to reflect on how various life events can cause one to reassess points and miles priorities.

Family and Friends – Currently My Top Points and Miles Priority

In my example above, I decided visiting an extended family member with health challenges was more important than an otherwise excellent redemption at the Blu Aqua.  Looking back, I’m a bit sheepish at how long it took me to come to this seemingly obvious decision.  I’m glad I caught myself, though.  Therefore, I’ll be holding my head high as I stay at a Country Inn property near a Carolina airport rather than the Blu Aqua.  My change in plans just feels right, even if it’s not an attractive redemption on paper.  I’ll call it a redemption of conscience.

Sometimes visiting family or friends over an aspirational redemption isn’t as easy a decision.  Of course, my family member’s health made the urgency to visit more obvious.  During the normal rhythm of life, points and miles hobbyists are caught up in planning ambitious, adventurous trips.  Do those choices ever cause us to lose touch with our family and friends, slowly but steadily?  I look back at a few of my travel decisions and realize that I could have done more to maintain relationships with others.  I periodically remind myself of these choices so that I don’t make the same mistakes in the future.

Points and Miles Priorities
I only redeemed Marriott points once, and I have no plans to do so in the future. But that one redemption was significant.

Relocation

Probably my most necessary but least fun use of points was during relocation after quitting my job at 38.  I accumulated Marriott points for years, having never actually used any of them because redemption rates were so poor.  Then, I found a nondescript TownePlace Suites in our new area.  I recall it was a Category 1 or 2 property at the time.  It couldn’t have been more bland amongst the nearby office parks and industrial buildings.  We had found our home for the next two plus months.  The Marriott points albatross became a useful relocation tool.

The TownePlace was co-located with another chain property (Courtyard) which provided several extra property benefits.  We liked the TownePlace’s basic studio room size and the long-term stay amenities (kitchen, laundry, etc).  Even better, upon check-in we received an upgrade to a one bedroom suite for the entirety of our stay.  It remains the one and only time I’ve ever redeemed Marriott points.  I don’t think I’ll bother with Marriott points again, either (too many reasons to list here).  I made my George Costanza move and exited the program after that high.

No, it wasn’t a decadent resort stay.  Yes, it saved us thousands of dollars in out of pocket housing costs for those two or so months.  I’ll take that over blowing all those points within a week somewhere else.  Our major relocation decision became a more manageable one thanks to this redemption, and others can similarly benefit.

Points and Miles Priorities

Avoiding the Awkward

Using points is a great way to circumvent tricky situations.  Many of us have visited friends or family who offer up a spare room for a stay.  The generosity is great on its face, but the reality can be a bit more challenging for many reasons.  We enjoy the predictability and standards of hotels.  If the bathroom is messy, there’s no issue asking for a resolution. I’m also not unexpectedly sleeping in a bunk bed.  Or, like the Meet the Parents scene, I don’t walk out in my pajamas to a large group of strangers around the breakfast table.  On the flip side, since I stay in hotels rather than with friends or family, I don’t subject them to my own potentially annoying habits.

Flexibility

I always want to travel for free, or as close to it, as possible.  However, I don’t want to give up my flexibility when doing so.  Cash rates for hotels or flights often skyrocket when one wants to maintain the freedom to cancel or change plans.  By using points for a hotel, I can have both the “free” and “flexible” attributes.  Over the years, chains have put more terms on canceling points rates, but I’ve generally found I can still change or cancel reservations up to a week before the stay.

Most flight reservations with miles aren’t near as flexible as hotel stays on points, but domestic airlines have loosened up requirements a bit due to the pandemic.  Plenty of traps still exist for flight reservations with miles, though, so be sure to stay up on the most recent policies.  I still prefer Southwest for their excellent change and cancellation policies.

Unexpected Needs

A more recent entrant to the conversation are everyday rewards redemptions not directly related to travel.  Thanks to redemption options like Chase’s Pay Yourself Back, one can redeem for up to 1.5 cents per point for a great variety of day to day needs.  For instance, if your refrigerator craps out, you can get a new one entirely on points, since Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed to cover home improvement purchases.

Pay Yourself Back is still technically a temporary benefit, but Chase keeps extending it.  Hobbyists can also diversify into cash back credit cards and points cashout mechanisms to more immediately redeem and positively impact their daily lives.  After all, why should anyone limit reward redemptions to the small fraction of overall life dedicated to travel?  I dive into that here.

Points and Miles Priorities – Conclusion

I can’t possibly cover all situations where redemption needs overtake wants.  And, of course, it’s not an either/or situation for all of us constantly.  Indeed, many can globetrot to a great resort and also take a separate trip to visit extended family.  If anything, I encourage you all to think of your points and miles as assets which can help meet travel and life goals beyond a pool cabana or overwater villa.   It seems to me how we redeem is an extension of who we are.  Sometimes, the best redemptions aren’t the most appealing ones.  I’m fine with that, as long as the redemption is in line with my principles and goals.  In my view, points and miles should enrich, but not necessarily change, who we are as individuals.  How have your current priorities affected your points and miles redemptions?

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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8 COMMENTS

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve used points for less than aspirational awards when I get stuck during a trip. I once booked a second stay at the downtown Manitoba location rather than near the airport. The first hotel realized my error and, for whatever bizarre reason, chose not to tell me. I canceled the mistake booking and rebooked using points since the cash price was sky-high. I also knew Marriott was more likely to return points than the cash. I was correct.

    I regularly used my points during a trip when I needed to pivot due to travel changes. Having a stash of miles in multiple programs provides me flexibility which I find is the ultimate luxury.

  2. It’s always a good feeling to have extra points/miles to give to friends & family who need them for their own emergencies, knowing you have saved them a lot in cash rates when they really need it. Sometimes it’s the only thing I really know I can offer above thoughts & prayers when people are hurting & need help. Doing so at a discount is even better!

  3. Indeed, life often throws a wrench in aspirational travel- this year I’ve burned all of my miles helping my mother with my father (terminal cancer), attending funerals for elderly relatives and dropping off/picking up my college age daughter. I’ve carefully preserved some Hyatt points for better days but my Hilton and Bonvoy stashes are depleted. Sometimes you have to make the unsexy redemptions because life (and death) happens.

  4. Good post. Sometimes the best redemptions are more “perspirational” than aspirational in nature, and that’s fine. Satisfying our wants sometimes has to take a back seat to more important needs.

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