Question Of The Week: Should I Use Points? If So, How?

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Question Of The Week: Should I Use Points? If So, How?

Question Of The Week: Should I Use Points? If So, How?

Our question of the week is a good one: should I use points for this? Which points should I use? How do I get the best value from them? We look at this question and the analysis paralysis that can come with having too many options.

The Question

Our question of the week comes from Lara in our Facebook group:

Have been saving UR plus some MR for business class to Europe but who knows how long the vaccine protection will last so have been using pay yourself back for now. Was thinking of going to Colorado in couple of months. I understand that international travel is the best redemption but how about domestic travel or should I continue to use pay yourself back? Flights would be from NY/NJ area to Denver. Suggestions?

 

Lara’s question is about the best uses of her American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. The options she is considering are:

  • Save for future business class flights on an international trip, date unknown
  • Redeem for domestic trip in the near future
  • Use Chase “Pay Yourself Back” feature to cash out the points

Question Of The Week: Should I Use Points? If So, How?

Considering The Options

Lara brings up a good point that you have a variety of options for using your points. This is why we like “transferrable currencies”, which means you can redeem your points in multiple ways. They aren’t just stuck in 1 program with 1 way to use them. Here’s our list of transfer partners for the major points programs.

Let’s look at the options that Lara mentioned in her “should I use points for this?” question. We’ll cover the positives and negatives of each.

Option 1: TBA International Business Class Flights

Business class and first class flights are what most people in this hobby dream of. From our list of what your points & miles are worth, these are the highest-value redemptions. You’ll get the greatest value per point redeeming in this way. That’s why so many people hold their points for these types of redemptions and nothing else. The positive: you get massive value. And delayed gratification can sometimes be a good thing.

The negatives: there are a few. First, this is an unknown date. We don’t know when international travel will normalize. And we don’t even know when Lara’s schedule will permit this trip, it’s just a “hopefully sometime in the future” plan. Second, flights are still getting canceled, and even those operating have some reduced services. And you may be sitting on these points for a long time waiting for ‘max value’ rather than redeeming them for ‘good value’ or ‘value that makes me happy now’. There’s some fuzzy math that can happen when waiting for an ideal redemption.

Option 2: Domestic Trip Coming Soon

Lara’s option for a domestic trip has a few elements to consider, including some sub-text I want to highlight. In our hobby, there are people who look down their noses at these domestic redemptions. Why? It’s not the ‘maximum value’ we highlighted above. “Why would you waste your points on something with half the value of a first class flight to another country?” Don’t fall into this kind of travel shaming. On our site, we believe that your points are best used when they add value and happiness to your life.

The positives: this trip is much more concrete. It will happen sooner, is less prone to cancelations, and there aren’t quarantine or border restrictions to worry about. Additionally, domestic policies on cancelations or changes for flights are much more user-friendly.

The negatives: sure, it’s not as much of a “value per point” redemption. And you may find flights or hotels on a crazy deal that you could just pay cash for. In that instance, you can save your points.

Another approach to this is that you could ‘buy’ the ticket with your points. If you find a cheap deal on a flight, see if you can find that same price in the Chase travel portal or on AmexTravel.com. If so, you can buy the ticket using your points. This can be a great redemption option when the points needed for an award redemption are higher than what it costs to ‘buy’ with your points. Plus, you’ll earn miles on the flight! That’s because the airline sees that you bought it–doesn’t matter how you paid.

Option 3: “Pay Yourself Back” Immediately

This option has the quickest turnaround. Lara can use the Chase “Pay Yourself Back” option immediately. It provides every day value, right now, and reduces her personal expenses. This can help keep your credit score high by lowering your balances. You can save money on interest, as well, by helping to pay off your full balance on the card earlier. Positives: soonest use, reduces your personal expenses.

The negatives: only certain transactions can be covered with “Pay Yourself Back”. It also doesn’t help Lara’s question about her Amex MR points. This option also has a finite limit: you’re going to get the 1.5 cents or 1.25 cents value (depending on the card you have) set out in the terms. That’s it. There’s no way to stretch your points for a higher redemption.

Question Of The Week: Should I Use Points? If So, How?

Make The Right Choice For YOU

If you’ve spent any time reading our site, you’ll notice that none of us have the same travel strategy. Benjy talks about adding value to your life via every day redemptions and cashing out points for things you want right now. He almost never flies in business or first class. Shawn has taken multiple first class flights. I have a mix of multiple things. All of that is ok. Don’t think that you have to do what other people are doing. I went to a luxury hotel in the Maldives while Mark wrote about how he never wants to go there ever.

Factors you should consider when deciding “should I use points for this?”

  • Is this a good redemption for me?
  • Does this add value to my life?
  • Does it help me accomplish a goal (financial goal, travel goal, etc.)?
  • Do I get more value from redeeming points here than paying cash to earn points/status?
  • Will I use more points via redemption (transferring my points to a partner to redeem for a free flight) than I would use buying a ticket with points through a travel portal?

If you’ve considered all of those things, you’ll know what the best redemption is for you. You don’t have to do what other people are doing.

Question Of The Week: Should I Use Points? If So, How?

Final Thoughts

In this hobby, you see a lot of people lusting after and/or doing the same redemptions. Over-water cabin in Bora Bora. Lufthansa first class. Singapore Suites. A Park Hyatt or Ritz-Carlton hotel somewhere fancy. That’s great. But if you don’t want those things, don’t go after them. Make redemptions that work for you, provide value for you, and help you accomplish goals in your life. For Lara, she could continue to do what she’s doing, she could combine options, she can save…there are even combinations of those things.

We hope this helps!

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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1 COMMENT

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1 COMMENT

  1. The price of domestic travel has skyrocketed across a lot of popular destinations. Used some Hilton FNC’s for a 3 day stay near Zion, the hotel wanted a crazy $700+ PER NIGHT. Have a trip to Oregon planned in August, hotel wants almost $500/nt for 4 nights at a mid-tier Marriott property (booked at 30k ppn, 1.6cpp value)… The point being that getting decently outsized redemptions on domestic travel is more than possible in the current climate, time to check out Denver 🙂

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