I’m worthless when it comes to airline points. In fact, I’ve opted for a cash-back credit card rather than deal with points. But Justin, proud papa of the InACents family, knows the ins and outs of accruing those points. Here he’s got some ideas about actually using them.
I am a self-proclaimed travel hacker. I have learned the ins and outs of mile and point collecting enough where I can build up large amounts of rewards for our family with little or no out-of-pocket expense. Along the way of learning about the various rewards programs and how to maximize savings and rewards, I have had a keen observation on those that collect. There are three categories of mileage and point collectors. Where do you group yourself?
First is the person who does not have any interest in collecting miles or points and saving money by using reward programs to their advantage. They either assume their time is not worth the effort, or they are just too lazy to want to learn the tricks that could save their families thousands of dollars each year.
Others that can be categorized in this group are those that may have a couple of reward accounts, but know nothing about managing them or maximizing their value. They know they should gets the rewards, but have no idea on redemption.
The Expert Reward Traveler
The second group of people are those that totally get every little deal of the system. They understand about using shopping portals to maximize their rewards during key promotions, they read all the popular forums and blogs, and they hop and jump all over the world using miles and points to experience travel that they otherwise not be inclined to purchase outright with cash. They are experienced pros and live off the rewards of their labor.
The Point Hoarder
The last group of people are those that understand how to build up their mileage and reward accounts. They may have one account with tens of thousands of miles or points, or might even have rewards across many different programs. The key difference between these collectors and those in the Expert Reward Traveler group is that the hoarder people do not ever use the rewards to their benefit.
I used to be in the third category of mileage and point collectors. Our family has never been frequent flyers enough to earn any substantial rewards in any one program, let alone status. We have accounts in practically every travel reward program you can name. Eventually, over time, we had built up quite an arsenal of rewards, but were always saving them for just the right moment to cash in.
Eventually, after I started to learn more about mile and point programs, our family made a plan to visit Hawaii. This summer my family’s dreams will come true. We will be flying out of Ohio to Hawaii, with a several day stopover in Los Angeles to visit Disneyland, all for free. Then we felt inclined to invite my wife’s parents along too, so I used miles to get them out to Hawaii. All for FREE by using those valuable rewards! In addition, a week’s worth of hotel rooms will totally be covered with points. Our family finally moved out of the Hoarding group and into the Make Your Family Happy group.
What to do with all those miles, points, and rewards?
I equate redeeming rewards to making a large purchase. For years we save up large sums of money towards a new vehicle purchase or home. You might be sitting on tens of thousands of dollars in the bank that is allocated towards that future investment. The problem comes when it is time to turn that money in for the reward. It can be a very scary proposition to lose that nest egg.
To give an example, after my wife and I married, we saved every single cent that we were given from our wedding. Every year we took our tax return and deposited it directly in with our wedding account. We continued to keep adding onto our account, and eventually the account grew to a large sum of money.
The main goal of all that money was to one day purchase our dream home together as we knew the home we were in at the time would eventually be outgrown. Then, out of nowhere, we found our dream home, and were placing an offer on it within 24 hours. Over the course of the next month or two, we were placed into every new home owner’s fear: how much to place on the house for the down payment?
We had spent years building up this large cushion with the sole purpose of being able to use it for a house, but when it came time to actually cash in the money, it was a scary venture. All that money provided a peace-of-mind in case we lost our jobs or a real emergency surfaced.
We all know the rewards are well worth the investment in the end. Whether it be a new home, vehicle, or a dream vacation. After you saved all that cash, miles, or points, the reward in the end should ultimately make you feel happy and satisfied with your investment. The mileage or point hoarder needs to realize that if the rewards are sitting in your account, they are not saving you any money.
While the rewards sit idle in your account, one risks the chance of either a) losing the miles or points due to inactivity within a certain period of time as stipulate by each company, or b) worse, the company devalues the rewards program and now all of a sudden your rewards, which might have gotten you a free domestic ticket or hotel night, now will not cover the cost of the reward. Airline companies and hotels change their redemption levels all the time. What used to cost X amount of miles or points now might cost X+Y. Companies rarely lower the standard amount of rewards needed for a redemption.
The whole system is a big game of cat and mouse, supply and demand. Companies can pump in millions upon millions of rewards to their customers, all while controlling the amount of inventory necessary to redeem. Therefore, if you have miles or points sitting in an account, spend them. That is the point, after all; to experience the true reward of the rewards program, not to have an account full of, I use this term loosely, worthless points. Saving up for that big ticket item may never happen if the company devalues your points.
If you do not step out of your comfort zone and use that large pile of cash sitting in your account, you may never be sitting on a couch in your dream home with your wife in sweatpants sitting next to you with enough room for the kids to run around in another wing of the house. Now get out there and see where those miles can take you.
Learn more about saving money and traveling more at InACents.com