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Don’t Be Paralyzed By Points

I’m in the middle of booking a trip for our family to Hawaii, and I realize that each time I go to book a trip I become somewhat paralyzed by points — by the idea that I’m somehow not getting a mythical “optimal” value for the points that I have. I always spend a ton of time debating whether I should burn miles for a trip because I’m afraid I won’t have enough for some insane trip (yeah right) that I’m taking later. Part of that comes from writing about miles and points and knowing that there are some awards that offer greater value than others, and part is by the constant drumbeat on lots of other blogs (and perhaps occasionally on this one) that you’re basically a complete moron if you’re not using your miles and points for international first class air travel.

Let me say this for the umpteenth time: there is no bad use of the miles you have. Of course, there are some award redemptions that get more “value” than others (we can argue about how you define “value” — although a business class ticket to Europe costs $5,000 I wouldn’t say that it provides 7x more value than a $700 coach ticket, which is why for many people redeeming points for 2 coach tickets to Europe offers far more value than 1 business class ticket, especially if that means bringing your spouse along or not).

The only terrible use of miles is storing them up and not redeeming them. How many of us (my hand is raised) were stockpiling Hilton points for some hypothetical future trip because they were so easy to acquire? Great call – until Hilton devalued those points by 2-3x on redemptions on top hotels. That brilliant strategy doesn’t seem so smart now that I’m sitting on several hundred thousand Hilton points – I was probably better off burning them off little by little at 3-star properties and enjoying the free nights rather than stockpiling for a trip that, it now turns out, I won’t take.

All of those posts out there about the “value” of points in various programs are doing all of us a disservice. It makes us all feel like unless we’re getting that much supposed “value” out of the points that using them is a bad idea. That is nonsense. First (and most importantly) it’s your money — and if you don’t have to spend your money, that’s a good thing.

Secondly, the “value” of the points varies by person. If I am never going to use the miles to fly to Bangkok in First Class, then the miles don’t have any value for that. I can’t sell the miles (really) to someone else to use for a first class trip to Bangkok. So their value really depends on how I’m realistically going to use the miles. And only YOU know that.

So yes, using those hotel points for the overwater bungalow in the Maldives is an amazing use of those points…but only if you’re ever going to go there. If you’re not, 20 free nights at the Hampton Inn might generate a ton of value for you because you don’t have to pay cash out of pocket.

I just thought I’d take this morning to re-iterate: use those points. Don’t worry about wringing every last penny of supposed value out of them. Take a trip you’re happy with and keep the cash in your pocket to spend on food once you’re there (get the hell out of the hotel concierge lounge and go eat a meal!)

Happy travels.

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  1. I agree with your sentiments. I’m really tired of the ‘artificial’ value placed on points by a number of bloggers. Using miles for 1st Class airfare is great if you have an unlimited number of miles, but most of us don’t!

    If you want to find the real value of a 1st class ticket, ask people the following: Would you rather have a coach ticket to London and $100 in your pocket or a 1st class ticket and no spending money? OK, how about $200? or $300? You’ll quickly find that the value is nowhere near the thousands of dollars that many use to calculate value.

  2. Totally agree. I am planning a trip now for July 4th week to Cayman, and that means redeeming Delta points at a 1cpm valuation. So what!? We all get to go where we want to go when we want to go at significantly reduced cost. Now happens I also want those DL miles for an Australia trip so going to have to double up on gift cards/BB etc :)

  3. Got about 2.5cpm for skymiles a bit ago. Two coach tickets EWR to RBA (Rabat, Morocco) at 60,000 pts each. They went to about 150,000 each a few days later. Use them when the opportunity presents.

  4. Fishing4Deals

    These “valuations” are mainly used as a device to sell credit card apps. I am a budget traveler, I use my points to get free travel.

  5. I am also bemused that people place a monetary value on points. As a former airline employee, we used to joke about the mile “hoarders”.

    Put simply: miles have no value until they are redeemed. Then you can place a monetary value on them. Until that point, they are worth nothing.

    As you point out, Jared, devaluation of miles is the biggest problem. The second biggest is award availability. 400K miles is worth nothing if you can’t use them, whatever other bloggers like to imagine. The airlines know this, and it’s why the programs are such huge revenue generators (moreso, in many cases, than the actual airline).

    I reiterate Jared’s advice – don’t hoard, use. It’s amazing what saving a few hundred dollars will feel like – much better, in the end, than saving a few thousand miles.

  6. Frequent Miler

    Well said!

  7. Amol (@PointsToPointB)

    Amen! Though I will add that it’s good to know what “floor value” your points have. IE, don’t redeem your Chase UR points for values of less than 1.25 cents each, because you can use fewer points by buying the same plane ticket rather than redeeming an award!

  8. Jared speaks what everyone has thought but was afraid to say.

  9. Tara @ Miles To The Wild

    Totally agree! And I wasn’t afraid to say it in my interview on MMS either. The true value of miles and points is the pleasure they give you when you redeem them for YOUR dream trip, not someone else’s perception of a dream trip.

  10. Absolutely!! The bloggers who talk about “business class this” and “upgrade that” do do us a disservice. It makes me feel that they think that only chumps fly economy and that without status you may as well, well, stay home.

    I am delighted to be going on an award trip, even if the routing is awful and I had to buy some points to top off an account. So what – I ended up spending less than $1000 when I was totally prepared to spend over $4000 on Expedia before I realized how I could do it as an award trip. Let’s see more blogs sharing how to book the best saver awards!

  11. Excellent read. Although sadly I am sure I will have to come back and read this the next time I am contemplating a full price award.

  12. Agreed!

    I’ve made some redemptions that would probably made FT heads spin.

    Bu as MilesAbound says above, the tickets were WHERE I wanted to go WHEN i wanted to go. And perhaps more significantly, for FIVE of us to go together.

    The only caution I’d add is that I can afford to think this way because 85% of my miles are earned through signups or promotions.

    If you’re earning at 1 mile per dollar, you probably should NOT subscribe to this way of thinking as you’d be better off with a 2% cash back card.


    • @Anita – You and I are on the same page. For many (most?) people a 2% cash back card is the best option for everyday spending (mixed in with a card churning schedule for large bonuses).

  13. TWA44, for a great blog about award booking, check out MileValue. He is the best for teaching award booking (whether Saver Economy or Bus/First.)

  14. Finally, a refreshing and honest take on the “points” game. Thank you Jared. I’d gladly redeem 120,000 mile for two coach tickets to Europe rather than one business class ticket. Contrary to the common blogger logic, taking one trip instead of two is a “waste” of miles.

  15. It would be interesting to offer coach passengers to Europe a chance to upgrade at various price points. At $100, I think about 80% would. At $200, perhaps 50%. At $300, probably 25%.

    I would submit that, if you’re paying your own money, a biz class upgrade to Europe is worth about $300. If the miles are worth more than that to you, perhaps for a future trip you’d like to take, you should fly coach if the seats are available.

  16. Im in the corner sulking right now because I’m guilty. Im hoarding for this trip I have no idea when it will actually occur.

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