Using Points & Miles in 2016

The travel points/miles game is confusing, ever-changing, frustrating, and exhilarating.

Airline Points & Miles

This year, we’ve been fortunate to fly all over the world on points/miles:

  • In March, Chris and his mother flew to Paris in business class, round trip, on American Airlines for her birthday.  We paid 200K AA miles for these two round-trip tickets.
  • In March, I flew to Seoul in economy class and back in business class on Singapore Airlines to visit my father.  I paid 93.5K SQ miles for this round-trip ticket.
  • In June, Chris and I flew to Berlin in economy class on Air Berlin to kick off our month-long European Adventure.  We paid 25K AA miles and 30K Avios (British Airways) points for these two one-way tickets.
  • In July, we flew from Berlin to Paris in economy class on Air Berlin.  We paid 9K Avios points for these two one-way tickets.
  • Also in July, we flew from Paris to home in business class on Iberia.  We paid 133K Avios points for these two one-way tickets.
  • In November, we flew from Chicago to Charleston, South Carolina on American.  For these one-way tickets, we paid 25K AA miles.  We then flew back on United for 25K United miles.
  • Later this month, we’ll fly to Aruba on American.  Total cost for these round-trip tickets was a bit steep — 90K AA miles — but given that we’re traveling during the holiday season to a popular destination, I was okay with the spend.

We burned a lot of miles this year (630,500!), but boy, did we enjoy ourselves.  How did we accumulate them?  Most were from credit card bonuses (SPG, AA, US Airways, BA, Citibank ThankYou, AmEx Membership Rewards), some were earned from everyday spending that generated Chase Ultimate Rewards (our go-to credit card was the Chase Sapphire Preferred and is now the Chase Sapphire Reserve), and some were from previous travel.

Some of these trips can’t be replicated for the same points values: American changed their award charts earlier this year and frankly, it’s not as easy as it once was to get American award tickets.  I’m always torn between maximizing points (by using them for economy tickets) and comfort (getting business class tickets), so I think I’m always going to go for a mix of classes in my travel.

Hotel and Timeshare Points & Miles

In 2000, we did a very stupid thing: we bought a timeshare.  Here’s a word of friendly advice: DO NOT BUY A TIMESHARE!  You pay a ridiculous amount of money to join, you pay “maintenance fees” every year that equates to about a week’s stay in a hotel, and if you want to get rid of it… you can’t.  At least not easily.  Certainly not for the money that you sunk into it.

So since we’re stuck with ours, we make the most of it.  Timeshares are sold either by the “week” (where you typically spend a designated week of each year at the same location) or by “points” (where you can use those points for any number of days at any location in the resort system).  We own points in a ~50 resort system and for a timeshare company, ours isn’t horrible: the fees are middling-high, but the locations are interesting and well-maintained.  We find ways to use our points every year and just like any other travel-based points system, this is a game that has sweet spots and bad deals.

 

We travel quite a bit, so the timeshare doesn’t cover all of our accommodation needs.  AirBnB, house rentals, and hotels make up the rest of our vacation stays.  I do prefer hotels that offer loyalty points and since I’m now traveling more for work, I’m now quickly and easily amassing hotel points for our vacation use.

This year, we used points at the following locations:

Most of these airport hotels were handy to better position us for early morning flights (or early morning arrivals).  I’ve found some airport hotels to give good (but not typically great) points value, but I’m willing to spend the points for them because we don’t usually stay in hotels for the bulk of our vacations.

But isn’t figuring out all this stuff a pain?

In the end, we don’t depend on points or miles to make our vacations possible.  If we needed to, we could have bought all economy airfare tickets for most of the trips we took this year.  We didn’t need to position ourselves near the airport all of those times.  In fact, absent points, the only trip I think I wouldn’t have taken is my solo trip to Korea in March.  So for me, points and miles don’t make travel possible; rather, they make travel much more comfortable.  There’s tremendous value and life experiences gained from comfort:

  • being fresh and awake to explore Berlin for a day
  • keeping our kittens as comfortable as possible during travel so that we can enjoy their company in France
  • being able to step off the plane from France and to go right back on another plane (and then rental car!) to Florida for work
  • spending more time with far-away family and friends because we’re better rested during travel

And that’s why, even though the rules keep changing and it can be difficult to maximize value from points and miles, I keep playing this game.

And also, I do get a kick out of figuring out the rules of this game.  🙂

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