Is going out of your way to earn miles sometimes not worth it?

Yes, that’s right, I said it! I’m sure many (if not most) of my readers measure their wealth not only in $$$, but also in terms of miles. Heck, many of us are willing to cash in quite a bit of $$$ for miles, so it only makes sense.

But when do we take our mileage obsession just one step too far? Well, that depends on who you are, but I guess I’m pretty moderate in this regard, since I don’t understand some people and their darn mileage obsession.

To explain, let me point to one popular mileage earning opportunity that many on FlyerTalk participate in — the art of buying presidential coins directly from the US mint with free shipping, and then in turn bringing those coins to the bank. Basically you’re generating “free” activity on your credit card. There’s a massive thread on FlyerTalk discussing the practice, so if you haven’t heard of it yet, check it out.

Coins can be bought in $250 boxes, and there are limits (maximum of two boxes per president). So per box, I’d say we’re looking at $5 worth of miles at most (assuming one values their miles at two cents each, which is on the high end). But is all that really worth the hassle? First you have to be worried that the coins make it to you without being stolen (since no signature is required), then you have to lug pounds upon pounds of coins to the bank, and then you have to convince the teller to accept them, and if you’re lucky you’ll only get a dirty look. I guess if you’re dropping by the bank anyway I can understand it, but still, assuming you take two boxes at a time, we’re talking $10 at most worth of miles. I know many drive to the bank just to deposit these, in which case I really can’t rationalize it.

Not surprisingly I haven’t taken advantage of this offer because I simply can’t imagine it being worth the hassle.

There are other offers, on the other hand, which I think make perfect sense. For example, getting $1,000 worth of travelers checks from your local AMEX travel center (without fees) and paying for it with your AMEX co-branded credit card. You earn 1,000 miles/points for nothing, and it’s a lot less of a hassle to deposit travelers checks than hundreds of coins, in my opinion. Of course this only makes sense for those that have an AMEX travel center in close proximity. My brother, for example, goes to one of the AMEX offices during his lunch break once a week to pick up travelers checks with his SPG credit card. He’s earning 1,000 points per week this way, and since he walks there, there are no added costs (such as gas, cab fare, etc.). For those not familiar with this practice, check out the massive thread on FlyerTalk for more details.

Of course not all of us have the luxury of living near an AMEX traveler center, in which case AMEX has a promotion right now to have travelers checks mailed to you fee free through the end of the year. You simply pay $5.95 shipping and handling, and it’s delivered to your door. You’re basically paying 0.6 cents per miles, which is a great deal. Since I don’t live near an AMEX travel center, this is the option I take advantage of. For more details on this check out View from the Wing.

At the end of the day we each value our miles and also the value of the adventure of collecting miles differently. Lots of times it’s not about how much the miles are really worth, but the quest of earning as many miles as possible for as little as we can, turning everyday activities into unforgettable vacations. Heck, of all people I shouldn’t be talking, since I’ve reached into a trash can on more than one occasion to get the cap of a Coke product to earn My Coke Rewards points.

Filed Under: Advice
  1. lol Good thing you ‘fessed up about the dumpster diving, because I was gonna call you on it. 😉

    “Pretty moderate” indeed. 😀 😉

  2. I am with you on the coins, Ben. Way too much hassle for me. I did order some Amex travelers checks last week, and will try to remember to do it every two weeks until the end of the year.

  3. I was originally excited about the coins…. that is, when I thought that perhaps I could order a few thousand dollars at once! But otherwise, no way. Even I have my limits!

  4. Well, I got my shipment today and umm have yet to make it to the bank. Depending on how the deposit goes, this may be my first AND last order.

  5. It’s funny that you give an example of the mail-order travellers checks being worth it. The other day on flyertalk, I argued that this was NOT worth the hassle because — even though SPG points are definitely worth .6 cents, you couldn’t earn enough of them to make the process worthwhile.

    I guess everyone does have their own threshold of pain for points. 🙂

  6. I’ve bought coins several times, but I usually only do it with cards like the Hilton Amex where I need to spend $1500 in a short amount of time. Since most of my spending goes on cards that offer between 5%-12% in rebates, miles, or points, it doesn’t make much sense to use the Hilton Amex for my everyday purchases. So, the coins come in handy.

    I’ve also bought coins to top off my United Account when I was just short of 50k and needed to spend something on my card quickly.

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