Why I’m a secret hoarder — points I hate to burn, don’t mind burning, and love to burn

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I’m a massive proponent of earning and burning miles and points. Even though my points balances at any given time add up to 2-3 million, I do everything in my power to diversify as much as possible, and never carry a balance of more than ~500,000 points in a single program. My reasoning is that if a devaluation in a program is announced with at least a bit of advance notice, I can burn through those points quickly without losing much value. After all, miles and points are one of the worst “currencies” to invest in, since you not only don’t accrue any interest, but your points are also subject to massive devaluations.

So that’s why my approach towards booking award travel is typically that if I can find a good use for my points I redeem them, without much concern for how many points I have left in that account — hopefully it’s a bit different of a strategy than most of use with cash! I’d much rather have the memory of a new destination or a new airline than a points balance that’s too large to burn in a short period of time if a devaluation were announced.

Despite that, I secretly find myself to be somewhat of a hoarder with some points currencies. Let me explain in the form of three examples of points currencies I hate to burn, don’t mind burning, and love to burn.

Points I hate to burn:

Starwood Preferred Guest Points

Not only are Starpoints one of the most valuable points currencies, but they’re also extremely difficult to earn. Starwood has two credit cards with 30,000 point sign-up bonuses, though aside from that and actually staying at their hotels, there’s no easy way to earn their points. For example, I’d really like to transfer some Starpoints to Japan Airlines and redeem for Emirates first class, but it would wipe out a good chunk of my Starwood balance, and it’s one of the toughest balances out there to replenish. So I’m hesitant, but then again my Starpoints aren’t proving to be all that valuable just sitting there and looking pretty. But then again I tend to view these points as pretty “safe” in terms of value, if for no other reason than that you can always transfer them to the airlines at a 1:1 ratio.

Hyatt Gold Passport Points

Hyatt points are difficult to earn, though not to the degree of Starwood points, thanks to the fact that they partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards. I think Hyatt points are the single most valuable points currency for high end hotel redemptions. 22,000 Gold Passport points gets you a free night at any top category hotel, and 99,000 Gold Passport points gets you three nights in a suite at any top category hotel. Both of those values are absolute bargains, given that there are some Park Hyatt properties that regularly go for $800+ per night.

Gold Passport points can be redeemed for the famous Park Hyatt Tokyo

American Express Membership Rewards Points

This one might come as a surprise. When I first started this post I actually figured it would be the other way around, and that American Express Membership Rewards points would be on the “points I don’t mind burning list” and Chase Ultimate Rewards points would be on the “points I hate to burn” list. But after giving it some thought I realized that I got it the wrong way around.

American Express used to have huge sign-up bonuses on their Membership Rewards credit cards and offered the ability to refer new card members in exchange for bonus points, though neither is the case anymore. Actually, as of last month Membership Rewards points are my only “in” to Singapore Airlines Suites Class, so for me the value of Membership Rewards points just went up exponentially.

Points I don’t mind burning:

American AAdvantage Miles

Along with United miles, American miles are the most valuable airline-specific mileage currency, in my opinion. So while on one hand I like to have a sizable American balance, I almost always get great value out of American miles. You can’t beat Cathay Pacific first class to Asia for just 67,500 miles one-way. I’m sure eventually AAdvantage miles will be mildly devalued, though it’s not something I see happening overnight. Then again, with the potential US Airways merger…

Cathay Pacific first class? Yes please!

United MileagePlus Miles

Much like American miles, United miles can be used for some great airlines at great rates. United gives you the most access to Star Alliance partner airlines, and best of all they don’t impose fuel surcharges for any of their partner airlines. They also have extremely generous routing rules and redemption rates.

MileagePlus miles can be redeemed for Lufthansa first class within 14 days of departure

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

While I find Chase Ultimate Rewards points to be extremely valuable, I’ve also found them reasonably easy to earn. Chase offers several types of cards that accrue Ultimate Rewards points, so not only is it possible to rack up a ton of points through sign-up bonuses, but they also offer bonus points on many categories I spend a lot of money in. The Chase Freedom FlexSM is the icing on the cake, offering 5x points in rotating categories.

Points I love to burn:

US Airways Dividend Miles

I love US Airways for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their constant mileage sales, extremely generous routing rules and amazing award chart. But I just know US Airways is itching to devalue their award chart, and I’m surprised by every day that goes by without a devaluation. So whenever there’s an opportunity to redeem US Airways miles efficiently I take advantage of it.

Hilton HHonors Points

Hilton points are extremely easy to earn. There are well over a dozen credit cards out there that can earn you Hilton points as the sign-up bonus. Points can efficiently be transferred from Hawaiian, Virgin Atlantic, and Membership Rewards (right now even at a 1:2.7 ratio). Hilton HHonors is kind of the Delta SkyMiles of the hotel industry, though there are still some gems on their award chart (much like on Delta’s award chart).

Delta SkyMiles

Think US Airways and Hilton are itching for a devaluation? Then you haven’t met Delta. There are constant rumors about Delta switching to a revenue based frequent flyer program early next year, and it has me wanting to burn all my SkyMiles as quickly as possible. SkyMiles have never been all that valuable for international premium cabin redemptions, due both to the fact that they don’t let you redeem for international first class and also that they have among the highest “standard” award costs. I smile every time I burn SkyMiles.



Anyway, my point is simply that even I hoard points in certain programs. Am I alone?

Filed Under: Advice
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  1. Accumulations with at least two of Amex, Chase and SPG is the best policy. Whenever you have a choice, you’re better off accumulating in these multi-carrier programs.

  2. Regarding rumored Delta to Revenue based program next year. Do you think that when announced, we would still be given a chance to accumulate delta miles within a time frame and be grandfathered in or once announced, no more ALL NEW delta miles will be for the new program. I am short 20k for total of 100k for Europe trip and HATE to transfer my SPG to Delta but if I have to , will do so by end of December.

  3. “Actually, as of last month Membership Rewards points are my only “in” to Singapore Airlines Suites Class”

    Of course SPG is your other ‘in’ for this. At one point SPG transfers were reduced to 2:1 but then restored (and are currently at) 1:1 plus transfer bonus.

  4. I also hate redeeming SPG points. I find their cash + points option a good deal.

    I am also sitting on a lot of delta miles. In the past 10 years the only redemption I had was a rt economy class ticket to Africa for my sister. Can’t wait to use em.

  5. lucky,

    a while back you said you would give a year end breakdown of around how many points you earned and burned this year, and how you earned them.

    are you still going to do that?

  6. I’m a noob so I don’t have a lot of points. I use to fly more frequently so I had my shares of redeeming some star alliance points for sq travels, but now I don’t travel much for work anymore, it’s taking a major dip in my account. I just started the credit card game..
    Now, can someone tell me what I can do with 45k delta miles? What are some options? I don’t mind transferring some of ultimate rewards, or buying some if they have major discount , but I want to make good use of it. Thanks!

  7. I actually disagree with your assessment of Skymiles if they were to change to a revenue based SM program.

    Right now, Skymiles are basically handed out left and right which is why their redemption value is so high comparative to the competition. I had three bad flights in a row (no IFE on an int’l mileage run), of which automatically netted me 17.5k per flight before I even wrote an email. After I wrote an email, I was given 20k more. Right there I had over 72k miles and that doesn’t even include the amount of miles I accrued for my international mileage run. So within three and a half days, I netted almost 100k miles. After a few burns here and there, I still have a little over 700k miles and only 76,000 came from actual flying.

    And while 325,000 miles+ tax is a little ridiculous, I can see their justification for making r/t J that high.

    Once they implement the revenue based SM program, it will take the dilution factor out and right the ship. I won’t talk about how much it will help us Diamonds who actually spend money for F and J, because that’s what this thread’s about.

    To me the most important thing about this revenue based program is that the valuation of skymiles and how you accrue them will drastically change directly decreasing the amount of skymiles one earns when flying. The less skymiles that go out, means the redemption value will also go down.

  8. Hi,

    Do you think it is good idea to purchase 20000 spg points with bonus till dec, 15. I do not have a lot of points sitting around right now. Just redeemed US points for two rt to India on Austrian for summer.


  9. @ traveler — It’s anyone’s guess. I’d guess they would give a few months notice, and then from that date on every mile/point accumulated would be in the new currency.

    @ Gary — Ah, good point.

    @ Euro — They definitely fall in the “love to burn” category. I’ve been getting lots of value out of them lately, though they’re still really easy to earn thanks to the transfer bonuses from AmEx and Chase partnership.

    @ steve — Planning on it. 🙂

    @ Faye — That’s enough for a domestic first class ticket at best. You’d be best off applying for a credit card that earns you another 50K or so miles, and then you’d have enough miles for a business class ticket to Europe or South America.

    @ Zach — While that’s all true, one thing is for sure — a revenue based program is HORRIBLE for premium cabin redemptions. If you like redeeming for coach then maybe it’ll help, but no matter how you slice it, the cost of premium cabin redemptions would go up even higher than they are now.

  10. @ Niraj — It’s not a rate at which I’d purchase points. It’s not a bad rate, but just not a rate at which I’d stock up without a specific use in mind.

  11. Not sure I buy the $800 value per night argument, I prefer to value free nights at the most I would pay, which is closer to $200. Maybe for the Maldives it would be more but not a city. The hotels want you to think that though.

  12. @ Nick — Well I’m not suggesting that that’s what those nights should realistically be valued at, but my point is that Hyatt points allow you to economically redeem for truly high end hotels that most of us could otherwise never afford. I could maybe afford a hotel that’s $300 per night, though could never afford an $800+ per night hotel.

  13. @Lucky,
    At your age, the best international experience would be staying at a youth hostel. Save your points for high end hotels for when you get older. The experience would be so much richer. I remember traveling around the world staying at hostels. Got to know ppl from all over the world. Got tips on unique things to in various cities. Hyatt can’t beat that experience. Now im older, travel for business staying at the SPGs, Hilton’s of the world. It is a sterile experience. Though the bed is sometimes more comfortable.

  14. Just a quick correction, Starpoints convert to miles at 1.25 miles/point when you count the 5,000 mile bonus for 20,000 point transfers. Who would do it any other way?

  15. Lucky,

    I like hoarding SPG points too b/c they’re so darn hard to get!

    By the way, where’s your next big trip? Did you decide to do Europe and brave the ‘cold’ or a warm weather destination?


  16. Thanks, Ben. A spot-on summary post seeking, holding and spending (dumping?) the many points balances.
    On a bleaker note, you may wish to consider holding a given blog post for a few hours then re-reading or editing a bit before slapping that “Post” button. This post is – ahem… not the best proof that you are a recent college graduate. A second look is well worth your time. Regards, -C.

  17. Lucky, surprised that Hyatt GP points are in the same category for you as SPG points. After all, you are the gift card man, no shortage of Hyatt points there. Wish I could earn SPG points at even a 2 per $ rate on purchases.

  18. @ beachfan — Hah, true, though they’re so valuable for high end stays that I still try to maintain as high of a balance as possible.

  19. You can “purchase” SPG points at less than 2.8 cents each. If you pay your Federal taxes with the SPG Amex, the cost is 2.35 cents each ($235 on a $10,000 estimated tax payment through OfficialPayments.com). Many states and local property tax jurisdictions also accept Amex, usually at 2.3-2.5 cents/point.

  20. I have a lot of AMEX points on my Canadian Card but since they stopped Priority Club transfer,
    there doesn’t seem to be any decent transfers left.
    I would love to get Priority Club points again?
    Anyway to do this via another CAD AMEX partner?
    I don’t want to use them with Aeroplan as the scamcharges are very high.
    Ideas, please?

  21. @ Lucky

    I hear you on the Hyatt points, I wish I could figure out a way to swap my Marriott status for Hyatt (SPG Platinum is my first goal, then with the help of the credit card, my MR status is achievable).

    I foolishly used my lifetime status match 10 years ago to enhance a stay in Europe. Now that there is a Hyatt Place in Delray Beach, near my Home Office, I’m looking at Hyatt again.

  22. So, what you said is, if I transfer 66,000 Chase UR points to my Hyatt GoldPass (I am a Plat. member), I can stay for 2 nights in one of those over-the-water bungalow in Maldives (I assume that’s the top-end suites offered there) for free? Or is there a better angle to work it due to my member status?

  23. @ flyer708 — First of all you can only redeem for suites in three night increments, so it’s a minimum of three nights for 99,000 points. That being said, at the Park Hyatt Maldives you can only redeem for a villa for 22,000 points per night. You have to pay a cash co-pay for an overwater villa, as they aren’t technically suites.

  24. @ lucky

    thanks for the heads up. I have 2 free night credits with the Hyatt Chase on deck, can I combine the two nights with 22000 pts to make it a 3-night increment? Then co-pay for the overwater villa?

  25. @ flyer708 — You don’t need three night increments for a standard room, but only for suites. You could use your two nights from the credit card and then one night on points and then pay the co-pay to confirm an overwater bungalow.

  26. that sounds pretty good. will start looking into it as soon as I get my pain-in-the butt award routing (ORD-DUS-FRA-IST-MLE) taken care of. =D

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