My Week in Points: a new series on triumphs and bumbles

It all seems so easy on the blogs. Click this, call that and voilà, the points flow by the hundred thousand.

Then the comments pour in with the challenges and frustrations.

I have been on the periphery of the US miles and points subculture for a little over a year, moving back to the US and discovering the riches to be had. I have generally stayed away from these topics because there are so many that do it better than I ever could.

What I have found, however, in meeting fellow travelers and readers is a familiar refrain that things are often not as easy as advertised and take a ton of time. A relief to know I am not alone. Plenty of times I look up and realize I have spent a couple hours studying something with minimal benefit for me (like the Q3 SPG promotion). And there are so many follow-ups to remember.

So this will be a little experiment to see if one person’s mundane efforts to collect some miles and points can be interesting and useful. For the casual this may provide commiseration and help focus limited time, for the avid, this may provide some laughs when I screw up.

So who am I in miles and points terms?

I go medium-heavy for miles and points but no pure mileage running, no mileage buys, no phantom hotel stays, no prepaid gift cards. I do not care about premium cabin travel or premium chain hotels. My goal is lots of tickets to obscure destinations for quick trips because my vacation time is limited. Award space does not dictate my travel: when I want to visit a place but there are no award tickets, I buy a ticket if I can afford it. I am a Delta Diamond but only hold mid/low-tier hotel status through promotions and credit cards. My best recent use of miles was booking fully refundable award tickets for each week while I was switching jobs, providing me flexibility to fly to last-minute interviews.

My wife likes the goodies but not the effort. I manage her accounts so that she can have the benefits and I the blame. Her primary purpose is award tickets for her parents to regularly visit the US. She likes the benefits of elite status on airlines and hotels, especially to constantly change award tickets and same-day confirmed on revenue tickets. She is a Delta Platinum, soon to be Diamond, thanks to international business travel. Her company books such expensive hotels that they do not even deign to have loyalty programs. She is generally uncooperative on credit card churning, except when in a really good mood (like about to fly to Tokyo).

Between the two of us, we keep a minimum balance of airline miles to cover family emergencies.

My parents travel occasionally for pleasure. They often spend weekends at hotels to have a break without the hassle of travel. I help manage their accounts and bookings. They participate in the occasional, especially good promotion but do not want dozens of credit cards to manage.

My brother is an academic and medical doctor who is focused on his family and on finding cures to diseases.

My sister-in-law does not want to have frequent flyer numbers.

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  • LarryInNYC

    As someone who also got into the game about a year ago:
    .
    – It definitely seems like we’re coming to the end of a particularly rich period of credit card mania. I got in on some of the last big bonus offers (100K BA and 2x 75K AA) but the bonuses seem to be decreasing drastically while the minimum spending is going up.
    .
    – Most of the bloggers who make it seem so easy either travel literally half the time, have chargeable, reimbursable expenses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, or both (if you run $200K of airfare though the AMEX gold each year, you’ve already got more than a half million miles).
    .
    – As a four person family with two credit-card-eligible adults, no business travel, and no opportunity (and not much interest) in mileage running, at this point I’m expecting to produce one “substantial” trip a year — largely airfare and most likely in coach — for the family. This year it will be SE Asia. Ideally, I’d like to be able to get two trips each year, but that would require bringing in 600K miles or so each year.
    .
    I guess the points game isn’t what it once was or, perhaps, it always worked best for a particular segment of the market. I’m an upper middle class guy with a pretty respectable “spend” on credit cards each year, but I rely on a steady stream of 50K plus bonus offers, and I just don’t see those continuing.

  • smitty06

    Haha! I love it that your brother is focused on finding cures to diseases. I am a medical doctor as well. I will not be curing any diseases and I am a points/miles junkie. I have lots of foreign patients so its fun to say “I’ll be in Accra next week. Anyone you want me to say hello to?” They love it.

  • @LarryInNYC – thanks for all the feedback, I guess the lesson is we all need an award booking service to rack up that airfare spend!

    @smitty06 – I never got around to booking that Accra nonstop when I was commuting to ATL, never had the time to get a visa.

  • guera

    I am definitely looking forward to your series. I hope you will of details on your points redemptions for trips. I have been busy traveling this summer and haven’t made any comments recently, but I wanted to let you know that I also really appreciated the series that you started on credit cards.

    I recently applied for the Priceline Visa using your link. I am planning on this being my backup card when I am not trying to reach minimum spend on other cards. It is a 2% cash back card which can be used to buy reasonably priced coach tickets.

  • This all sounds so ridiculously familiar. Thanks for that!