Wednesday, February 6, 2013

This is Where I Draw the Line in the Points / Miles Game

The miles and points game can be tremendously lucrative - providing the opportunity to travel to places you'd previously never even imagined you'd visit, and in the kind of style and comfort that you'd previously never imagined you'd be able to afford. Flying to and from Cape Town in business class is only the most recent ridiculous experience I've been able to have because of this game. I absolutely love it.

view from top of lion's head in cape town south africa
Chillin at the top of Lion's Head in Cape Town

That said, it's really easy to get sucked in TOO far. I think it's important to set boundaries, to know when and where to draw the line when it comes to this little hobby.

Frequent Miler had a great post a few months ago about drawing the line from an ethical standpoint. It's worth checking out if you haven't already read it.

I'd like to talk about drawing a different kind of line though - drawing the line from a return on time and effort invested perspective.

For some, there's very little they won't do in the pursuit of points. For many others, they just can't be bothered with any hassle whatsoever - they'll add their number to reservations and get their points here and there, but there's really no extra effort involved. As you might imagine, I fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

What do I NOT do in the pursuit of points / miles?

  • I generally don't do "pure" mileage runs. That is, taking trips solely for the purpose of earning miles on the trip. I simply have too little free time to spend it on a plane earning a few thousand additional miles (not to mention the time and cost required to get to and from the airport). The absolute best-case scenario is flying 500 miles per hour of time invested (and that's rounding up generously). Unless I'm just shy of a status level (more on that below), 500 speculative qualifying miles and 1000 redeemable miles (I get a 100% bonus on United) doesn't come close to being worth sacrificing an hour of my free time.
  • I'm not really into the "manufacturing spend" game, largely because it's too difficult and time-consuming in NYC for me to consider it worth my while. Buying Vanilla Reloads at CVS, and using them to fund Amex Bluebird is one of the big angles many people are playing these days. The CVS near me is almost always sold out of Vanilla Reload cards (curse you, Upper West Side points addicts!) - and it's not worth the hassle to me to venture beyond my immediate neighborhood in the hopes of finding a better location. If I happen to be in a CVS anyway, I'll probably give the gift card rack a look - but I don't expect this angle to have much more life left in it, given the coverage it's starting to get.

No Bluebird, no cry
  • I don't enter giveaways on other bogs that allow one or more entries per day. I'm not going to come back again and again, and the odds are pretty slim when I've got one entry and most others have dozens.

So what DO I do in the pursuit of points / miles?

  • I do make a point of picking up points in random / obscure programs, as long as it doesn't take much time or effort, because you never know when they might come in handy!
  • I do make a point of taking advantage of lucrative credit card sign-up bonuses! Over the past couple years, I've been able to pick up hundreds of thousands of assorted points / miles for little more than swapping the credit cards I keep in my wallet. From a return on time invested perspective, nothing beats credit card sign-up bonuses!
  • I take advantage of just about any offer that requires less than a minute of my time (100 points for liking something on Facebok? Sign me up!)
  • While I don't do "pure" mileage runs, I do will for out of the way routings on personal trips to squeeze a few more miles out of the trip (e.g. Las Vegas to New York via San Francisco, Newark to Detroit via Chicago).

Connecting through ORD is the most logical choice for getting from EWR to DTW, right?

As I'm sure is obvious, I draw my line at significant investments of my time into the pursuits of points. If it doesn't eat into my free time very much, or if it is big enough to justify the time investment, then I'm all over it. Otherwise, I'll pass.


  • It's different when something becomes a matter of principle (e.g. I will fight to the end to get points that are rightfully owed to me - even if it's just a few hundred for a short flight, or a small shopping portal purchase)
  • It's different when I have an opportunity to postpone the expiration of miles in a program that I don't use very often, but have enough of a balance that I consider it to be worth saving (e.g. Aeroplan, Hawaiian Air)
  • It's different if we're getting toward the end of the year, and it's looking like I'm going to come up just short of a status threshold. Hasn't happened to me yet - but in this scenario, I would be open to going on a "pure" mileage run.

Where is your line when it comes to playing the points / miles game? Let me know in the comments, or if that's not your cup of tea, feel free to share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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