Earning valuable miles and points from flying and using credit cards can open up endless travel possibilities. You can fly in first class and stay in luxurious hotels for much less than typical. Or, if you prefer economy travel, you can stretch your points to see more of the world.
Reward points provide the opportunity for anyone to see the world, but when we hoard these points, it doesn’t allow for that adventure to happen. In fact, keeping these points can actually be detrimental to the value of your points — not only do you risk your points becoming worthless due to devaluation by the issuer, but there is also an increased risk of hackers stealing your points.
In this article, I will detail why hoarding points isn’t a great idea, and easy and fun ways you can begin spending the points you already have.
- The danger of devaluation of your points and miles
- The danger of points and miles theft
- So, why do we hoard points?
- 5 trips you can book with your big pile of points
- How to build your points back up
- Bottom line
The danger of devaluation of your points and miles
First, let’s define “points hoarding.” While there are various definitions out there, I define points hoarding as “earning significant amounts of points and miles without any plan or desire to redeem them.”
Unfortunately, this hoarding is actually what directly leads to the devaluation of points and miles. Companies like American Express, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, and Hilton Hotels all have robust loyalty programs that are a key component to their business. Loyalty programs are proven to keep consumers engaged with their brand and turn regular customers into loyal customers.
However, these brands must account for the value of all the unredeemed points and miles floating around in the world when running profit-and-loss spreadsheets on their business. The brands know the true internal value of these rewards points, and they have to be prepared in case everyone with outstanding points suddenly decided to cash them in. These companies must calculate for this as a liability when it comes to their bottom line.
For example, let's say Delta has 1.3 billion unused SkyMiles out in the universe. Now imagine all these points were redeemed at the same time. As the value of Delta SkyMiles is estimated at 1.2 cents each, that would mean over $15 million worth of flights being redeemed in one day. Needless to say, $15 million dollars in free flights could put a business like Delta in a tough position. In short, these large liabilities from outstanding points and miles mean businesses need to mitigate risk to avoid a disastrous situation.
To avoid this situation, brands devalue their rewards points or miles. Devaluation is when rewards points are reduced in value by raising the number of points needed to book a flight or hotel. Devaluation typically happens without an announcement as companies aren’t too keen on devaluing their own programs. However, mitigating risk is more important to these businesses. For example, travelers noticed in June of 2019 that Hilton devalued their Hilton Honors points significantly.
To put this in real-world terms, let’s say you accumulated 1.5 million Hilton Honors points without a plan or desire to use them. We don’t know the true value of these points, but many travel rewards experts value them at 1/2 cent per point (.005). At that value, 1.5 million Hilton Honors points are worth approximately $7,500. However, if Hilton devalued their points by 15% overnight, those same points would only be worth $6,375. These instant devaluations have just lost you $1,125 in estimated value.
As you can see, holding these points hurts both parties. You lose some of your purchasing power and the rewards program as a whole becomes less appealing for consumers to use. Devaluation is a frustrating part of collecting points and miles, and it is just another reason why you shouldn’t sit around with hundreds of thousands of points.
The danger of points and miles theft
There are numerous stories online of people logging into their rewards accounts to only find their points have been stolen. Those stolen points are typically sold on the dark web or used for purchases such as gift cards to essentially “cash out” the points.
While getting your points stolen may not be as “serious” as having your debit card stolen, you will also not have the same consumer protections as you would for a fraudulent purchase on your debit card. The recovery of these points is determined on a case-by-case basis and is largely based on how soon you report the fraudulent activity.
If you ever find yourself suddenly missing miles, be sure to report it immediately to the appropriate reward program. The sooner you do this, the sooner you can potentially recover your points. However, that result is not guaranteed. In many cases, you are going to be left without any recourse to recover the stolen points.
In short, holding onto your points is generally a bad idea. So the question remains — why do we do it?
So, why do we hoard points?
There are many reasons we hoard points. Some of us may enjoy earning tons of points and just seeing the totals rack up. It could also be we’re unsure of where to travel, unsure of how to use our points, or even have a fear travel itself. All of these are understandable concerns.
But these concerns can be overcome, and it’s worthwhile to do so — because our travel rewards points have the potential to help us check off so many things on our bucket list. As a first step, picture your ideal adventure. What does that look like for you? Once you can visualize this, your trip will actually only be only a few clicks away, using the points and miles you have accumulated.
If you’re nervous about booking your dream vacation because you’ve never traveled outside of the United States, I completely understand it can be quite intimidating. I didn’t leave the U.S. until I started traveling at age 19, so I can understand the potential anxiety of leaving U.S. soil. But since you’ve likely got a lot of points, you can start with a small trip and build up from there.
To get you to start imagining your adventure, here are a few ideas to begin using your points and miles on. These trips include both domestic and international tours.
5 trips you can book with your big pile of points
A luxurious weekend in Miami with Hilton Honors Points
If being beachside is your preference and you have a large amount of Hilton Honors points, you can soak up some rays and enjoy Florida’s coastlines at the Waldorf Astoria Boca Beach Club. For a trip in June of 2020, this resort will cost you 89,000 points per night. Keep in mind with Hilton Honors that you do get the fifth night free when you book four consecutive nights using your points.
A weekend trip into New York City for delicious food with American Airlines miles
If you have never been to New York City, it is an incredible and worthwhile experience — from the many tourist attractions spread across the city, to various Broadway shows, sporting events, and delicious food everywhere you go.
If you are ready to indulge in one of the largest food capitals of the world, you can use some of your stockpiled American Airlines miles. You can fly from Dallas-Fort Worth for as little as 25,000 miles roundtrip in economy, or up to 90,000 miles in first class, plus applicable taxes and fees (as of Oct. 2019).
A trip down under with Delta SkyMiles
Australia is one of my wife’s and my favorite places to travel, especially when we use Delta SkyMiles to get there from Los Angeles. There are endless things to see and experience in Sydney. For example, you can visit the world-famous Sydney Opera House, ride the Manly Ferry, swim at the Bondi Iceberg Pool, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or attend a game of rugby. And surprisingly enough, Sydney isn’t culturally much different from America, in my experience.
Ready to go? A round-trip flight to Sydney from Los Angeles would cost you only 58,000 Delta SkyMiles and roughly $100 US dollars (as of Oct. 2019).
A hop over the pond to the UK with United Airline MileagePlus Miles
If you are collecting United Airlines miles, you could afford a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to visit London. You can visit famous sites such as Hyde Park, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament. If you have more of a sweet tooth, you can indulge in famous desserts such as bread pudding, apple pie, treacle tarts, cronuts, or English trifle.
A round-trip flight from Newark, New Jersey, to London scheduled for April of 2020 would cost you 77,000 United Airlines miles, plus roughly $178 in taxes and fees (as of Oct. 2019).
A fabulous ride to Singapore on Singapore Airlines
If you are searching for arguably the best flying experience in the sky, look no further than flying to Singapore with Singapore Airlines. This airline is well known for ultra-luxury business class and first-class products that can make a long haul flight a very comfortable ride.
If you are earning Membership Rewards with your The Platinum Card® from American Express, you can take advantage of the ability to transfer your points to a number of different frequent flyer programs including Singapore KrisFlyer. Once you transfer these miles to Singapore KrisFlyer, they can be redeemed for the flight below or any other Singapore Airlines flights.
You can fly from Seattle, Washington, to Singapore directly for 250,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles (plus roughly $60 in taxes and fees) in August 2020 in first class (as of Oct. 2019).
How to build your points back up
If your points balance running low makes you uneasy, there are plenty of ways to get started. Here are some unique ideas:
- If you shop online, consider stacking rewards programs to multiply your points earnings. Using the right credit card and shopping portal combination when making purchases can help you get your points back quicker.
- Similarly, be sure you are enrolled in dining programs to earn extra points on your meals out with friends and family.
You can also build your points and miles back up by opening up a new rewards card. Here are a few of the best travel credit cards to get your points balance back to where you would like it to be:
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred is an outstanding card to earn more points with. The sign-up bonus is lucrative as you will earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Additionally, you will earn 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2022) and travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on eligible dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases; 2X points on travel; and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases.
- If eating out is a large part of your lifestyle, you can indulge in delicious fare with outstanding points earnings by using the American Express® Gold Card. As you use the card, you will earn 4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, after that 1X) and at restaurants, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases. To begin earning valuable points that can be transferred to various rewards programs, meet the terms of the welcome offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you make $4,000 in purchases within the first 6 months. This will help offset the $250 (See rates and fees) annual fee.
- If you get the “travel bug” once you start using your points and miles, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve as an addition to your wallet. Not only will you earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, but you will also receive a wide variety of travel benefits including a $300 travel credit, a $100 TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit, lounge access, and more.
Travel can be an intimidating task to take on, especially if you have a difficult time letting go of your points. Also, you might be finding it really fun to just look at that huge points balance in your account. But while you may be sitting on millions of points and miles, consider the points (no pun intended) above about devaluation and theft, and that hoarding your points and miles may not be a great strategy.
You can always earn more points and miles, but there are only so many opportunities in life to accomplish your travel goals. So get out there in the world and spend those hard-earned miles!