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A Small Suggestion for Maximizing Value of Your Loyalty Points

Posted by on | August 1, 2018 | Comments Off

It is useful to have an algorithm for spending your travel (hotel, air) loyalty points.  Years ago I generally saved them for big vacation trips, usually to Europe or Hawaii.  These were the most expensive trips I took and it felt good to bring their cost down.

Two things have killed this algorithm for me.  One is that most major airlines don’t have squat for points availability on popular Trans-Atlantic and Hawaiian routes (British Airways, I am looking at you).  The second change was that I started to read some of the web sites focused on travel points, for example the Points Guy.

There is good information on these sites, but a lot of the detailed strategies are way to arcane and time-consuming to bother with (e.g. Take your American Express points and convert them into gift certificates denominated in Ecuadorian currency, and then apply these for double credit… etc).  But the one takeaway I have had is to think of your points like a currency with a constantly varying exchange rate to dollars, and find the opportunities to spend the points at the best exchange rates.  TPG  maintains a monthly estimate of the value of each type of reward point.  Expected value is between 1 and 2 cents a point for most.

My new algorithm is to use my points when I am getting at least 2 cents for them, and hopefully more.   Take hotel points for example.  From time to time I will find that there is some squeeze in hotel rooms in a city I want to visit and the price of most hotels have risen 50-100% for these days.  This is a great time to use your points, particularly if you are locked into the dates and can’t go on a cheaper date.  The reason for this is while the price in $ does not change, the price in points does not.  There may be some hotel chains that limit availability, but Starwood for example does not.  Let me give an example.

In several weeks I am taking my wife for a nice weekend to see her friends in Manhattan.  We are locked into the dates.  But it turns out that there is some UN event and all the hotel rates have skyrocketed even higher than usual NYC hotel rates.  It was just going to be too expensive to stay in a really special hotel.  Until I thought of the St. Regis.  It is not my first choice, but it is in Starwood and with the Starwood Amex card I have a zillion points.  Turns out for a basic room the nightly rate had gone all the way to $1500 (welcome to NY).  But the points cost for the same room was the same as it ever was, 35,000.  I was effectively getting 4.3 cents each for my points.  One could argue that since this was not my first choice, I should compare it to that alternative, but even with a cheaper rate at that hotel this was still 2.6 cents of savings for each point.

For American Airlines, I try to do the same thing.  Most transcontinental flights have no points availability, or have availability at really bad exchange rates (The one exception I have found is Cathay Pacific, which takes American points and tends to have a lot of award seats).  I increasingly use my points domestically.  When rates shoot up for a particular flight, there still may not be availability but sometimes the opportunities are there.

 A Small Suggestion for Maximizing Value of Your Loyalty Points  A Small Suggestion for Maximizing Value of Your Loyalty Points  A Small Suggestion for Maximizing Value of Your Loyalty Points

 A Small Suggestion for Maximizing Value of Your Loyalty Points

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