I’ve decided to put a burn notice on some of my miles. Between my wife and I, we’ve accumulated over one million miles, mostly within the last year and a half or so. Well, as Hilton (most recently) and countless other award programs have taught us time and time again, miles and points are a volatile currency whose value only goes one way: down. So I’ve decided it’s time for us to book a couple of trips. There is no point on sitting on a stockpile of points – so let’s do this. Throughout this series, I will be talking about how I burned these points to give you examples of how you can burn yours!
My Earning and Burning Strategy
Having been messing around with points for almost two years now, I’ve devised and earning and burning strategy. Part of this also was negotiated with my wife, the Points Hater, to determine what works best for us and our family. The strategy will probably evolve a bit now that we are parents, though for the most part I think the general concepts will seem the same.
When getting into the points game, you need a goal. Are you just applying for some cards to take one big trip? Or do you have a more long term plan.
My goal: to accumulate enough points to enable us to take at least one international vacation a year in comfort without breaking the bank for it.
It’s a pretty simple goal, but having a goal ensures that I don’t over-accumulate (well, it ensures that my wife doesn’t THINK I’m over-accumulating).
Anyway, our credit card sign up and spending strategy is pretty simple.
Myself: Apply for 2-3 cards every 91+ days, making sure that I have a diverse portfolio of points. Dictate spending from category bonuses, defaulting to Ultimate Rewards when there are no bonuses.
My wife: Apply for 2-3 cards ever <whenever she lets me>, focus on getting points for trips that we know we are taking.
Spending: Redeem for at least one international premium cabin ticket per year, or more if time/points/money allow.
This strategy is to not get too greedy, but to get enough points and miles to enjoy things a little bit more. I’d obviously happily visit Dublin and Ireland in coach, but flying for 50,000 British Airways Avios and $150 in fees made the trip that much sweeter. So not only are we saving a little bit of money, but we are also getting to our destination in more comfort.
Our Current Balances
This isn’t to brag – it’s just to show you what can be done with a little bit of planning, time, and smart but aggressive use of good credit. Below, I’ve listed our points balances in the major programs (combined), and roughly how many of those miles we’ve earned through credit card bonuses or other promotions that didn’t require flying/purchasing miles over the last two years. I’ve also noted how you can build up balances in each program fairly quickly.
American Airlines – 280,000 miles (230,000)
American Express Membership Rewards – 82,000 miles (75,000)
We used most of our Membership Rewards points on a trip last year for intra-asia business class travel on Singapore Airlines but we still have a few laying around. Enough to top off an account but not enough to do anything with on their own (internationally, that is). The Premier Rewards Gold card currently has a signup bonus of
50,000 miles that could go away at any minute (but has lasted for a long time!) (Edited: When I started this post it was still active, but it has since been decreased to 25,000).
Chase Ultimate Rewards – 340,000 points (160,000)
Chase Ultimate Rewards are the most valuable points currency out there in my opinion, so I do most of my spending on Ultimate Rewards cards. Their ability to transfer to United Airlines, Hyatt, and other premium partners along with other great benefits (like 7% rebate on Chase Sapphire Preferred points and lucrative spending bonus categories) make Ultimate Rewards best in class for now. Currently you can get 50,000 points for signing up for the Ink Bold or Ink Plus cards (business cards) and 40,000 points for signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (a personal card) – in the same application cycle if you’d like!
Delta – 290,000 miles (135,000)
Sometimes you might be targeted for a 75,000 Delta credit card by AMEX, or click the link above for Membership Rewards (there is a current Delta offer there too). although Delta miles aren’t worth very much and are probably going to be devalued so they are at the top of my burn list. We earned most of these miles by flying, although we got 27,000 miles for an international flight delay (just by e-mailing and asking for compensation) and bought about 50,000 miles for 1.1 cents a piece during the 100% transfer bonus a couple of years ago.
Hilton – 145,000 points (65,000)
I lied: Hilton, not Delta is at the top of my burn list. Delta is at risk for a devaluation, Hilton already had one. Luckily I have until March 28th to redeem at the old rates, which I plan on doing. The current best Hilton card is the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, because it offers free gold status and two weekend night certificates that aren’t affected by the devaluation.
United – 2000 miles
We used the majority of our United miles for our summer trip last year, so no need to burn these! The United Mileage Plus Explorer card often has targeted 50,000 mile offers, just log in to your Mileage Plus account at united.com to see if you’re targeted for one.
US Airways – 120,000 (40,000)
The majority of our US Airways points are from a transfer points where we “bought” points at about 1.3 cents per mile. I was planning on redeeming these before US Airways combines with American Airlines, but decided we won’t have time so I guess they’ll turn into AA miles eventually. Hopefully the award chart isn’t devalued too much when they officially combine. You can currently get 35,000 US Airways miles with first purchase on the Barclays US Airways card.
What to Burn?
As I mentioned, Delta and Hilton are at the top of my list. I might need to burn one of my more “valuable” currencies in conjunction with burning the Hilton points, but we’ll see. Stay tuned!
Note: All links to applications and what not are current as of this posting, but please do your own research before applying for anything.