Thoughts

My Thoughts on the State of the Miles and Points Metagame

My first image on the blog
My first image on the blog

Disclosure: I receive no commission for any of this. Just some random ramblings.

It’s hard to believe, but today marks the two year anniversary of my blog. A lot has changed since then, both in my life and in the points world in general. That being the case, I’ve been doing a little reflection on where things stand in the miles and points world and where I stand in relation to that.

One day I woke up and the game completely changed
One day I woke up and the game completely changed

Those who know me know that I spend whatever free time I have apart from family/points/miles on playing video games. In the competitive multiplayer game landscape, there is a lot of talk about the “metagame”. Any given game has its set of rules – the metagame consists of the strategies that develop to bend, break, or even exploit those rules to gain an advantage. An example in the miles and points world would be a rule of the game, like Delta’s allowed open jaw and stopover, being used in a novel way – like creating a “free” one-way.

Here are some of my reflections on different aspects of the current metagame – opinions are my own and don’t represent Saverocity. These are just my thoughts from observations, reading of some of the blogosphere, and various forums including our very own. Doing this helps me assess my own personal place in the game at the moment as well.

Mile Earning – MS OV-Reload

Manufactured spending has always existed – long before people were even dragging silver dollars to the bank. I know the MS sections are the hottest topic on Saverocity’s forum and I’m pretty sure they are hit hard on Flyertalk and others as well. I’d say the swing towards more MS over credit card sign up bonuses is the result of a conflagration of factors.

First, for awhile, it seemed like the big credit card sign up bonuses were going away (though now it seems the demise has been greatly exaggerated). Secondly, there is the allure of earning points while spending very little out of pocket – or even earning money at the same time. Third, bloggers realized that that allure draws eyeballs and thus we’ve started seeing MS talked about more and more in the blogosphere. I’m not placing judgment, that’s just my interpretation of how things have gone down (for the record I lean far towards the side of Matt and stewardship on these matters).

The sunrise over Mt. Fuji - no MS necessary
The sunrise over Mt. Fuji – no MS necessary

Of course, as in every game, the metagame has evolved and banks have moved to counter attempts at manufactured spending. The most famous of these was the CVS shutdown of Vanilla Reloads. That of course has spurred points enthusiasts to fall back on other MS techniques or focus more on reselling.

Personally, my points needs mean that I don’t dip too heavily into the MS techniques that are out there. Plus, when I think about it, friendly commenters tell me they’d rather me not! Thanks! 😛 We’ll see if that evolves as we start needing to pay for Little M’s tickets. In the meantime, credit card sign up bonuses should suit our purposes just fine, though I think the meta is shifting on that front.

Credit Card Bonuses – No More App-O-Ramas?

This is one where I think people might disagree with me, but I feel there is starting to be more of a shift away from App-o-ramas (AORs). In fact, I eventually need to get around to updating my Credit Card Strategy post on the matter. I’ve more or less shifted my strategy away from huge AORs – meaning four or more cards in one day. What I found was by limiting myself to applications every 91+ days I was missing out on some good sign up bonuses.

This view in Bali was the fruit of my first AOR
This view in Bali was the fruit of my first AOR

Now that I’m not locked into 91 days, I feel more comfortable pulling the trigger when I see bonuses that I feel are worth it. Of course, I don’t abuse this – but I just think credit card companies can see pretty clearly that I apply for a lot of cards a lot of the time, and I just don’t think I’m going to “game” them by doing them all in one day. If Barclays’ tells people “I see you’ve applied for three cards today”, I’m sure all the other banks know too.

Like I mentioned above, it looked for awhile like banks where moving away from big sign up bonuses (generally 50K+), but that doesn’t seem to have stuck. Instead, they are offering more targeted bonuses and a lot more “limited time” bonuses. Citi even experimented with splitting the bonus over two years (getting you to pay the annual fee once), though I haven’t seen that elsewhere yet.

I think if the banks keep it up with the “limited time” offers, we’ll see the meta shift further and further away from AORs. The banks also may or may not be getting more stringent about matching bonuses – but I’m just marking that as “developing” right now.

Redeeming Points – Anti-Vendoming, the new meta?

The concept of Vendoming and Anti-Vendoming completely blew up in May. I mean, there were Dawson’s Creek memes out there – it was serious. I’m not gonna rehash it all here, but basically, it was a debate about whether points should be used aspirationally or practically which is a GROSS oversimplification but you are welcome to use my favorite website Google to glean the nuances.

I'm a big fan of creature comforts and premium redemptions
I’m a big fan of creature comforts and premium redemptions

Here’s what I think is relevant to the Miles and Points metagame. The discussion was a reminder that the value of point redemptions are in the eye of the beholder. It also shined a light, at least for me, on the growing number of family oriented blogs out there. From the Family Travel for Real Life conference to Matt picking up awty and Miles4More to my own natural move towards talking more about family stuff – there are just a lot more bloggers out there talking about the realistic challenge of saving money while traveling with your growing family.

To me, this is a great thing – not just as a father with a family – but also because family bloggers are going to come up with creative and exciting ways to use our points to save money for travel. Most of the big bloggers are single and can afford to Vendome and all the more power to them. But ultimately, for a lot of people big families are real life – and we need ways to use our points for that.

I'm not going to be a lap infant forever!
I’m not going to be a lap infant forever!

The meta is going to shift as more and more people with families start looking to use miles and points to save money for travel. We’re going to see more families split time between two cabins on a flight or even separate into two itineraries. This will naturally move redemptions away from premium cabins and breed strategies for maximizing number of seats. Heck, even I’m thinking about booking coach for our trips next year and I only have the one. THINKING about it…

Predictions

Here are my predictions for what’s to come. All predictions wrong or your money back (TMQ).

In terms of mile earning, I’m pretty sure that AA/US will eventually follow Delta and United’s lead and go to a revenue based mile earning scheme. At that point, my guess is manufactured spending becomes even more vogue, while credit card sign up bonuses remain a steady source of mile income. I think Wal-mart, banks, etc. are going to keep trying to crack down on MS in an eternal game of whack-a-mole. Again, the Saverocity forums are a great place to stay abreast of those metagame changes.

I think banks are going to continue to try to prey on people’s desire for more and more credit and offer big sign up bonuses. They’ll continue to try to limit these bonuses to once in awhile or once a lifetime, but eventually relax those limits to get more people to sign up. I hope that blogs get back to reminding people the risk of abusing their credit – I feel like I haven’t seen as much of that lately. Might as well start here – pay off your credit card bills in full every month or just quit this game, please.

I definitely think there will be more and more of a focus on using miles for practical family travel. I don’t think the pushing of aspirational redemptions will go away, though I do think that airlines will make that more difficult, possibly following United’s lead (hope not though).

In the blogosphere, I hope blogs will move to a more responsible model of writing – one that properly outlines the risks as it lays out the potential rewards to be had in this game. I also think that more blogs will start writing about miles and points as part of the bigger overall money-saving picture. It’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between credit card companies and bloggers plays out – how much control will they want to exercise over content? And how will blogs respond to that?

My predictions for Saverocity? I think we’ll keep trying to figure it out as we go along – even though we can sound, um, know-it-all-y and unapologetic at times – we’re all just trying to divine the best way to serve our readers in the most honest way possible. In my case, all ten of you. Anyway, I’ve hit the 1500 word count, so…better stop. I enjoy thinking, rambling, and reflecting about this stuff; if you made it this far, thanks!

Here’s to many more years of earning and burning for you and all of yours!

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Joe
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less
http://www.asthejoeflies@gmail.com

6 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the State of the Miles and Points Metagame

  1. Congratulations on your 2-year blog anniversary! That is a HUGE milestone and something to celebrate. Most bloggers don’t make it to this point, I’m not sure if I will. Many have no clue how much goes into putting a post together. I’ve enjoyed your blog BTW, you have a smart, yet down-to-earth writing style.

    Thank you so much for linking to my site, memes and all! 😉 Yeah, that Dawson’s Creek reference was a bit over-the-top, but what else is new? I thrive on “quirky.” It’s funny, this whole anti-vendoming thing clearly means different things to different people. I actually have no problem with aspirational travel. My point was to focus more on destination and perhaps explore other alternatives.

    Looking at blogs, you would think that there is only one hotel in Paris, Maldives etc. For families on a budget, it’s crucial to save money or stretch points, so perhaps it makes sense to look at VRBO and just pay out-of-pocket now and again (gasp!) That’s my beef with this industry: How often the word “free” is used, when it’s not free at all. I encourage my readers to always calculate the opportunity cost, and if they feel that fancy 30,000 Gold Passport points/ per night property is worth it, go for it.
    You are correct, that whole discussion got grossly oversimplified, unfortunately. Agree with your other assessments of this hobby as well.

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