I have two fundamental travel aspirations:
- See the world.
- Get good value out of miles & points.
The 2 goals were in unison in my early days of the hobby. Seeing the world meant flying premium cabin to a major destination, staying in a high-value points hotel, and sightseeing in the vicinity. I did this in Hong Kong, Sydney, Bangkok, Paris, Banff – to name a few. I enjoyed all these places, but after a while, it started to feel repetitive. The luxurious but insulated hotel. The globalized big city. The obligatory smile from service employees. The hordes of tourists. Once in a while a place would still sweep me off my feet, but overall, I began to question: is this all there is to world travel?
The obvious answer is: No. I’d just been too wrapped up in my miles and points bubble. As I began to venture away from my beaten path, into corners of the world without premium cabin and/or chain hotels, I found the missing pieces I’d been longing for. A new world opened up to me – of meeting people, encountering unspoiled kindness, and seeing the world more authentically.
Ironically, this “new” world was closer to how I traveled before the hobby, where I didn’t have points, traveled frugally, stayed in simple lodges, and bonded with more people. Being a points traveler opened up the world of luxury travel, but it also made my experience more insulated and one dimensional.
The Great Paradox, then, is that my idea of seeing the world is now at odds with points maximization, especially hotel points. A recent example illustrated this plainly. As I walked down the tranquil cobblestone lane of old town Mostar one morning, hundreds of years of history in plain sight, I noticed a sign that I should normally be happy to see, but in this case triggered an innate “oh no”. What I saw was a chain hotel sign, staking its ground, likely to forever change this relatively unnoticed and unspoiled tourist town. It’s the inevitable as travel becomes more accessible and unspoiled places are discovered. The pool of such places is shrinking every year. But imagine this: an obsessive points junkie sees a future redemption, instead of excitement, feels concern for the locale. That’s how travel has changed me, and I’m glad.
To be clear, my position isn’t that chain hotels have no place in the world; they clearly do. I don’t even have a problem with their presence in “unspoiled” places. It’s the effect (usually adverse IMO) they have on the locale that I dislike (see: The Tourism Life Cycle). I understand not every resident shares this sentiment – some want more globalization, and sometimes that can be good (often not). That’s fine, and it’s even inevitable as I said. I’m just glad I got to see it now.
At the same time, the shallow part of me is letting myself be restricted somewhat by airline miles. I really want to visit Africa, but it’s not the most comfortable ride in the sky or the easiest redemption using the miles I have. I can make it work, but inertia has thus far kept me going back to familiar continents. I can imagine that if I didn’t have miles and the desire to maximize the value, it could be easier to prioritize Africa. I need to remind myself that I’ve never regretted choosing a less developed place (yet). Indeed, those have been some of my most rewarding trips thus far.
Having said that, I’m not giving up on miles and points. This blog is named Points Adventure, after all. There’s definitely a place for chain hotels in my travel rotation. What I’m finding is they work well for me in cities and resort towns – when I want those. Airline miles continue to be useful in getting to most places I want – I just need the will to sometimes stand up to the value maximization part of me. 😀 However, instead of my 2 travel aspirations going hand in hand, it’s now a balancing act. My ideal trip is now a mix of points-based pampering and off-the-beaten-path exploration. My last trip was a good example: 8 days in five-star hotels in Switzerland and Croatia, 6 days in hostels in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I enjoyed both, though the latter was no doubt the highlight for me. More on that in a separate post!
In a Nutshell
I love hotel redemptions and have upcoming posts dedicated to them, but seeing the world requires going beyond them. Evolving from unison to paradox to balancing act, my aspirations to see the world and use points have, for now, found a way to co-exist.
I’ve fallen into this same cycle, so I can completely identify. These days, I still use a lot of airline miles (I have to get to my destination, right?). But when it comes to hotel points, I have a lot less need for them. On any given 2-week trip, I use points/chain hotels for maybe 4 of the 14 nights. I still love chain hotels on my first night of arrival (the familiarity makes it easier to cope with jet lag/culture shock) and maybe there’s one major city where a chain hotel makes sense. The rest is filled in with independent guesthouses, apartments, or whatever else I find…
Good luck finding the balance that works for you. I promise: travel is still worth it!
thanks for the encouragement, Becky!
Points and miles can narrow your view of the world you are trying to see if you get caught up in they hype of “free” trips.
I use points and miles to off set travel costs so I can go more often to the off the beaten path places I love. I use hotel points for obligatory domestic travel (weddings, funerals, birthdays, seeing family). I use hotel points for airport hotels before or after long or red eye flights. I fly coach as often as I don’t, on points, and I adore Southwest Airlines.
It is funny that you mention Africa because I recently realized I have put off going for three years now because I could always find easier redemptions to other places. So I am going, I don’t know how or when but I am going with or without miles getting me there.
Sounds like we’re in the same boat!