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Is It Crazy to Let Miles and Points Influence Your Travel Choices?

It’s not crazy at all! Miles and points play a huge role in determining where we get to vacation each year. But wait! Isn’t it a contradiction to what I previously said in my post Fifty shades of “free” (yes, I know it’s a very lame title):

“…Just like you shouldn’t let your miles and points dictate the way YOU travel.” (Apologies for quoting myself.)

So, what’s up with flip-flopping? Well, there is a big difference between allowing something influence your decisions and letting it totally determine your travel choices. I think if you narrow  down your destinations to only places that happen to have a Hyatt (or whatever your chain preference is), you are missing out. Not to say that it’s bad to prefer a Hyatt, or in my case IHG.

Let’s take my last redemption. I’ve mentioned that my husband and I are flying to Aruba for our wedding anniversary. The main reason I picked this destination is due to the fact that we can fly there non-stop from Orlando on Southwest airlines. In fact, it was a determining factor. I have a lot of Rapid Rewards points as well as $850 in Southwest gift cards.

I also liked the fact that we can stay at a beachfront Holiday Inn for only 15,000 IHG points per night, which is dirt cheap.  But how can that be? Why select a place based on those factors alone? What about culture, yada yada yada?

Well, the truth is, the main purpose of this trip is to relax. I’m talking lots of mixed drinks by the pool and swimming in the ocean. Yes, we could probably do those things in Florida too, but I like the idea of jetting away to an island.

I admit, Aruba is probably not my first choice among  Caribbean destinations. It looks flat, dry and overrun with tourists. Not my idea of a tropical paradise. But the more I started to research it, the more appealing it became.  I’m really looking forward to visiting Arikok National park if my husband agrees to it.

It also helps that the island has decent infrastructure and low crime rate compared to the rest of Caribbean. I really want things to go smoothly during our anniversary getaway, so my husband agrees to do stuff like that in the future. Who knows, maybe I can talk him into visiting Saba which requires two flight connections from Orlando. Nah!

Another thing  I pay attention to is out-of-pocket costs. We don’t make six figures, so I really have no choice in this respect. There are many places I would love to visit, but our savings account tells us we can only pick a few.  After being around this hobby for a number of years, I feel this is an area where many miss the forest for the trees, so to speak.

I hate to go back to  Maldives (again), but it’s a perfect example how things are  very often not what they appear. If you only focus on fantastic CPM  value you are getting by redeeming miles to Maldives and how that Hyatt beachfront villa is a terrific deal at 25,000 points per night, it’s easy to forget how darn expensive that destination  really is! You will pay a ton for just an airport transfer (something like $800 per person roundtrip) and the food at the resort, apparently, costs a fortune.

So, going back to my quote at the beginning of the post, what I meant to say was: ” You shouldn’t let your miles and points dictate the way you travel …when there is significant out-of-pocket cost involved.” Are you short on cash and see a random Holiday Inn on PointBreaks list that costs only 5,000 points per night? Book it, especially if there is no airfare involved. If it turns out to be a dud, you haven’t lost much and got to spend time with your family. Winning!

We may end up not liking Aruba after all, but at least I will have an “island” experience with my husband at a deeply discounted redemption price and  little out-of-pocket cost. The memories? I hope they will be priceless. The flights are short and the fact that we didn’t have to save for years to afford this trip should  take some of the pressure off. I’m sure there will be arguments and things will go wrong. That’s where margarita drinks will hopefully come in.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Maldives, and many people visit it often, but my family would have to save for years just to get there once. Will the juice be worth the squeeze?  I honestly don’t know. I never really had any desire to visit Maldives before I discovered miles and points. I still don’t. Going to Tahiti, on the other hand, has been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl. I don’t care if I have to pay cash to visit Bora Bora, we’ll get there one of these days.

For now, I’ll be content with laying on Aruba beach and reading an article on Tahiti, while staying at a Holiday Inn on points (acquired dirt cheap). There are worse fates in life. Another margarita, please!

margarita

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Readers, to what extent do you allow miles and points influence your travel choices?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

8 thoughts on “Is It Crazy to Let Miles and Points Influence Your Travel Choices?

  1. I mostly decide destination, then figure out miles. I knew I wanted to use my AA miles pre-devaluation for a booking on Cathay & Japan Airlines. So, I guess miles dictated the region but I chose the specific destination on my own (Vietnam). Other trips, we’ve 100% decided the city and then figured out how to use miles to help pay for it. I think it’s because I use my miles for that one big annual “dream” trip. It’s the little getaways that are way more flexible in destination and I usually choose those by mistake fares or other great deals.

    • Becky, makes perfect sense! I usually chase destination, though try to be flexible if at all possible. Madrid wasn’t my first choice, but that’s where we are flying next year before continuing on to Belarus. I really wanted to stop in Amsterdam instead, but it wasn’t available on miles. That said, I’m very excited by prospect of visiting Spain! It was on my to-do list anyway, it just got pushed to the top due to miles.
      Oh, and I totally understand burning AA currency on Cathay and Japan Airlines. If you were planning on visiting Vietnam eventually, why not get there for less while you still can. I totally would.
      Overall, there is no right or wrong way to do this hobby, but I try to encourage folks to pay more attention to out-of-pocket costs. Frankly, I need those reminders myself!

  2. Had 50,000 AA miles and stumbled upon 4 nonstop one way tickets to DC during Spring Break. I grabbed them (NYC was our 1st choice but no AA award flights, & hotels were all high points so I’ll keep working at it). Paid cash for 4 one ways back home and Hyatt Place by National Mall was low points and cash for a full week with full breakfast – another score. Since most museums and monuments are free, we had to go. If I didn’t have points, this destination probably would’ve never been crossed off my travel bucket list.

    • @Stephanie That sounds like a fun trip! I’ve been wanting to get back to DC for many years, but it hasn’t worked out. I would love to go in spring so we could see cherry blossoms. Maybe in a few years I can finally put it all together. We may even take Amtrak train from DC to Orlando!

  3. We’ve gone to Aruba three times in the last 2 years because of SW points. It is a wonderful island. The Holiday Inn is nice but very crowded (we only stayed 2 nights). We prefer the Divi/Tam in the low rise area because it is very quiet. We loved the National Park. It is amazing. We also enjoyed the Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations and Gold Mines as a stop. Perhaps, on a different day. The Donkey Sanctuary and the Ostrich Farm are also fun. There is so much to do without feeling like you are in Miami Beach if you just get away from the high rise strip!

    If you don’t plan on renting a car, I will give you the name of the best gentleman on the island. He’s a private taxi driver and gives the best tours. We love him!!!!! I’ve been trying to convince my kids that we want to go elsewhere next year but they adore Aruba.

    Michelle

    • @Michelle I really appreciate your comment! Who knows, I might just love Aruba. Normally, I prefer lush islands with mountains, like Kauai and St. John. But it’s nice to do something a bit different. I’m really excited to go and hopefully, Holiday Inn won’t be too crowded. We are visitng during off-season, so maybe it won’t be so bad.
      Yes, I would love the name of the tour guide. Please, email it to me or comment here.

  4. I let points and miles dictate our travel plans sometimes. Actually, I pick our flights based on the best options for the particular type of trip we’re taking. I’ve ended up in two Caribbean islands (St. Maarten and Grand Cayman) just because the flights were good and there was award availability. I probably wouldn’t have visited those islands otherwise, and I loved them. I think it depends on the type of person you are. I like adventure and surprise and have never had a bad trip, so I don’t mind letting miles dictate where I land at times.

    • @Holly That’s honestly how I try to look at this whole thing. As I’ve mentioned in the post, Aruba wasn’t my first choice. But I’m certain I’ll enjoy the island, maybe more than I expect. To me, having decent departure times and non-stop flights is crucial. As much as I would love to fly to Saba, it would be a nightmare, and my husband would get cranky. Who wants that on anniversary getaway?

      I agree with you, it’s important to have a sense of adventure and be open to various possibilities.
      On the other hand, I really wanted to take my mom to Florida Keys, so I burned AA miles on a condo in order to make it happen. Not the best return on miles, but it allowed us to keep cash in our savings account.

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