Rewards Credit Cards

Five Travel Hacking Half-truths that Drive Me Bananas

I don’t know about you, but I’m in a mood for a little controversy. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Unlike many of my comrades, I don’t consider miles and points hobby to be a zero-sum game. I truly believe we all can come out ahead, as long as we have reasonable expectations. All except the banks, that is.

That’s why I think it’s important to dispel a few myths for those who just came across our weird universe. Here we go:

1) Miles and points hobby is dead, so don’t bother investigating it at this point.

It’s as alive as it’s ever been…for newbies. It will literally take you years to go through all the best offers before you hit a wall. And even then, not all hope is lost. Banks’ approval algorithm can be a bit of a mystery which, at times, can work to your advantage. To be fair, I’m not referring to rules like Chase 5/24 rule, which are hardcoded.

Besides, miles and points hobby can mean different things to different folks. This isn’t a “one size fits all” type deal. Some will get ten cards each year, others will only get one and hang on to it indefinitely. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to come up with the best strategy on maximizing rewards via everyday spending. I have a list of most lucrative options for regular family (IMO), and will be happy to make further recommendations if you email me at milesforfamily@gmail.com

Are you a super conservative person who likes to take things slow? Even one new card each year will give you a quick boost when it comes to your miles and points balances (or cash back if that’s what you prefer!) It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Yes, your credit score will go down 5 points or so with each new application. But so what?

Nobody will give you a medal for having a score of 755 instead of 750. Both fall into “excellent” category. There is no such thing as “excellent+”, so what’s the point of holding back? Caution! The main reason to avoid new inquiries is if you  plan to take out a mortgage in the next few years. Otherwise, if you fail to pick at least some of the low-hanging fruit out there, you are missing out.

A quick example. My cousin-in-law follows this blog. Due to my recommendation, she signed up for Chase Sapphire Reserve when the bonus was 100K points (no longer available). She also picked up two Citi AAdvantage cards and matched to Hyatt Explorist status via a loophole earlier in the year.

As a result, she and her husband are going on a vacation to Maui next year, covered completely with miles and points. And they will even have access to club lounge via Hyatt status. Is the trip free? Well, nope. She could have redeemed UR points towards statement credit. Would they be able to pay for it without taking advantage of lucrative bonus and status match opportunities? Again, no.

Iao Needle park in Maui

2) Miles and points hobby is unethical.

It’s only unethical if you lie. I’m always amazed when people are shocked (shocked!) that someone would dare to one-up poor sweet for-profit banking institutions. Folks, if you don’t take advantage of various sign-up offers, it will simply mean more dough for the banks. Nobody will be feeding orphans or curing cancer with that money, I guarantee it.

Oh, and don’t forget that it was taxpayers’ money that  has bailed out these guys during the last recession. As far as I’m concerned, I’m simply getting dividends on my investment. Of course, lying and cheating is never OK. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

3) Unless you are super intelligent, this hobby will ruin your life.

This one is a real pet peeve of mine. Who exactly gets to determine intelligence level requirements? Is there a miles and points committee comprised of old-timers that greenlights who is in and who is not? Hmm, if only there was a barrier to entry of some kind. Wait a minute, there is! It’s called credit score.

Let folks determine for themselves if this is something they want to pursue. In my experience, majority will not want to mess with miles and points hobby no matter how you dress it up. Those who do are most definitely intelligent enough.

My cousin-in-law was a valedictorian of her class. I certainly hope that she can figure out on her own that  “$3,000 in 3 months minimum spending” means you have to put at least $1,000 each month on that particular credit card. Rocket science it is NOT.

Obviously, you only want to apply for credit cards if you can pay off your balances in full each month. Again, not rocket science.

4) Chase Sapphire Preferred is a terrible card and any blogger who recommends it is not to be trusted.

Which part is bad? The sign-up bonus? How exactly is getting free $550 (at the minimum) a bad deal for anyone? When you hear this statement, there are usually two issues at hand. First, people mean that renewing CSP is not the right fit for every single person. This is 100% true. You should be ruthless when it comes to annual fees. I know I am.

Second issue is the fact that many bloggers (including yours truly) make commission on approvals of CSP.  The dark underbelly of affiliate marketing is something I’ve discussed ad nauseam and don’t feel like rehashing it. But let me admit here that yes, I like to get modest compensation for my work and not have to cover blogging expenses from my own savings account. Guilty as charged.

To be clear, I wouldn’t trust anyone who pushed CSP over CSR (Chase Sapphire Reserve) back when the latter offered 100k points. That said, things have changed. The bonus on CSR is now 50k points and travel credit is based on cardholder year.

So, I would say that right now CSP is a better first Chase card choice for most (though not all) people. Yes, many of us make commission for recommending it. But so what? Does it make the bonus any less lucrative? Not really. It either is a good deal or it is not. You can not have it both ways.

5) Using miles on business (or economy) class is wasteful 100% of the time.

Talk to my husband (who is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds) and ask him if business class is a waste. Yes, as Nancy pointed out, regular folks need to be mindful of opportunity cost and all the negative hobby changes. Plus, domestic first-class pretty much stinks on traditional carriers (American, I’m looking at you!)

On the other end of the spectrum are experts who say you should always pay cash for economy flights and save miles for fancy redemptions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read that you shouldn’t burn  miles unless you get at least 2 CPM (cents per mile) return. Nope! I’m in this hobby to travel on the cheap, not conform to someone else’s idea of an optimal redemption.

But if you really like to fly upfront, go for it and don’t feel guilty. The only time you waste miles is when you let them expire. Otherwise, burn them however you wish. As long as they get you out of the house and closer to exploring new places, that’s a good thing. Travel is what this hobby is all about. Or at least it should be.

Readers, share your own pet peeves!

 

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.

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18 thoughts on “Five Travel Hacking Half-truths that Drive Me Bananas

  1. I love this blog post and couldn’t agree more. This is why I love Miles for Family. You look at the full benefits of miles and points and don’t just tout first/business class flights and elite statuses. Plus, you highlight lesser known and talked about cards and how they can be beneficial. Thanks for being a breath of fresh air in this arena showing that people just want a comfortable free/cheap vacation not necessarily with all the bells and whistles of lounges and upgrades.

    • @Lisa Thank you so much for reading as well as your encouragement! You know, blogging for the last few years has been a learning experience for me in more ways than one. Ultimately, I’m convinced that people should do what makes them happy. Everyone will have a different view on this one. I try to encourage folks not to chase someone else’s dreams.
      That said, it’s good to be flexible. I never understood the fascination with Hyatt. To me, Holiday Inn seemed perfectly fine (still does). But guess what? We’ve stayed in a few Hyatts, and now I’m a fan. My kids don’t want to go anywhere else. So, I think it’s important to keep an open mind on things.

      • You’re welcome for the encouragement. I don’t mind splurging every now and then, as I’ve stayed at the Fairmont and indulged my mom, but I also enjoy the Best Western credit card which most bloggers don’t even acknowledge or talk about.

        I always tell people who ask me about the miles and points hobby that the right card for you depends on your travel goals not what some blogger is getting high commissions to push.

    • @Lisa Well said! The principle I use when writing my posts is “treat others as you would like to be treated.” Obviously, I didn’t come up with it, that would be Jesus! 😉 Pushing a card based solely on commission is wrong, period. If I wouldn’t recommend it to my relative, than I shouldn’t recommend it to a stranger either. Obviously I’m not perfect or impartial, and have acknowledged that fact. It’s an imperfect system, which is hard to navigate at times.
      As far as Best Western card goes, as you know, I’ve linked to a post on it, but don’t know much about the program. I was planning to mention the promo where you can stay for 10k points again next week as a reminder. My biggest issue is the timing. It will take awhile to get the sign-up bonus, which will be close to the end of the promo. But it’s definitely a good deal for some.

    • @Jennifer You are very welcome! I’m happy to have you as one of my readers. I really enjoyed Maui and I know you will, too. You are going during the time when whales should be migrating to the area. I hope you spot a few! Take binoculars.

    • Have fun on your upcoming trip to Maui. I was there last month for the first time and found using a local car rental agency to be significantly cheaper. And, they had a complimentary airport shuttle. I used Aloha Rent a Car and found them to be great. Just thought I’d pass that on.

      aloharentacar.com

  2. I far more often recommend the CSP to friends. The sticker shock of $450 (and potential stranded credit if they don’t use it) is a bit of a turn-off for a newbie. With $0 out the gate for the CSP, it is a much better starter card.

    I used to also think using miles to fly up frnot was a waste. But now after taking one international trip in F/J, I’m not so sure anymore. 😉

    • @Ian I agree with you on CSP. Back when CSR was offering 100k points AND calendar year credit, it truly was a no-brainer. Even so, many people I’ve talked to were put off by that $450. So, they ended up missing out on that amazing opportunity. It’s good to be cautious, of course, but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.
      Now I think CSR mostly makes sense for those who plan to hit the lounge 10 times in a year and have no way of getting access via other cards. Also, if someone has a ton of UR points and plans to redeem them on revenue travel, that could be another compelling reason.
      As far as flying upfront, I honestly don’t think there is anything wrong with it if that’s what you want to do. Sure, on short flights it’s not a big deal. I would LOVE to get business class on our SYD-SFO 14-hour flight, alas, there was no award availability. Plus, I would have to copay a fortune in cash using Avianca miles.

    • @Cheapblackdad I know, right? Our scores were 803 and 790 on Transunion the last time I checked. I actually can’t believe they are that high. Though actually, the model is spot on. We are low-risk when it comes to default, and that’s mostly what the banks are worried about.

  3. Ohmygosh, do some people really think points/miles activity is unethical..?! It’s 100% legal and PROMOTED by the credit card companies.. what’s unethical about it??? … I also 1000% agree with you that points/miles should be used to get you what you need to get. Who cares if it’s not business class or 2cpm?! I totally love that your site isn’t uppity/preachy. One more thing: My credit score went up by more than 100 points in the past year and I have signed up for a good dozen+ cards! 😉

    • @Army at ClimberMonkeysAbroad All good points! To me, miles and points hobby is sort of like a game of poker. The banks are dangling this carrot, hoping you will lose. And to be fair, many people do lose. Some without even realizing it. Taking on huge minimum requirements encourages extra spending, and it’s easy to fall into that trap of justifying extra junk so you can get your bonus. That’s why I’m a big fan of services like Plastiq. While there is a fee, at least it doesn’t encourage you to change your normal buying behavior. I agree on the credit score going up, that’s what happened to us as well.

      • I’ve been using Plastiq to meet most of my spending bonuses! Fortunately/unfortunately for me, I pay for all of my mom’s bills as well, so nowadays that means just one month of expenses is enough to meet one card’s spending requirement. Friends usually balk at this because they focus on the 2.5% fee I have to pay when using Plastiq… but I think the sign-up bonuses are totally worth the fee.

    • It definitely stings to pay that 2.5% fee. On everyday spending it’s rarely worth it unless you earn 3% cash back or an equivalent in points. However, I do believe it’s usually worth it for minimum spending. Of course, it allows me to get more cards each year, which looks crazy on my credit report! It’s a double-edged sword, I guess.

  4. I almost always suggest people get the CSP over CSR now that the signup bonuses are the same. Most people who ask me for advice are newbies and they aren’t equipped to pay a $450 annual fee regardless of the benefits they receive in return.

    • @Holly I totally agree. Sure, CSR can work for some people due to all the perks. But someone who flies once or twice per year won’t really care about the lounge access all that much. Plus, that crazy $450 fee! I had a hard time convincing folks to invest in the card even with 100k points bonus. All they could focus on was that $450 they had to pay upfront.

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