I like to think of points collecting as ‘travel futures’. Like investing in the stock market or in commodities, I try to make small investments (through credit card spend, flights or hotel stays) that will lead to big travel payoffs later. So just like the ‘buy low, sell high’ mantra of stockbrokers, points collecting is a game of ‘spend small, experience big’.
I live in Canada, where the gains from credit card opportunities are pretty few and far between. And I’m not sure how much I can get behind the credit card churning (signing up for credit cards and then cancelling after receiving the sign up bonuses) that occurs more commonly in the States. So you won’t hear me changing out my credit cards all that frequently.
So what’s my strategy? I have two main credit cards: the SPG American Express card and the MBNA Alaska Airlines card. We put everything we can on these cards for the points, and pay them off as quickly as possible (though admittedly we don’t pay them off completely each month like many in this hobby). The SPG Amex is one of the most flexible cards out there, with transfers to most airlines at a 1:1 ratio (and a bonus of 5,000 points with any 20,000 point transfer). It’s all about flexibility with SPG.
The Alaska Airlines card, however, I mainly have as a back up (not everyone accepts Amex). But it’s also great because it gives you a companion ticket for approximately $110 on an annual basis. When you live in a market like Edmonton, where it takes over $450 just to get out of the province, that $110 ticket comes in super-handy. We tend to use the ticket for high price travel times, like visiting my parents in California over the holidays. This year, we paid $110 for what was $1,000 in flights over Christmas.
When it comes to hotel loyalty, we typically look for clean, centrally located hotels. We don’t need really fancy places, but occasionally like a little luxury. We only stay in hotels perhaps a total of 20 to 30 days a year, which by frequent traveler standards is pretty paltry. So to me, it’s all about trying to get the most points for the best value. I that puts IHG brand hotels at the top of my list. Most people associate IHG with Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, but they also have some lovely boutique hotels (Hotel Indigo) and luxury options (InterContinental). They also have stackable promotions (you can earn multiple points promotions on one stay), which makes staying with IHG pretty lucrative. And in the past year IHG have had some really fun earning games, which really hook me (such as Crack the Case and the Big Win promos). But mostly, I find the hotels clean, affordable, and well-located. Other than IHG, we do also stay at the occasional Starwood and Club Carlson brands, especially during games or promotions.
My last statement: free is good! Duh, right? But there are so many ways to earn free points, why wouldn’t someone want to? There are survey companies like e-miles and e-rewards, which do take a bit of time. But then there are also really fun games, like La Quinta’s Stay and Play. Free is a no-brainer. In Canada you can earn Aeroplan points for groceries, gas, pharmacy purchases, etc. And all these little things add up.
There are a ton of blogs out there that tout the high-end hotel brands (in fact most of them). But I find the more expensive the hotel, the further I get from the ‘real people’ and places I’m trying to experience. I’d rather spend my money in a open-air market or on a unique experience than in a luxury hotel when in a foreign country.
So that’s my philosophy. I’m not a points guru, as I don’t look at every program and every opportunity. But I do spend enough time on points collection to make my own travel go further, and I will tend to focus on those opportunities in this blog.