Thursday, February 2, 2017

I'm Using More Bank Points Than Airline Miles These Days

A few weeks ago I saw this tweet by Robert Dwyer about how bank points were more important for him to collect than airlines miles in 2017 for everything except international premium cabins and it got me thinking about my own usage for flights recently.

I've Been Travelling More than Usual

I've kind of always been the person in the points/miles blogging (when I used to do that kind of stuff) who didn't travel much which was a little bit of an anomaly.  I didn't have much use for manufactured spending for the miles so I usually did it for the cash.  I don't do that anymore since I make more cash selling on Amazon than I would manufactured spending.  There are some low hanging fruit I make exception for but I'm mostly out.

In a one year span I have flown internationally twice (one with my whole family, one just with my wife) and I have another one planned in that same 12 month time period.  I also have a domestic flight planned in March.  I know Trevor is hyperventilating thinking of how few times that is but that's a lot for me.

All of these flights were entirely paid for in miles/points (besides mandatory fees) so I do earn enough miles for my needs.  The vast majority of the miles I earn and use are via sign up bonuses since I don't have to forgo cash to earn them.  I also will earn an equivalent amount of miles as cash.  For example if I can earn 3x Thank You Points via ATT, I'll take that over 2% or ever 2.625% cashback since I won't redeem my miles for less than $0.01 each.  Makes things more simple.

I Paid For All My Trips with Bank Points, Not Miles (or At Least I Should Have)

With each reservation I would have needed to use the fewest miles had I used bank points.  When I say bank points I mean Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards and Thank You Points.  They have always been great because they could be converted into so many different types of miles (and sometimes allow you to pool miles from different sources like with Singapore Airlines), but for this post I mean using these points directly to book tickets instead of transferring.  For most this is old news but it's the trend that I'm using for travel redemption so I thought others might be interested as well.

With the American Express Business Platinum, they have a promotion where they will redeposit 50% of the miles used to purchase a ticket for any business and first class redemption or for economy.  The difference is that for economy it only works on one airline, the one that you choose for the $200 airline incidental.  You can only change that once a year in January so it isn't the most useful promotion but I was able to book 3 tickets with it this year on 2 airlines (I just changed it).  Normally you can book travel directly through American Express Membership Rewards for a value of 1 point per penny.  With this promotion, any miles you use will be doubled in value.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, any Ultimate Rewards points you have can be booked for a cash ticket at a value of 1 UR to $.015.  While the value is slightly less than American Express, it is far more useful for those who fly economy since you aren't restricted to one airline.

With the Citibank Prestige, you can use Thank You Points on American Airlines flights at a value of $.016 per mile.  This is only on AA and the value is even less than American Express however you don't need as many miles to book.  On American Express you need to have the equivalent of $0.01 per mile available to book and then they give you half the points back.  Here, you don't need to have as many miles available in order to book.  This benefit is going away in June though.

Bank Points are Better than Airline Points!

Not only is the value per point that you use often better with bank points as opposed to miles (on economy) but they are even more valuable than that for a couple of reasons.  

1) There are no blackouts.  You are buying revenue tickets so they let you book anything.  

2) You earn miles/status for the trip.  When you book with frequent flyer miles you don't earn miles or status.  For these trips you do.

3) The fees are built in.  Sometimes you see a great mileage redemption but there are a lot of mandatory fees (and not mandatory fees - I'm giving you the stinkeye fuel surcharges!) that are added.  You can't use miles for those, only cash and if they are significant they can seriously dilute the value of your miles.  Those fees are already built into the cash price and you can pay the entire ticket price with bank points.

4) No Federal Excise tax.  I don't know if all the banks pass this fee onto you but American Express charges you a Federal Excise Tax when transferring miles to domestic carriers.  If you aren't transferring, you don't have to pay this fee.

Just as an example, I booked this flight recently.  I moved over 70,000 American Express Membership Rewards points over to Delta for a $900 ticket.  I also had to pay $144 in fees.  

Had I paid for it directly with American Express MRs, I would have only paid 45,000 miles after the promotion with no $144 in fees.  That's a no brainer.  I would have saved 25,000 miles and $144.  That's quite a savings for one trip.  That's per person.    

These Credit Cards Come With a Price

Yeah, they do.  A whopping $450 each in annual fees so in order for these cards to make sense you have to start finding value in the card benefits for everything to start paying for itself.

Each one comes with an air travel credit.  $200 for AmEx, $250 for Citi and $300 for Chase.  Chase seems to be the easiest to use.  If you are getting $300 off the price of the annual fee, you only need to find another $150 of value before you bank the extra points (pun intended).

If you would pay for lounges, great.  I wouldn't so I get no value there (maybe $1 for the soda). If you would pay $100 for Global Entry, great, that's another $100 you saved.  I wouldn't so I see $0 in value on those.  I don't even take advantage of it when it's free!

There are lots of other extras they throw in there.  Recently, I used a free access to GoGo Hotspot from American Express Platinum. Again, that's not something I would have paid for so I'm not discounting the price of the annual fee for that.  It's nice to have but $450 in my pocket is nicer.

It's a personal decision what you would have paid for and what you wouldn't and no one can make that decision for you.

Personally, I don't have a Prestige or a Sapphire Reserve but that's only because of 5/24, otherwise I would have gotten a Sapphire Reserve for the sign up bonus.  The only reason I have the American Express is for the sign up bonus and I'm going to need to decide whether it is worthwhile to keep it once the annual fees come due in about 6 months.

If I had my druthers, I would probably get the Chase Sapphire Reserve and keep it.  With the $300 credit and the ability to get 1.5 cents on a redemption, I can see how the value can easily get past $450, even for me.  The AmEx on the other hand, I'm not sure.  If I see a lot of travel in my future, maybe, otherwise probably not. 

Have you been using more bank points instead of airlines miles too?