Musings of a Frequent Traveler Point Chaser

A friend confessed to me a couple of months ago that he had become a mile/point whore with airlines and hotels.  I laughed because I related to what he was saying though perhaps my interest wasn’t to the level of obsession as may have been the case with him.  That is, until I started thinking…

I normally do care about my points and stick to one or two programs to ensure my miles accumulate properly.  I also keep an eye out for special offers, rare as they may be, to get extra points.  But with my friend’s comment I started thinking “what else could I do?  have I maximized what can I do without going overboard?”

Delta Airlines AMEX Credit Card

I had always wondered whether getting an airline credit card was worth it.  Especially since my Costco AMEX gives me cash back which is considerable given my business travel is charged through it.  Cash on hand is better than points with a company that could change award levels, could go bankrupt, etc.  So the questions that had been triggered by my friend the point whore intersected earlier this year with my desire to retain top elite status (Diamond) with my hometown airline (Delta).  I have had that status since 2010 and thought earning it for 2014 would be cool, especially since simple math told me I would easily attain the level below Diamond (Platinum).

So on I went with research that I normally find tedious.  Delta offered several AMEX types so I started by figuring out which would yield the Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) that I may need to top off my actually flown MQMs this year to reach 125,000 MQMs (the Diamond requirement).  I then had to understand if the spend required on the card to earn those MQMs was realistic given my normal spend.  After determining if that worked out (it did for the Platinum card), I had to see if the fee was worth it.  It definitely seemed a reasonable fee given all the MQMs and non-MQMs I would receive plus the earning of the desired elite status.  So, on I went with getting the new card.

I also learned in the process that having this card was yet another factor that could help me move up in regular and upgrade standby/wait lists.  You would think this should not be much of a factor since as a Diamond and Million Miler I should be towards the top of the list.  Most of the time that is true but nothing stings more at the gate before a flight to see you were the first or second person to miss out getting the upgrade!  So for as much as it may help, I figured that was another bonus about the airline card.  At least tête-a-tête with another Diamond Million Miler, the card could give me the edge if they didn’t have one.  (I wish I knew the pecking order of factors leading to the placement on these lists!)  Of course, what may be getting me some times is the fare basis paid for the coach ticket since I do have to follow the rules on fares purchased for my business travel.  But I figured I have done all I could now, save travel more to maximize my MQMs and getting extra miles for free travel!

How about hotels?

I did give a thought to hotel credit cards but, for me, there seems to be little difference that I care about between, say, a Gold and a Platinum level.  Again, I say that I care about because there are differences; it is just that it may be for things that I don’t need (I don’t do a lot of last minute travel, for example) or don’t care enough for.  I also don’t want to have more credit cards than absolutely needed so it was either an airline one or a hotel one.  My drivers for doing all this lined up more with the airline points so there you go!

I do monitor hotel special offers as they offer an easy (if you travel enough) way to score major points but if you are not paying attention, you may miss them since they are not automatic (similar to the rare airline special offers) – you have to “register” to earn them.  I like Marriott’s typical offer of stay X nights in Y months and get ZZ,000 extra points.  In 2010 when I spent most of the year in a Marriott in Chile, I made a killing with those deals – I got the max points every time which was far from chump-change!  Now, I still get points but not the max every time since I may not be traveling every week in questions.  Again, an easy way to get extra points.

What’s in a word?  Points hoarder or chaser?

I originally had thought about ending the title of this entry with “Hoarder” instead of “Chaser” but hoarding implies collecting and never using which is FAR from yours truly so I decided that would paint a different reality.  In 2011, I used over 600K airline miles to travel with family.  Point hoarder I am not!  Points are to be used and, if you have plenty, to share with those you want to travel with.

There are many other techniques and tips about maximizing points earning beyond those I have mentioned.  Of course, plenty of boards and websites out there where good ideas and discussions happen (e.g., http://www.flyertalk.com/).  But still interested in hearing about your “point chasing” goals and strategies!

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