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Should I Maximize Rewards at the Expense of Convenience?

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TPG reader Aaron sent me a message on Facebook to ask about how to prioritize earning rewards:

“To what extent would you try to maximize rewards even if it means sacrificing some comfort or convenience in your travel arrangements?”

You have to earn travel rewards before you can spend them, and learning to maximize the points and miles you get from flights, hotel stays and other purchases is an important step. When all else is equal, I go for the airline or hotel that offers me the best return on my spending. However, Aaron brings up a great question: Where do you draw the line for maximizing rewards when your options aren’t equal?

Personally, the answer depends on a number of factors like who I’m traveling with, where I’m going and why. I know the incredible value I can get out of points and miles, so I welcome opportunities to earn them quickly — as the saying goes, you can’t win if you don’t play. I have certainly chosen flights and hotels based on which ones offered the best rewards, and there are a few scenarios where I’m more willing than normal to make sacrifices for the sake of my future travels.

The first is if I need elite credits to earn or maintain upper-tier status. I travel a lot, and having status like AAdvantage Executive Platinum or Starwood Platinum really improves my experience. I’ve gone on mileage runs and mattress runs to lock down premium benefits; if I can do it by simply flying or staying a little out of my way, it’s a no-brainer.

The second scenario is when there’s a particularly juicy promotion or bonus. For example, the current Marriott Megabonus offers a free night at a Category 1-5 property after two paid stays. That could entice me to stay with Marriott this spring even if I was already planning to stay elsewhere.

Centurion Studio Seattle sitting area banner
I’m a big fan of Amex Centurion Lounges, but I’m an even bigger fan of getting where I want to go.

On the other hand, I tend to earn just as much (or more) from credit card sign-up bonuses and spending as I do from actual flights and hotel stays. There’s less pressure to maximize my rewards from travel when I can accumulate them quickly in other ways. On a similar note, I don’t go too far out of my way to redeem rewards and travel benefits. For example, as much as I love the Amex Centurion Lounges, I probably wouldn’t schedule a layover just to hang out there.

Ultimately, you have to decide what makes sense for your situation. If you don’t mind checking into a different hotel every few nights to maximize a promotion, then more power to you. Just remember that your time is valuable, and earning extra rewards for the future doesn’t do you much good if you can’t enjoy the present.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit