I accidentally became a points hoarder — here’s what I’m doing about it

Dec 27, 2021

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Earn and burn: That’s been my mantra ever since I started seriously learning about points and miles a decade ago.

Over the years, I’ve seen how often devaluations and restructurings come around. Very rarely do program changes work in the traveler’s favor. Even when prices stay the same, there’s still no use in hoarding miles. They’re meant to be redeemed for travel — that’s why I’ve worked so hard to collect them, after all.

That’s also why I’m so frustrated with myself right now. My points and miles tracker is currently showing a balance three times higher than it’s ever been before.

etihad apartments
The last big award I saved up for: Etihad Apartments, which sadly aren’t flying anymore. (Photo by Becky Pokora/The Points Guy)

At first, that sounded amazing. Three times as many trips! Who wouldn’t want that? Then, reality set in. My life isn’t set up for three times as much travel. Between work, personal commitments and trying to enjoy the life I’ve built back home, spending months abroad isn’t realistic.

Given those reality checks, my too-high points balance could fund two years of travel at my normal burn rate, maybe more. It’s normal (and healthy) to save up for a points redemption or two, but it isn’t usually a good idea to have more miles than you can spend in the foreseeable future. A sizable balance means a potential devaluation could hit you hard and it’s also a sign that maybe you haven’t selected the right type of rewards for your needs. The best plan of attack is always exactly how I started: earn and burn.

So how did I get to this point? And more importantly, how do I fix it? Let’s take a closer look.

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In This Post

How I became a points hoarder

First, let’s take a look at how I found myself in this predicament — and you might relate to some of these situations.

We all stayed home last year

“It’s not my fault” feels like a cop-out, but let’s be honest. Most of us didn’t travel much in 2020 and maybe that continued into 2021. Even though I jumped back into travel earlier than most, my trips looked different than they did pre-pandemic.

Instead of flying, I took more road trips, and when I did fly somewhere, it tended to be in domestic economy class. So, instead of redeeming 100,000 miles at a time, I only touched a maximum of 25,000. In turn, my balances didn’t drop as much as they usually would.

Related: Award chart ‘sweet spots’ that will save you money on domestic flights

aa plane in jackson wyoming
Snagging an American Airlines Web Special award from Jackson, Wyoming, for 7,500 miles one-way. (Photo by Becky Pokora/The Points Guy)

Similarly, I wasn’t using up 40,000, 50,000 or 80,000 points a night on hotel redemptions. Instead, I focused on vacation rentals and the odd night or two of glamping. We did redeem for five nights in a row at a Homewood Suites last fall, but with Hilton’s fifth night free for elite members, that didn’t hit my points balance too hard.

I prioritized using travel credits over points and miles

residence inn boise
Our room at the Residence Inn Boise, thanks to a free night certificate from my Bonvoy credit card. (Photo by Becky Pokora/The Points Guy)

I didn’t redeem a lot of points and miles over the past year, but that didn’t mean I paid for everything out of pocket.

Instead, I focused on using up anything with a concrete expiration date. I had several airline vouchers from canceled flights, a sizable Airbnb credit from a trip that needed to be rescheduled and a handful of hotel free night certificates from credit cards in my wallet. A few of my credit cards also come with annual travel credits that are “use it or lose it” so I used those, too.

Eventually, some of these expiration dates ended up being extended but I still feel better knowing that I didn’t let anything go to waste. Even if my points devalue before I can use them, losing a few percentage points in value isn’t as bad as forfeiting hundreds of dollars in assorted prepaid vouchers.

Earning points has been particularly easy

While I’ve barely touched my balances this year, they’ve also grown at a record pace.

This year has had an exceptional amount of best-ever credit card bonuses. I’m a low spender so I haven’t been able to jump on all of them, but it doesn’t matter. A few carefully selected offers that fit my lifestyle and financial needs have still boosted my miles by an incredible number.

And, like many of you, staying at home instead of traveling means I’ve finally gotten around to some of the home projects on my to-do list. It feels good to have those completed, but the extra expenses mean I earned more miles than I normally would.

Where I ‘failed’: Going to destinations without points hotels

The factors above apply to everyone, more or less, and you might be in the same position. I have to admit, though, I’ve made some choices that dug my hole even deeper. You see, in the past 18 months I’ve also visited a lot of places where points are, well, pointless.

For example, you won’t find chain hotels within national park boundaries at Yellowstone or in small towns like Ouray, Colorado, or El Paredon, Guatemala. In some of those cases, the properties I chose weren’t even listed on credit card booking portals, so the only way to book (and pay) was directly through the hotel.

turtle release el paredon guatemala
Staying in El Paredon meant I could join a sunrise turtle release. (Photo by Becky Pokora/The Points Guy)

Some people are okay with redeeming points and commuting the last 30 or 40 minutes to their final destination. But for me, it’s location, location, location. Traveling somewhere without points hotels happens to me every year, but lately, these types of hotels have made up a disproportionate amount of my travels. I have no regrets, but it won’t be the right trade-off for everybody.

Climbing out of my predicament

So, what am I doing to combat my ever-growing points stash? Here are a few ideas.

I’m letting myself splurge

The view from my suite at the Regent Porto Montenegro. (Photo by Becky Pokora/The Points Guy)

I’ve always been the type of traveler who would rather seek more modest redemptions in order to save more rewards for other, future trips. Sure, there’s always an occasional splurge, but more often than not, I’m staying at midrange hotels and sitting in the economy cabin.

This year, though, I’ve splurged on all sorts of redemptions. I booked a few nights at a five-star Regent hotel in Montenegro simply because I had IHG points. And I flew business class for the extra legroom when I didn’t really need it. The inner cheapskate in me still took advantage of an Iberia sweet spot, but it was business class just the same!

Right now, saving more rewards for the future isn’t a necessary goal of mine, which means I can splurge guilt-free. If you also have a substantial amount of rewards set aside, perhaps it’s time to treat yourself (and your travel companion).

Choosing trips where points make sense

For 2022, I’m specifically focusing on trips where I know my points can help fund my travels. Although I haven’t specifically booked anything yet, the front-runners are Cape Town, South Africa, and Singapore, two places where I know I can rely on my points and miles to fund both the airfare and accommodation side of things.

I wouldn’t mind a week at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

I’m also looking at Kauai for a second trip over the course of the year. While I’ll probably use my Southwest Companion Pass to get there (given how slim pickings lie-flat seats to Hawaii are), I know there are a few great options for burning points at hotels. Collectively, these two trips will cost me a lot more points than I ordinarily redeem in a year, but it seems like the right time to do it.

Temporarily switching to cash-back cards

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

With the exception of meeting minimum spending requirements, I’ve already moved most of my credit card spending to cash-back credit cards.

At this point, I don’t need more miles, so cash makes more sense. Regardless, I’m a traveler at heart and there’s a good chance that the rewards I earn will still go toward paying for trips in their own way. That cash can cover meal expenses, rental cars and all the tours and activities I enjoy.

Old habits die hard, so my favorite “cash-back” cards are those that earn flexible rewards, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Citi® Double Cash Card. If I change my mind later, I’ll still have the option to transfer my points to their travel partners, since I also hold a premium card in these programs.

Other cards, like the new Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, are one-card cash or miles solutions since you can redeem toward travel expenses or transfer to partners. But I haven’t been able to jump on the bandwagon yet. As I said, this year has been full of exceptional deals, and I need to take a breather for a while no matter how good the other offers are.

Related: Hot take: It’s all about cash-back cards now

Bottom line

I never thought I’d be a points hoarder, and I didn’t mean to end up in this position, but life (and yeah, a few of my own decisions) brought me here. Obviously, having a healthy points balance is the best type of problem to have, but it’s still something worth tackling head-on before it gets worse. Now that’s a challenge I’m definitely up for.

Featured photo by Manuel Romano/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

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