This travel memory confirms why I chase points and miles — and why you should, too

Oct 24, 2021

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Sometimes a memory comes out of nowhere and transports you to another dimension. That type of time travel happened to me in the middle of a TPG meeting last week.

I was suddenly seven years old again, standing in a motel parking lot. It had to be somewhere on the way to Florida since that was the annual road trip we used to take. That was basically the only travel we did and, in those days, our accommodations were of the Days Inn or Super 8 variety.

In this particular memory, the trunk of our white Ford LTD was popped and I was struggling to reach my suitcase as my dad went to reception to check us in.

My brother, sister and I looked longingly at the Howard Johnson’s across the street. We used to beg our parents to book a room there but they always declined. It was too expensive. That’s where rich people stayed. At least, that’s what I thought back then.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection #80079.

We never did get to stay at the hotel with the orange roof. We never even convinced our parents to take us to eat at a HoJos restaurant since my mom always packed sandwiches, drinks and snacks for our road trip travels. We’d dine in our room or alfresco by the pool when our motel had one.

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Those trips were basic but wonderful and now that my parents are gone, I’d do anything to unwind time and check into a Super 8 with them again. But time keeps ticking and it’s been a very long time since I’ve stayed at a motel.

So, what brought me back to that specific memory? I was in a meeting with a group of TPG editors who were having a spirited discussion. Everyone was talking over each other when I heard a colleague say, “We vacationed in Hawaii every year when I was growing up.”

In an instant, I was back at that motel because while my childhood definitely did not include tropical island getaways, it did include motel stays and long car rides.

At TPG, team members come from very different backgrounds and our travel experiences are just as diverse. We’ve all learned the art of leveraging miles and points to see the world in a first-class fashion, but it’s a relatively new reality for some of us.

Over the past 15 years, points and miles have drastically changed my travel profile. I’ve “turned left” when stepping off the jet bridge and onto an aircraft enough times to feel very grateful. And I’ve stayed in enough five-star hotels to see how they differ from the motels of my childhood.

My first first-class flight was aboard a Cathay Pacific aircraft (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)


6 tips to change your travel profile

Back in my childhood days, a motel was as glamorous as it was going to get for the Rotondo family. How did I flip that switch for me and my family? Here are six things that helped me, and these tips can change your travel profile, too.

Understand the points possibilities

First, do enough research about hotel points, airline miles and bank reward points to understand that there can be real value there. You can learn about these programs and pick the one(s) that suit your travel goals.

To start, sign up for TPG’s daily email. We’ll share the most important stories of the day. Use that email to launch your further studies.

And, don’t miss these beginner’s guides to all things points, miles and credit card rewards:

Short on time? Pick a transferable points program

When you dip your toe in the reward travel pond, you may feel overwhelmed by the seeming complexity of some of these programs. If that puts you off, pick a one-size-fits-most transferable points program.

The most popular transferable points programs include:

In each of those cases, you can earn loyalty currency by using a credit card linked to the program. The points can then be used to either book travel or transfer to partners where you’ll book hotel accommodations or flights.

Leverage credit card bonuses

Of course, banks regularly offer lucrative welcome bonuses to sweeten the pot for you to pick their rewards program over the others. One terrific sign-up bonus can lead to an incredible travel experience that doesn’t include the outlay of a ton of cash.

There are some compelling bonus offers available now — no matter which type of points you’ve decided to collect.

If you want to earn American Express Membership Rewards points: Earn an introductory bonus of 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases in the first six months of holding The Platinum Card® from American Express. Yes, the annual fee is hefty at $695 (see rates and fees), but TPG values 100,000 points at $2,000 and you’ll get a ton of perks in addition to the points. (Read more about points valuations below.)

If you want to earn Capital One Miles: Right now, you can earn an introductory bonus of 75,000 miles with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card after spending $4,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months of account opening. The annual fee is $95.

If you want to earn Citi ThankYou points: The introductory bonus for the Citi Premier® Card is 60,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months of account opening. The annual fee is $95.

If you want to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points: To pick up a 80,000-point Chase Ultimate Rewards welcome bonus, sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Then spend $4,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months of account opening. The annual fee is $95. (If you are a business owner, there is a 100,000-point introductory offer for the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.)

Work in two-player mode

If you’re a household of two or more, craft a plan that allows you to work toward a fun travel goal. If one incredible credit card welcome bonus can get you on your way to free travel, imagine multiplying that bonus by two or three or four. Pooling resources is easy for couples as well as multigenerational families.

Here’s more advice for tackling this hobby in multiplayer mode:

Spend money on experiences

I took a similar small-group yacht adventure in Alaska’s Inside Passage with UnCruise Adventures. (Photo courtesy of the cruise line)

The TPG App tells me my stock of points and miles are worth tens of thousands of dollars. Even so, I earmark cash for vacations as well. Why? I want extraordinary experiences when I travel.

I’ve spent money on things like:

  • a small group tour of Borneo’s rainforest with Dr. Biruté Galdikas who is to the orangutan what Dr. Jane Goodall is to the chimpanzee
  • a Paul Gauguin Cruises voyage around French Polynesia with experts, including Mark Eddowes, an authority in Polynesian anthropology
  • an Alaskan Inside Passage yacht trip with just a dozen other guests and naturalist guides that made sure we saw whales, bears, sea lions, seals and more — up close from a skiff

With the help of the TPG App, I can better leverage the miles and points I have and that often covers my flights and hotel stays and I can layer on other paid experiences on top of that.

If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, do it now!

Use your points for what works for you

When people get started in this hobby, they want to know what a mile or point is worth. And, TPG has guidance on that very subject. Bookmark this page to find out what points and miles are worth. (That page is updated every month based on new data TPG evaluates.)

Some people love nothing more than getting the absolute best value from their points and miles — and that is an undeniable rush. However, I like to use points for what’s important to me in the moment — even if I’m not eeking out every last cent of value. Here’s why mile-and-point valuations don’t always rule my world.

Bottom line

As you learn more about this hobby, you’ll make more savvy decisions about how to spend your loyalty currency. But, if you can execute a dream trip — even if it’s not a terrific value — go for it!

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things can shift on a dime. Don’t put off those experiences that will lead to a lifetime of happy memories. Now is a great time to build your points and miles balances so you’ll be ready to make that trip of a lifetime when the time is right for you.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.

Featured image by Kyle Monk/Getty Images.


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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