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Opinion

Why the Points + Miles Game is Better Off Today

Why the Points + Miles Game is Better Off Today
Ariana Arghandewal

 At times, it seems like everything in this hobby is going downhill. For the six years I’ve been involved in this hobby, I’ve heard countless times that “the game is over.” Early on, I remember an active FT member announcing his retirement from the hobby. Those who have been active in this hobby are quick to make doomsday proclamations and they may have a point. After all, they come from the “golden age” of travel hacking.

Back when you could buy a million dollars worth of coins from the U.S. mint and nobody would bat an eyelash. The days when credit card churning had few rules and manufactured spending was popping up as an answer to a growingly dire environment. But I’m a relative newbie, and the way I see it things are only improving.

For starters, it’s now possible to manufacture spend in larger quantities. Six years ago, I would have never imagine being able to do $100,000+ worth of manufactured spending in a month. It was strictly a Vanilla Reload/Bluebird-centric game. While that was a very lucrative (and hassle-free) way to generate points, it was limited. Nowadays, we’re not restricted to a single prepaid card. In fact, we don’t even need prepaid cards. Shopping Malls allow Visa gift card purchases of up to $10,000 per day. All you have to do is find yourself an ms-friendly money order source and your MS potential is basically limitless.

While all the negative credit card churning rules have affected the ease with which we can earn miles, it has made people more resourceful. Now people look for creative ways to generate more miles and points. This is probably better than having one consistent source anyway, since it eliminates risk and keeps this hobby from becoming mundane. Because we have to remember what it really is: A hobby. Something meant to entertain us in our spare time and make everyday life a little more interesting.

“What about massive airline and hotel devaluations?” Yes, award flights in premium cabins are more expensive today than they were six years ago. But you know what? It’s forced us to explore other ways of scoring premium travel for less. For example, I’m often finding that redeeming Arrival Miles for business class tickets or Hyatt hotel stays works out cheaper than redeeming miles. The Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard was introduced in 2012 and provided a solid alternative for those times when award availability was lacking or simply didn’t make sense.

Before this card was introduced, I remember people agonizing over what to do when they couldn’t redeem miles. Today, there are even more options for people who might need to pay for travel. Speaking of which, there are more discounted premium cabin fares now than there were 5-6 years ago. Back then, when an $1800 business class fare came around, a lot of people still wondered “Can I afford this?” Now that’s not really a question because there are flexible rewards currencies like Arrival Miles that can be redeemed for paid travel at a favorable ratio.

We may not have easy mile-earning schemes anymore and redeeming miles is more costly and difficult than before. But what makes us better off today is that there are so many work-arounds. So many alternatives and ways to deal with these negative changes. We may have lost out on easy points, but this community is as creative and ingenuous as ever. That’s why we’re better off today.

 

Do you agree or disagree with this sentiment? Please share in the comment section.

[Image: Pixabay]

View Comments (13)

13 Comments

  1. texmanufan

    November 11, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Maybe it is for someone who MS like you describe. Sounds like a lot of work and time.

    I’ve been doing the Points + Miles game for over 20 years and don’t agree. It’s seen it’s better days in so many ways. Category spend is the best thing left for those that actually use credit cards for the way they were intended. That has offset somewhat all the devaluations that occur diminishing the value of points earned.

  2. CPMaverick

    November 11, 2017 at 6:55 am

    The point of the article seems to be that because it is more difficult now, we have become more resourceful. That’s all well and good, but it hardly makes the article title true.

    It’s like saying you are better off being poor because you never knew you could survive on so little.

  3. EqualOpp

    November 12, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    question: what does the act of buying so many GCs and money orders do to your own brain? I have MS’ed but my total over a few years sound like less than what you do in a month. well..only you can answer that question. Sure…you get the fancy travel in the end for your family, but at what point do does the process of acquiring the travel outweigh the benefits of the travel?

  4. srdshelly

    November 12, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    I’m afraid this just amounts to arguing that if you are a major MSer, there are ways to partially offset the deterioration we’ve seen in recent years. (And I wouldn’t bet on a long shelf life for those options either.) Opportunities to earn miles both by credit card enrollments and flying have been reduced, redemption costs have been increased, routing rules for award tickets worsened, and seat availability reduced. Not evenly across all suppliers, but the general trend has clearly been downhill. The fact that cash air prices have improved in some cases does not mean the miles and points hobby is better, just that it isn’t as necessary.

  5. sdsearch

    November 12, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    You wrote: “All you have to do is find yourself an ms-friendly money order source”. I’m curious, did you write this BEFORE OR AFTER the very recent USPS change in POs where they they no longer accept gift cards? Now, for someone who lives nowhere near a Walmart where that still works (because it apparently doesn’t work any of them any more either), are there really many “MS friendly money order sources” left? They seem to be dropping like flies.

    Your article concentrated on buying the gift cards, which seems the easier of the two steps to me (now that USPS is gone for money orders), and one sentence about the now-harder step of turning those gift cards back into money you can use to pay back the credit card you did the gift card purchase with.

  6. craz

    November 15, 2017 at 1:23 am

    Totally disagree with you, this game has seen its better days abd i highly doubt we will see the likes of them again. You tote the Arrival CC I guess you have no idea that comes 1/1/18 they are changing to a simple 1 1/2 cents value per pt, which means unless you give tons to charity (which is going from 3x to 2x) there are better cards out there

    Even Walmart isnt what it used to be in many they will card you and wont even accept a GC that has your name on it unless its a Bank Debit Card. ask for more then 1 MO you just raised a red flag. Yea in some its biz as was but little by little thats a changin. Some supermkts in my area has signs showing the GCs with a large bold X thru it

    That said yes its possible for a person to still have a honey pot but every day is a day closer to it being shut down. Even if its not shut the value one gets nowadays is no where what we used to get. I know a number of folks holding large amounts of Vanillas that they cant unload now that the USPS went hard coded.

    Ive gotten some really great DL tkts on the cheap last year,but over all they have the worst program I wasa just in Vietnam and withdrew some currency to pay for a few things, I became an instant Millionaire but it was worth only a few hundred USD. And with most airlines and hotel programs now having placed a value of each mile/point they simply wont go nearly as far as they once did

    The game is not lifeless yet but its pretty darn closewith fewer and fewer moves still worthwhile

  7. eng3

    November 15, 2017 at 10:08 am

    “All you have to do is find yourself an ms-friendly money order source”. This has always been the most difficult part for me and seems to be getting harder. The rest is easy.

  8. pointchaser

    November 15, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    @CPMaverick No, my point is that there are more opportunities to earn points than before. And it was only the “safe” and “easy” deals ending that lead to the discovery of scalable MS techniques. Even in terms of credit cards, there are far more options now than there were 5 years ago, esp in terms of flexible rewards points.

    @EqualOpp “at what point does the process of acquiring the travel outweigh the benefits of the travel?” Probably at the point where your accounts get shut down and you lose any ability to earn points. I haven’t hit that point yet, so the benefits travel far outweighs the process. “What does [this] do to your brain” – I’m at a point where all of this is automatic. I have my routine set and it doesn’t take that much time or effort for me to liquidate $10k worth of gc’s on one MS run.

    @srdshelly my post focused largely on MS but that’s not all that has improved. There are more credit cards on the market with improved categories than five years ago. Plus, thanks to sites like Airfare Watchdog and The Flight Deal, most of us can get in on mistake fares more easily than in the past. Redemption costs have increased and that sucks. But there are more cheap premium cabin fares (esp to Asia) and redeeming flexible rewards for these purchases often works out cheaper than redeeming miles.

    @sdsearch it was written before. But even so, the post office was never an MS goldmine. Months before the shut-down they were restricting purchases and giving customers a hard time on large purchases. I would never have gone there to buy $10k in mo’s – it’s not that kind of place. Even if you can’t access a WM, merchant gift card churning (which you can liquidate from home) is still an option.

    @craz WM is YMMV. Mine doesn’t care what card I pay with and there are plenty of stores I’ve been to that don’t care either.

    @eng3 It takes effort – in my case, months of building trust with the cashiers. Now they know me and what I do. Even the Asset Protection Team knows and ok’s my purchases as long as I fill out the paperwork. It took time, but now I reap the rewards.

  9. mudman2k

    November 16, 2017 at 5:12 am

    Good morning. I have to kind of agree with you. I think since it is taking more effort to liquidate now, people are more turned off to the spend. However, If you do have good liquidation locations, things are definitely easier. Have you ran into an issue with filling out the paperwork at WM? I would love to have a conversation. Please send me a DM. Thanks in advance.

  10. HokiE36

    November 16, 2017 at 5:56 am

    I don’t travel that often but I’m in this game for 6 years too. I feel that either the author is over confident, or simply trying to draw reading traffic using agitating title. Why? I think author didn’t even fully comprehend

    “For starters, it’s now possible to manufacture spend in larger quantities”.
    It was never “strictly a Vanilla Reload/Bluebird-centric game”. Before days of AMEX prepaid cards, even it’s only for MS purposes, you have Amazon Payment, USPS MO, Target AMEX cash withdrawal, PayPal Cash reload, Visa Buxx, etc. Even if for *bird solutions, you have Serve (Softcard version), Bluebird and Redbird to burn $2000 a month, plus you can use manage family and friends’ various bird cards. So, it’s not that game back at that time is “bird-centric”, but actually versatile. It might be you just didn’t know, or got too addicted/focused on those birds. “All you have to do is find yourself an ms-friendly money order source and your MS potential is basically limitless.” Basically, it was the same or better back then, and for more than half of the methods back then, you don’t need to drive around sometimes 30 minutes to get in a 30-min line to do it.

    I used to redeem some Delta airlines, now unless I keep eyes on mileage requirement and availability, I can’t redeem a good/great value ticket, or simply the redemption rate is just awful. How is that “better off today”?

    IF YOU WANTED TO SAY, WE ARE MORE RESOURCEFUL TODAY, YOU USE THAT TITLE, DON’T SAY THE HOBBY IS EASIER AND BETTER OFF TODAY. MISLEADING

  11. nsx

    nsx

    November 16, 2017 at 7:13 am

    Every year is an average year in loyalty programs: Worse than the year before but better than the following year.

  12. javabytes

    November 16, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Not at all. Programs have gotten more restrictive on both the earn and burn sides. People are getting more creative to work around this. Interesting opportunities are fewer and far between than in the past. This is a hobby spiraling to its death.

  13. sexykitten7

    November 16, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    100k a month?!? Ariana is that you? Oh it is? lol

    MS has always been a zero sum game. Which is fine (I don’t mind newbies). As a WM person I am pretty unsympathetic to the USPSers but I will be gutted when (not if) WM shuts down. It’s a dog eat dog world out there! Which is part of the appeal of this hobby I suppose.

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