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What’s in Dia’s Wallet: 6 travel hacking tips I learned the hard way

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It has been said that one of the ways to become good at something is to fail at it enough times to learn from your mistakes. Here are six lessons I learned about miles and points that I’m sharing now in hopes of preventing you from having to learn them the hard way like I did.

Reward travel is not free

Social media posts like the one in which an influencer poses in a lie-flat plane seat sipping champagne while bragging that the flight was “free” are sure to make my blood boil. Travel with miles and points It will always have a cost associated with it, no matter how you redeem points.

Award tickets can have taxes and fees of up to $1,000 per ticket. You’ll have to pay for transportation to and from the airport, and unless you plan to eat every meal at a hotel or airport lounge, you’re on the hook for meals. Oh, and unless your idea of ​​a fun trip involves doing literally nothing, you’ll pay for the activities (although you can actually Use points in some activities also).

And that doesn’t even begin to count the hundreds or even more than a thousand dollars that miles and points collectors pay in annual fees for credit cards.

A regular travel card wallet can be made up of premium travel Airport lounge access cardAverage level passport To earn points in a flexible program, one at the intermediate level Airline card For one free checked bag and one for the intermediate level Hotel card To get the benefits of the situation. These four cards alone can cost you nearly a thousand dollars a year in annual fees. I’ll admit to paying multiples of that amount to collect my own cards.

When I first started, I was thinking travel rewards were free until a friend asked me a very good question: “What would you have earned if you had used a cash back card for the same spending?”

She had a point. Even if you pay all your expenses through earned rewards and don’t pay any annual fees, there is still an opportunity cost – the rewards you could have earned by Cashback card. You give up your cash rewards when you redeem them for travel. I’m not saying that reward travel isn’t worth it, because it can help you see places you’ve been dreaming of.

But to say that traveling with miles and points is completely “free” is just a lie.

Points are not original

You don’t own your points, the loyalty program does. This means that a program can reduce the value of its points without telling you. There was even a hearing recently With the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the US Department of Transportation on this topic.

Hoarding your points is generally a bad idea because there is no guarantee of their future value. It’s all about earning and burning.

It has been hit more than once by currency devaluation, most recently by Delta. I have about 250,000 Delta miles and I’m having a hard time spending them, even with the TAKEOFF15 benefit I have with Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card.

Just this month, an economy flight to Madrid cost 85,000 SkyMiles after discount. The exact same flight is priced at 15,000 miles using Flying Blue.

Advice is helpful, but FOMO is dangerous

Once you get a taste of how miles and points can transform your travel, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of travel rewards content on social media. Once you do that, it will also be easy to see the dozens of business class redemptions mentioned above and assume that there is something wrong with you if you are traveling by coach. nothing. The back of the plane arrives at the same time as the front.

You’ll also see influencers bragging about staying in rooms worth thousands of dollars a night, enjoying marble bathrooms the size of your apartment and million-thread-count bedsheets. There’s a hotel – the Park Hyatt Vendôme in Paris – that received so much media coverage for a while that I started calling its ostentatious consumption “vindoming.”

I’m not saying I don’t redeem miles for business class, but I can say I don’t do it every time. And I’m not saying I don’t like five-star hotels, but if it’s a trip where I’m just sleeping in the hotel room, it’s not worth spending extra points that I can use on another trip.

I deleted Instagram for a long time precisely because I found myself making decisions that felt great — about someone else. I only returned to social media when I had a solid understanding of what made sense for me. Don’t let the fear of missing out make you burn points in a way that’s not worth it all your life. Travel the way that suits you and your goals.

It can be difficult for families to use hotel points abroad

I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve met who carefully collect hotel points but are disappointed when they realize that once you leave the US, it’s pretty much impossible to use them if you need more than two people in a room (unless you’re willing to get two rooms ).

There’s a reason for that: Occupancy limits and fire codes are more strictly enforced abroad than in the U.S., and I’ve seen even 1,000-plus square-foot suites that technically couldn’t fit a family of four.

I never recommend trying to get around these rules. I know people who have had success doing this, but I also know people who have been kicked out of hotels for trying to cram more people into a hotel room.

So, on our larger trips, I usually only use hotel points for airport transit hotels between stops. In fact, on a six-week family trip to South America, I used hotel points for two nights: one for the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel in Santiago, Chile and one for the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The good news is that many hotel chains, including Marriott and Hyatt, have branched out into vacation rentals. The cents per point value isn’t ideal, but it’s not terrible, and this may be the only solution for foreign trips with kids using hotel points.

In general, if you know you’ll be using vacation rentals, you’ll be better off accumulating flexible points like Capital One Miles that you can redeem for travel or even get cash back instead.

Capital One Venture XRewards Credit Card

Upfront bonus

Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual fee $395
Apr buy 19.99%-29.99% variable
Foreign transaction fees no one
What’s in Dia’s Wallet: 6 travel hacking tips I learned the hard wayWhat’s in Dia’s Wallet: 6 travel hacking tips I learned the hard way

Airport lounges are crowded and many of them are not worth visiting

As someone who has had an airport lounge membership via credit card for over 20 years, I’ve seen lounge access become a victim of its own success. It’s not at all uncommon to arrive at the lounge to find a line outside and a hostess taking rolls as if you were at IHOP on a Sunday morning.

And I visited some lounges that made me wish I was at IHOP. At least at IHOP, your food is generally fresh and delicious, which isn’t guaranteed in many lounges. Plates of Ritz crackers accompanied by Day Glow cheese product and a giant can of penne alla vodka have been front and center at more than one lounge buffet I’ve seen in the past year.

Now there are some lounges that I will make time for-Capital One lounges comes to mind – but generally I will approach departure time and head straight to the gate.

Monthly and annual credit card credits are supposed to go to waste

(Looking at you, Amex.)

I’m currently wearing a Fitbit Versa 2. It’s nice, but an Apple Watch would have made more sense for me.

But since I had it The Platinum Business Card® from American Express The card I was about to cancel, I needed to spend the $200 credit on Dell purchases that cardholders get every six months. And I honestly have so many Dell chargers, adapters, and headphones collected over the years that I’ve run out of things I can use the credit on. For six years in a row, my husband has gotten popcorn from Saks Fifth Avenue for Christmas thanks to me personally The Platinum Card® from American Expresswhich I have since canceled (IFKYK).

I live and breathe credit cards, so I have a spreadsheet to track my credit card balances, but unless I order both Uber Eats and Grubhub every last day of the month, I won’t be able to get them all back in time.

Dirty little secret: The credits are set up this way on purpose. The huge amount of unused interest is called “fraction” and is incorporated into the profit margin. for this reason Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card The card’s hotel balance is divided in semi-annual increments and is only good at resorts, which make up less than 5% of Hilton’s portfolio. And don’t even get me started on the credits that are broken down quarterly or monthly.

Ready meals

I’ve been able to take some great trips with my family using miles and points. We saw fireworks explode over the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day, saw Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade up close, and made so many memories that I’m forever grateful for.

This travel did not come without a cost in terms of money and time. But the trip was worth it. So, whether you’re ready for that trip of a lifetime or just want a weekend getaway, miles and points can help you get there, even if you make a few mistakes along the way.

you welcome in What’s in Zia’s wallet? In this monthly column, I’ll share what’s in my portfolio, but also what’s on my mind. After more than a decade of covering credit cards, traveling an average of 100 nights a year, and earning and spending more than a million points each year to do so, I’ve learned a few things. If you have questions or ideas for future topics, please contact me at Creditcards@fortune.com. Zia Adams, Senior Editor


Fortune Recommends™ has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Fortune Recommends™ and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Please note that card details are accurate as of the date of publication, but are subject to change at any time at the discretion of the issuer. Please contact your card issuer to verify rates, fees and benefits before applying.

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