The true power of miles and points is not in saving travelers money, but in offering them freedom. On a recent trip, we made a change in plans and decided on a whim to visit the Cayman Islands for practically nothing at all.
Miles and Points Can Feel Restrictive
Airlines never seem to have the exact award we are looking to book. We held on to Business Extra awards for years to try and burn the points on a trip to the far east in business class. The cost (7200 Business Extra points for a saver award) was the same for a 16-hour flight to Hong Kong as a five-hour flight to Dublin, Ireland and it only made sense that we would want to maximize our experience and our value.
The long-haul Hong Kong awards just never opened up in advance for us… for more than three years. It never happened and we moved on, spending them instead on flights to Manchester, England.
It can feel like there is always a reason that you can’t use your miles or points, whether those restrictions are imposed by the airline (availability limitations) or self-imposed (desire to get maximum value). To a certain extent, this is true.
Value and Savings
It sounds ostentatious to say that we went to the Cayman Islands on a whim because most people associate travel with high costs. It can be expensive to fly to the Caribbean, especially in the winter. Generally, it’s expensive to fly either very close to the departure date or months in advance – how does a consumer win?
Some blogs post that they booked an $18,000 trip for $50 and 140,000 miles, that’s a little naughty to me. While it may be technically true that the tickets sell for that much in cash, it is unlikely that the same traveler using miles/points have actually saved $17,950. Rather, they have saved whatever they would have paid to take that trip out of pocket which is likely substantially less – and less attention-grabbing.
Miles and points definitely represent tremendous savings and value – but that’s not their superpower. Strategic buying, cashback credit cards can achieve some similar results.
The ability to pick up and go on a whim without concern for costs is really what makes the collection of miles and points so special. In our case, we could have afforded to pay for a trip to the Cayman Islands when sunshine in Florida wasn’t quite enough, but we wouldn’t have spent the cash on it. When using points, the one area in our live’s for which we are genuine millionaires, our points give us the freedom to live our best lives when we otherwise wouldn’t want to spend the cash.
Miles and points give me the freedom to invite friends and family along on trips at a moment’s notice, to switch dates and times as they suit, or to celebrate leaving a job without spending any money on the trip.
Establishing a value for miles and points based on what you save (as I have traditionally done) is perhaps not enough. Maybe the same way that a Range Rover and a generously equipped Ford Explorer share the same traits, heated leather seats, four-wheel drive, remote start, etc. but there is a value to driving a Range Rover that a Ford doesn’t give you. Having the freedom to go anywhere, any time is far more valuable than getting 2-3% back on your spend.
What do you think? What is the most satisfying way that you have spent your miles and points? How have you exercised the freedom they deliver?