Greg and Nick wrote two great posts earlier this week about which credit cards are currently in their wallet and why they have them there. That was followed by an in-depth discussion on the most recent Frequent Miler On The Air digging into the best cards for various spending categories and comparing them to what they have and use. Interestingly enough, the cards in each of their wallets differed significantly and both of them were willing to accept suboptimal value based on their individual situations and spending goals. In essence, even for pros like Greg and Nick, the “best” credit cards vary from person to person and are situational, regardless of the broadly-held opinions of the points and miles community.
This got me thinking more generally about how we earn and burn points and miles for travel and what factors influence our decision-making. Mark over at Miles to Memories wrote a couple of interesting posts this week that (somewhat hilariously) ruffled quite a few feathers. First off, he described why Hyatt Globalist wasn’t worth it for him…and from some of the reactions, you’d have thought he was insulting someone’s mother. Then he posited that Alila Ventana Big Sur was becoming the “next Maldives,” in terms of being a somewhat overhyped “gotta have it” destination whose demand is created by influencers and groupthink.
As you may or may not know, Greg the Frequent Miler LOVES the Ventana, so it took a while to calm him down. But I find it really interesting that The Maldives has become almost a perjorative shorthand in some circles for overpriced, undervalued and IG-driven travel. Is that true? Is there such a thing as an “overrated” destination?
Even more importantly, how do we go about thinking through the best ways to tailor our points and miles adventures to what we truly enjoy as opposed to feeling pressured to visit specific destinations that we see in travel guides and points and miles blogs?
Thinking through it, there’s a few things over the years that I’ve had to learn the hard way – and keep having to relearn – in order to make sure that this game stays fun and rewarding.
1) There’s two ways to look at value: Cost-Per-Point and Enjoyment-Per-Point. It’s not always the same thing.
One of the first questions in my interview with the Frequent Miler team was “what has been your best value point or miles redemption?” I responded by asking, “are we talking about cents-per-point or enjoyment-per-point?”
While I’m not going to put my best CPP redemption on the interwebs (you can ask me in person sometime 😉) and it was insane monetary value, I don’t know that it would even make it into the top 5 of my most enjoyable redemptions. For many of us, it can be extremely easy to get so caught up in chasing the gaudiest CPP redemptions that we lose sight of the biggest gift of points and miles: it allows us to have experiences in the world that might otherwise be out-of-reach…and the “point” is to enjoy it!
For years, my favorite points redemption in the State of Hawai’i was the Westin Hapuna Beach, formerly the best beachfront property in Hawai’i bookable with a Marriott 35K cert (but no longer). Hapuna Beach is actually bookended by two Marriott properties, the other being the excellent (and much more expensive) Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. They are both great value redemptions, but I actually prefer the Westin…although that’s a subject for another time.
I once met a guy who was staying at the Mauna Kea while my wife and I were staying at the Hapuna Beach. We chatted for a bit and he told me “you know, I actually wanted to stay at the Westin, but I couldn’t bear the thought of using my 50K certs on a 35K property.” He was so focused on maximizing two expiring certs that he chose a property he liked less in order to get better value…and enjoyed 1/3 of his yearly vacation less because it. I’ve certainly done the same thing over the years, if not quite so obviously, and it’s something that I try to keep in mind now.
2) Don’t let FOMO kill the joy of earning OR burning.
In a famous-ish speech from the ever-so-kitschy original Dune, Kyle Mclaughlin reminds himself, and us, that “fear is the mind-killer.” For those of us in the points-and-miles community, I’d amend that to “fear of missing out is the mind-killer.” We live, earn and burn in a world of missed opportunities, inconsistently applied elite status benefits, dynamic pricing and hard-to-find redemptions. Things live and die AND there are always more chances.
I’ve met many people over the years staying in a marvelous property in a fantastic destination that are pissed off for a good chunk of their stay because the front desk played games with a suite upgrade. I can get so wrapped up in wringing out every last dollar of category bonuses, trying to score the absolute “best” flight award and getting the exact room I want, that I can miss out on the thrill of victory at the fact that I’m getting thousands of dollars of travel and rewards annually for pennies.
Just because there’s a first class cabin doesn’t mean that business isn’t still a whale of a time.
3) Tourist attractions can be…attractive
I had a lot of punk rock friends in college. For them, a hard requirement of being able to enjoy a band was that only 50 people (ideally less) knew about it. I would have earnestly hilarious conversations with folks who would sadly tell me that one of their favorite bands “sold out” by playing bigger venues and selling more albums. The music hadn’t changed, but once the audience got bigger, it killed the joy of the experience.
For some us, it’s easy to “punk rock” our travel. Before I go further, let me say that overtourism is real. Venice or Amsterdam in the middle of the Summer can be absolutely overwhelming for even the most crusty and crowd-tolerant…let alone local residents. I’m completely behind moving travel to shoulder or off-seasons, staying with local folks and finding more remote and less-visited parts of the world to enjoy as parts of many strategies to lighten the load of our travel footprint.
That said, there’s also a tendency for some of us to avoid the most iconic experiences in the well-trodden corners of the planet simply because they are “touristy.”
Many urban areas have the “big tower:” Paris’ Eiffel, Tokyo’s SkyTree, Auckland’s SkyTower, etc. I know many folks who avoid them like the plague because they are, almost uniformly, over-priced and full of tourists (like me). But they can be magical as well. Some of my fondest memories from travelling to these cities over the years involve the towers: watching Bastille Day fireworks from the Eiffel Tower while sipping sneaked-in beer with my nephew; having dinner in the SkyTower with my wife on our honeymoon in NZ (where we briefly and terrifyingly thought a bungee jumper going past our window was trying to end it all).
One of the richest (and no longer possible) experiences of a first time in Seattle was to make dinner reservations in the Space Needle’s revolving restaurant an hour before sunset and slowly watch the sun dip over the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains as lights of the city came on.
My point is not that everyone has to go up the SkyTree while in Tokyo or even that some popular tourist attractions are not worth it for some people. It’s just that many places in the world are justifiably popular and it would be a shame to never experience them simply because everyone else tries to as well.
4) Understand your style
I think that this is the main point that Mark was trying to make in his article and something that I’ve had to learn the hard way over the years.
When I was younger I couldn’t understand how anyone would choose to spend the money and time to pass away a whole week at a beach resort. Overpriced and boring! Now, I do it at least once a year and look forward to it immensely as a way to rest and recharge. I used to try and pack in 3+ museums in a day in what would invariably be a death march of antiquities, architecture and art. Now, we limit it to one and take a break if we’re there for more than two hours…and I enjoy, remember and appreciate what I see so much more.
There are so many must-see’s, suggested itineraries, hidden gems and perfect award redemptions in the world, and probably none of them appeal to all of us. Some of my closest friends love LA. It’s not my thing, I’m much happier further south in San Diego. I never get tired of Japan. For my wife? Meh. There’s a real freedom in understanding how you like to travel and embracing it without feeling like you “have” to fit any destination, site or redemption in. Again, the “point” is to enjoy this stuff!
So, is the Maldives really overrated?
Ok, so back to what got me thinking about all of this to begin with. Is the Maldives just a beach that takes two days to get to and a small mortgage to afford? Is it a myth created by influencers and social media to make everyone who goes to Florida feel bad about life?
Is it overrated? No. Is it for everyone? No as well…just like any other place in the world.
I absolutely loved our time in the Maldives and plan to go back. I was buzzed by a whale shark, snorkled with manta rays and got to watch sharks circle below our overwater bungalow from a float pool. The sunsets are glorious. And we also immensely enjoyed our time exploring the capital, Malé, a slice of South Asian Manhattan almost unbelievably packed onto a 2 sq km island. It’s electric and filled with kind people. For me, it’s a fascinating and unique place.
Would I take a family there? Probably not. Would I go there if I only had one week of vacation? Probably not. If I wasn’t a fan of water activity and beach vacations, I think it might be a version of hell. Although Greg and Nick had a great time, they weren’t exactly gung-ho about making the effort to return.
The summary of all of this Sunday rambling is to say that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to points and miles. This is true whether we’re talking about the ideal credit card strategies to earn our points and miles or the redemptions that we choose to spend them on. And that’s part of the fun. This is a collaborative, yet very personal game we play and tailoring what’s out there to our own likes and dislikes is part of the challenge…and the reward.