Saving Miles: The Argument Against Earn & Burn

Let me start by saying that everyone has a “right” strategy for them.  Certainly, my strategy is right for me even though some of my fellow travel bloggers and enthusiasts might stone me to death for my position (chuckle)!

The conventional wisdom in the world of miles and points is that you shouldn’t hoard your points because the airlines and hotels are likely to devalue your points without notice.  And, there are literally dozens (maybe hundreds) of instances that back up this theory.  Even when a program does give you notice, you’re still suffering a loss to the value of your points that you can’t control.

Conversely, when you invest actual dollars (a more secure form of currency than miles, if you will) you can and should expect some rate of return.  You could lose money at certain times, and many do.  But over the long haul, investing wisely or even conservatively should allow you to keep up with inflation.

Inflation and devaluation, though slightly different by definition, generally end up with the same result.  Less currency for you to spend on what you want.  So, if you can’t earn interest on your points, why wouldn’t you want to use them all up and go get more, guaranteeing the highest possible redemption value?  Here’s just a few reasons to consider a slightly different strategy, keeping more miles than you might burn over the next 12 months or so.

That Dream Trip You Never Thought You Could Take.  There are a number of reasons why you never took that trip to (fill in the blank here with Australia, Tahiti, Hawaii, Italy, Japan or any other destination you’ve always had on your bucket list).  Maybe you could never find enough availability.  Or, maybe your job won’t let you take enough vacation to do the trip you way you want to do it.  Maybe you’ve got the miles to do the trip but don’t have enough money to cover your other expenses on the trip.  All of these conditions can change at any time.  If they do and you don’t have enough miles to plan that trip now that all the other stars aligned, how disappointing would that be?

Calling In Reinforcements.  I write a lot about family so I’ll use a family example here.  You’re family is expecting a newborn and your parents (or your spouse’s parents or both) don’t live nearby to help out.  Fear not!  Use those miles to fly them back and forth so they can help out periodically before and after birth.

Break A Leg!  You never want to plan for something like this, but what if you had kids and weren’t mobile enough to take care of them?  Grandparents to the rescue!

Someone You Love Gets Ill.  This happened with my Aunt Toni a few years ago.  It was a pretty devastating time for our entire extended family.  Her passing ultimately played out over many weeks and many trips for me to spend time with her and my family.  My miles also helped pay for hotel rooms in a pinch, last-minute airline tickets (which can be very expensive) for me, my wife and a host of others.

It’s bad enough to deal with the grief of losing someone you love.  Imagine not being able to be there when you want to be there because you can’t afford it.  

What’s the right amount of points to hold onto?  A great question.  I like to hold enough for a couple trips for my family of 4 to someplace other than the US.  Too many?  Too few?  Hard to say for your specific situation.  I’m able to earn a bunch of points using a variety of different programs out there, but probably not as much as some people.

Planning can be your best friend.  Always make sure you have enough “dry powder” for situations like the ones above.

What’s your strategy for earning and burning points?  How many do you like to keep in reserve?


About the Author

My goal in life is to fill my family’s passports with stamps, creating buckets of memories along the way. You’ll find me writing about realistic ways for normal people to travel the world, whether you’re on a budget or enjoy luxury. I also enjoy taking us on the occasional detour to explore the inner workings of the travel industry.

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  1. Great post. I have been thinking about this a lot as I fit into the “That Dream Trip You Never Thought You Could Take” category, and are awaiting the arrival of our first kid in a few months!

    1. Tony, congrats on the impending birth! I was a bit scared about having kids, thought maybe they would crimp my travel. And, they have. But, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed showing my kids the world, and will continue to do so. Let me know what I can do to help you show your kids the world.

      I can remember sneaking away for one last “kid-less” trip to Banff with my wife. There was Calgary, Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Lake Louise, and some dog sledding. A truly great experience.

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