Welcome back to Good Points, a Q&A about credit card points, the people who collect them, and where they take us. This week’s guest is Victor, a frequent traveler from Austin, Texas. You can see all the places he’s traveled by following him on Instagram.
If you know anyone who just won’t shut up about their points strategy, have them send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Good Points” for a chance to be featured. We want to talk to everyone from professional travelers who spend their lives on the road, to people who save all their points on one trip per year, so don’t be shy!
What first got you hooked on collecting points?
While I’ve been an AAdvantage member since the late 90's, I didn’t seriously collect miles until the Chase British Airways 100K offer came around originally. This was back when 100,000 miles could get you a business class trip to Asia or South America with unlimited stopovers, including remote destinations like Easter Island. The more I read, the more I realized how much those miles were worth.
While Avios have since devalued, I will never forget the trip to Easter Island with a friend, and my first time in long-haul business class. I was hooked!
What are you trying to accomplish by collecting points? Pay for all of your small trips? Splurge on vacations that you wouldn’t otherwise take? Somewhere in between?
It’s a combination of things. It’s a convenient way to explore places I otherwise wouldn’t consider. Miles & points allow for some aspirational experiences as well, such as flying on Etihad’s Apartments. Taking a shower in the air will never get old! On the flip side, miles also help make traveling more affordable. For example, flying domestically in Japan for only 4,500 Avios instead of paying for a $200 bullet train ticket.
Armed with this knowledge I’m also able to lower the barrier for friends to join. I’m not too good to travel on Frontier and Spirit (it’s not that bad!).. it all just depends on the purpose of each trip!
What credit cards do you currently hold, and why’d you get them?
These days I have about eight, but only a few handful are in the wallet. I focus on mainly Chase and American Express family of cards, because of their versatility in transferring to partners.
For Chase, I have their Sapphire Reserve (love that 3x broad dining and travel bonus), combined with the Freedom Unlimited (1.5% on all other purchases), all earning Ultimate Rewards points, which I frequently use for Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic (for redemption on ANA), and British Airways (non-stops on oneworld).
For American Express, I’ve had the Platinum Card in the past, but I’m currently rocking the new Amex Gold in rose gold. Membership Rewards points have been great for a variety of partners with sweet spots.
What point redemption are you most proud of?
I’d have to say the 90,000 point Etihad Apartments redemption from JFK-AUH back in the old AA chart. I’ve also had the pleasure to enjoy Qantas and Cathay first class a handful of times, also courtesy of pre-devalulation AA miles.
In the past I’ve also redeemed points for my parents to experience Cathay Pacific First class. They’ve always only ever flown coach,. Needless to say, they were hooked. Now we talk miles and points as a family almost every time we meet.
What point redemption are you least proud of?
Shamefully, I’ve used miles to redeem for flights returning just 1 cent per point to save on cash ... which in hindsight I could have made much better use of. But that said, the trips were worth it in my mind:
Just a few months ago I threw away an evening $60 EasyJet flight from Berlin to Amsterdam that I had painstakingly chosne to save some money... only to do something impulsive after speaking to some friends in Amsterdam the night before I was supposed to fly. I redeemed points at $.01 per mile for a $565 KLM flight in order to attend a store’s anniversary party. Arriving four hours earlier just to celebrate together: priceless.
In 2011, I was on a multi-week business trip in Tucson. To be honest, it’s not one of my favorite cities, especially in some parts of the year. So I rang a buddy out in LA last minute and booked a ticket at 2am to fly out that very morning. 32 hours of fun catching up with an old college friend was well worth the points. Especially ripping up and down some mountain roads in his Honda S2000 with the top down.
Do you chase status at a specific airline or hotel chain, or do you just shop around for the best deals, locations, and flights?
I used to chase status, being a former AA Executive Platinum. Back when it was lucrative to do so, with multipliers and bonuses, I’ve done mileage running literally just to get a bowl of ramen before turning around and flying home, for a few weekends in a row.
However, with all the customer-unfriendly changes in the last few years - and me being primarily a 70,000 point-per-year leisure traveler - it just didn’t make sense throwing money at it. Ultimately, with a combination of premium class rewards redemptions and lounge access through credit cards - it hasn’t been horrible.
What’s the first card you recommend to people who are interested in getting into points, and why?
Probably the best, first all-around card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It has a low annual fee, and the points are easy to use.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d known before you got into points collecting?
Don’t hoard points. Use them when you can - because they will only be devalued. Enjoy the life experiences that travel affords you!
How do you keep track of things like points, bonus categories, free nights, and annual fee dates?
I have a large spreadsheet that details my flights for the last few years, and mileage balances. I’m a bit old-school in that way; I know AwardWallet and other software exists, but I find comfort manually updating these values.
You mentioned you’ve showered in the sky, which is on my personal travel bucket list. How was that?
Surprisingly, five minutes of water goes a lot longer than you think. You step out and come amazingly refreshed. The perfect cure for dry sinus and that plane funk! It’s also a nice break between getting champagne-drunk, haha.
Let’s finish off with a few rapid fire questions.
I give you enough points to take three flights anywhere in the world in economy, or one flight anywhere in the world in first class. What do you choose?
Ooh tough one. I’d probably do first class, because it’d make the flight aspect part of the memorable experience. There’s such a big jump from business to first class, it’s still a novelty for me.
Top three items on your travel bucket list?
Patagonia, Antarctica, and the Nürburgring (Germany). I’ve been very fortunate to hit up many of my previous bucket list items!
Favorite city you’ve ever visited?
Not sure I have just one, but one of my favorite cities is Mexico City. Great balance of amazing food, cheap prices, and friendly people. Also practicing Spanish helps a lot.
I’m quite at home at Hong Kong’s airports. Cathay’s lounges are hard to beat. With the rapid transportation into the city, it’s hard to beat.
One you get stuck in overnight :)
Favorite hotel you’ve ever stayed in?
Airplane drink of choice?
Champagne if a nice one is offered, but you can’t go wrong with a nice whiskey or Hendricks & tonic.
Three items you can’t travel without?
Unlocked smartphone with a great camera (#teampixel), my fee-free credit and ATM card, and a comfortable pair of shoes!
Can you sleep on a plane?
Fortunately yes, a few hours at a time.
Window seat or aisle seat?
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