Living with credit, Rewards, Travel

How I overcame my habit of hoarding points and saved $1,000 on a trip

John Egan

Being self-employed, I’m always mindful of reining in business expenses, so I juggled my personal credit cards and my new business credit card to cover a trip to San Francisco for a business conference.

In the process, I had to overcome some hoarding tendencies when it comes to my credit card rewards.

Here’s how I did it:
Earlier this month, I decided to sign up for a conference for professionals in my line of business – what we call “content marketing.” Basically, that’s business-speak for creation of the stories and blog posts like the one you’re reading at this very moment.

I put the cost of the conference, $159.49, on my new business credit card.

I thought I’d look into paying for the San Francisco trip – at least the airfare and lodging – with miles I’ve earned from my United MileagePlus Club credit card from Chase and points I’ve accumulated with my American Express Platinum card.

But I was oddly tentative about spending the miles and points I’d been saving up – nearly 234,000 miles for the MileagePlus card and almost 80,000 points for the AmEx card.

Why the hesitation? Because I’ve had this wrongheaded notion that I should squirrel away my miles and points for an overseas vacation that most certainly would be pricier than a quick trek to San Francisco.

Then a well-reasoned question popped into my head: What should I wait for a rainy day, so to speak, to capitalize on my Chase miles and AmEx points?

After all, those miles and points aren’t doing me any good just sitting there, staring back at me – and silently admonishing me for essentially ignoring them every time I log into those credit card accounts.

Come to find out, I’m not alone at all in my reluctance to use credit card rewards. A 2017 survey by our colleagues at Bankrate.com found 38 percent of people regularly redeem credit card rewards, yet 31 percent have never redeemed a single reward mile or point.

In the end, the desire to save money beat the appeal of clinging to my credit card miles and points, so I tapped into my bucket of benefits and booked both a round-trip airline ticket and a two-night hotel stay.

For the airfare, I spent 37,500 miles to fly nonstop between Austin, Texas, and San Francisco on United. Since I have a MileagePlus card, I enjoyed a wider selection of flight choices than I would have had without the card. In the end, I avoided coughing up about $430 for the economy-class ticket.

As for the lodging, I exhausted every AmEx point in my account – 79,597 points in all – and opted for a two-night stay at a highly rated B&B in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood instead of going with traditional hotel accommodations. If I’d paid for the B&B out of pocket, it would have cost $557, including taxes.

All told, the miles and points kept me from charging nearly $1,000 in travel expenses on my new business credit card – a card that makes me feel like a grown-up.

The only expenses related to the trip that aren’t covered now are meals, rides and other incidentals. I’m not sure how I’m going to handle them, but I will be able to use the monthly $15 in Uber credits from my American Express Platinum card to get around San Francisco.

What I learned:
For some miles-and-points aficionados, cashing in a collective stockpile of nearly 118,000 miles and points to gain nearly $1,000 worth of rewards might seem less than lucrative. However, I’d rather redeem at least some of the miles and points than let them keep piling up.

When you’re self-employed and striving to be thrifty, heaps of miles and points don’t do you any good unless you use them. And you don’t even have to work for yourself to realize that miles and points are just a jumble of numbers until you extract value from them.

See related: Using personal credit card for work expenses: 8 tips, 6 habits of successful card reward experts, Our best rewards cards, Our best business credit cards

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