It's still January, and that means the blogger's code entitles me to write a 2014 retrospective on the miles and points I earned and redeemed in 2014. Last year I wrote an in-depth 2013 end-of-year accounting that included detailed information about all the fees I incurred manufacturing spend. My manufactured spending has sprawled a bit too much to make that practical this year, but I'll still give the total figure for everything I classified as "fees and charges" in my Mint account in 2014.
Here are my best estimates and calculations of all the miles and points I earned and redeemed in 2014:
There are a few obvious discrepancies in this chart.
- My Barclaycard Arrival+ miles don't quite square up, I assume because the 10% rebate is screwing with my calculations in some way; I may be double-counting some miles incorrectly, for example. I'm only 10,000 miles off, though, which is actually a pretty small margin of error, all things considered..
- The other discrepancies are mostly related to points transfers; for example I currently have (many) more Hyatt points than I earned since I transferred some points from Ultimate Rewards that I didn't ultimately redeem.
Regarding the fees I incurred in 2014, I should note this includes things like my monthly $3 Mango prepaid card fee and $12 Suntrust checking account fee. In other words, they aren't all directly connected to manufactured spending.
Why do I travel hack?
You don't typically read about me redeeming my miles for first class flights or my hotel points for 5-star resorts. That's not because I have any objection to comfort (and I have a lot fewer objections after my 11-hour flight from Rome in economy!), rather it's because I'm traveling more or less constantly, and want to stretch my miles as far as possible.
I love being able to take a trip to Portland just to see Star Trek in the Park, to Boston to see my best friend perform in a standup showcase, or to Lexington for a long weekend of pony racing and breweries with friends, paying a fraction of retail by redeeming miles or points I've acquired cheaply.
I redeemed a bit over 240,000 Skymiles, for example, in 2014, and I redeemed them exclusively on domestic roundtrips. Instead of 2 roundtrips in Business Elite, I took a bunch of vacations to visit friends and family all over the country.
I don't think that decision is "superior" in any way to the Business Elite alternative, but it's the strategy that works for me, for now.
Thoughts on 2015
At the beginning of 2014 I was still somewhat attached to the circus of chasing high signup bonuses. Today, I'm focused on cards that provide valuable recurring benefits and those that are worth manufacturing spend on. I'd rather have 5,000 miles I made a deliberate calculation to earn, knowing I'll redeem them, than 50,000 "opportunistic" miles I have no idea what to do with.
For example, today I have over 60,000 miles in what will become the combined American Airlines AAdvantage program, and no plans or really even interest in redeeming them, a result of last year's January application cycle.
With that in mind, here are some of the cards I plan on picking up at some point in 2015:
- Citi Double Cash. Negative 2% interest rate on a 15-month loan? Yes please!
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express. I'm tired of asking my (working stiff) brother to book my Starwood reservations for me.
- Chase IHG Rewards Club Select MasterCard. I'll use the signup bonus (and 20,000 current points) to turn my 2 "Into the Nights" award nights into a longer vacation.
- US Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa. I already have the small business version of this card, which has a lower annual fee of $60, but I'm interested in finding out whether a second card account, linked to a second Club Carlson account, will let me redeem more than one consecutive "last night free." Even if that isn't possible, I value the 40,000 annual anniversary points at substantially more than the $75 annual fee, and will happily keep the card until that benefit is ended (or Club Carlson undergoes a massive devaluation!).
Besides those, I plan on applying for and taking advantage of the high promotional cash back earning rates that continue to be offered by a few regional and national banks.
Because cash is the one thing I'm always willing to acquire opportunistically!