Back in September, Matt at Saverocity wrote this post about the potential problems of a travel hacker getting so "locked in" to one or two loyalty programs that they're unable to take advantage of other, potentially more lucrative programs sitting right under their nose.
Conveniently, I was name-checked in the post, so I guess I'm entitled to respond.
Matt thinks our limiting factor is time and attention; I think it's value
Here's the marker Matt laid down, challenging us slackers to rise above the hobgoblins of our little minds:
"I don’t think anyone would have the gumption to do this. But what if you had to drop all your existing programs for 6 months. The world wouldn’t end, and if you were dedicated, you’d be forced to learn a lot about other things outside of your knowledge base. Humans are notoriously good at adapting and evolving when forced to do so, but if you give us the choice...we’d rather not."
Today, I can manufacture up to $120,000 per cardmember year on a US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card and earn 2 Flexpoints per dollar (at gas stations or grocery stores) or 3 Flexpoints per dollar (in charitable spending), worth up to $4,800 or $7,200 in paid airfare.
I have unlimited time and attention (this is my job), but what I don't have is the willingness to give up concrete, quantifiable value in favor of spending months diving deep into alternative rewards programs on a speculative basis.
Having a routine is fantastic
Much of my monthly manufactured spend proceeds according to a familiar routine. I know which merchants will sell me which products in which quantities, and I buy them with the cards that give me the most value, starting with bonused spending categories and working my way down.
Far from limiting my frame of reference, I find a consistent routine, developed based on the actual credit cards and loyalty programs that I use to pay for my actual travel, gives me more mental bandwidth to dedicate to studying new techniques and calculating how I can integrate them into my travel hacking practice.
Having a routine is (can be) dangerous
What Matt gets exactly right is that if you focus on a single method of manufactured spend, or on credit cards issued by a single bank, or on a single method of liquidation, then you're making yourself vulnerable to local, regional, or national policy changes.
If you travel hack recreationally, that may not be the end of the world; a lot of people who were manufacturing huge volumes before Vanilla Reload Network cards became harder to buy stopped completely once they became increasingly restricted, and never thought about the game again.
No deal lasts forever
At the time of writing, I understand that Target stores are not allowing Prepaid REDcards to be loaded with debit cards. Is this the end?
Honestly, probably not.
But if it is, did you convert all your Serve and Bluebird cards to Prepaid REDcards in anticipation of the deal lasting forever? Why? Serve cards can still be loaded at Family Dollar stores using any PIN-enabled debit card. Bluebird cards can still be loaded at Walmart with US Bank-issued MasterCard and Metabank-issued Visa cards sold at Staples.
The most lucrative deal, the biggest secret you're keeping, even from your fellow travel hackers, won't last forever. When it ends, you can either have a range of unrelated deals to fall back on, or you can find yourself scrambling to learn about other techniques to meet your ongoing travel needs.
There are only 6 programs I earn miles and points in with any intensity:
- US Bank Flexperks
- Hilton HHonors
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Delta Skymiles
- Barclaycard Arrival+ miles
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (for crediting paid flights operated by American and Delta)
On the one hand, Matt is right to point out that any constellation of miles and points programs that are earned to the exclusion of other programs raises risks: the risk of devaluation, the risk of increased attention to accounts, the risk of available techniques changing or drying up.
On the other hand, a simplified routine based on the actual value of the points you're earning and, even more importantly, the points you're redeeming, may give you the cognitive freedom you need to stay on top of new and developing techniques.