Redeeming rump point balances

If having too many points in a single program is one kind of problem, both because of the increased exposure to devaluations and the fact that the least valuable point is the one that is never redeemed, then having just a few points in a program is a slightly different kind of problem.

The remaining points left in an account, whether "orphaned" there when you moved your earning activity to another program or the "rump" points left after a big redemption, can be difficult to redeem for anything: too few points for a big, valuable redemption and too many points to simply redeem for magazines.

Since I redeem my miles and points as aggressively as possible, I'm often faced with this problem of rump points. I thought it might be useful to go through my balances and see what I can get with my current account balances, without earning any additional points.

Club Carlson: 13,248 points

After my windfall back in January, I rebooked a couple of stays and ended up with a rump balance of just over 13,000 Gold Points. This is enough for a single night at a Category 1 property.

Club Carlson's Category 1 offers very slim pickings. The Park Inn by Radisson Puerto Varas, in Chile, looks adorable, and there are a few properties in Eastern Europe that seem fine (although I'm not sure the Park Inn Danube, Bratislava, will still be Category 1 after they finish their renovations on September 1, 2016).

There are 3 Radisson Blu properties on the list, in Egypt, Turkey, and India.

But since none of those options work for me, I'll likely redeem my remaining Club Carlson points for airline miles. As you'd expect, the transfer ratio is terrible, with 2,000 Gold Points transferring to 200 airline miles with their partners. Still, it's clear that I'm much more likely to redeem 1,200 airline miles than 13,000 Gold Points.

IHG Rewards Club: 55,380 points

"FQF," I imagine you asking, "how can you call 55,000 points a rump balance? That sounds like a ton of points!"

Well, it's a rump balance because IHG is a terrible program. 55,000 points isn't enough for a single night at one of their top-tier properties. If I were skipping around the world living in PointBreaks properties it would be enough for 11 nights at one of those, but I already pay rent on a perfectly nice apartment, so I'm not keen on moving to Browning, MT, for 11 days.

Having said all that, IHG's huge footprint makes it easy to find properties to fill in the little gaps in an itinerary. I currently have a one-night stay booked at the Grand Hyatt New York for $202.27 (as part of my tentative plan to requalify for Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status). Instead, I'll buy 5,000 IHG Rewards Club points for $40 and stay at the InterContinental New York Times Square, getting 0.3 cents per point, which is slightly below the Hotel Hustle median value for IHG Rewards Club points.

American Airlines AAdvantage: 13,917 miles

Despite having had a Citi / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard for several years (since they keep waiving the annual fee), I only recently booked my first reduced mileage award.

This is how reduced mileage awards work: if you're redeeming miles for a one-way or roundtrip itinerary within the contiguous United States, and your origin or destination is on the list of eligible "destinations," you receive a 2,500- or 3,750-mile discount on the miles required in each direction. The discount is applied immediately over the phone, which is the only way to book these awards, and it can't be combined with the new short haul awards going into effect March 22, 2016, although American promises that "New reduced mileage award levels will be introduced for these shorter flights on April 1st."

All of this is just to say that when applying the 3,750-mile discount I'm eligible for, one-way awards to and from eligible cities cost just 8,750 miles. Moreover, since American's co-branded credit cards also offer a 10% mileage rebate on all redemptions (up to 10,000 rebated miles per year), that rebate immediately brings the total cost of such flights down to 7,875 in each direction in economy (19,125 in first class).

One interesting possibility with these awards is to use them for hidden city ticketing. Since every American Airlines itinerary from my home airport requires a connection in Charlotte, Chicago, or Dallas, I could theoretically use a reduced mileage award to fly there and simply exit the airport or continue on to a different destination on a different carrier.

In any case, I'll likely kill two birds with one stone and transfer 12,000 Club Carlson Gold Points to AAdvantage, leaving me just 633 AAdvantage miles short of a roundtrip reduced mileage award redemption (n.b. actually slightly more than that since the 10% discount is applied only after booking, so I'll actually need 1,508 AAdvantage miles to make the second one-way redemption. The proof of this is left as an exercise for the reader).