Membership Rewards points aren't worthless, but they are worth less

If you follow the miles and points bloggers who churn out a constant flood of material on signup bonuses, you already know that earlier this week there was an untargeted offer available for the American Express Platinum card which earned 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 in 3 months of card membership.

After the first day or so of unceasing posts about the offer I responded uncharitably on Twitter.

Since the blogosphere is going to keep trying to shove these offers down your throat, let's do a quick recap of why chasing offers like this is unlikely to be a great use of your travel hacking time and money.

Statement credits are worth (much) less than cash

When I wrote a post of this name, reader MJC helpfully suggested in the comments:

"The Amex Platinum 'airline credit' is also as good as cash, given that you can book a Delta ticket without attaching a Skymiles number to it, then pay for Economy Plus after the reservation is made, then cancel the reservation within 24 hours, and Amex Platinum will always refund your Economy Plus fees even though Delta refunds them as well"

Perfectly true — someone could do this over and over again until they'd redeemed their entire $200 airline fee statement credit each calendar year.

But, and I don't want to sound patronizing, are you going to do this? I ask because a lot of people get into travel hacking thinking they're one type of person, only to discover they are, in fact, the type of person who pays $95 annual fees on the Chase Sapphire Preferred year after year out of habit, fear, and/or greed.

Most importantly, the people trying to convince you to sign up for American Express Platinum cards aren't asking you whether you're the type of person who's actually willing to jump through all those hoops. And if they won't, I'm sure as hell going to.

Global Entry statement credits are worth $100 (to almost no one)

If you don't have Global Entry, and were just about to apply and pay for it, then you are fully justified in treating the American Express Platinum $100 Global Entry statement credit at its face value of $100.

But if you already have Global Entry and are planning to use your statement credit on a friend, or family member, or even sell it online, then it would not make sense to value it at $100. After all, you weren't willing to pay someone else's Global Entry fee if you had to pay out of pocket. That's what we call a "revealed" preference for cash over others' participation in Global Entry.

Membership Rewards points are valuable if you redeem them. Will you?

Finally we've come to the crux of the problem: are 100,000 Membership Rewards points worth a lot, or a little?

And my answer is an emphatic: maybe.

I was speaking yesterday to a subscriber who had already spent $50,000 on his American Express Delta Platinum card, and didn't have any good remaining options for earning large numbers of Delta SkyMiles easily (at least until next calendar year). He applied for the 100,000 Membership Rewards point offer because he knows how valuable SkyMiles are for flying from our local airport, and I congratulated him. That's as good as money in the bank.

Likewise, if you are planning a high-value Hilton vacation, being able to transfer 100,000 Membership Rewards points to 150,000 Hilton HHonors points and pay just $450 in fees (less whatever statement credits you're able to wrangle) is an easy one-off source of points.

But if you're signing up because, as one person responded on Twitter, "Singapore?" then you need to take a nice long walk around the block and decide when, exactly, you are planning to go to Singapore. Next month? The next six months? The next 10 years?

This matters because the longer your time horizon is, the more likely you are to be able to accumulate the needed points in better, cheaper ways than with a one-off Platinum signup bonus. A single Chase Ink Plus lets you earn up to 250,000 Singapore miles per year by manufacturing spend at office supply stores. But even more importantly, the Chase Ink Plus and Ultimate Rewards points in general are more valuable than Membership Rewards points, so you're unlikely to need to do an emergency transfer of points to Singapore (or any other program) in order to avoid paying a second (or third, or fourth) annual fee on the Platinum card.

I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed

Longtime readers know that I do not find arguments centered on "personal responsibility" particularly convincing. But there is one kind of responsibility that you are literally the only person who can take: knowing what kind of person you are.

Bloggers I consider irresponsible promote travel hacking as a way to experience the lifestyles of the rich and famous, as if all we can ask for out of life is a glass of champagne at 35,000 feet. If that is, indeed, all you can ask for out of life, then there's a flight to Singapore with your name written all over it.

But if you never felt the slightest longing to see the storied Singapore food courts before this 100,000 Membership Rewards point offer came around, it would be very strange indeed for such a promotion to instill such a longing in you at this late date.

Is that you, or is that the steady drumbeat of bloggers trying to sell you more and more expensive credit cards?