How I Got Hooked on Points!
By Jon Mohatt
By now I hope you have had a chance to read through my beginner’s guide on how to travel for less. I assume, if you read the guide, that you now have (or already had) an interest in loyalty points and how reward programs can help you and your family take amazing trips on a smaller budget or just stretch your current travel budget that much further. For those that may not be 100% convinced that the methods described can and do provide some wonderful experiences I want to share just a couple of my experiences over the next couple of posts that would have not been possible without the assistance of loyalty points.
This first experience is my favorite and really the one that got me hooked on points. I think it may have also been the one that convinced my wife that I am not crazy and, that with just a little bit of effort, allows us to do things that we always thought were out of reach with our existing travel budget. As I mentioned before, for us, using points allow for some luxury travel that we would not otherwise purchase because we live a debt-free life, within our means, while still preparing for the future (i.e. we save). Almost any travel is possible if one wants to assume a massive amount of debt, but it’s never a good idea to take on debt for non-appreciating assets. Can you tell I’m a fan of Dave Ramsey’s debt-free mantra? My wife and I will not buy travel if it means taking out a loan (i.e. paying with credit card that we can’t pay off when due) or sacrificing other areas of our budget that we have already agreed are a priority in our lives. That is why we love points. They allow us to travel better and more often than we could without them.
Back in 2011 I had known about points for several years as I had been an American Airlines AAdvantage member since 1995 and had been accumulating points with them, but wasn’t really super active with other programs outside of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). I was getting more interested in programs that didn’t tie me into just one airline or hotel and allowed for other brand redemptions. One program that stood out and was getting a lot of compliments was Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (UR) program. I joined the program by applying for and receiving Chase’s Sapphire credit card. By getting the card while they were offering a very attractive reward bonus (50,000 UR points) and placing all my purchases on that credit card I was able to quickly amass about 60,000 UR points, easily enough for multiple travel awards as one of the benefits of the program is that you save 20% if redeemed for travel using the Sapphire UR web site. This meant that those 60,000 points was worth $720 in travel versus the typical 1¢ per point ($600) that many other programs provide. One of the redemption options on the UR site is “Experiences” which has auctions from time to time for various events and activities. I was on the site and noticed an auction was announced for a concert at the Meadowlands stadium. The auction simply stated that it was for an “Ultimate” concert experience by a “Grammy award winning artist”. This got my interest as the date was right after a trip I already had planned to New York for my wife and me. By extending this trip by one day we would be able to attend the concert. I knew that one of our favorite artists, Kenny Chesney, was on tour and on the East coast at that time so after a little research on his tour site I found out that he was scheduled to perform at the Meadowlands on the same date. He was obviously the “Grammy award winning artist”. The auction details stated that the auction was for two tickets to the concert in Chase’s owner’s suite, parking at the stadium and abundant food and drink. I knew this was an auction I had to win.
The bidding began at 25,000 points and there were only a couple of sets of tickets available. If I had not been a member of Ultimate Rewards and had banked my 60,000 points for when opportunities like this came along I wouldn’t even have been able to try for this experience. I have seen owner’s suites go for over $5,000 and it had never been an option for us. Even if one could round up 10-20 people to share the expense there was no guarantee that a suite would be available for such a popular artist and that is still $250-$500 per person for a concert and wouldn’t include the parking, food or drinks. That kind of money is not in our travel budget.
I put in my initial bid for 25,000 points and hoped for the best. With the site not having the rights to use the artist’s name in their promotion I figured it may not get a lot of interest. It was also for one particular area on one date so that narrowed those that would even be available and willing to attend. My wish was granted and I won the auction and did not even have to raise my bid. I was willing to use every point I had as I was getting maximum value for my points in my book. At a conservative estimate of $5000 for the suite shared by roughly 10 people (folks in our suite) that’s $1000 (for a couple) plus another $150 for parking, food and drinks totaling $1150 or (25,000/1,150) 4.6¢. Of course, that is assuming one could even arrange such an event without paying for the entire suite themselves. For us, this was a once in a lifetime event that would have never happened if we had not had the points for the auction. It sealed the deal for me that the effort I was putting into managing and increasing our point totals was worth every minute. It provided for an adventure that my wife and I will never forget. We got to see our favorite performer, along with the other great opening acts from the Zack Brown Band, Billy Currington and Uncle Kracker, while watching from our suite. In total it was seven hours of music and we got to enjoy every minute in luxury! It basically spoiled every future concert for us as I don’t think we will ever have another concert experience like this one. Seeing Kenny perform at Sturgis back in 2008 was pretty awesome, but still a second to this one.
So, as you can see, points really can put things within your reach that you may have thought impossible. One just needs to get in the “Points Game”, stay up to date with current offers and be ready to travel!
Happy brainstorming and safe travels! Be sure to sign up to be notified when future blogs post (see right Sidebar).