Despite my revelation on Friday that we’re getting an Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of travel-based rewards. This goes for both airline and hotel rewards programs. There are several reasons for this…
First and foremost, it’s often difficult to redeem your rewards even if you’ve saved up a ton of points or miles. In fact, most programs have blackout dates during which you’re not allowed to book flights or rooms.
Beyond this, hotels and airlines both commonly have very restrictive capacity controls, meaning that you have to book very early (often six months or more in advance) in order to find availability.
Free isn’t free
Another problem is that your “free” rewards often aren’t free. While most hotel rewards can be redeemed without charge, it’s common for airlines to charge redemption fees. Moreover, complex itineraries often require a phone call or two, and calling an airline for booking help almost always costs money.
And don’t forget about checked bagged fees… Sure, the ticket might be free (after booking fees), but you’ll pay as much as $50 roundtrip for a single checked bag. Free checked bags is a big part of the reason we’re getting the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.
Reward point (or mile) deflation
We’re big fans of Hampton Inn for short stays and Embassy Suites for longer stays. Unfortunately, Hilton recently re-worked their HHonors Rewards Program and dramatically reduced the value of their points.
More specifically, we used to be able to easily find rooms for 7,500-10,000 points, they’ve reclassified the vast majority of their properties such that it’s rare to find a room for less than 25k points.
While most airlines have held steady at 25k miles for a free flight, they’ve deflated their points by forcing you to buy your way around a number of restrictions in order to use your points. For example, you can often get around the aforementioned blackout dates and/or seat limitations for 50k miles.
Why bother with travel rewards?
Given all of these limitations, why bother with travel rewards? In our case, we don’t go out of our way to chase them, though we do sign up for the programs where appropriate. We have nothing to lose and might end up snagging some free rooms and/or flights along the way.
In practice, this means that we prefer cash back credit cards over travel credit cards (the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card notwithstanding), but we certainly won’t turn down points or miles in connection with our travels.