Redeeming those fuckin’ points, part 1

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My friends and family, the ones who looked at me all screwy when I told them about my card hobby, now want to know what to do with all the points they’ve got. And, they’ve got a point (ouch): figuring out how to redeem them smartly is harder than figuring out how to get them.

Let’s review the different kinds of points in the world, in order of simplest to most complicated, shall we?

Cash back points: bank points that are redeemable for cash back, usually as a statement credit. Example: Citi Double Cash.

Travel back points: like cash back, but only usable for flights. These are pointless (ouch). Example: Capital One Venture Rewards. (These are are commonly called fixed-value points, but I prefer “travel back”. It’s my blog, and I can make up whatever crap I want to.)

Loyalty program points: airline or hotel program points that can be used for award tickets or award stays when those are available, and which are earned either by flying/staying, or by spending on a card. Often the only way way to fly business class without spending a zillion points or dollars. Example: United MileagePlus, or any other frequent flyer program.

Transferrable points: bank points that can be transferred to different loyalty programs. Usually also usable as travel back points, or as cash back points, to varying degrees of rewardingness. There are really only four kinds to speak of: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Shittybank FuckYou ThankYou, and SPG. (The latter, despite being loyalty program points, can be transferred to 35 airlines, so they fall into this category; and same for Marriott, since those can be easily transferred to SPG.)

As I say over and over and over, transferrable points are the best fucking points because they give you so much flexibility. Loyalty points can be valuable, but they are limited to when there’s award availability in the one program they’re in, and they earn slowly on credit cards. Travel back points are just dumb when you can get cash back instead, often at a better rate.

(There are some ways to do really well on cash back/travel back lately, like with the Bank of America Premium Rewards card, which earns 3.5% on travel+dining and 2.6% everywhere else when you hold $100,000 with them, or the Alliant Visa Signature card, which gets 2.5% all the time. So cash back might be the better choice for some. But not me, because I want business class, and I don’t want to pay for it, and cash back ain’t gonna get it done as well as points when a ticket is trés cher. Ya feel me?)

So, I’m going to assume you have some transferrable points, likely at Chase or Amex, and want to know what the hell to do with them. And I’m going to leave you hanging until my next post.

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