Sunday morning. At my usual spot at Panera bread down the street. It was a great Saturday night with the University of Michigan beating Syracuse and punching the ticket to the NCAA Tournament final on Monday against Louisville. But before I got here I decided to pre authorize a check in my wife’s Bluebird account written to me and then I deposited to our joint checking account using the Bank of America Android app. And then it hit me!
This is really the best of times in earning miles and points. We have Vanilla Reload cards in plenty of CVS drug stores. Yes, sometimes you get the odd cashier or manager who refuses to let you buy them with a miles/points earning credit card. And some people still abuse this by buying too many cards at a time and then some true junkies hide the cards in ever more innovative spots (behind Facebook gift cards, really?). We can then load the Bluebird accounts up to $5k per month and pay our credit card bills with it. Or pay ourselves or get cash from ATMs. Or go to WalMart and do more things there. There are still plenty of other prepaid cards, from Paypal to AMEX prepaid to Target AMEX and a dizzying array of Vanilla type cards on the shelves. We now have regular gift cards that come with a PIN with detailed instructions and pics/arrows! We even have some debit cards still around that work like magic (Sun Trust Delta, my vanilla debit). Mortgage payments, check! Student loan payments, check! Estimated tax payments, check! We can pay the odd vendor who does not accept credit cards with a Bluebird check or have Bluebird send a check directly…the floodgates are open! Amazon’s Bezos strangely still allows us to use Amazon Payments for $1k per month! You can up the spening in a big way by buying and selling stuff if you are into that kind of thing (and can keep track of all of it!). It is not the amazing 5x Office Depot/VR/BB angle but still, my point is, the issue of meeting minimum spend requirements on a new credit card is NO LONGER an issue! If you have the time you can also say that hitting the spend requirements on several cards to earn MQMs (Delta cards), companion tickets (British Airways Visa), elite levels (Hilton Diamond with $40k in Hilton Amex Surpass), several spending threshold amounts in several cards, etc is also NO LONGER an issue! I think the only way to spend money (manufactured or not) and not earn miles/points is to invest in a 401k through your employer! (Anyone?) It is a miles/points earning nirvana. It is how you get Frequent Miler to earn 1 million points in a single month and not sweat about it.
You have started seeing the popularity of this hobby continue to increase. You get events like Frequent Traveler University and Chicago Seminars selling out in record times! Bloggers continue to come out and pretty much recycling the same information between them. From what I know the two main forums of our hobby, Flyertalk and Milepoint, continue to do well. Some true gems/hacks have been discovered in these boards and then given out to the masses by one of the bloggers. Yes blogs kill deals and there is not much we can do about it; it is…reality in 2013.
But, let me turn the tables here, is this good for us? Let me argue that it is NOT! Why? Just way too many miles/points floating out there and balances keep going up and up and up. We have all started seeing the effects lately with the continued and macabre (yes Hilton DisHonors!) devaluations. The fees associated with burning activities also continue to go up (from bag fees, fuel surcharges, change ticket fees, miles redeposit fees, etc) and the main sweet spot awards are slowly being eliminated one by one. And don’t get me started about award booking. With airline loads continuing to go up (mergers will do that!) it is getting harder that you now have several award booking services to help you out with them for a small fee of course! With Delta going revenue based I expect all other airlines to follow along because simply the current model is unsustainable. You can forget the caviar in First Class for around 100k miles soon. One of my pet peeves in this hobby was seeing people mention “I went to the Maldives for free”. No you didn’t. You may have spent a fraction of what others did but it was not free and I argue it cost you more than any other times in previous years. And nobody ever mentions the cost of time to do this hobby right! There is no free lunch.
It is getting to a point that cash back cards & using Priceline/Hotwire and/or other cash rebates sites are looking to be a better deal more and more. For non road warriors, the elite status game is a guaranteed money maker for the airlines and you are a sucker. If you can’t stand coach in a domestic trip maybe you have other issues; blowing money on a mileage run and ignoring your loved ones so you can make Platinum at a cost of several thousand dollars is absurd…been there, done that, you are just full of the Elite Slut Syndrome, please seek help:-)
Ok, what was my point? Way too easy earning by more and more people leads to scary devaluations and total rethink of these loyalty programs. No, I am no Chris Elliott! There is still value in this hobby of course but the game is not as juicy as it used to be. The compensating factor is, again, the easy scoring of miles/points. When the music stops, it stops suddenly (Office Depot anyone?) So, burn while you got em folks! The only constants are more devaluations and more fees!
I now go to my second cup of Hazelnut coffee at Panera (free refills and wifi). I do have four freebies on my Panera loyalty card by the way…yes Virginia, I am a miles/points junkie!
Next stop CVS, hiya!