Why Should Anyone Bother to Collect Miles or Points?

Years ago before frequent flier and hotel programs became as publicized as they are now (or had as many rules for that matter), only business travelers participated. My dad traveled a lot when I was young and collected miles with all of their airlines he flew and points with the few hotel programs that had them. My parents had the foresight to sign me up for frequent flier accounts whenever I traveled. They knew that someday (miles and points didn’t expire back then), I would probably have enough miles to get a free ticket.

Since I didn’t travel by air very often or with one airline (my parents always chose whatever was cheapest) when I was growing up it took until after I had finished college before I ever had enough miles to redeem for a ticket. While I was in college, I flew United home for the holidays several times. I also flew from Colorado to Thailand right after I graduated in 2004, which finally put me over the 25,000 mile threshold required to redeem for travel on a domestic ticket. After that trip to Thailand, it clicked that if I saved miles and got a MileagePlus credit card, I would someday have enough miles to fly to Australia (somewhere new and exotic for me) for a honeymoon when I got married instead of going to Hawaii (somewhere I had already been) or the Caribbean the way I imagined that most Americans did. So I completed the requirements for the sign-up bonus and watched my balance grow as I earned miles for everyday spending on things I was already previously buying.

While I was busy saving miles on United for my dream vacation with a girl who hadn’t materialized yet, my mileage balance with my oldest frequent flier account (American Airlines) creeped along as I realized you could earn miles on partners. After a few trips within my new home state of Alaska, I had 24,000. The problem was that I was 1,000 miles short. After some searching on the internet, I realized that I could buy the remaining miles needed and that balance with a partner the same way I had earned. So in March 2006, I flew Alaska Airlines on an American Airlines ticket from Anchorage to Denver for a friend’s wedding.

A few months later, I accrued enough miles flying Northwest Airlines and its partners to fly to another friend’s wedding in Texas – on a ticket that didn’t include a single leg on Northwest. A few months after that, I cashed in on some of the United miles I had been hoarding to fly to China to propose to the girl of my dreams. Then, I used Continental miles to fly to the Caribbean for our honeymoon a few months later. I still haven’t been to Australia but I guess I have been a few other exciting places since then.

The point of all this is that small mileage and point balances can someday yield valuable redemptions that produce memorable life experiences. Long before I was vacationing in the Maldives or Fiji in incredible suites, I had started small by sharing exciting moments with friends at their weddings. I have a friend who is a published author who likes to remind people that the “go big or go home” idea is ridiculous when you’re trying to start something new. In reality, small dreams turn into bigger dreams. My parents had the foresight to realize that a few trips over time could save me a few hundred bucks on a trip. I later realized that earning miles and points from a few trips combined with credit card spending could save me thousands. And now here I am, 32 years old having saved literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel over the past few years.

No travel dream is too small. Maybe you just want a night in a 5 star hotel that you could drive to a few hours away. Maybe you’d like to fly to see a friend or relative you haven’t seen in years. Or maybe you have lofty aspirations for a vacation in an exotic destination that you can’t afford right now. Miles and points could certainly help turn that dream into reality.

Where do you dream of traveling? I’d like to help you get there.