The biggest change around here (Next to Robert’s arrival of course) is that my travel needs and wants have changed an awful lot from the last time I checked in with readers. My needs are part of the bias I have and the lens I use to view the world of points, miles and travel. Your needs should similarly focus your reading, collecting, spending and the system you create for your own best practices.
Learning a little about my needs and wants will help you to align with what I say or skip things that just don’t apply to you. I think it is important that writers are clear about their inherent bias, especially when time and money are involved. I always try to be as transparent about the two as possible on Milenomics.
Anyway, back to that change in my life. the biggest change for me is that I’m a family traveler now. Over the past 2.5 years my daughter has flown about 45,000 miles:
That’s meant that my wife and I have slowed down our travel quite a bit, but it also means that our trips are MUCH more important. The boss coeficient, a term introduced way back at the start of Milenomics should now really be called the boss baby coefficient, at least for me. That’s not to say that flying with an infant/toddler has be hard. We’ve been fortunate actually with a child who loves to fly, and loves airplanes and everything about them. But flying with a kid/kids means there’s really not a predictable time to relax and enjoy your flying.
My Needs vs. Wants
A quick recap; Needs are must haves. Wants are things you’d like. My needs can be someone else’s wants, and vice-versa. I long ago said that some people don’t care about flying coach, they can suck it up and handle even the longest flights. In fact the MAJORITY of people on a plane fly coach, and do so even on long and ultra-long haul flights. That said, I’m a relatively small guy, so for me even a tight coach seat isn’t terrible, as long as I get up and walk around. I want to fly business on longer haul flights (9hr+), but I don’t need to. For someone who’s 6’5″ (195cm), that could be reversed, they don’t just want to, they need to fly business on longer haul flights.
Right now my biggest needs are concerns about canceling trips if a cold comes on, nap times, flight times (sleep time really), and layover lengths. I’ve always wanted zero layovers, but now I think that want has really turned into a need. 3-4 hours on the ground in an airport with nothing much for a little one to do can really suck all the energy from me, especially if that’s coming off of an early morning flight. I’ll outline this more when I go into some flight booking posts in the next week or two; but I need day time flights, direct if at all possible, and with as little ground time. I also need those flights to be flexible in case I need to cancel them.
Time is Priceless
This one hasn’t changed, but it has become much more important to me, and so by extension I want to stress it more for all of you as well. Time is the ultimate limited resource. My Daughter recently started telling me “It’s hard to wait.” To which I have no response other than “It is hard to wait.”
Teaching this to a 3 year old makes me realize how important it is to stress it here. Why wait for something if you don’t have to? We are often presented opportunities to buy time, and doing so MIGHT make sense. Without a firm handle on what you value your time at however, you wont’ know when it makes sense to do so.
I’ve joked that I wished there was a CC that pays out time; but in some ways there are. Does a CC sign-up bonus not give you a head start on funding a trip? Or let you spend more time together via direct flights?
The Game Has Changed
Like any game, over time there have been rule changes, new players added and old players lost. The game of flying with points and miles is in a constant state of flux. I think I nailed where we’re at pretty well over a year ago when I claimed that “Miles are Dead!” While they are in fact pretty dead in almost all cases, I think it is important to list some places where they’re still very useful, and I’ll continue to do so here from time to time.
The biggest change has been that putting a true value on miles has gotten easier than ever. It used to be we’d rely on an “expert” to put his/her valuation on miles. I think that the entire process has become much clearer, and the value much less opaque. Miles are really “worth” what someone will pay you for them, and that information is nearly public knowledge at this point. In almost all cases they’re not worth nearly what you *think* they’re worth. So then the decision becomes do you keep them until they’re worth what you think they are? or do you sell them now and pocket a known amount?
This is not dissimilar to the question almost every brokerage will ask you when you open an account. They’re looking to gauge your risk tolerance, and so they ask something like this:
- “If your holdings went down 50% in one day, what would you do?”
- A. Sell all of it
- B. Buy More of it
- C. Do Nothing.
The answer you pick is supposed to determine if you’re Risk Averse (A), Risk Tolerant (B) or somewhere in between (C). So consider the same question for miles/points:
- If your preferred airline devalued their award chart by 50% tomorrow what would you do?
- A. Spend all your miles and hold almost none/decrease earning.
- B. Earn more of those specific miles
- C. No change, keep what you have and make no changes.
Now the answer to the above is not likely as clear cut as if you were holding a stock. For starters, stocks can recover; miles are almost never revalued, a word that sounds so silly because it almost never happens. BUT you might find a better use for them in the future, increasing their value relative to you, even as their intrinsic value continues to decline. In that way a buy/hold strategy *could* work for you after a devaluation.
Also the *most* stable time for a mileage is actually right after a devaluation. Because airlines hold all the chips, they could do what i like to call “no knock” devaluations. The longer amount of time between devaluations the less stable the award chart actually is, long term.
What to Hold and Why?
What you should hold and what I should hold are almost certainly not the same. I’m flying with a baby, you might be flying alone, or on a honeymoon. I live and fly out of LAX almost exclusively, if you live somewhere else and call another airport your home you’ll probably want something that aligns with that airport. I’m heavy on Southwest flights because I’m in a WN heavy market.
Part of why I am excited that Robert is on board here at Milenomics is that he represents an alternative viewpoint, but also an alternate coast. He lives far enough away that he’ll bring an east coast bias to a site that was pretty exclusively west coast biased. (I did give LAX the #2 spot in this post almost purely because I live here).
I’ve long advocated that you should be reading local blogs, and for good reason. So much of burning miles is location dependent. Case in point: why earn southwest points (or a CP) if your nearest airport they service is far away? If you read national blogs you’ll hear that the CP is universally a great ‘deal’ (FREE FLIGHTS!). I’ve still yet to earn the pass myself–the prospect of doing so just doesn’t jive with the amount of travel I’m doing and the number of points I’d be locking up into Southwest, remember for me frequent flyer miles are flexible-flyer miles.
As for me, I have low 6 figures locked into some foreign (Asian carriers) from cancelled flights (yuck). I’m holding semi-significant AS, UR and MR, and…that’s about it. I long ago switched to cashback, as my balances and ability to manufacture miles outstripped my need for those miles. I was fortunate in being able to get rid of a good chunk of AA miles flying TN to CDG, but I still hold too many AA miles–they’re just near impossible to use for me. I also have a small kitty of SPG points which I use from time to time.
I’m just too bearish on any specific mileage currency right now; and as I outlined in my 2018 crystal ball post, there’s just too many great cheap flights that knock the value of miles down below the value of cash.
If I become bullish on any one currency I’ll be sure to make it known here, and if you’re bullish on anything specific leave a comment as to why that is.
– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.