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Hey Big Spender, Redeem Those Travel-Rewards Points Now!

For many years, my number-one recommendation to mileage-earners has remained the same: Redeem your miles sooner rather than later. Hoarding miles, whether it’s in anticipation of the “trip of a lifetime” or through laziness, is a sucker’s bet.

The history of travel-loyalty programs is one of constant devaluation. A mile earned today is worth less than a mile earned a year ago. And a mile earned a year from now will be worth less than a mile earned today. If we were talking about the value of a company’s stock, the prudent investor, knowing that his investment would be worth less in the future, would sell immediately. The same logic applies to loyalty-program members and their miles. Cash ’em in now, because they’ll be worth less in the future.

And yet…

The results of a poll conducted on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs found that while 58 percent of the respondents agreed “that using their credit or debit card to earn travel rewards makes financial sense,” just 15 percent had used their credit-card points to pay for a trip. That amounts to a lot of loyalty-program members hoarding a lot of points.

Other survey findings:

  • Although more than half the respondents cited a low annual percentage rate or annual fee as the most important considerations when choosing a credit card, only 43 percent knew the rates or fees associated with their cards.
  • 12 percent opened a credit-card account specifically to earn miles or points.
  • 6 percent opted for a more expensive flight or hotel room in order to earn loyalty points.
  • 6 percent took a trip to maintain or elevate their elite status.

As to which credit cards are best suited to an individual consumer’s needs, the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission’s recommendation is as follows:

Before applying for a credit card for travel rewards, determine what is most important to you. If flexibility is your goal, seek cards which allow users to transfer points between companies, such as hotels and airlines, and/or between family members. In that same vein, cards that offer cash back give you great flexibility to use the cash however you want. If you frequently travel internationally, cards that waive foreign transaction fees, which are often as high as three percent, could be helpful for you.

In other words, your mileage may vary.

Reader Reality Check

What’s in your wallet? Why?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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