Category Archives: Tracking

3 Years of Collecting Points Could be Worth $77k

I recently tallied up all the cash back, deferred interest, purchase reimbursements, airfare, and hotel stays that we’ve received from 3 years’ worth of points-earning credit cards.  The results shocked everyone who’ve seen them, including myself!  Jump ahead to my data or read some background information on how I derived these numbers…

Quantifying the value of points and miles is difficult.  Many bloggers regularly publish lists wherein they try to estimate the value of a variety of points and miles.  These are useful for comparing the relative worth of different points and miles, but sometimes I question the absolute values they come up with.  They base their estimations off theoretical redemption values, which is tricky to do accurately.

Every points/miles redemption comes with opportunity costs.  Every points transfer comes with risks.  The cash price of award seats and hotel stays fluctuate in the time between booking and flying/staying.  For this reason I decided to do my analysis empirically instead of theoretically.  The data set I used was Nicoleen’s and my history of points and miles redemptions from the first three years (roughly) after getting the sign-up bonus on our first points-earning credit card.

How I measured value
As I discussed in this post, there is no perfect method of measuring the value of redeemed points and miles.  For certain types of redemptions (most notably business and first class airline tickets) one could make the argument that the amount of money I saved by using miles to book the ticket has to be less than the cash price of the ticket.  After all, had I paid cash I wouldn’t have paid the exorbitant price of the business or first class ticket; I would have bought an economy class ticket.  On the other hand, I did receive the benefits and experience of flying in the premium cabin, so looking at it this way is an argument for counting the cash value of the actual experience I received.

Furthermore, without using value tactics to book the flights and/or lodging, there are certainly several trips I wouldn’t have taken at all.  In those cases, you could argue my savings was $0.00.  I saved nothing on the trip because I wasn’t going to pay for it in the first place.  But then you could just as easily argue that since the whole trip was a “bonus,” it was actually more valuable than the cash price because of the excitement of going on a trip I couldn’t normally afford.

In my own case, I redeemed some miles for extremely high mile:dollar ratios, such as the $9821 one-way, first class tickets to Europe last summer.  I also had some fairly wimpy award redemptions, like when I used a free night certificate on a $198 hotel stay.  The same certificate could have been used at properties with $1000+/night price tags.  The efficiency level at which I have spent my points and miles is varied, but all in all I think I have a pretty reasonable redemption profile.

One last note before I present the data:  Although I tallied up all our redemptions and come up with an overall average value per point, this figure is really just for fun.  The real purpose of this post is to silence the skeptics and show that messing around with credit cards, points, and miles IS WORTH IT!  As I tell my friends over and over, the effort they see me put into this game does not represent the effort they would need to exert to get the same results.  I have the additional tasks of writing this blog, helping others with points redemptions, reading enough other blogs and forums to fake like I’m an expert, and developing tracking tools and spreadsheets specifically so that you can skip the “is it worth it” assessment.  I’ve done the math for you and it’s worth it!  Read on for proof…

The Data

Here’s the summary table.  Explanations are below.

Totals is pretty self explanatory.
Cash Totals includes all cash or cash equivalent in the forms of bonuses, reimbursements, category cash back/reimbursements, etc.
Airfare Totals is self explanatory.
Hotel/Lodging Totals is self explanatory. I used the room rate for the premium room if the stay included an upgrade to that room type as a result of status we only had by having active credit card accounts.
Aggregate Point Totals includes only redemptions paid for with points. For example, free night certificates were not included because no points or miles were used.

I added our current point balances to the total points we already spent. This number represents the total points we earned in about a 3 year period. I then applied the average aggregate value per point to this number to come up with the $77,178.80. This is the value of points redemptions we could theoretically receive with our three years of playing the credit card game!

I also totaled the estimated savings we got by shifting our revolving balances to cards with interest free promotional periods. I use the interest rate we were paying on the single card out entire balance was on when we started getting new cards as the bench mark. We’ve saved an estimated $1,774.94 in interest in 3 years of opening new cards!

3 year chart

Stay tuned to a future blog post where I will delve deeper into which cards and programs earned us the most value, how much our average credit card application was worth, what this has done to our credit scores, and more!

Are you too disorganized for this stuff? NO!

“I’m too disorganized to do this stuff.”  No you are not!
Yes, this is my actual workspace.  Do I look organized to you?
Friends and relatives often tell me they wouldn’t be able to manage having multiple credit cards at once because they are simply not an organized person. As I pointed out in this post, the majority of my tracking and recording isn’t necessary to get the full benefit of the tactics presented on this site. That being said, there are a few vital things you need to keep track of:

If you’re playing the credit card game there are two absolutely required things to keep on top of: on-time payments and bonus spends. Making a late payment is devastating to your success with the credit card game.  Likewise, if you miscalculate something fail to make the required bonus spend, your card has just lost its most valuable benefit: the sign-up bonus. In other tactics presented on this site mistakes tend to be less costly, but there are a few you’ll want to avoid, such as missing the post-marked deadline for mail-in rebates.

Aside from avoiding these few vital errors, your level of organization and detailed tracking is up to you. Some people track every cent spent on vacations; some only redeem airline miles when they can max out their value; some coordinate app parties with their spouse to maximize card benefit duration. Others, like my parents, are very hands off. They get the few cards I recommend to them, set up automatic payments, and never look back (until they want to redeem their points!) My personal preference is to focus on recording and tracking progress, and to avoid long-term strategizing. Your level of organization is, to a large extent, a matter of personal preference.

If you still think you are too disorganized or forgetful to “get in the game” you might be interested to know that I myself am by nature extremely disorganized, prone to being late, forgetful of appointments, and generally irresponsible.  This has come back to bite me on several occasions, but I try to learn from my mistakes. The only reason I manage to keep it all together most of the time is because I force myself to be organized . . . if only in this one aspect of my life. The way I see it, making a few entries in a spreadsheet or calendar (painful as it may be) is potentially worth hundreds or thousands of dollars in value. In my opinion, that’s a trade-off that is worth fighting against my nature for a few minutes a day.

I may eventually post a blank version of the spreadsheet I use to keep track of credit card payments, miles expiration, annual fee dates, etc. Until then, feel free to send me any tips or examples of your record keeping.

Read my response to the similar nay-sayers’ comment, “Value tactics are not worth the time when you consider all your tracking and recording,” in this post.

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Tracking is the Key (and why you shouldn’t do it)

spreadsheetOk, I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.  The title should have read, “…and why you don’t have to do it.”  You don’t have to because I already did it for you!  Let me explain…

Sometimes a friend or relative will hesitate using the tactics on this site.  They will say something like, “Sure, you get a bunch of free money, stuff, and travel- but look at all the time you spend on it!  It’s just not worth it.  And besides, I’m not organized enough to make it work.”  They are referring to the time I spend reading other blogs, studying fine print, entering data into spreadsheets, analyzing my spending, etc.  It’s true I spend more time than I probably should staring at giant spreadsheets.  But there are several good reasons why I obsessively record and track everything related to the value tactics I employ:

  1. I run this website.  Before I publish a recommendation to the whole world, I need hard data that proves it really works.
  2. I was originally a doubter.  When I was introduced to the credit card game I was skeptical it would all work; when I started the gas savings game I wanted to find out if it was worth it (it was); etc.
  3. It’s a hobby.  Keeping track of all this stuff is very enjoyable to me.  Yeah, I know, it’s a pretty OCD hobby, but I love it!

Life is busyYou don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  I record, track, and summarize the results of my own experiences with these tactics so you don’t have to.  Use the data presented on this site to make your own determination if something is worth doing or not.  It will save you time, energy, and headaches.  But of course, if you want to make giant spreadsheets and stare at them late into the night, make graphs and print out reports, go right ahead!  You may find it’s fun to see exactly how much value you can create by using the tactics outlined on

Check my personal results tracker on the sidebar, read my weekly updates, read about individual tactics, scour the web for others’ results, and make your own decision whether a given tactic is worth it or not.

I’ll respond to the second part of the nay-sayers’ comment, “I’m not organized enough to make it work,” in another post.  Don’t miss any new posts: Follow me on Twitter, like me on Facebook, or subscribe to the RSS feedThanks for reading!