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5 Rewards Currencies You SHOULD Be Earning Speculatively

One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear in this hobby is “don’t earn points and miles speculatively.” What does that mean? It means you shouldn’t collect points and miles without a goal in mind. Rewards programs can (and will) devalue their currencies without so much as a notice. Sometimes they do have the decency to give advance notice to enable members to redeem points at lower rates. When that happens, people with lots of miles and no travel plans may not have enough time to redeem (or earn) them before the devaluation. Well I’m here to tell you that there are in fact rewards currencies you SHOULD be earning speculatively. Here’s my list and justification:

Economy class airplane seats

1. Alaska Miles

Alaska MileagePlan miles are some of the most valuable rewards currencies out there. Despite the fact that Alaska isn’t part of any major airline alliance, their partnerships with some of the best airlines in the world gives them a huge advantage. Not only that, but Alaska has one of the most reasonable award charts out there, consistently offering low redemption rates on premium long-haul flights. While their redemption rates on award flights to the Middle East are outrageously high, they still offer some terrific deals on other premium products.Wanna fly Cathay Pacific business class to Hong Kong? American Airlines now charges 70,000 miles for this award. Alaska only requires 50,000 miles and you get a free stopover on one-way awards. From premium international awards to domestic flights, you can always find a use for Alaska Miles. Thus, it absolutely makes sense to earn them speculatively.

Alaska’s Emirates Devaluation

If you’re wondering “Why would you collect Alaska miles after that massive Emirates devaluation last year?” Notice I didn’t say “Buy Alaska miles speculatively.” At the time, some bloggers with points.com affiliate relationships were pushing readers to buy Alaska miles for premium redemptions like Emirates first class. So when Alaska decided to change its Emirates premium redemption rates overnight, people were livid. A lot of them had spent thousands of dollars on these points and now they couldn’t redeem them for the purpose they’d purchased them. 

It wasn’t cool of Alaska to change their redemption rates overnight, without notice. However, the value of Alaska miles did not decrease just because Emirates redemption rates went up.  There still continue to be incredible deals on premium award redemptions to various international destinations as well as stateside. So unless Alaska overhauls their entire award chart overnight without notice (which is unlikely), I don’t see why you shouldn’t continue earning Alaska miles without an actual travel goal in mind.

2. Ultimate Rewards

Chase Ultimate Rewards is another great rewards program worth investing in. Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for statement credits, travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, or transferred to tons of great airline and hotel rewards programs:

  • World of Hyatt
  • Marriott Rewards 
  • Ritz Carlton Rewards
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus

Ultimate Rewards are some of the safest rewards currencies to invest. You can always find a use for them and they are unlikely to devalue at a moment’s notice. After all, it’s highly unlikely for a bank rewards programs to devalue all at once, without notice. 

3. SPG points

You’re probably thinking it’s risky to earn Starwood points speculatively, with the Marriott merger in looming. That’s precisely the reason you should earn Starwood points speculatively. Marriott is unlikely to anger loyal members by devaluing their award chart overnight. Don’t get me wrong – they probably will devalue elite benefits and require higher rates for award redemptions. It’s just highly unlikely they’ll do it without advance notice, since that is a really horrible way to start off a new rewards program.

Marriott has been very careful to merge benefits of both programs and allow generous transfer rates. That is precisely why you should be earning SPG points speculatively: You can either redeem them for Starwood awards at a reasonable rate or transfer them 1:3 to Marriott Rewards. There are incredible deals to be had this way, so go ahead and earn SPG points even if you don’t have a specific use in mind.

4. Southwest Rapid Rewards Points

Let me put my psychic hat on for a second and read your mind. I bet you’re thinking, “Huh?” Southwest Rapid Rewards points may seem like an odd choice here. After all, Southwest did devalue their rewards program three times in three years. They also don’t really fly internationally (with the exception of Caribbean and Mexico), and they have a revenue-based award redemption model. So why collect Southwest points? For starters, their generally low fares mean award redemptions are even lower than most standard reward programs. 

But more importantly, earning Southwest points from most resources can help you earn the Southwest Companion Pass. Regardless of whether you fly using points or cash, the Southwest Companion Pass allows you to designate a companion who then gets to fly with you almost free of charge. That alone is reason enough to keep earning Southwest points via credit card spending, dining rewards and shopping portals.

5. Barclay Arrival Miles

Arrival Miles from the Barclay Arrival Plus card are totally worth earning speculatively. Not only do you earn 2 miles per $1 spent (the equivalent of 2% travel cash), but the points post immediately after the transaction does. So why earn these miles speculatively if they post right away and you have 120 days after a travel purchase to redeem miles for it? Because Barclay is unlikely to devalue the earnings rate or redemption rate anytime soon. So why not be prepared in case of a $1500 business class fare to Europe? Low risk and high reward make earning Arrival Miles speculatively worth doing.

You’ll notice Membership Rewards points and a few other flexible rewards currencies missing from this list. They’re just not as useful and worth investing in, in my opinion. That being said, I’d still like to hear from you: Which rewards currencies do you earn speculatively, without a specific redemption in mind? 

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Ariana Arghandewal

17 Comments

  1. You are going to break so many hearts by not even mentioning Membership rewards program

  2. I see that you mentioned them but nothing much. I guess you are not a big Citi fan

  3. It’s very hard to get “outsized” rewards using Southwest Airlines. They have some very odd Airport locations for connections. They also don’t fly lot of places. They don’t allow assigned sits..
    I am not a big fan of Southwest due to the above reasons..
    But why you left out the MR and TY points?

  4. Why would someone earn barclay arrival miles instead of citi double cash. $100 min redemption vs $25 and must be travel vs cash for anything. I know you get the 5% back but it really isn’t worth it compared to citi if you are manufacturing the points.

    • At one point I was doing so much ms with that card that even the 5% was adding up. Does the cash from the Citi card apply instantly? Because Arrival miles are credited pretty much as soon as the transaction posts.

      • Citi Double Cash isn’t instant, it shows up 1 day aft statement close, can be redeemed as statement credit, or deposited to a Citi checking, or by getting a paper check mailed.

        It is cash nevertheless, hence king to Barclay’s princeling points. But, if you do Ariana-level MS then the instant thing makes a difference, with the extra % cashback or without but with extra steps to redeem as cash-equivalent.

  5. I pretty much agree with your choices. I LOVE Alaska Air miles. But it seems that BoA is cutting down on people applying for the Alaska Air card over and over. I got 3 cards last year and used the 90,000 points to get two r/t tickets to Buenos Aires for only 40K each, where AA was charging 60K on the same flight. Plus you can cancel with no penalty up to 60 days before the flight.

    Nothing beats Chase UR. There are just so many ways to redeem them.

    I like SPG points, but they’re so hard to earn. Especially with Amex limiting the bonus to once per lifetime.

    I liked the Barclay Arrival at the time I had the card, but I’ve since canceled. I recently signed up for the Capital One Venture. It’s much easier to get 40K new points than to MS on the Arrival.

    I lost interest in Amex MR points. I liked their transfers to British Airways, but now instead of getting a bonus they decreased the transfer rate to less than 1. I’ve never found any other use for MR points.

  6. Love Southwest, having the CP for last 4 years. Wish they had more International flights from PHL or EWR. I also like Hilton because the points are super easy to accumulate and I’ve gotten great value over the last few years w/ Diamond status. One program that nobody ever mentions is Wyndham. My Diamond status gives me suite upgrades, cash & points is terrific, booking condos w/ points is awesome, and MS w/ my 2 point card offers the most value of any hotel card. You can also status match from Wyndham to TR & vice versa and very soon be able to transfer points from Wyndham to TR and vice versa.

    • I agree, Wyndham is a terrific program, especially for families. However, I think people tend to gravitate towards hotel chains with more aspirational properties and elite benefits.

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