Delayed Thoughts on Devaluations

I know that I’m super late to the game with this post, but I’ve been traveling a lot recently and work has been hectic and you clearly shouldn’t be using my blog as your only source of frequent flyer news anyway.

Over the past few weeks, multiple programs have announced devaluations: United’s was a bloodbath, Hyatt’s was fine, I don’t care about Delta. I’m bracing myself for the potential US Airways/American pre- or post-merger devaluation, as most of my miles are in those two programs, and I have a couple of awards that I want to redeem in January in each program, so I hope they don’t devalue before then. I also got the Club Carlson credit cards relatively recently, and I know that that program just HAS to devalue soon as the free award night on every stay via the credit card is just too good to be true.

So many people have freaked out about the devaluations. Yes, United is nearly doubling some of my favorite awards (I have two first class one-ways to Southeast Asia on Star Alliance partners planned for next year), and I myself decided to burn through my remaining United miles upon hearing about the devaluation, but devaluations like this shouldn’t come as a shock to us. United has been printing miles like crazy with 50k sign-up bonuses on multiple credit cards (e.g. MileagePlus Explorer for business AND personal, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink cards), ridiculous 5x bonus spend on office supplies on Chase Ink cards, 2x miles on travel and dining on the CSP, etc. When it’s nearly trivial for a beginner to accumulate enough United miles to fly roundtrip in business class to nearly anywhere in the world without having stepped foot in a plane and every blogger and their mom lays it out step by step how to do so, what do you expect is going to happen?

The year before, people were horrified by the Hilton devaluation. But at the time, it was just as easy to accumulate massive numbers of Hilton points just through credit card sign-up bonuses (e.g. Amex offered multiple Hilton cards, Hawaiian airlines cards could be churned and transferred, Virgin Atlantic points could be transferred, etc). When it’s that easy to manufacture points, you should be expecting devaluations to happen.

This is one of the main reasons why I’m hitting trying to earn and burn Club Carlson as quickly as possible. An 85k point sign-up bonus is huge, plus 40k at anniversary for paying the annual fee, plus 5x everyday spend, plus the free night on every award stay. This does not seem sustainable to me, people, so take advantage of it while you can. Think about it: you can get 2 nights at any Club Carlson property after spending 10k on their credit card; 10k of spend on any other hotel card gets you at best a mid-level hotel in any other program. How does the math work on that? Granted, their properties aren’t the most aspirational and the Club Carlson footprint is relatively small, but whenever I’m planning to go somewhere with a Club Carlson hotel, I will be looking to burn those points first.

This game is only going to get harder as time goes on. Already, there’s the effect of forums like Flyertalk increasingly becoming less valuable to casual observers as fewer deals get posted, bloggers increasingly posting repetitive, inane drivel to drive page views and credit cards apps, information increasingly becoming circulated only amongst those people already “in-the-know”. There will always be deals to be had, but they’ll likely be more involved or more targeted or otherwise more inaccessible than they are today.

Much of this is just to say that you should focus on burning just as much as on earning. My number one piece of advice to newbies is to understand what you want before you get started so you know what you should be doing. Unless you derive pleasure just from seeing points balances increasing (or perhaps the cost per mile is ridiculously low), you should almost always be thinking about ways to spend the points that you’re earning because devaluations can and will happen at any time. And realistically, if you’re aiming for the super aspirational redemptions like international first class, you should probably be taking advantage of whatever  chances you have to do so now as it’s just going to get increasingly harder to redeem for these cabins. United’s devaluation is a perfect example of that.

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