The Weirdest Things You Can Do With Your Points, and Why It’s a Bad Idea to Do Them

CNN ran a piece on the “11 Weirdest Ways to Cash in Reward Points” … Get married by Elvis, learn the art of metal embossing, purchase a herd of goats.

Hiring an Elvis impersonator cost 16,828 Bank of America Worldpoints. But it would have cost just $168 to hire the guy yourself, your points get you 1 cent in value. The Rock Band Camp cost 385,000 points for a $3000 experience. The $2500 chandelier cost 250,000 Amex points.

The weightless flight experience is said to retail for only $5000 and yet cost 702,600 Wells Fargo points to redeem — so that’s just over 7/10ths of a cent per point. The $1395 fighter pilot experience cost 194,200 Wells Fargo points, again just over 7/10ths of a cent per point. The only lesson here seems to be that Wells Fargo points are even worth less than other proprietary points programs when redeeming for alternative rewards.

Chase offered a screening of an episode of Mad Men with the show’s cast for 5000 points. That’s an experiential reward that you can’t easily buy for yourself. Of course they only offered 100 packages. Frequently Chase has offered special rewards for United miles, such as dinner with a famous chef. American Express will buy out a tough to get into restaurant and make it available only to cardholders. Those are great if you can get in on the deal, but usually you won’t find out about it until the packages are long gone, they generate buzz but don’t benefit most members. Still, I often find out about them and try to take advantage and I am very much a fan of using points for experiences that are otherwise out of reach!

Outside of highly limited opportunities like 100 cardmembers getting to chill with January Jones, all this points out is that most bank programs will let you spend your points on whatever you wish. You could just as easily have searched the archives of Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution blog for examples of “Markets in Everything” to find ‘weird’ opportunities to use your points, because you’re just finding weird things you can buy with money. And using your points as a highly devalued money. 2-D glasses, a spermbike, a McWedding, ice cream made from breast milk.

But you shouldn’t spend your points this way. And more to the point, you shouldn’t be taken in by the ‘do whatever you wish with your points’ come on to actually believe those making the offer actually present an attractive value proposition. You generally shouldn’t be accumulating points that offer only one cent per point in value or less. At least if you’re only earning one point per dollar of spending! Because really you’re getting at most 1% cash back from your spend. Why not get a 1% cash back credit card? Or better yet, a 2% cash back credit card (or 5% cash back for the first 6 months with no limit!).

Then you’ll have actual money, and in some cases more money to just go ahead and buy these things if you wish, and then some money left over.

And even if you’re in a strong program like American Express Membership Rewards, understand that the best value of those points is in transfers to airline miles — in programs like Continental, Aeroplan, All Nippon, British Airways — and not for poor pennies-per-dollar conversin rates on Elvis Impersonators.

Sadly, the CNN piece doesn’t provide any of this context. But then the article mis-identifies Thank You Points as being offered by American Express rather than Citibank. Perhaps the reporter’s confusion is that Citibank also issues American Express cards, including cards earning Thank You Points.

And more people might be inspired to buy a herd of goats with their Capital One points instead of earning cash back or miles in a stronger frequent flyer or frequent guest program.

(HT: AwardWallet’s facebook page.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I redeemed 20,000 (10,000 miles per a person) United miles through United’s Visa Signature program for a private wine and dining package at Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo in Chicago. Rick Bayless even came out and explained what he had cooked to the group of 30 of us and we got a pic with him. There were also all the big wigs from United Mileage Plus and Visa there. I don’t know what the actual price of this event was, but it was at least $500 per a person if not more. It was the most incredible meal I have ever had, not to mention it was only 10,000 miles, so some times these weird redemption opportunities are pretty good. The 5,000 points for Madmen seems pretty good.

  2. From a selfish perspective the more people spend on items (non-flying related) the better for those searching for seats.

    There was a story (USA Today?) talking about how useless miles are, how hard it is to get seats, etc. I had to smile a bit thinking all the better for the rest of us.

  3. Been there, a few years ago spent 50,000 amex miles for the RICHARD PETTY Driving experience. Total cost $499.00 It was a really cool experience driving a real race car on the track. And I probably would never of coughed up $500 cash to do it, but using points made it easy.

  4. its just has much to understand that this hobby isnt for everyone, and those who are involved in it find value in it—and those who look at it as a waste of time & credit points, do not value it. The saying that one mans treasure is another mans junk really applies here.

  5. @Ozaer points are a currency. If you don’t value the currency, don’t collec it, and get a cash back credit card..

  6. Hey, what was that about the goats and Capital One? 🙂

    I must admit I never considered Capital One before. Their recent 110k offer and the way they ran it have made me a customer and likely for a long time to come. I am sensing a lot of people out there are getting fed up with these ff programs (please take some time to comment on yesterday’s USA Today article) and the lack of seats (yes Delta is the number 1 culprit here of course) AND the fee bombardment that is going on…Of course not with us as we will likely not abandon them as we are…addicted. One thing that I am changing is I am moving away from airline/hotel credit cards other than getting them for their opening bonuses for the most part and moving my spend to a card like Capital One (I will likely cancel my citi pp elite card soon and sacrifice tons of flight miles) so I can BUY an air ticket AND earn miles on it instead of screwing around finding an award seat and having my blood pressure go sky high when I can not get it or the airline asks for double or triple miles! Other than that, your advice in this blog is right on as always!

  7. What in God’s name is a “spermbike?”

    I really hesitate to ask, but Google shows no links.

  8. OK, found “spermbike.” I accidentally searched Yahoo. Piece of junk search site.

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