Why Hoarding Loyalty Points Is Sometimes Worth It

Conventional wisdom in the miles and points arena is that you generally shouldn’t hang onto a huge loyalty program balance. “Earn and burn” is the more popular motto these days as redemption rates rise quickly and programs evolve to make using your hard-earned points more difficult.

But let me tell you… am I ever grateful to be sitting on 400,000-plus United Airlines miles this week.

This past weekend I attended a fantastic BoardingArea conference in Colorado Springs and got home late Sunday night. Very early Monday morning, I heard my phone vibrate with an incoming call, but I dismissed it and didn’t look to see who it was.

Not being able to fall back asleep wondering who the hell would be calling me at an ungodly hour, I eventually got up to see it was from my Mom, who happened to be in New Orleans on a Mother’s Day weekend vacation with her sister and niece.

And the voicemail that was left brought instant panic as my Mom was being ambulanced to a hospital for mostly unknown reasons.

While family was there to support her and relay details back to the rest of our family, it was urgent that I got there as well as my brother. I definitely would have purchased the very high last-minute revenue ticket, but having those accumulated United miles to ease the financial burden was a godsend.

Long story short, my Mom is “okay.” She’ll be discharged shortly and I’m arranging to get her and my brother to their respective homes on miles. And let me also just mention how grateful I am that United leaves a seat or two open in first class and doesn’t upgrade everyone in the queue. I’m able to book my Mom a seat up front, where she’ll need the extra space and comfort.

I normally wouldn’t advise anyone to hoard a balance of airline or hotel points, but am I ever grateful that I had a stash to fall back on this week.


  1. I bank miles for the same reason, and in the past have had the need to use them for a similar purpose. However, 400k seems like quite the pile. Did you need them all?

    I have always kept enough for an emergency international ticket (on AA) for one person. Your account has me wondering if more might be appropriate. Thanks.

    Glad she’s well.

  2. As much as I agree with earn and burn, I do try to keep enough in each account to be flexible.

    Very glad all worked out and your mother is ok.

  3. I think having one or two hundred thousand miles/points is reasonable in case of last minute plans or vacation ideas, especially when you add in kids. Some of the articles lately were talking about people who get all these miles but then don’t use them because they saving it for some large trip that never happens.

    This was me a few years ago as i assumed that i could get an award seat on almost any flight with short notice, and when this didn’t happen i would just give up and not use them at all so I had a balance of about 300k AA miles mostly from CC signups for a few years. It was mainly my lack of foresight and planning that forced these last minute bookings.

    The downside is when you have large balances in hotel points. The recent devaluation of a few hotel programs have highlighted that you shouldn’t keep large balances (maybe >400k points) as they can quickly go down in value.

  4. Glad that Mom is OK and wonderful that you could help others get to her – as well as getting her home in comfort. On short, yes – holding some balance is fine, but understand the valuation risks involved. In this case, a future devaluation is just not relevant; you had what your Mom and other family members needed at the moment.

  5. @thankyoudrivethrough: No, I definitely didn’t need all 400k, but the peace of mind knowing I had them to rely on for multiple tickets was fantastic. Maybe enough for a couple of coach standard (anytime) tickets is a good safety net.
    @TTF: thanks!
    @Skwok: 100k is probably a good balance to maintain for families.
    @Cook: well said… there was no hesitation using my miles for this purpose. The valuation I’d normally consider wasn’t even a thought.

  6. Darren,

    Nice to have met you in Colorado this past weekend and really glad to hear your Mom is alright.

    I agree that, most of the time, it’s good to earn them with a goal in mine and then burn them, but having a nice stash is never a bad thing. You never know what will come up!

  7. Well said……hoarding has no value except in an emergency so the idea of keeping that level on balance is very prudent as bereavement fares are just not very friendly……

  8. Glad your mom is ok,it is very good to have extra miles for those kind of emergency.
    We just burn about 600K AA miles, for family reunion and it all worthy.

  9. I have to admit, I am hoarder of my miles. . .I fly a lot of revenue miles through work and am often able to spin off some great vacations from that. I have now started giving my miles to friends 🙂

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