How do you see a future with fewer miles/points?

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Miles/Points' started by Steven Schwartz, May 7, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    So I’m wondering if anyone else is in this situation and how they look at it. About 9-10 years ago, I discovered the world of points and miles – first Marriott and then Starwood. The latter allowed us to transfer to airlines so it meant the beginning of some incredible journeys with premium cabin flights and wonderful hotels.

    Initially, it was all powered by my ability to use my credit cards to pay business expenses. As a dentist, I was able to charge lab and supply costs in addition to our personal expenses. It all added up pretty quickly and those points, combined with learning about FlyerTalk led to some extraordinary experiences. And yes, I’ve been spoiled! Lately, transatlantic Business Class has actually been a step down now that we’ve had the pleasure of travelling First Class on BA, Air France, Swiss, Lufthansa and United; we have FC reserved next January on Cathay Pacific! We’ve had experiences that we have treasured and could never, ever have been able to pay for – next January’s Cathay flights go for $26,000 for each of us!

    Like most of you, those hard-earned points accumulations have been turbocharged of late thanks to a massive number of points/miles we’ve accumulated through credit card sign-ups. That has clearly made it easier and has allowed friends who do not own their own businesses to move up in class too. But most people seem to think that the glory days of credit card bonuses are nearing an end and that mileage redemptions are likely to dramatically change in the next few years.

    I try to think how this will all play out in our lives. My sense is that the best play is to continue to maximize travel to far-away places over the next few years. Australia, South America, China and South Africa are on the list so that should take care of four years. I don’t see having problem handling the flights for those destinations in Business Class over that time (First if we get lucky). But at age 64, I imagine I have at most another 6 years or so to practice my profession. At that point, the flow of miles will be dramatically reduced. Yes, I know I sound like a prima donna, but I can’t imagine South Africa or Australia in Coach – this back and my knees just could not take it, Ambien or not! So looking ahead, I think the best bet would be to spend the next years (God willing!) enjoying our photo books of previous trips and do more travelling domestically. Maybe that would be the time to purchase a second home in Florida so vacations could be more frequent and more cost-contained.

    My wife feels I think too much! Just enjoy it while we can and then figure out what to do in the next phase. But I’m a planner and wonder how others who also face a sudden loss of point income look at a similar situation in their own lives. Curious to hear how others think about this.

    Many thanks-

    Steve
     
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  2. 2soonold
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    2soonold Gold Member

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    Thanks for your post; of course I would think it's a great point of discussion because I am a senior citizen. I like to think I am kinda consistent, in my own jumbled way, of expressing my thoughts across the boards. And one of those thoughts is that for many people, if not most; if you live long enough there will come a time when frequent traveler programs have less relevance to your life.
    I discovered points/miles about 4 years ago. By that time I already had made up my first bucket list; which I was doing with low-fare coach, econo cars, and Motel6. I like to live my life on a budget. But points/miles showed me how I could travel a little bit better, while staying within my travel budget. The first time I drove Route66 I was in a Corolla; after points/miles, I was driving a TownCar. The experience was always great; but I found I enjoyed it even more when driving the TownCar.:)
    I could tell early on that I would always be at a disadvantage to those who traveled on business, or had the ability use their credit cards to pay business expenses. But for me, my most excellent touchstone has always been my humble bucket list. I would like to make a few more trips to NYC; but for me it is never about whether or not I'll be staying at the Pierre. It's about how can points/miles make my experience better considering that if I was doing this without points/miles my biggest concern would be "the lowest price".
    Frankly, I think your wife is right. I know that as I get closer to retirement, my credit cards will shift more to cash-back. Ten years from now, travel for me will mainly consist of an occassional trip to the beach. I, and many others, will find that Dorothy was right: There's no place like home.
    So, I make hay while the sun shines.;)
     
  3. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    The EXACT kind of discussion I was hoping to elicit. Thanks so much for sharing.
     
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  4. eponymous_coward
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    eponymous_coward Gold Member

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    Unless airlines develop the ability to perfectly size every plane to every route with 100% full seats 100% of the time, there will always be potential for arbitrage in this game; airline seats on award are the equivalent of day-old bread, and a baker would be foolish not to sell their day-old bread (as well as to not make too much of it).
     
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  5. LarryInNYC

    LarryInNYC Gold Member

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    I think you raise four distinct points:
    1. The issue of losing the ability to earn points when you're no longer working because your ability to run charge business expenses goes away. I would also add that if your income decreases sufficiently your ability to open new accounts for the bonus may also go away.
    2. The generally decreasing generosity of the airlines and credit card companies in giving away gazbillions of miles through large credit card bonuses and other promotions.
    3. Changes in the airline industry that may make it more difficult or impossible to obtain $10,000 tickets for $500 worth of points.
    4. The requirement to travel in premium class.
    Unfortunately, I don't have the option to run up large expenses on credit cards. I do charge what I can, but I have almost no business expenses (I'm a computer programmer, I sell my time). It would be a bummer if, when I retire (in ten to fifteen years, I hope) any decrease in income results in my not being able to pull in a few hundred thousand miles a year in bonuses — assuming such things still exist then, and there are any new cards for which I would be eligible to apply.

    It does seem to me that we're cycling down in terms of bonuses. I haven't been in the game long enough to have any historical perspective (just a year) but my guess is these things wax and wane with the desire of the banks to obtain "good" customers. So be of good cheer — I'm sure there's another recession coming our way in the next few years and the banks may be back to courting those among us who they still consider desirable.

    I do believe that airlines are going to continue cutting back both in terms of giving miles (at the very least, eliminating most earning on discount fares) and allowing you to redeem them (by going to a cents-per-mile redemption system or at least raising the cost-in-miles of premium fares to more closely approximate the difference in cash prices). On the other hand, there will always be fare sales and slow periods when the airlines may run specials. Another factor to consider is whether fuel prices will keep increasing or whether there will be some major technological breakthrough that results in a lower net operating cost (but I don't think that's going to work out in our favor, at least in our lifetimes).

    Finally, the issue of needing premium cabin service. I'm still primarily a coach flier and, while I'd rather be in first than in coach, I'd rather make two trips in coach than only being able to make one in first class. While a ticket in first to Australia might cost $26,000, it certainly isn't worth that to me. Yes, first is considerably more comfortable that coach but the fundamental aspect of the journey — that one is trapped for 12 hours at a time in a tin can hurtling through the stratosphere with little opportunity to get out of your seat — isn't so different. If you compare long haul coach seats to the conditions under which people traveled even 50 years ago you'll see that we're all pretty much traveling in first class anyway.

    Twenty-five years ago I was flying as an air courier to get free and low cost trips. Now I'm using credit card miles. If, as I hope, I'm still flying twenty-five years from now (I turn 50 this summer) who knows how I'll be managing it. And if I can't fly that much, I'll go back to the old fashioned method of spending six months at a time in some less-expensive, less developed part of the world (assuming that, by then, the less developed part of the world isn't the United States).
     
  6. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    Nice summary. The software engineer is shining through :)
    I remember the days when cards offered 20-25k miles. That wasn't THAT long ago. It's not like the likes of Chase/BA have always been giving away 100k miles for new cards. If it's going down, it's going back to normal. IMO. And quite frankly, part of the "blame" for that is going towards the ever increasing number of credit card blogs. As stupid as the banks are, even they will eventually figure out that what they are doing is not producing any profits for them.

    I have traveled most of my life in coach (and Greyhound when I was backpacking) and only in recent years with the discovery of Flyertalk have I gotten spoiled. If I can get C, I'll take it. If I cannot get C but F is available, I'll take that (but I'd rather save the miles for another trip). But if I end up in coach, it's not the end of the world.

    One thing that I hope will work in my favor is that when I retire, I'll have more free time. Today I am very time-constraint (vacation time, that is) and also fairly inflexible. With more time I can plan to spend more time on the ground at far-flung destinations, traveling on the ground, staying in cheaper places, etc. Fewer but longer trips = less flights = less miles needed.
     
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  7. TheTravelAbstract

    TheTravelAbstract Silver Member

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    First, great conversation. +1 to everybody. I love these types of intellectual mileage convo's.

    It is all a part of your personal travel philosophy.

    I think a good way to conceptualize it is with finance. Are you an investor or a trader? Do you hold your miles for the long term or are you spending miles quicker than you earn them.

    You know there is always a threat of inflation or devaluation chipping away at your frequent flyer miles value. We can save up for that perfect trip but we don't know if the award chart will be the same when it comes time to book it.

    I think the best way is a balance. Take your trips as you need them. Don't hold back because you are scared about the future.

    At the same time if you need some miles for a future trip you should not be burning them too quickly. You always need to be thinking of a long term sustainable strategy to for your miles.

    I am still a coachie and have not tasted the forbidden Suites of first class. I am comfortable stretching my miles by continuing to fly coachie unless it is for a special occasion or an emergency where only premium class is available.

    It is not only frugal with my travel $$ but frugal with my travel miles.

    My rambling, incoherent response is finished.
     
  8. LarryInNYC

    LarryInNYC Gold Member

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    One further thought. Just like it's responsible to plan for retirement by accruing sufficient savings and then planning how to live on those savings, it's probably worthwhile considering how many miles you'll "need" in the bank for retirement and then trying to acquire those miles while your mile earning power is higher.

    This is harder to do with miles than with money because, in theory, the value of your money is growing while it's waiting for you to come and claim it while the values of your miles is, at best, staying constant.

    Just as the amount of savings you need to have to retire comfortably is shockingly high, I imagine that the amount of mileage you'd need is pretty high as well. If you figure two people taking two international trips per year with some or all in premium cabins, that's something on the order of 300,000 to 500,000 miles per year needed in the bank. Multiply by, let's say, ten years, and you're looking at 3 to 5 million miles needed for "retirement".
     
  9. dayone
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    dayone Silver Member

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    Life planning is what we do to make God laugh.

    I suggest that you recalibrate so that Business Class doesn't feel like "a step down."
     
  10. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    Got it! Recalibration already done, believe me. Just trying to make a point. The thing is that some airline programs, like BA, charge 50% more for First. The Cathay First, thru AA was 110,000 for Business and 135,000 for First. Couldn't pass it up! But I'm still a prima donna - still want to avoid 10 hour coach!
     
  11. LuluinQ8

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  12. LuluinQ8

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    Sorry I think I just sent a blank reply.... well I am blonde - that's my excuse and I'll stick to it!
    I just stumbled onto this forum/discussion and just wanted to say that I like your thoughts and thinking here.

    I have been using FF Points since 1990 - having done both business and personal collections through both credit card and merely flying. So even tho I only show up as a newbie - on FF Points I am an avid collector. So much so that if those of you who can recall the demise of one of our (then local) domestic airlines (Ansett) went south... The result for me and my collections were - I lost instantly over 250,000 points, 2 future airline tickets which I had in hand and 3 other tickets as I was at the airport about to board a flight when they went under. It was all gone and nothing one could do about it. I mention this as it makes me nervous now collecting that many points with one airline/point awarder - or saving for that one big trip and having lost it all - without recourse!

    I am now living in the Middle East and have also just been told (upon my upgrade request) that the

    a) flight I wish to upgrade on is fully booked so therefore no availability to do upgrade
    - however I am able to do it on the return leg - Which was okay by me. I point out the airline has a no blackout policy for upgrades ... !

    b) I have done this trip several times before and have previously used my points to upgrade ... now it is almost 20% more point redemption as the ticket class I booked in requires higher quantity of points since it was a cheaper ticket ( I will just mention here there is no other class available - so I am forced to use those extra points) As these flights are between Middle East and Australia it is around 14 hours duration I really prefer to use the upgrade to business - but now have no choice but to wear the increased cost of points in redemption.

    It may seem like I am rambling - probably am as it is early in the AM here - my point is that we are at the mercy of the airline as you can see in both cases - so my advice is just it while you have it, enjoy the redemptions whatever that it - points and pay, can also help... but as long as we yearn to travel (and most us us want value for our Dollar these days) we will take what we can get whilst we can get it!

    Cheers
    Lulu
     
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  13. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    I know people that have "saved" over four million miles (earned mostly by corporate international business travel) for travel after they retire. They seem to worry less about devaluation than I think they should.

    To the list above, I would add that the increasing use of targeted promos is likely to disadvantage the retired, the elderly and those on fixed incomes because they're not the desirable demographic.
     
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  14. bluedot

    bluedot Active Member

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    Mile devaluation and lack of any sort of regulatory control makes squirreling away miles not the greatest idea. We need to roll with the punches and live for the now when it comes to rewards and miles.

    At least that's how I approach it after slowly watching various program and point/mile devaluations in hotel and airlines.
     
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  15. Liucoke

    Liucoke Silver Member

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    Just as a thought experiment, I wonder what would happen if programs tried rebalancing rather than simply devaluing (I originally thought about arguing for re-valuation, but couldn't see any compelling case for the airlines/hotels to do it).

    Two prime examples: Starwood and BA.

    Starwood, as Ric has pointed out several times, has become a program that rewards CC spenders more than frequent guests - while there are bonuses for elites, the AmEx remains the easiest source of Starpoints. At the same time, their habit of charging insane prices for aspirational hotels (already high categories doubled by the "all suite" nature) leads folks looking for aspirational purchases to transfer to airline programs.

    Starwood could change this by increasing the number of points paid out per dollar on stays, or offering fixed/variable options a la Hilton, making it more rewarding for even non-elites to actually put heads in beds (and spend on incidentals while there!). At the same time, they could flatten the award chart a bit, but reduce the transfer ratios to airline partners - they'd probably still want some bonus for 20k point transfers (as long as points are in your account, Starwood's cash is in their bank rather than purchasing miles), but cut it down to 10% or otherwise limit the utility. All in all, this could lead to their program encouraging Starwood loyalty rather than merely using their points as a flexible airline currency.

    The other example here is BA. They got greedy, printed zillions of miles on Chase cards, then nuked their program (and lied about how bad the devaluation would be!) to reduce their liability. What if, instead, they took the opportunity to get some miles off the books by putting people where the airlines would really prefer we sit: in back. While use for short-haul American is something the flyer community figured out as a way to spend Adios, BA could also get them off the books by waiving or slashing fuel surcharges for Coach awards, while keeping them in place for Premium awards*. It would let them write off miles, while making cardholders feel less cheated (slightly less...), and fill cheap empty seats instead of expensive ones.

    Like I said, just thought experiments... but I'd like to see programs thinking more creatively than just blanket increases in award costs each year for everyone. Nothing here sounds like a perfect win for us... but it's probably better than what DL, BA and Hilton have done in the past.

    *I should add that I think fuel surcharges on award tickets are reprehensible in any form. Fuel for the plane isn't an extra, and those CC's were sold as "fly for free," not "fly for 90% of cost." I'd like to see the US go the way of Brazil in banning fuel surcharges on award tix, and hopefully before the Legacies catch on and start charging them (looking at you, DL!).
     
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  16. Counsellor
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    Counsellor Gold Member

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    Yep, you have to have done it - at least once -- if you get the chance. It's an experience that would be hard to beat, and you'll enjoy it even though you can't expect to experience it on every flight.

    It puts me in mind of the Frequent Flyers who took advantage of one of Randy's promotions about ten years ago for Inside Flyer and got enough miles to get a free flight on the Concorde. They all say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience they were happy to have had. (I wish I had done so.)
     
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  17. Slow_Mustang
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    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

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    We discovered and learned about the art of flying with miles and staying with points about 12 years ago. Since then we have done quite a bit of overseas FC/Biz traveling, the last trip being to S. Africa - two 11 hour segments with a layover in London. Like lot of other folks, after retirement, the avenues for accruing miles/points have become limited, as has the generosity of banks. So, our plan is to 'keep on trucking' till all miles/points accounts are exhausted and then dip into the kid's inheritance. What loving children would not forgo 'free money' and wish their parents to enjoy their senior years? ;) Once that bucket is depleted, it will be time to buy two rockers and just enjoy the sunsets from the porch instead of from a ship, or a mountaintop or from the lounge level of a fancy hotel. Our bucket list was long, but fortunately, we have played hard by the rules to accrue enough miles/points to almost empty this bucket. Randy got us really going by giving tons of miles for hundreds of subscriptions that lot of us purchased to his Inside Flyer magazine, many years ago and we have never looked back. But the general scarcity is catching up. Hopefully, miles/points/cash do not run out before knees absolutely refuse to move. But time will tell. In the mean time, it is just living it up!
     
  18. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    I'm inspired. Okay Randy - are you there??? I'm ready to order some subscriptions - where do I go? ;)

    I imagine the only successful answer is "back in time"!
     
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  19. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    This thread is very interesting. I have been enrolled in frequent traveler programs since AAdvantage in mid-1981, and have had great benefits over the years. I have travelled for business since the mid-1960's and have since about 1972, always been able to get F, more recently often C.

    During the last five years or so i have been doing less business travel, still enough to keep DL DM and AA EXP plus US CP, but during the last two years I have really slowed and lost DM this year. In hotels I have only SPG Plat and Hyatt Plat and lower status in a couple of others.

    Frankly all those years of business travel, and a decade of private planes, have spoiled me completely. At nearly 67 I also really don't much feel like roughing it. So, I either pay for FC, get upgrades or use miles. Because all my travel is international that becomes expensive. Luckily my income has risen in pseudo-retirement so I really spend money only on travel. We have sold our houses and other property and are thinking of selling our house to move somewhere smaller, so the net effect of all this is to leave more discretionary funds.

    Despite the lack of financial constraints there are physical and emotional ones. Mrs jbc and I now return home form every trip with a sense of relief. We still go, but we tire more easily and are less prone to ignore discomfort.

    So, sorry to be long-winded, but my question is this: When does fatigue, arthritis and myriad corporal deficiency finally make staying home a good choice?

    I quit flying myself around the world about ten years ago, when 2001 made private aviation much less fun, and aviation medical examiners kept grilling me about medications i was taking. They did not believe "none". I still miss that.

    Right now I become anxious if I am at home more than a week or two. What will I do when I am no longer able to travel easily? How will I cope with not being a top elite traveler? I already hate being eligible for senior discounts.:eek:
     
  20. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    Actually, doesn't sound all that bad. You're getting a tad more tired of travel at the same time you have to pay more for your luxury. I believe your profile says you are from Rio. We are in northwest NJ and we absolutely love spending 4-5 days in New York City a couple of times a year. Travel is obviously pretty easy. I imagine you might have some similar options.

    I see the second home as a really good answer. It is clearly getting away yet it will have all the comforts we want because we will make sure it does. A few years behind you in age (maybe past you in arthritis!) I see really loving going to a home in Florida on a golf course for a week or two at a time starting 3-4 years from now. As to when all of the maladies make staying home the best choice, I think it is like the doctors say about when to finally do the joint replacement - "you'll know"!
     
  21. Global Explat
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    Global Explat Silver Member

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    In agreement with all that this is a very interesting thread. Curious to know how much OP and others have focused on lifetime status in airline and hotel programs. I always figured that the whole point of lifetime status was so that the program continues to repay your long term loyalty when you are no longer such a revenue generator for them, such as in retirement. Has this been part of your miles strategy? Do you see it as valuable?
     
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  22. Slow_Mustang
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    Slow_Mustang Silver Member

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    That depends on,
    1. Genetics, that you cannot do anything about, and
    2. The UMPFFFF in you ;)

    So, that is a very personal thing that varies from person to person. I too feel all the deficiencies that you talk about, but the desire and removal of constraints on my time, get me out to see the world, the places whose names I had only heard, but always wanted to see with my own eyes. I am still working on Mark Twain's words, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Not to steer the conversation into the political arena, but how I wish some of our presidential candidates, and common citizens had done some overseas traveling to countries with cultures vastly different from ours.
     
  23. philatravelgirl

    philatravelgirl Silver Member

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    Agree this is an interesting thread, have a different spin to add -I met a couple on a cruise who retired and live in Florida, they spend about 9 months on cruises around the world. I've just started w/cruises internationally and have been quite pleased at meeting such interesting world travelers and the ease of travel. A whole new world of points to gather to enjoy the benefits!
     
  24. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    That's my plan! 52 weeks * $700 = $36,400 per person per year. :D
     
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  25. Scottrick
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    Scottrick Gold Member

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    Although you should worry about devaluation if you stock up on miles now, you might not need as many as you think. At some point travel could just be too much struggle for you as you age. I know some people who still love traveling and are in their 80s. Others mostly gave up on it in their 50s. Sometimes it's attitude, but even those who love travel may find their bodies betray them.
     
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