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.)