Tidying Up Your Miles and Points Balances, Marie Kondo style

So you’ve probably noticed that Marie Kondo’s tidying up method has quickly entered the zeitgeist. She has a book (which my wife read) and a new Netflix show so everyone is talking about it. She’s getting the full meme treatment, deservedly so. Her main thesis is to only retain things in your house that “spark joy” and then keep them organized. Far be it from me to pass up a chance to ride the zeitgeist wave, so I thought I’d take a stab at what tidying up miles and points balances might look like.

For purposes of completely committing to this premise, I will use the six rules of KonMari, Kondo’s tidying method. I plan to take my own medicine and try to organize my travel hacking game, so I hope to post more on that experience in the future. I should also note that I recognize people are way more organized than me at this game. If you have a system that works for you, you probably don’t need this, though I’m sure thinking about it can’t hurt.

1. Commit yourself to tidying up (your miles and points)

Everything starts with a commitment to getting organized. After playing this miles and points game for seven years, I think I have a general idea of how complicated things can get. Award Wallet gets you part of the way there in terms of organizing, but the harsh reality is miles and points requires keeping track of a lot. Off the top of my head:

  • Airline programs
  • Hotel programs
  • Bank and transferable point currencies
  • Multiple bank accounts
  • Purchase and sale spreadsheets
  • Multiple payment accounts
  • Constantly shifting rules/policies

You have the ability to choose whether to engage with all of the above. The only thing out of your control is shifting rules and policies by companies. The question that I’ve been asking is, will I be more efficient and even happier if I commit to tidying up all the rest of it? I think yes. I think even more than that, I will have less stress and mental load because I won’t be juggling so many programs. I have a family I should theoretically spend time with, after all.

So I’m committing to tidying up my miles, points, and related mess here in 2019! Maybe!

2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle (of travel)

After you commit to organizing your miles and points, I’d say the second most important thing to do is imagine your ideal travel lifestyle. Not to sound like a broken record, but here’s a link to Milenomics on demand schedules for the umpteenth time. 

If you don’t know the goal for your miles and points, you will have an incredibly difficult time keeping them organized. I’ve found that as I’ve booked more and more travel for 2019 my miles and points have naturally become more organized. That’s because with a goal in mind you’re inspired to be efficient with your miles to make sure they get put to good use. Otherwise you’re just earning miles and points that ultimately have no value (obviously cashback is fine in this scenario). An unredeemed point has a value of zero.

3. Finish discarding (programs you aren’t using regularly) first

I think this likely will be more controversial than other aspects of “tidying up”. I am super guilty of hoarding miles in programs that I haven’t even used. I find this to be an egregious error on my part, personally. Marie Kondo essentially encourages people to get rid of anything they haven’t used or worn in a year. (Thank it for its service, etc etc. A bit weird but I get the overall point).

I’d say that if you haven’t touched miles or points earned in a certain program for 12-18 months, you should definitely consider discarding those points. Again, unredeemed points either are worth absolutely zero or they create a mental load as you stress out about how to get rid of them. I’d argue the latter can be worse because you end up devoting your most valuable resource, time, to something that you’re just trying to get rid of.

I think I’ll have more to say about this in the future, but for now let’s mention about three simple ways to discard points in programs you aren’t regularly using.

  • Use them for a trip you have coming up even if they don’t get you “max” value (because any value is better than 0)
  • Use them to book travel for your family or friends for free
  • Use them to book travel for family, friends, or acquaintances for a small fee

It will take work to discard points in these programs, but in all three of those use scenarios you get something out of the points before you get rid of them. We discussed booking travel for others in the Gold patreon version of Episode 97 of the Saverocity podcast, so check that out if you’re interested.

4. Tidy by category (earning vs redeeming), not by location

I think this is probably my favorite of Marie Kondo’s points. It’s easiest to tidy things up by category instead of trying to do everything at once. I find sometimes when I sit down to organize things, I’m so busy multitasking that I barely get anything done.

So I think it’s important that you are able to break down all the different things you have your hands in so you know what you need to clean up and organize. You probably have airline, hotel, and transferable points to deal with. But then you also have credit card sign up bonuses, spending bonuses, anything you resell, and who knows what else to deal with. If you sit down and deal with organizing and reconciling one of those areas at a time, you’ll probably be a lot more productive. I plan to try this and see if it helps me be more productive overall.

5. Follow the right order (easier to harder)

Marie Kondo likes to encourage you to tackle the easy stuff first. I think the same can hold through when organizing your points and miles and when you’re discarding them. Some points are easier to redeem than others. When I emptied out my Bank of America Premium Rewards balance, it was just five or six clicks. Airline credits are fairly easy to deal with and can also be tackled quickly. Meanwhile, things like Marriott 7 night certificates or my still have not gotten rid of them yet Club Carlson points are harder to handle for me. But everything needs to get organized, and having success tackling the simple things frees up your mental space to tackle the harder things.

I think after I determine what miles and points I’m going to try to get rid of, I’ll work on it from easiest to hardest. And when I’m tracking bonuses, sales, etc., I’ll do the same thing, work from easiest to hardest. We’ll see how that goes.

6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy

The most well known aspect of Marie Kondo’s KonMari method is the concept of “sparking joy.” You are supposed to touch your clothes and say “thank u, next” to anything that doesn’t spark joy. Obviously, some mileage currencies are worth keeping even though they can be super frustrating.

That being said, I think I’d have a lot more joy in this miles and points game if I got rid of some of the more cumbersome miles and points I have. Not to say I don’t have joy, I love this stuff, but this is a hobby for me. I don’t want it to feel like work in any way, shape, or farm. Points like Ultimate Rewards spark joy in me – I get excited building up Ultimate Rewards balances because I’m excited and I know what I want to do with them (see rule 2). I’m super excited about the CNB Crystal Infinite card right now because of all the possible uses I see for my family. But miles and points like Alaska Air miles just feel like a drag because it always feels like I have better options to use. (I am speaking of my particular situation, I am well familiar with how powerful AS miles can be).

Again, in some ways all the extra miles and points I have increase my mental load and just are a drag on my time and brain resources. So I think I’ll be spending the next few months thinking about which miles and points “spark the most joy” in me and focusing on earning those. We’ll see if I manage to get rid of the others.

Final Thoughts

Robert Dwyer and I often chat about how people we see hacking their way to great savings in other areas of their lives would be amazing travel hackers. It often feels like a shame they aren’t “putting their skills to better use.” But, as I’m increasingly beginning to realize, it doesn’t matter how good you are at something unless you genuinely enjoy it. Maybe by sticking to the one thing they enjoy, these hackers of other things have more joy than those of us encumbered by everything that comes with the miles and points game. There’s something to be said for simplicity.

I recognize this post may seem a bit out there, and it kind of is, but I’m also buying it. At the very least I’m more excited about organizing my miles and points than I am about organizing my dresser. I find as I get older and my kids get older I have less and less time to devote to this hobby which I love. I think the more I can keep things organized and the more efficient I can be with my time, the happier I’ll be overall continuing to play this game. So I plan to start working on organizing my miles and points earning and burning and seeing where that takes me.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how people keep their miles and points tidy! How do you make sure you’re not all consumed by this game? Let me know in the comments!

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