From the desk of the Devil’s Advocate…
I hate breaking promises. I really do. But today I have to break two of them.
Last week I promised that I would bring you the second part of my three-part series on the downsides of flexible points currencies. And I also promised that we had talked enough about our Hello Kitty-loving friend over at a certain blog and that I wouldn’t write about him again.
Unfortunately it appears that lack of attention upset Little Plucky, because last week he decided he was done sitting in the corner crying over my pounding of his prized Lufthansa and came back for round two with a lumbering defense to my sleek takedown of AmEx Membership Rewards.
He even did this all the way from Iceland. I think he’s sad because he says the Icelandic locals haven’t been super friendly to him and aren’t inviting him over for dinner. I don’t have the heart to break it to Plucky that maybe it’s not the Icelanders who are the problem in this relationship.
No matter though. It’s all good. We’ll talk about the downsides of SPG Starpoints next week and Chase Ultimate Rewards the week after. Instead, today we’re going to look at Little Plucky’s Membership Rewards argument point-by-point and tell him why he’s wrong.
Here’s the best part. I’m not going to do all the work this time. I’m going to sit back and let my awesome readers (along with a few of Plucky’s own readers) do some of the work for me.
(I have a sneaking suspicion this is gonna be pretty sweet.)
First Lesson of Debate: Actually Read The Post You’re Debating
Plucky first started babbling on about how transferable points currencies are valuable for hedging against devaluations. Here’s what he wrote…
A transferable points currency is akin to investing your money vs. storing it under your mattress. Yes, the value of transferable points currencies can fluctuate. But that’s a good thing. Sometimes they lose partners or their partner programs devalue, while other times they add more transfer partners or their partner programs open up new redemption opportunities.
Oh, snap. He’s right. Right off the bat. Wow. Don’t I have egg on my face? Well played, Little Plucky. Well played.
Except hold on… I just remembered that no one was arguing against transferable points currencies. That had nothing to do with my post. Rather, I just happened to mention that AmEx Membership Rewards in particular blows chunks. Granted, “blows chunks” is a highly technical term, but I think one can get the meaning from the context.
Little Plucky also claims my argument partially boils down to the fact that the hotel transfer partners are “useless” because of the bad transfer ratios. That’s not what I said at all. I said the hotel transfer partners are useless because the hotels partners are useless. Unless you disagree and think that Best Western has a lot of fantastic ultra-premium properties, that’s a pretty big difference.
Next, Little Plucky goes through some of the changes of Membership Rewards over the last few years, which essentially all comes out to a wash. OK, so we agree that AmEx points used to suck about as much as they still suck, but now they suck in slightly different ways. Doesn’t really affect the “blows chunks” final judgment, but I’m glad we were able to clarify that point.
AmEx’s Super Transfer Partners… If You Love Spending Lots of Cash
Now we move on to Little Plucky’s defense of AmEx’s transfer partners. He lists a bunch of partners who have huge fuel surcharges on redemptions and argues the following about them…
I’m thrilled to redeem ANA Mileage Club miles for Lufthansa first class roundtrip between New York and Frankfurt 100,000 miles plus ~$800 in fuel surcharges.
What??? He’s thrilled about spending ~$800? Well, I suppose that’s one position. A different and substantially more sane position by us folks who actually work for a living is that no one is thrilled about spending ~$800 on anything unless it has the words “Super Bowl” and “~50-yard line seats” in it.
Then he actually has the temerity to argue the following…
Delta SkyMiles? As much as I complain about the program, by comparison their program has increased in value over the past couple of years.
At this point I have to assume the Icelandic cold has seeped into Plucky’s brain. Or maybe I wasn’t clear in my original post and Plucky thinks I mean a different Delta SkyMiles program. Maybe there’s an awesome Delta SkyMiles program in Antarctica that I’m unaware of where 1 SkyMile = 1,000 of those little hand warmer pouches or something like that.
So let me clarify. In my post when I mentioned Delta SkyMiles, I was referring to the United States domestic carrier Delta Air Lines who has a loyalty program called SkyMiles. You know, the one that’s universally reviled. The one Gary Leff calls SkyPesos. The one that adds unannounced devaluations on top of previously unannounced devaluations. The one that Delta Air Lines themselves admits is not up to snuff compared to the rest of their otherwise pretty decent airline.
Does any of that sound like a program that has actually gotten better over the past couple of years?
Let’s Hear From Our Readers
So Plucky wrote his lengthy diatribe and both his and my readers responded. Let’s see what they think of AmEx Membership Rewards points.
For instance, AJK mentioned that…
…MR purports to offer transfer bonuses. In reality, though, it’s been like three years since the last DL bonus.
Yes, at least Plucky didn’t try to sell us all on the latest 30% transfer bonus to Virgin America which still doesn’t even get you to a 1:1 transfer ratio. Hey, look everyone, AmEx is screwing you over by 30% less this month!
How about this from my reader Daekwan…
I cannot tell you how troubling it has been to spend these points!! The hotels all suck for mileage redemptions.
Wait, Daekwan, are you telling me you don’t want to blow 60,000 Hilton points on this ultra-rare Magic The Gathering card?
My reader Jason noted another downside of Membership Rewards that is super exclusive to just them…
I never see this discussed, but aren’t there fees associated with transferring MR points to partners?
Why, yes, Jason, AmEx is kind enough to charge us an additional fee when we transfer MR points to domestic carriers. They say it’s because they’re being charged taxes on the transfer. Interesting though that neither Chase nor SPG feels the need to pass along the same tax, isn’t it?
And my reader Mipo777 had a great point about AmEx’s top-notch transfer partner Frontier Airlines…
I had just enough Frontier miles to get a whopping $20 in Papa Johns gift cards. Which is did because those miles are about worthless.
I almost hesitate to ask how many Frontier miles were required to get extra pepperoni.
But let’s not restrict this to my own readers. Here’s what commenter David Young wrote over at Plucky’s blog…
The MOST valuable thing about MR is they can be turned into cold, hard CASH at 1c/mile.
He’s right. AmEx Membership Rewards are equivalent to a cash back card but with a super high annual fee. Hey, who wouldn’t want that?
The Devil’s Advocate says Plucky isn’t entirely to blame for his debacle.
As we all know, the idea of the Devil’s Advocate is to argue against Conventional Wisdom in order to see if it holds up. I don’t honestly believe that AmEx Membership Rewards blows chunks, but I also don’t think it’s as good as some people make it out to be. To Plucky’s credit, he totally understands the point of the Devil’s Advocate argument and acknowledges it at the end of his rant. So kudos to him on getting the bit.
And since Plucky doesn’t play Devil’s Advocate, I’m sure he would never argue one way on something and then turn around and argue it the opposite way just to get back at me, right? Because that would make him a hypocrite, wouldn’t it?
“Why Membership Rewards is more or less dead to me” by Plucky Schlappig
Oh, Plucky. I’m so disappointed.
Devil’s Advocate is a weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.