We made it through another year of the pandemic! While 2021 did not proceed as we had hoped it would, since the outlook was so bright early on, there was still a lot of good in the year, both in travel and in points earning. Each year, I post our personal reflections on the year that has come to an end and confirm how we did with our goals. For reference, you can read our 2020 reflection here.
As I always do, I questioned our Facebook Group on New Year’s Day, what everyone’s goals were for 2021. As usual, Sarah and I had three:
- earn Hyatt Globalist again
- earn 2 million or more Amex Membership Rewards
- donate 500,000+ miles to charity
Let’s breakdown each of these, before moving on to the bigger picture.
Thanks to our World of Hyatt credit card and several generous Hyatt promotions in 2021, we easily achieved Globalist again. The World of Hyatt credit card awards two elite night credits per $5,000 of spend on the card and the World of Hyatt Business credit card awards five elite night credits per $10,000 of spend. Without any additional promotions or Hyatt stays, you can earn Globalist status with $140,000 of spend on the World of Hyatt credit card or $120,000 on the World of Hyatt Business credit card in a calendar year.
A combination of stays, including at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point and Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort, credit card spend, and World of Hyatt promotions led us to a total of 95 Elite Qualifying Nights. Not only did we retain Globalist through February 2023, but we earned valuable Milestone Rewards, including several Free Night Certificates, Suite Upgrade Awards, and access to a Personal Concierge. Overall, we are very pleased.
Earning American Express Membership Rewards
As I discussed in both Travel on Point(s) and at our friends at Miles to Memories, Sarah and I aggressively earned American Express Membership Rewards in 2020 and successfully sold our home with the help of cashing out Membership Rewards with our American Express Platinum for Charles Schwab. Moving into 2021, Sarah and I planned to build a home and wanted the assistance of piles and piles of American Express Membership Rewards. I mentioned to team member Rick Fojtik and Miles to Memories Editor-in-Chief Mark Ostermann in late 2020 that my goal was 2+ million Membership Rewards and joked that I would use them to fund our swimming pool.
Well, it happened. We reached our goal. We earned 2,461,760 Membership Rewards in 2021. Of these, we used just over 1.1 Million to fund two IRAs, which helped free up that cash to cover the swimming pool.
Throughout the year, we continued to cash out Amex Membership Rewards, due to a combination of no international travel and the need for extra cash. Overall, we cashed out over 3 million Membership Rewards and used the $37,500 towards our future swimming pool! Who says the possibilities aren’t endless with points & miles?!
Donating Points & Miles to Charity
I planned for a lofty goal of donating 500,000+ points & miles to charity in 2021. We completely dropped the ball on this goal. In fact, 2021 was the first year since we began the points & miles game almost a decade ago that we did not donate any points & miles. It’s not all bad, however, as Sarah and I used the windfall noted above with Membership Rewards to also increase our charitable giving. While we did fail to generously donate our points & miles, we did generously donate cash and other items of value throughout the year. We are disappointed we did not reach this goal and plan to make this a priority moving forward.
As our award travel careers have progressed, our annual points accumulation has also increased. Each year, we have earned more points & miles than the year prior. As outlined in last year’s recap, we hit 3 million points & miles earned for the first time.
Since I began tracking, our annual totals were as follows:
- 2017: 1,032,912
- 2018: 1,172,986
- 2019: 2,896,096
- 2020: 3,516,504
I believe we earned 1,000,000+ in 2015 and 2016, too, but did not track such things back then.
Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses
While I expected to earn a lot of points & miles, as I already mentioned planning to earn 2M+ Amex Membership Rewards, I was unsure if we would surpass 2020’s record high of over 3.5M points. Like 2020, we started out the year aggressively opening credit cards. For the year, we opened the following cards:
- Citi Premier (60,000 Thank You Points)
- Business Platinum Card® from American Express (6 total, ranging from 110,000 to 150,00 each)
- American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab (60,000 Membership Rewards)
- Chase Ink Cash (75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- Bank of America Business Rewards ($750 Bonus)
- Brex (2 total, 110,000 Brex Points each)
- American Express® Business Gold Card (90,000 Membership Rewards)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (100,000 Ultimate Rewards)
- Bilt Rewards (5,000 Bilt Rewards)
Despite opening just 15 cards combined in 2021, we earned almost 1.5 million points & $750 on sign-up bonuses.
Throughout the year, we received numerous retention offers, most notably from American Express, including:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card (60,000 Bonvoy)
- American Express® Gold Card (3 total, 30,000 Membership Rewards each)
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express (15,000 Hilton Honors)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (15,000 Hilton Honors)
- American Express® Green Card (15,000 Membership Rewards)
- Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card (30,000 Bonvoy)
In total, retention offers totaled 225,000 points & miles.
Thankfully, both American Express and Chase are very generous with its referral bonus opportunities. In 2021, Amex offered up to 30,000 Membership Rewards to refer a friend or family member. Likewise, Chase increased the referral bonus for the all-time high 100,000 point offer (since expired) on the Chase Sapphire Preferred to 20,000 Ultimate Rewards for the referrer, up to 100,000 points per CSP. Based on these generous offers, and Sarah and I relentlessly sharing our knowledge about how to travel the world for free with our friends and family (seriously, we’ve brought hundreds of personal acquaintances to our Facebook group!), we earned just over 450,000 points in referrals in 2021. Our highest total to-date, but not that far off our previous high of 2019. Have I mentioned we love talking about points & miles?!
Overall, this is where we shined in 2021. Through multiple avenues, and numerous spending bonuses throughout the year, we significantly increased our spend and the points began flowing. Adding it all up, we earned a total of 4,347,931 points & miles in 2021! While only a small fraction of the points & miles that some earn on an annual basis, without a business that buys & sells products on a daily basis, we’re very pleased with this haul!
Breaking it down:
- 34.5% from sign-up bonuses
- 10.5% from referrals
- 5.5% from retention offers
- 49.5% from general spend
2021 Points Burned
Spoiler alert: We flat-out killed it in 2021! While the pandemic scuttled much of our 2021 travel, we still managed to travel to Palm Springs & San Diego, New Mexico, Florida, Denver, Ventana, and many other wonderful places. Additionally, we have booked lots of exciting travel for 2022, including Etihad First Class from Abu Dhabi to Washington, 2 roundtrips on Turkish Business to Europe, luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi, Italy, Istanbul, and throughout the USA. If the world reopens, it will be an incredible year of travel!
Including our Amex Membership Rewards totals mentioned above, we burned a total of 5,851,594 points & miles for a total of $123,744.36. Not that it matters, but our overall value was 2.12 cents per point. We’ll most likely never had a single year like this again, and that’s okay. This was a result of boatloads of points & miles from all the 2020 cancellations and lots of speculative bookings in luxury airline cabins and hotels for 2022.
Overall, we are very pleased with our 2021, but are okay never having a year like this again. While we loved our points earning and burning, it was a lot of work and led to a very exhausting year. Here’s hoping more travel (and less work) happens in 2022!
What are your points & miles goals for 2022? How was your 2021 compared to prior years? Come over to our growing Facebook group and let us know.