What The World Cup Can Teach Us About Points and Miles – Column

Last week I was out running errands with a friend. He had his son with him and while we ran around town his son, Elliot, was watching the World Cup game. Belgium was playing Japan.

We were rooting for Belgium. Elliot’s mom is from Belgium. As for me, I once had a wonderful business class flight on Brussels Airlines and upon arrival I was gifted a huge box of Belgian chocolates. Seems to me a good enough reason to root for Belgium!

When we left the supermarket the score was 0-0 at halftime, so we were confident our team would still win. Many of the sports commentators thought Belgium could go all the way. And for sure Belgium was a good bet against Japan. (Belgium lost to France in the semifinals on Tuesday.)

However after halftime Elliot reported that Belgium was down by two goals and still hadn’t scored.

It was quickly turning into one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. We were bummed out but Elliot said, “You never know. We can still comeback. It’s not over until it’s over!”

Hope and disappointment are a mixed bag of emotions. And as an adult wanting to spare Elliot the disappointment and present a reality check, his father told him it was a long shot that Belgium could pull this win off. I agreed.

If you kept up with the World Cup you know what comes next. Only a few minutes later when Elliot checked the score he piped up with excitement and started yelling that the score was now 2-2.

We were able to watch the last few minutes of the game with Belgium scoring an injury-time goal to win 3-2. Belgium turned what would have been a huge upset in the World Cup into the biggest comeback.

So how does this relate to travel and miles/points?

I was ready to give up on Belgium. In fact, psychologically I had given up. Even though it seemed not likely, there was time for a comeback but my mind had written off that option, and sure enough I was wrong! That’s the “point”.

Fixation on a certain outcome is one of the biggest killers of points and miles vacations. Fixating on specifics, at the expense of possibility, can cause us to make really bad decisions when booking trips.

For instance, if Belgium was an award seat I had my heart set on, or a specific destination during a specific week, or a particular hotel using only points, I would have bailed and deprived myself of a potentially great trip.

United Polaris 777-300ER Newark to Bombay

Have your heart set on United’s new Polaris seats? It’s possible to attain them, but maybe not how you at first expect. If you really are keen on a specific element of an award trip, you’ll need to be flexible with parameters like dates and routings.

It took me a long time after joining the ranks of points and miles travelers enthusiasts to learn how to overcome too much emotion when both earning miles/points and putting my miles/points to good use.

I’m still learning how to balance my emotions so I don’t bail just before things go my way or become too attached to certain travel outcomes so I bang my head against a wall and then miss other options that can work even better!

The key to overcoming emotion is to stay rational—especially when things get bumpy. Sure, like many of you I want to go to the popular destinations during the popular seasons. But if I’m determined to use a certain stash of miles or points, say Ultimate Rewards, or Hilton Honors points, I have to look at the best possible options.

 

Stay Patient and Persistent

I need to remind myself that travel and miles/points is a long game. Yes, I have places I’d like to visit, airlines I like flying, and ways that work best for me to accrue all those miles and points.

This way I can afford the travels that take me to more places, yet I spend so much less. It’s the long-term view that lets me deal with all the changes in the ”game” such as point devaluations, deals I miss out on, and award seats that aren’t available when I want them. And these are only a few of the bumps in the road.

Let me share some examples with you. In the early days of accruing points and miles I got excited every single time a good spending bonus was offered on a credit card. Fear of missing out reared its ugly head and I’d jump on getting the card without thinking of whether or not I had enough spending to meet the bonus.

Multiple applications at once led to needing lots of spend. Stressful, for sure. I’ve learned that fear of missing out, whether it be of the “best credit card bonus offer ever” hype or feeling impatient and booking a flight before doing enough research on availability of hotels (I’m looking at you, Venice), doesn’t make for a great travel strategy.

Focus On One Goal At A Time – Be Flexible With How You Get There

On the other side of the spectrum, every now and again I’ll temper my impatience and stay focused on my desired goal and go for that last minute deal.

About 15 percent of rooms at the Hyatt Centric Madrid are suites. Image by Hyatt Centric Gran Via Madrid.

It took some patience to score an award night in a suite at the brand new Hyatt Centric Madrid. Image by Hyatt Centric Gran Via Madrid.

On a recent trip to Madrid, I wanted to stay at the Hyatt Centric Gran Via, which didn’t even have a grand opening date when I booked my trip. I usually plans flights and hotels at least six months out and this was hard. I kept telling myself I should make a back-up plan because hotel openings are notoriously late, and of course I wanted my stay on Hyatt points.

I held out though, and just focused on the hotel I wanted to stay at.

At the last-minute room availability on points opened up. Whew. And the hotel stay was a great one, though it’s really not in my nature to make plans so close in to my departure dates.

Upshot

Emotions cause us to react. That can be a good thing. Logic dictates that we stay disciplined. That’s a good thing, too. Patience and focus will get us to where we want to be. Whether that’s in the accumulation phase of miles/points or putting those miles/points to great use. I’m always looking for examples from the world of sports to help me navigate the often bumpy roads we travel, and Belgium’s World Cup win, displaying both patience and focus, served as a good one!

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