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Today’s reader question comes from Jennifer, who writes in to ask

We started travel hacking after reading your blog last year. It was pretty easy: we signed up for two SWA CC cards and got all the points we needed for our annual DEN to ATL run (five people).
Since then, we signed up for more cards and accrued the following points. My question: what’s the best way to use these points to get the crew from Denver to Atlanta? (Final destination is actually GSP but it’s a small airport and very expensive to fly into. So, we rent a car in Atlanta and drive the two hours to Greenville, SC).
Here’s what we have (points). We need five tickets:
Chase Ultimate Rewards from the Sapphire card: Balance: 13,946
Southwest Airlines: 18K between the two of us
Delta: 3K
SPG Starpoints (earned from stays) 40K
Amex Starpoints (from CC bonus) Balance: 5,526
Amex Membership Rewards from Gold Card: 51, 753
Any thoughts are appreciated. Many thanks!

The problems with “diversifying” your points

In the stock market, they always tell you to “diversify”, that is to spread your money across a variety of different investments.  But Jennifer’s situation showcases one of the problems with diversifying your frequent flier miles and points.  None of those point balances are enough to get 5 domestic roundtrip tickets.

This is one of the reasons I suggest “beginning with the end in mind” – and picking out the trips that you want to take and only THEN signing up for credit cards.

But is there no hope?

One thing that Jennifer has going for her is that a few of her point balances are what we call “transferrable currencies”.  For instance, both her Starpoints and her American Express points transfer to a variety of airlines (SEE ALSO: 3 Starwood transfer partners you do NOT want to use!)

If she wants to (or is able to!) split up her family, her Chase and Southwest balances might be enough for 2 tickets on their own (Chase transfers to Southwest if she has a premium Chase card).  40,000 Starpoints will transfer to a variety of airlines, and with the bonus you will end up with 50,000 airline miles.  50,000 American Express Membership Rewards will also transfer to several different airlines

If you’re looking for an airline that you can transfer both American Express AND Starpoints, Delta Airlines is probably your best bet, but at Jennifer’s current levels, that’s probably only enough for 4 roundtrip tickets (IF you can find low-level availability)

Another option would be, depending on her credit and which cards she already has, would be to sign up for an additional credit card to get some more points.  This would be dependent on when the trip is and if she could meet the minimum spend and get the bonus before she needs to book the tickets (it’s probably already cutting it close)

(SEE ALSO: Current credit card signup rules and best practices)

The other to think about is that with an award ticket, there’s no reason not to fly directly to GSP, at least on airlines like American, United or Delta who all have region-based award charts

Readers, what do you think?  Any other suggestions for Jennifer and her family?

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