Four Easy Steps for Evaluating a Bonus Offer

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Bonus miles/points can trigger a Pavlovian response for me – dangle the possibility of earning more miles/points and I start salivating before I have even read the fine print.

My heart races even when its not a program I normally care about. Take this email:

Southwest Rapid Rewards

I’ve been selected!  (I feel special.)

DOUBLE POINTS!  (That’s twice as many as I’d normally get!)

I’ll have fun frolicking in the leaves while I feel special with my double points.  (Huh, wait… what?)

I snap out of it.

Sometimes a bit of hesitation is good.

I’ve flown Southwest like, I dunno, twice in the last decade?  Their airport is another 20-30 minutes drive past the one I already sit in outrageous traffic to get to.  They don’t offer first class.  Or assigned seating.  They don’t have nonstop service to many places I need to be in the next few weeks.  And I don’t usually redeem domestic awards so the points don’t necessarily have value.

Down girl.

There… now we are back to rational thought.  This is not an offer that makes sense for me right now.  But how do I know?

Here are my four steps for evaluating a bonus offer for points or miles:

1. What does my upcoming travel pattern look like for the duration of the offer? 

Do I have trips that are not yet purchased that can reasonably be allocated to fit the terms of the offer?  In this case, my travel for October/November is not yet purchased but I know partially which cities I need to be in.  Three of them will get nonstop service from Southwest by November 2, but the frequencies may not be ideal for my needs.  Plus I’m still working on qualification with other airlines so this would require me to reevaluate those plans.

2. How much time and money would be required to meet the terms of the offer?

Assuming that my existing travel doesn’t fit the need – or that it would require me to do extra trips to meet my overall qualification goals – what would my additional outlay be in terms of my time and money?  Fall tends to get busy and I have more than once decided hastily to start down a bonus or qualification path only to realize I’m giving up cherished weekend time with family and friends to chase flights.  Knowing the time/money outlay upfront can help rationalize the decision process.

3. What is the comparable value of the offer?  (In terms of tangibles, what am I earning if I complete this?)

For this offer, I receive double points for any Southwest flights I complete.  No minimum number of flights and the points don’t count for status (which might be important if that was one of my goals).

I don’t redeem domestic awards often but I checked out what a flight to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (an award I’m currently holding on AA) might cost me round trip – 11,982 points.  I currently have 1,770 points on Southwest so I’d need to earn 10,212.  At 12 points per dollar (normally 6), I’d have to buy $851 in Wanna Get Away fares.  Or at 24 points per dollar (normally 12), I’d have to buy $426 in Business Select fares.

4.  Will I reasonably complete this offer?

First, does the time and money make sense once you’ve walked through steps 1-3?

In my case with the ticket to New Orleans, I could just BUY the points I need right now – with the 35% bonus Southwest is presently offering for purchased points, I could buy what I need to redeem for the ticket on Southwest for $220.

Or I right now I could still purchase a ticket on American for $220, earn miles I will need for next year’s requalification, and have a reasonable position on the upgrade request list this far out.  Now THAT seems like the most logical answer at this point.

And now the answer on the Soutwest promo seems like a no-brainer – this offer is not a good one for me unless I already need to be flying Southwest anyway – or could reasonably divert planned flights to them.

I am going to go ahead and register for the offer anyway – there is rarely harm in registering for a promotion just in case – as there is a small possibility I’ll need to take one Southwest flight in a couple of weeks and want to be ready if I do.

But some offers do require commitment – and if you are paying a fee or using a one-time exception (in the case of a status challenge) or if you are spending money out of pocket to complete specific terms (“fly X number of times” or “stay Y nights”), you want to know you’ll be getting something before you spend the extra time and/or money.

Four steps, a few minutes of my time, and Pavlov’s conditioning is averted and I’m no longer chasing my tail… until the next bonus offer arrives.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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    • I’m always reminded of how different our travel styles are. I feel like I’m constantly plunking down my credit card for another flight… but then again, mine are all reimbursed by someone so I’d never want to use my miles anyway. 😉

  1. Good breakdown and analysis of the offer. This offer doesn’t excite me either. Plus, I have way more SWA points than I need and always redeem my SWA points for flights.

    • The one “good” thing out of this was that I realized I had 1,770 points that were going to expire on Saturday. So I need to figure out the easiest activity for my SWA account to keep it active… any suggestions?

    • My Chase card is MileagePlus so I don’t think that will work. (I know, I know… I’m like the only travel blogger in the world who doesn’t have a wallet full of cards!). Right now I’m thinking that buying the lowest amount of miles possible with the 35% bonus is my best bet for a guaranteed posting by Saturday.

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