One of my largest assets is about to take a hit, and there’s nothing I can do about it. In January, my United Airlines points will fall in value and I’ll lose my elite status. Even if I kept it, it’d be worth less.
Reward points, it turns out, are a lousy investment. Airline and credit card companies constantly redefine how and when you can use your points, and point inflation is rampant—larger and more pervasive than dollar inflation. Credit cards regularly offer tens of thousands of points for signing up, leaving the 1,300 miles accrued on a New York-to-Florida flight practically worthless. As airlines consolidate, they also devalue what your points can buy. My United points have been hit particularly hard: According to estimates by Brian Kelly, aka the Points Guy, they are worth an estimated 1.5¢ a mile, down from 2¢ a mile two years ago. After nearly 20 years of reward-point hoarding and four years of cross-country commuting, I am rich in points but getting poorer by the minute.