For over 10 years now, I've been a member of the American Express Membership Rewards program. Every dollar I spend gets me a point in the program, which can be used for goods and services at an approximately 1% refund rate. This is pretty standard for the industry. The service costs $40/year, which isn't standard (most of the programs are free), but I pay the fee happily because of what Membership Rewards gives me in return. Flexibility.
Like most people, I use my rewards points for miles on airlines, getting free tickets and such. Unlike most rewards programs, the AMEX Membership Rewards isn't linked to a specific airline. Instead, you have the option of transfering your point to about 20 different airlines, including Delta, Continental, USAir, JetBlue and Virgin. This flexibility has enabled me to scout out the best times for a particular route and get on the plane in the cheapest way possible. In addition, sometimes instead of buying a ticket outright with my miles, I'll fill in the number of miles I need using that airlines rewards program, which I'm already a member of. So if I need 20 more points on JetBlue to get a free ticket, I'll backfill using my Amex points.
As a result of my lust of points, I use Amex for everything possible. When I was married ten years ago, I charged nearly the whole thing on Amex, netting me an instant 40,000+ points. In the ensuing years, even though I've used the miles relatively frequently, I've still managed to accumulate an account balance of 173,000 points on my card.
And now it's at zero. I pulled the trigger today on a sweet deal that Delta was having. Namely, transfer points to Delta's frequent flyer program by February 28, 2010, and Delta will give you up to a 40% bonus on the miles transferred. 150,000+ miles transferred triggers the 40% bonus, so I just dumped all of my miles that I've been saving for 10+ years into Delta. I will come out on the other side with 242,200 miles!
For many years now, I've been imagining what I could do with a whole lot of miles, and since I've been planning my wedding, it's become clear. Ali and I want to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon. We'll be in Aruba for the wedding. That's a long flight. A very long and uncomfortable flight. Which would be made SO much nicer if we flew business/first class the whole way! So there it is. I'm bumping us up!