Group Travel: Is It Selfish To Take All The Points?

The Daily Mercury newspaper in Australia has published an interesting article entitled: ‘Sneaky way friends are stealing your upgrade.’ It details how some points collectors will ‘volunteer’ to put the cost of group expenses, such as restaurant meals, on their points earning credit card, while collecting cash from each friend in exchange.

The article said that:

Qantas has identified a growing trend of “points hogging” among some of its savviest frequent flyers who take advantage of families and friends to cash in on reward flights, upgrades and online shopping sprees.

The friends ‘miss out’ on the points while the friend can collect a large amount, all in the name of ‘making it easier’ for the group.

So looking at a few different circumstances in which this opportunity might come up, is it selfish to take all of the points earned by a group?

Group dining

I admit that in Australia I have done this numerous times. Most Australian restaurants have a frustrating policy that they do not split bills, so the usual practice in Australia is for everyone to pool their cash, or one person to pay on their card and then each person reimburses them electronically.

In the UK you can split a bill on 27 different cards without staff raising an eyebrow if you like, so it’s not an issue there.

I have some disorganised friends in Australia who, without fail, will either not have any small denominations of change, or not bring any change at all. Despite knowing they are going to a group dinner they always seem surprised when the bill does not equal the exact $50 note they brought with them and of course nobody has change.

These friends will always say ‘you pay and I’ll transfer you the money.’

But they do not have a 100% success rate of doing so.

I always try to bring plenty of change when I’m going to a group dinner, so that I can pay the right amount, rather than more just because I didn’t bring any change.

Personally, if each person does bring cash, and I actually take the cash up to the counter to pay for it, I don’t see the issue in putting the entire amount on a points earning card. No-one else has asked if they can do so, and it doesn’t make any difference to them if they were happy to pay cash.

Had someone in the group said ‘do you mind if I put it on my card so I can get the points?’ I would have agreed without hesitation, and been impressed that they had thought to do so (I am the real points nerd in most of my friendship groups).

But if every single person is paying cash the points are going to waste — someone should be getting them, even if its not me!

What I do have an issue with, is when the group pays more than they need to, and the person putting it on their card ends up paying less. If the total is, say $47 each for ten people (including tip), it is extremely unlikely each person will have exactly $47 on them, and most, if not all people will just pay $50.

This means for a $470 (including tip) bill, the person paying may have $450 in cash (being 9 x $50) to take to the counter. They may say to the staff ‘make it $470,’ which includes the tip from everyone but the person paying ends up only paying $20.

I don’t do this and would really question the integrity of any friend I saw doing this.

As for booking group dining, as far as I’m concerned if whoever makes the booking goes through a dining portal to earn points for the booking, good luck to them. They have made the effort in organising the booking, so are entitled to the reward.

Group accommodation

Another, perhaps more extreme version of this is booking group accommodation. A few years back I was attending a friend’s wedding in Koh Samui, Thailand. I had volunteered to find accommodation for four of us to stay together (as no-one else had volunteered and time was running out), and settled on a lovely two bedroom, well-rated beach front resort room which was about USD$2,000 for a week.

I checked the details were fine with the other three, and they encouraged me to go ahead and book it.

I went ahead and booked this through Agoda, which at that stage partnered with Virgin Australia’s Velocity program. They were offering 3 points per $ spent (it was the same price through other booking portals), and I paid for it on a Velocity Amex, earning 1.5 points per $ spent.

So, in total 4.5 points per dollar spent — in Australian dollars it was around $2,800, so I earned around 12,600 Velocity points for my trouble.

I had spent a lot of time finding the right accommodation, as well as checking everyone was comfortable with it. I considered this to be a fair reward for doing so. The points would have otherwise been thrown away.

As agreed, each of the other three transferred me their 1/4 of the total price in cash.

Everyone was happy and it was a great trip.

Was this selfish?

I don’t think so.

Had someone else wanted to book the accommodation, and I had stepped in an insisted that I did it in order to earn the points, that would have been wrong.

If the other three had questioned if I had received anything for making the booking in my name, and I had lied and said no, that would have been wrong.

But I’m not sure two of the other members even have frequent flyer accounts, so suspected they couldn’t care less and that bringing it up would have just caused unnecessary drama during what was a wonderful wedding.

But should I have checked anyway? What would you have done?

Bottom line

I’m interested to hear what you guys think about this. I have some general moral rules that I operate under:

  • Each person should pay their fair share, whether they are receiving points or not
  • Anyone using their card for group expenses should be open and honest about it
  • No one should choose something inappropriate for the group (whether that is a dining location or accommodation) just because they have an ulterior motive to earn a reward for it
  • A first in, best dressed policy should apply where points are sitting ‘on the table’ so to speak — if only one person can use their card (i.e. no split bills), it should be the first person to suggest it
  • Provided everyone pays their fair share, the additional effort of organising should be rewarded.

Have you encountered any awkward group situations fighting over earning points? Is it selfish to take a group’s worth of points if only one person can receive them?

Comments

  1. Totally agreed, especially if they then benefit from things such as lounge access, etc. If they cared enough about points, it’d be 100% fair and reasonable to alternate paying.

  2. If you are booking travel costs ahead of time at the behest of your friends, you totally have the right to earn the points from the booking. It’s more than just “your reward” because you are taking the chance that someone won’t flake at the last minute or not pay you after the fact. Not only that, you are taking time out of your schedule to look at hotels, flights, etc.

    As for group dinners, 99% of the time, my friends and I will just split the bill evenly among 3-4 cards. Out of sympathy for the server, we never split with more than 3-4 cards and will just take the cash from other guests or have them send us the money later (or just buy drinks at the next stop).

  3. “This means for a $470 (including tip) bill, the person paying may have $450 in cash (being 9 x $50) to take to the counter.”

    TIL that people in australia pay tip too. i thought it was only the u.s..

    anyways, if someone pays with credit card then everyone should just transfer money to that person using a paypal account or equivalent. at least in the u.s. there are apps that lets you send cash to someone.

  4. I consider it a convenience fee if someone else gets the points for going through the hassle, and a commission if I’m the one doing the work. At least in the US we have Venmo so the whole who’s-paying-less/more issue is easily avoided. But when I do put everything on my card, I’ve asked if anyone minded if I did so since I wanted the points. On a rare occasion someone will ask to split it so we both get points, especially if it’s one of the quarterly bonuses. Otherwise, most people couldn’t care less as I’m one of the only people in my friend group that’s a points/miles enthusiast. Everyone else wants to minimize the PITA of splitting a bill.

  5. Points have frustrated me lately…just the other night adult family members all went out to dinner. One check arrived, rather than trying to deal with some language difficulties with our server I offered to pay, and was met with ‘oh, so you can get the points’ comments. Even after I offered to let someone else pay the comments kept coming. Sure, I was happy to pay the nearly $200 bill and get the points, but I’d rather sacrifice the points and not have to deal with the comments. And the irony of it all is that no one else in our group hoards points like I do, their credit card strategies are non-existent.

  6. I should also mention that whenever I pay the full bill I rarely get the full coverage of money back from the others in the group.

  7. I use points earning as an excuse for paying the entire bill whenever I go out with my parents. They don’t realize that I make about 10x what they do, so when it come time to fight over the check, I always play the “but I earn points” card.

  8. The thing is, people around (family, friends, whatever) would say something if they actually cared about points , miles and stuff. To be honest, people want the lifestyle and benefits but don’t like the daily reality of handling it . Organize and enjoy the points. Everyone’s winner.

  9. My friends and I always alternate as to who gets the points. I would rather just have restaurants offer separate checks but many places will not – difficult to understand why.

  10. 99% Agree, but I don’t think it’s necessarily ‘first in’ gets the points if two people both offer up points cards to pay. For instance, a bridesmaid offering a card to pay for a group meal in the days before a wedding probably takes precedence over a mere guest because, well, being a bridesmaid kind of sucks. A student who’d use points to fly home from college, might take precedence over someone with a proper full time job. Similar if a boss and secretary both offer to pay for a work lunch with personal cards (knowing the company will reimburse); secretary should probably get those points. And, among two equally situated payees, the one with the best applicable bonus category earnings should get the nod (so use Lucky’s link to get a CSR!)

  11. One day at work we needed a credit card to pay the $2,100 change fee for a colleague’s flight, so I used my Amex Platinum to pay it, was reimbursed by the company within the hour, and I collected 10,500 Amex points for it. Best deal ever!

  12. James get your friends/family to use “Venmo” no more fighting over the check and who pays what or who brought cash everyone splits the bill evenly down to the cents.

  13. In the US most restaurants just will take as many credit cards as necessary so I’ve never had a problem. Also, the article you mentioned was TITLED what ever it was. Saying something is entitled, as you do of the article, means that the article was deserving of something. Entitled and titled are two different words with very different meanings, FYI.

  14. Ha, this hits a nerve. Just about my FAVORITE way to finish up a large group dinner party at a restaurant is with a huge pile of cash on the table. I’ll swoop it up and say “I got this” and plunk down my CSR card. Not only do I get the 3 points per dollar, but I won’t have to visit the ATM to get cash for weeks.

    Often there’s a bonus involved: everyone slightly over-pays, and I end up with too much cash. Usually I just give it to the waiter as an over-inflated tip, unless the service has been terrible, in which case I keep the cash as compensation for having to put up with both people’s arithmetic inaccuracy and the terrible service.

  15. I often offer to pay for groups, events, meals, even car down payments. I make it very clear that I’m trying to earn the points. But if someone else steps up, I just has graciously allowed them to do it, also.

  16. How is it “selfish” if people agree / comply / offer to pay cash rather than split it amongst separate cards?

    Am I missing something?!

  17. Had to arrange around 10 rooms (or more) for the family and friends in the hotel anywhere between 2-7 nights each.
    Of course I accumulated all the points to my account.

    They all could have easily booked this themselves but all asked me to make the reservations. So no problem at all with what you did

  18. Solid takes, overall.

    If you’re putting in the effort to find a place, coordinate everyone is OK with it, and then track down everyone’s payment, the effort you’ve put in gives you the right to the points. At least in my book.

    Selfish people are the ones who make an executive decision on the rental/hotel/dinner without consulting others and then dictate the terms. Not cool with that.

  19. @robert I’ve experienced the annoying comments before, too, and it’s frustrating because it’s usually dinner or something for a few hundred bucks once every few weeks or months.

    I’m not getting points rich off $200 of restaurant spend. I’m trying to deal with the dickheads that want to tell the waiter “$23 on this card cause I didn’t have the wine” and “$28 on this card cause we only had one beer”.

  20. If you book it or pay, you get the points. If any of your friends say they want the points than let them pay their share. If you pay and the friend starts complaining you stole or hogged the points …they probably aren’t your friend and you probably shouldn’t pay for them anymore.

    Lets face it …if no one says anything up front than they probably have no inclination about collecting points.

    Booking for friends and family works especially well using the venture card on hotels.com …I had to book 3 rooms for 14 days and collected tens of thousands of points.

  21. In 2017 I went on 8 trips with the same two close friends, and for each trip I organised the flights and accommodation, and booked any relevant activities/excursions as required with them paying me back for their share, and my friends were happy for me to do this, and earn the hotel/card points along the way. As there were three of us we were typically able to stay in high-end hotels, and earn a lot of points. In the end I used most of the points for free nights on one of our last trips, which I think was a nice way to share the rewards back with them.

  22. @ Evan – because any other person could have taken all the points instead of me by putting on their card. I’m asking if it’s selfish for me to just take them without asking others if they want to take them instead (perhaps to toss a coin to decide who gets it).

  23. Definitely selfish.

    If the person paying is going to get 3% (say) back in points, they should obviously deduct that 3% from the gross value of the bill before splitting it among a big group.

  24. Venmo (or equivalent) can’t come to Australia soon enough. The no splitting bills is a pain in the arse especially as we are one of the highest users of cards, ApplePay and contactless payment.

  25. Australian tipping is different to US tipping. We have a minimum wage here so the waiter is dependent on your tips to live.

    So if the service is good, you generally round up the bill, maybe 5 or 10%. 20% would only be if it’s your favourite restaurant or it’s a special occasion or you’re trying to get off with your waiter or something. And if you don’t tip, no one’s going to take issue with that (although your friends might silently judge you). Tipping is not compulsory, but it is common if you are eating somewhere nice and you’re reasonably well heeled.

    I get stressed out by tipping when I visit the US. I tip 20% on the nose for fear the waiter will punch me in the face.

  26. If the waiters don’t wanna be bothered spitting the bill in Australia, maybe they don’t deserve a tip.

  27. @TravelinWilly

    Yes, a lot of people tip for good service in Australia – normally rounding the bill to be a flat dollar amount around 10%, so it probably ranges between 9-12%. However, we don’t tip for poor service, nor if the restaurant charges a surcharge on Sundays (supposedly to cover penalty rates for staff, but in reality it is only charged in restaurants in tourist areas). A lot of people also don’t bother collecting small change when in a pub / bar. I’ll also round up a taxi fare to the next $5 if the driver wasn’t a maniac, knew where they were going and the taxi resembled being clean.

    We normally do baulk at US tipping rates – but that’s OK, because you can almost guarantee that you will get ordinary to poor service as soon as the staff work out your accent is Australian, so it becomes a vicious circle. Those of us who do travel regularly do accept local ways of doing things, and will normally mentally add 20% to the menu prices when deciding whether we want to eat there.

    In the UK, most London restaurants add a discretionary 12.5% service charge to the bill. The only time I’ve asked for it to be removed was when the waitstaff knocked a bottle of wine over me, and replaced it with some cheap plonk. In fairness they did offer to pay for dry-cleaning, but I explained that I was happy to just wash the clothes – but wasn’t going to tip that that night.

    My local gastro-pub adds the 12.5% if you sit in the restaurant section, but if you are sitting in the main bar area then it isn’t added. However, in the UK, people rarely tip the barstaff – even waiting to receive 5p in change.

  28. Thank God for VENMO – put everything on your card and have people Venmo you, easy as that 🙂

    also why on earth do you tip in australia or uk? no one tips aside from USA

  29. Never heard of Venmo before but not quite sure of what I’d need it for – mobile banking app easily let’s me send money to anyone in my contacts just using their mobile number. UK and Oz seem to have good setups for that. If not then the likes of Revolut could also be used that has the added benefit of a card, no forex fees, ATM withdrawals, etc.

  30. no shame especially if you announce it. I have had two instances where co-workers screwed me out of points. One was the “the person who pays gets the points” since I didn’t have a company card, neglecting that I had top status and both would have gotten upgrades. I got upgraded he didn’t. The other was when a co-worker went behind our back and had the clerk post the points to his account even though we all paid separately. Again top status came to the rescue and I got my points.

  31. I do all of the foregoing. Split bills and pay separately (card or cash) or one pays for all and gets it back. Always transparent, however I had never thought about the points. It’s insignificant, where I live.
    I have an extreme, related situation. Some years ago I was able to book a friend in Marriott on my personal account, giving him 30%+ discount. The friendship was destroyed because he was angry that he didn’t get the FFQ points.

  32. A few things -:

    James – this is not selfish – if someone cares enough about doing what you’re doing, as you pointed out, then they should speak up or forever hold their peace.

    We are gradually getting a ‘almost real-time’ cash transfer ability from the Australian Reserve Bank, but it is early days, and not all financial institutions currently yet offer it.

    We do tip from time to time, and it is an insidious thing that has seeped in from American culture. As others have pointed out, service staff do not rely on tips at all here in Australia due to the high levels of our social safety nets, so most people detest tipping here with a fiery passion, and comment on how insufferably ‘American’ it is.

    Also, no waitstaff in Australia could give a rat’s arse about running multiple cards/bill-splitting; it is invariably almost always the restaurant management/owners that have made this decision to blanket ban it, and there’s also always a notice on the menu and/or beside the cashier to this effect.

  33. Nope; not the least bit selfish. I’m more than happy to let someone else put it on their card but if they are paying cash anyway they aren’t losing out a thing when I grab their cash and put it on my card. And we all know that one relative or “friend” that isn’t above shorting you with cash.

  34. I’m in an income bracket where in general people don’t care

    That said, if it’s big dollars I give everybody the value of the points back

    For instance, Bought plane tickets and lodging for everybody for a trip to Europe
    Subtracted 3% since that’s what Chase gives me back
    (Eg if each person’s cost was $1000 then I charge them each $970)

    I still come out ahead because I get more than 3% back when I redeem the points

    But there is the opportunity cost of the money I spent sitting in points for 6+ months so I figure it’s a wash

    In general, be honest with what you’re doing and most people wot care

  35. It’s folly to tip more than 10% in Australia. ABSOLUTE MAXIMUM, not a cent more and in most cases it should be less. A typical mid-range dinner for 2, including a bottle, runs to about $150 AUD. Tip should be $15.
    Group dinners: the staff work a bit harder ( especially if the guests are Millennials, what with sorting out the vegans, no glutens, getting the quinoa right, etc). But still 10% max.
    You are right in suggesting that it’s the owners blocking split bills. Clueless twits.
    I would struggle to find $50 in my wallet on any given day because cash is almost completely gone from daily life.

  36. me and my wife are elite members of hotel chians, and when travelling with friends, we usually book hotels so everyone can enjoy the perks. we get the points and qualifying nights, everyone is happy.

  37. Only scrolled down to say how, as usual, I’m totally bored and uninspired by this pathetic lack of interest or good writing ability.

  38. @James

    Now please do some research and write something about splitting cost to friends and family for mile redemptions i.e. free rental car days for 4 ppl, 2br suite for friends, RT tickets in F.
    What is good bad ugly.

  39. I think that it depends on a few primary factors:
    1. Who is paying for the group? – If you are paying then you should certainly get the points.
    2. If any special perks applied because it was your reservation (e.g. upgrades, etc)
    3. If they are not a points person, then they have no use for the points so why waste them!

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