Tips to Maximize Hotel and Airline Points for Travel
When we talk about airline and hotel points, we often think back to our first around the world trip in 2010 when we traveled for 3 months through 10 countries and pretty much stayed at hotels 4* and above the entire time with top-tier elite status in a major hotel rewards program which meant room upgrades and lavish buffet breakfasts and cocktails for free daily. Since then, we’ve been keeping up with this hobby and loving every minute of it because of all the adventures we’ve had along the way and how the points we have earned and redeemed have afforded us so many opportunities that we couldn’t have experienced otherwise. In this post, we will share tips and strategies to help you maximize the points you earn for redemptions for hotels and flights.
**In this post, points and miles will be used interchangeably.
1) Peak Season vs Off-Season:
Your points are worth more when it is high season because demand is high and availability low and this leads to high prices. For this reason, we travel often during the off-season to earn airline and hotel points and redeem them during high-season, mostly for hotels.
Hotel stays can be very expensive around Christmas and New Years and if you’re planning to travel to Hawaii or Mexico, you get a high return on investment from redeeming your points during this period (just be prepared to book close to 1 year in advance in some cases and pay attention to cancellation penalties). When hotels charge upwards of $500USD per night, we use points because it would be too expensive for us to travel otherwise. We’ve used cash + points to stay at the Grand Hyatt Playa Del Carmen and Marriott points to stay at the Marriott Wailea on Maui. As Hyatt Globalist members, we were able to apply a suite upgrade for a better room with an ocean view and had breakfast and cocktail hour covered at the lounge. At the Marriott Wailea resort, we used points for a 4 night stay and got the 5th night free based on their point redemption policy.
We also recommend using points in Vancouver during the summer when hotels are about $500 per night for rooms that go for $150 during off-season. Our friend Deirdra used her Hyatt points for her family visit to Vancouver to stay at the Hyatt Downtown Vancouver where we’ve seen rates as high as $900 per night on sold out nights.
During low season when hotels are cheaper, you don’t get the same ROI (Return on Investment) when you use points. For example, if you’re going to Phoenix, Arizona in the summer, you should pay for your stay as opposed to using points because hotels go for about $100 a night, which is what we do each summer and usually stay at the Andaz Scottsdale. Someone we know used 40,000 Marriott points per night to stay at the JW Marriott in Scottsdale, a ho-hum property that was charging $125 per night at that time. Not surprisingly, this person expressed regret from using the points on a hotel that didn’t live up to their expectations and now not having any points to use in Hawaii during peak season.
Some airlines limit seats during peak times which can make it difficult to find flights. In some programs like Aeroplan, Air Canada elite members get access to more flights, seats, and fixed mileage options vs the market rewards which are a waste of points due to the exorbitant amount of points they ask you to redeem. We don’t usually use points for travel during this time due to the availability and cost of points opting to use Alaska Airlines companion fares.
As Alaska Airlines credit card holders, we often save our companion fare for high season when flights are usually very expensive. With a companion fare, we can book one ticket and pay $$ for the second which drastically brings down the price of tickets. For example, if the flights cost $1,000 return per ticket, with a companion fare, we pay $1,200 for two tickets so $600 per person vs $1,000 per person and $2,000 on total for savings of $800.
2) Value of points and Devaluation:
Are you saving up your points to use to save $ when you have to travel or are you saving them up for a special occasion? By rule of thumb, you should never hold on to hotel and airline points for too long because they lose their value through devaluation. Devaluation is when airlines and hotels change the amount of points you need to redeem and most often, you need more and is similar to inflation in some ways. As the travel industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, there is positive inflation for flights and hotels as opposed to after the 2008 economic meltdown when there was negative inflation and things became a lot cheaper/discounted and there were a lot more incentives for those able and willing to travel.
Devaluations are often announced with little or no notice which is very frustrating and disappointing for those who have been saving up points for a long time. In addition, hotels and airlines review their rewards charts at least once a year and make changes that are published and communicated to members and the general public. For example, you can find the 2018 Marriott Rewards Category Changes Published on this website (this website is inaccurate at this time during the SPG/Marriott merger disaster that is unfolding as we type this). In many cases, hotels will go up a category as opposed to down and the longer the stay, the more points you will need. In some cases, hotels will go down a category and for example, all the Marriott hotels in Turkey are going down a category, most likely due to the political unrest that is affecting tourism.
If you Google “airline mile devaluation”, you will find numerous articles that discuss this topic in detail with many angry people making comments about it. We have experienced devaluation on many programs: Delta, Aeroplan, and Alaska and suspect the next major devaluation of points will occur when Air Canada launches their new loyalty program in 2020.
Families who travel frequently for sporting events with their children will want to use their points to offset the costs of these travels and so redeeming them at basic hotels that charge less points is advisable to stretch the points out as much as possible. Some hotel chains that are redeemable with points like the Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Hampton Inn to name a few even offer free breakfast which might make it even worthwhile to book here.
Those who want to splurge and experience luxury will want to use the points at hotels they wouldn’t be prepared to pay for otherwise. Before the Hilton devaluation of their points and program, we redeemed points to stay at the Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand. For our 15 year anniversary, we’re using points to stay at the Ritz Carlton Ras Al Khaimah for 50,000 points a night. Considering the Courtyard by Marriott in Wailea charges 40,000 points per night, the Ritz Carlton is a steal since you also get your own pool.
We’ve often used points to fly back to Ontario when tickets cost $1,200 for economy due to lack of competition. It hurts to use points on something like this but it’s good value at 25,000 Aeroplan points for a return trip. In comparison, we would never use 25,000 Aeroplan points to fly to Los Angeles from Vancouver because you can usually find a return flight under $500 for this trip.
In some cases, the difference between the points required for a first class seat as opposed to a business class seat is negligible which is why we also just booked two flights on British Airways First Class instead of business class: it’s only 10,000 more points for first class and quite rare to find 2 First Class tickets.
Since we also don’t recommend holding on to points for too long due to devaluation with little or no notice, we decided to splurge and redeem 300,000 Alaska miles (150,000 per ticket) for Emirates First Class on the A380 from Los Angeles to the Maldives.
3) Know the Value of Your Points and Different Programs:
Earning and redeeming is points is similar to the stock market in some ways and requires a lot of research to maximize return on investment and we also highly recommend diversifying your portfolio. Here are some general tips and things to look for:
- Cash + Points: When hotel programs offer it, cash + points is a great way to reduce the cost of a hotel and use less points while still getting credit for the stay towards your status. We’ve done this numerous times with Hyatt and we even got upgraded to an exclusive pool suite at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap.
- Think Long Term in the Short Term: We have already mentioned that you shouldn’t hold on to points too long but you also shouldn’t rush and use them on the first thing you book. Have a look at how much things generally cost in terms of points and compare to different options. As the Marriott and Starwood merger continues, we will definitely try to book the Al Maha Luxury Collection Desert resort in Dubai for 60,000 points instead of the 110,000 they usually charge (fingers crossed!). It might also be worth using points to upgrade to a better room: when we stayed at the W Bali, it was only a few thousand points to upgrade to an ocean view room on a top floor, which we did to maximize the view of the sunset.
- Know the Program: Did you know that Hyatt has a passport program that earns you a free stay at a hotel up to a category 4 when you stay at 5 different Hyatt brands? We made it a mission of ours to do so and saved about $500 when we applied it to stay at the Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, British Columbia during peak season.
- Short-Haul vs Long-Haul Flights: When we book short-haul flights, we use British Airways Avios points because the points required are based on flight distance. We often use Avios points when flying from Vancouver to Phoenix due to the flight times and low amount of points required but would not use Avios for a flight to Asia.
- Taxes and Fees: When we went to South America to visit Machu Picchu, we used Alaska Airlines miles to go there and used Aeroplan to come back from Argentina on United. The reason why we did this is because the taxes and fees to use Aeroplan to flight to South America from a Canadian destination can be $1,000+ and so it’s not a good use of points. We also usually use Aeroplan miles to fly on Eva to Asia instead of Air Canada because not only does EVA have a better product and flight times but the taxes and fees are significantly lower. A few years ago, we took our parents to Bali and they all loved the Eva product too.
- Credit Your Miles to the Best Program: When WestJet and American Airlines partnered, it was a great way to build up your American Airlines miles and status because you received credit for each mile flown (now you only get 25%). From all of our years of flying WestJet, we earned enough points for two business class tickets on Qatar Airways for close to 12 hours of flying (Maldives to Doha and then Doha to Bali). Depending on the day, it can cost you more miles to fly economy from the west coast to New York City on an American carrier than the business class tickets we secured on Qatar Airways.
- Diversify Your Portfolio: On our last trip in 2017, we used points from a number of programs to maximize our itinerary and had we not diversified our points portfolio, it would have been impossible to do so. Also, we understand how some people might want to just credit all their miles to one program and the benefits of that, especially the Air Canada Million Mile program but you might also be missing out on other opportunities because the miles you fly on Air Canada cannot be used to fly on Emirates First Class, an aspirational reward sought after by many.
It was difficult to write this in a very structured way because each person’s options for earning points is different and based on so many different factors. We do hope that this post gives you a glimpse in the complexity and options available to reduce the costs of your travels and plan trips that you enjoy. We’re relatively small fish in a big pond of people who not only do this as a hobby but as a living. It’s a hobby that requires a lot of time, research, flexibility and patience overall and since we work full-time jobs that are pretty demanding, we don’t get to do as much as we would like! If you have any specific questions or are looking for some help, feel free to email us to discuss further.
Are there any other tips and considerations that you would like to add to this list? What has been the best redemption you ever found?
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