What are the best ways to use points for travel?

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If I had a point for every time I was asked the best way to use points for travel, I would have enough to travel around the world. Twice. After a decade in this racquet, I know how to stretch my points to the max.

Used correctly, points can be more valuable than cash. You can use them for everything from an extended stay hotel stay to a first class trip to the Maldives. You can plan a cross-country road trip with motel stops or literally fly around the world. The key is knowing what your points are worth and using them wisely. As a general rule, you should aim to get at least a penny of value out of each point, although that’s not always possible.

If you’ve saved up your points and are wondering how best to use them for travel, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to maximize the value of your points and miles.

Flights in the premium cabin

International business and first class tickets are generally the highest return for your points. A round-trip business class ticket to Europe costs between 88,000 and 140,000 miles, while a cash fare will set you back around $5,000. An economy class ticket typically costs 60,000 miles round trip with cash fares of up to $400 during low season. You are more likely to get your money’s worth with a premium cabin buyout than with a coach.

First-class and international business travel isn’t just the highest redemption value for your points. It’s also something most people can’t afford without points. It really is the best way to use points and miles for travel, not only limiting your spending, but accessing travel opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

Luxury hotels (or all-inclusive)

Luxury hotels can offer a great return on your points. The Maldives, for example, is a popular destination for maximizing hotel points. Hotels in the Maldives can cost upwards of $1,000 per night, making them a great use of hotel points and free nights.

But one thing that is often overlooked? These “free” luxury hotel stays come with a lot of added expense. Food is expensive in these remote destinations, and boat and seaplane transfers can cost upwards of $500 per person. Unless you plan on paying out of pocket for the room anyway, you might not save a lot of money on this buyout.

A great value alternative would be all-inclusive resorts closer to home. Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott all have all-inclusive resorts that require reasonable points, Hyatt in particular. For example, the Hyatt Ziva Puerto starts at just 17,000 points per night. You can easily earn enough points for three free nights using the welcome bonus of the World of Hyatt credit card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card.

Please note that this rate is for two people per room. Hyatt charges an additional 8,500 points per night for each additional person staying in the same room. The great thing about Hyatt’s all-inclusive resorts is that all meals and accommodations are included, so you can walk away with a $0 bill. That’s not always possible in luxury hotels, where a trip to the minibar can put a serious dent in your wallet. All-inclusive resorts are ideal for budget-conscious travelers who want to have fun without overdoing it.

Lower category hotels for longer stays

There’s more than one way to take advantage of hotel points and I’m sure extended stay hotels can be a great use of points.

Extended-stay properties tend to be among the cheapest hotels on points, requiring a fraction of the points needed for their luxury counterparts. Lower redemption rates do not affect value. In fact, these affordable hotels offer great value perks that enhance your hotel experience.

Free breakfast is generally standard at these properties. Thanks to larger beds and additional sofas, they can also accommodate more than the usual two people per room. This makes extended stay properties ideal for families and large groups.

Peak in travel bookings

During peak travel season (summer, spring break, vacation), everything from airfares to hotel rates skyrocket. Now may be the perfect time to use points and miles to reduce your costs.

It should be noted that an increasing number of airline and hotel loyalty programs are moving towards dynamic pricing. This means that exchange rates will fluctuate depending on the cost of airfare and room rates. That being said, you can still put your points to good use thanks to the dynamic pricing in place.

Hotel loyalty programs are a great example of how these buyouts can work favorably. For example, a stay at the Westin New York Grand Central over Christmas and New Years costs well over $6,000. The same stay costs 480,000 Marriott points, giving you a value of 1.25 cents per point. This is fantastic value for a Marriott buyout.

The price of rewards increases during peak travel season, but that doesn’t mean the math won’t add up favorably. It’s always a good idea to compare these redemption rates to spot prices and determine which option works best.

Off-Peak Rewards

While booking expensive travel during peak periods can increase your point value, off-peak rewards can save you points. Case in point: American Airlines is one of the few airlines that still publishes a rewards chart, including off-peak travel dates for theirs and partner rewards. You can save around 20% on an award ticket by traveling out of season.

For example, a one-way economy class ticket to Europe typically costs 30,000 miles. The same reward costs 22,000 miles if you are willing to travel between January 10 and March 14 or between November 1 and December 14.

The same goes for rate-based programs like Southwest Rapid Rewards. By browsing the airline’s discounted fare calendar, you can get amazing deals on award tickets.

If you can afford to be flexible with your travel dates, you can stretch your points even further by using fewer points for off-peak travel.

Sweet spot redemptions

Sweet Spot rewards are one of the best kept secrets of airline and hotel loyalty programs. A “sweet spot” refers to a reward that is priced significantly lower than most other programs.

For example, United MileagePlus requires approximately 140,000 miles for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe. Meanwhile, another Star Alliance carrier, All Nippon (ANA), only needs 88,000 miles for the same flight. ANA even gives you a free stopover on these award routes, allowing you to book multiple trips for the price of one.

Award tickets to Hawaii are always in high demand, and even off-peak travel can cost 40,000 AAdvantage miles round-trip. However, the British Airways Executive Club has a sweet spot for West Coast travelers – just 13,000 Avios each way.

Air France and KLM’s joint frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, isn’t widely recognized by the general public, but it’s packed with great features that can save you points and money. My favorite? A 106,000 mile award ticket between the United States and North Africa. Considering most other programs require 160,000 miles or more for the same reward, this is a fantastic offer.

If you are interested in Flying Blue, be sure to check out their Monthly promotional rewards. These award tickets are discounted by up to 50%. They present a great way to use your stitches and stretch them further.

Ignore all of the above

Feel free to ignore all the advice above. While following it will ensure maximum value for your points, you should use your points as you see fit. If redeeming Ultimate Rewards at 1.5 cents each for a ghost tour of New Orleans makes you happy, then go for it. If using your AAdvantage miles for a rental car keeps money in your pocket, do it. Your points should work for you, so ignore what influencers are doing and do what works for you.

Finally, points devalue and the absolute best way to redeem them is fast. Do not hoard. Don’t let them accumulate and devalue before you’ve had a chance to use them.

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