If I had a point for every time I got asked about the best way to utilize points for travel, I’d have enough to fly around the world. Twice. After a decade in this racket, I know how to stretch my points as far as possible.
Used correctly, points can be more valuable than cash. You can use them for everything from a staycation at an extended stay hotel to a first-class trip to the Maldives. You can plan a cross-country road trip with motel pit stops or literally fly around the world. The key is to know what your points are worth and to use them wisely. As a general rule, you should aim to get at least one cent of value out of each point, though that won’t always be possible.
If you’ve been saving up your points and wondering how best to utilize them for travel, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about maximizing value from your points and miles.
Premium cabin flights
International business and first-class tickets are typically the most high-value 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 about $5,000. An economy-class ticket typically costs 60,000 miles round-trip with cash fares going as low as $400 during the off-season. You’re more likely to get bang for your buck on a premium cabin redemption than on coach.
International business and first-class travel isn’t just the highest redemption value for your points. It’s also something most folks can’t afford without points. That’s really the best use of points and miles for travel—not just keeping your expenses low but accessing travel opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.
Luxury (or all-inclusive) hotels
Luxury hotels can offer a tremendous return on your points. The Maldives, for example, is a popular destination for maximizing hotel points. Hotels in the Maldives can go well over $1,000 per night, making them a great use of hotel points and free night awards.
But one thing that often gets overlooked? These “free” luxury hotel stays come with many added expenses. Food is expensive in these remote destinations, and boat and seaplane transfers can cost over $500 per person. Unless you were planning to pay out of pocket for the room anyway, you may not save much money on this redemption.
A high-value alternative would be all-inclusive hotels closer to home. Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott all have all-inclusive resorts that require reasonable points, Hyatt especially. For example, the Hyatt Ziva Puerto starts at just 17,000 points per night. You can easily accumulate enough points for three free nights using the welcome bonus from the World of Hyatt Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
It’s worth noting 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 hotels is that all meals and accommodations are included, making it possible to check out with a $0 bill. That’s not always possible at luxury resorts, where a trip to the minibar can put a serious dent in your wallet. All-inclusive hotels are ideal for budget-conscious travelers who want to enjoy themselves without going overboard.
Low category extended stay hotels
There’s more than one way to get value out of hotel points and I’m a firm believer that extended stay hotels can be an excellent use of points.
Extended stay properties tend to be some of the cheapest hotels on points, requiring a fraction of the points needed by their luxury counterparts. Lower redemption rates don’t impact value. In fact, these affordable hotels offer high-value perks that improve your hotel experience.
Complimentary breakfast typically comes standard at these properties. Thanks to larger beds and additional sofas, they can also accommodate more than the usual two guests per room. This makes extended-stay properties ideal for families and large groups.
Peak travel bookings
During peak travel season (summer, spring break, the holidays), everything from airfare to hotel rates skyrocket. This can be a great time to utilize points and miles to keep your costs down.
It’s worth noting that an increasing number of airline and hotel loyalty programs are moving toward dynamic pricing. That means redemption rates will fluctuate based on the cost of airfare and room rates. That being said, you can still put your points to good use with dynamic pricing in place.
Hotel loyalty programs are a great example of how these redemptions can work out favorably. For example, a stay at the Westin New York Grand Central over Christmas and New Year’s costs well over $6,000. The same stay costs 480,000 Marriott points, giving you a value of 1.25 cents per point. That’s a fantastic value for a Marriott redemption.
Award pricing goes up 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 against cash prices and figure out which option works best.
While expensive peak travel bookings can increase the value of your points, off-peak awards can save you points. Case in point: American Airlines is one of the few airlines still publishing an award chart, including off-peak travel dates for their own and partner awards. You can save around 20 percent on an award ticket by traveling during the off-season.
For example, a one-way economy class fare to Europe typically costs 30,000 miles. The same award costs 22,000 miles if you’re willing to travel between Jan. 10 – March 14 or Nov. 1 – Dec. 14.
The same goes for fare-based programs like Southwest Rapid Rewards. By searching through the airline’s low-fare calendar, you can score incredible 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 awards are one of the best-kept secrets of airline and hotel loyalty programs. A “sweet spot” refers to an award priced significantly lower compared to most other programs Familiarizing yourself with sweet-spot redemptions is a great way to get more travel out of a limited points balance.
For example, United MileagePlus requires around 140,000 miles for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe. Meanwhile, fellow Star Alliance carrier All Nippon (ANA) requires just 88,000 miles for the same flight. ANA even gives you a free stopover on these awards itineraries, allowing you to book multiple trips for the cost of one.
Award tickets to Hawaii are always in-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 loyalty program, Flying Blue, doesn’t get much mainstream recognition, but it’s packed with sweet spots that can save you points and cash. My personal favorite? A 106,000-mile award ticket between the U.S. and North Africa. Considering most other programs require 160,000 or more miles for the same award, that’s a fantastic deal.
If you’re interested in Flying Blue, be sure to check out their monthly Promo Rewards. These award tickets are discounted by as much as 50 percent. They present an excellent way to use your points 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 however you see fit. If redeeming Ultimate Rewards at 1.5 cents each for a New Orleans ghost tour makes you happy, then go for it. If using your AAdvantage miles for a rental car keeps cash in your pocket, do it. Your points should work for you, so ignore what the influencers are doing and do what works for you.
Lastly, points devalue and the absolute best way to redeem them is quick. Don’t hoard. Don’t let them accumulate and devalue before you have a chance to use them.