What Are Points Worth to You?

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What Are Points Worth

The view from my Conrad Singapore room

Let me point it out right away — this is not about points valuation. Over the weekend, I received an email from a reader who has questioned my redemption principles in response to my Hilton Honors series. He brings up an interesting point, the point, I happen to disagree with. He basically says that “extreme budgeting” (be it cash or miles/points) takes away the fun and joy from travel and turns it into work.

I asked his permission to quote his email on the blog (it’s an interesting write-up, actually), but he hasn’t responded yet. So, briefly, here are my thoughts if anyone cares.

Your miles and points ARE money, seriously!

I don’t understand this relaxed attitude toward points (and miles), honestly. They are not free perks. Your airport lounge access is a perk, but your miles and points are cash substitute for travel. At least, this is how I feel about it.  🙂 

Having said that, extreme budgeting” is hardly what I do.

  • I fly long-hauls in business class (but if you’re not an older guy/gal with a bad back, coach won’t hurt you… well, maybe just a little).
  • I don’t stay in hostels (again, this is a young people’s game, no matter what anyone says).
  • I often book vacation rentals (but not a room – only a whole apartment/house and I never ever stay in dumps).
  • I rarely stay at cheap hotels (rarely is a keyword here, because I do, sometimes).

And by the way, when I do stay in cheap hotels, there is usually a good reason that goes beyond budget considerations. I wouldn’t rate a room at El Medano on Tenerife beyond 2.5 stars, but calling this hotel oceanfront would do it a disservice — it’s right in the ocean!

What Are Points Worth

The room at the Medano hotel was extremely cheap, but its terrace’s staircase leads you straight into the water.   

Yes, I’m careful with my points, miles, and cash to optimize my travel. And you should be too!

Budgeting – yes, extreme – no! At least, I don’t see it this way. Does it make anyone feel better to thoughtlessly burn 50,000 points in a market where a 4-star hotel room goes for $80?

Earn and burn” is dead, or, at least, it should be

I was never a big fan of the “earn and burn” philosophy despite constant and relentless devaluations from credit cards and loyalty programs. In today’s environment when replenishing our coffers has become extremely difficult, I believe “earn and burn” is more or less obsolete.

Unless you’re a newbie, miles and points are not as plentiful for most people as they used to be.

Maybe, it’s just me. Since I travel internationally 4 to 6 times a year, staying within budget has been a crucial part of my travel strategy. It’s kind of become second nature. I don’t see it as “work.”

If I had one vacation a year like most people, I wouldn’t probably care that much. But the point of using points is to travel more, not less, isn’t it?

Of course, if you’re into Manufactured Spending (and good at it), you’re living under a different set of rules. I’ve given up on chasing elusive MS opportunities simply because it’s hard in my neck of the woods. I only go for the low-hanging fruit nowadays, since I can use my time more productively elsewhere.

Look at the whole picture: flights, hotels, apartments, food, miles, points, cash

My approach to traveling fully excludes loyalty. I don’t even think about that. I always look at cash rates of comparable hotels and, since I couldn’t care less about silly things like room service, my valuation of a local lodging market always includes vacation rentals.

Do I want to pay 50,000 points for a $250 hotel room? Maybe. But not before I check Airbnb, Homeaway, Booking.com, Hotwire.com and whatnot and see if there is a nice 5-star hotel room or a one-bedroom apartment for $100 with my name on its tag.

A couple of years ago, I stayed at Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof, which I got for $73 a night on Hotwire.com. Now, that I have a Citi Prestige card, I check the rates on hotel websites first, though, to see if the 4th free night is a better deal.

What Are Points Worth

A huge pool at 5-star Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof in Berlin (the room was $73) 

Of course, there are other things to consider. The easy Gold status with Hilton gets you free breakfast and access to the executive lounge at many Hilton properties around the world. The Diamond status gets you guaranteed access to the lounge (where available), which can mean some real savings on food, especially for families.

This is a very tangible benefit of staying at Hilton unless you have a comparable elite status with other chains (but only Marriott offers the same benefits to Gold members, AFAIK).

This is what I mean by this “look at the whole picture” thing.

Funnily enough, Citi’s exit makes Hilton points more valuable

Here is the thing with Hilton Honors. There used to be two credit card issuers for Hilton points, Citibank and American Express. Then Citi got kicked to the curb, leaving American Express the sole credit card “executor” of Hilton points. And, unlike Citi, American Express limits your sign-up bonus to “once in a lifetime.”

The door’s not even closed – it’s been slammed in our collective face.

True, once-in-a-lifetime is relative, and you might be able to open a new American Express Hilton card sometime in the future and get your bonus again, but, seriously, this is not churning. The Hilton Honors points are now a finite resource.

So my series simply suggests we use them wisely. If you’re not traveling to a place where Hilton offers a good value, look at the alternatives outside Hilton. Then outside rewards booking. Still nothing? Check vacation rentals (not just Airbnb, there are other options). If you’ve only stayed at hotels or resorts before, you have no idea what you’re missing. I’m working on a separate giant post on vacation rentals, though, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What Are Points Worth

A Mammoth 2-story oceanview apartment in Salvador, Brazil with a private pool and a lot of character

So, what say you all? Agree, disagree? What are points worth to you? 

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15 Responses to What Are Points Worth to You?

  1. bluecat says:

    I think the same way as you. The “look at the whole picture” thing is very important—and very time-consuming, actually—but half the fun in travel is the planning, no? 🙂

    Regarding “earn and burn”: I like to have a bunch of currencies laying around, “just in case” there is a killer deal that I use those points on. But I find more and more that this is NOT the case. The last time I had a “killer deal” on a hotel stay was the 2 free rooms via my Fairmont credit card (R.I.P.) and, before that, it was CLub Carlson 2-for-1 awards (also R.I.P.). Everything besides those have been okay, but probably not worth the trouble.

    Same for air redemptions, btw. The only consistent winner for me with the free stopover on United awards. Everything else is ok–not great–mainly due to the fat that airfares themselves are so cheap these days.

    Anyway, keep up the blogging. I always enjoy reading what you have to write!

    • Andy Shuman says:

      Thanks! There’re some killer deals nowadays to be found, usually in foreign airline programs. But you need to dig really deep into it to find a diamond in the rough.

      And yes, totally with you about planning being half the fun!

  2. John says:

    I agree with you about the whole “earn and burn”thing. I travel about 5-8times a year. I do not ever use my miles currencies for economy. I fly first of the very least business class. Also, I would rather pay for an inter-Asia, or Europe flight that is direct and non stop than have to lay over 4-6 hours to save a few dollars. Oh well, one day I will die with less money in the bank.

    As for hotels, I get excellent value from Hilton with its large footprint. I am beginning to use Hyatt since accumulating a good deal of points. However, I have no problem staying at a Hostel if I can get the private room. I had a awesome room at the Soul Kitchen Hostel in St. Petersburg, Russia overlooking the river for $75 @ night. I find hostel have a built in people to socialize, split cost on tours, a night where everyone pays like $10-15 and shares a Russian meal cooked by the people who run the hostel.
    I saw you use Hotwire, I will have to add it to my hotel inquires along with Hotels.com, booking.com and Lonely Planet.

    • Andy Shuman says:

      John: I’m with you on hostels private rooms. What I mean is I won’t bunk up with other people, that’s no fun for me or for them. Mostly for them. 🙂 Also, Hotwire and other “mistery” hotel programs like Priceline, are really worth taking a better look. I might dedicate a post to it one day.

      Boris: Mostly CX and JL for tons of free stopovers. It really bugs me that I can’t take longer trips because stopover options are out of this world with either one.

      • Boris Minevich says:

        I am not a big fan of foreign programs besides Avianca because of YQs. Even ANA.I know that they dropped YQs for some of the redemptions but what’s the points of paying 104K in J to South Africa if every single redemption entails YQs? For some people it is okay, not for me. Thanks for your hard work

  3. Boris Minevich says:

    Andy, what foreign programs are you talking about besides ANA? Thanks

  4. […] really good thinking about “What Are Points Worth to You“. This is not about the totally ridiculous “valuation” posts by the big […]

  5. Byron says:

    Don’t forget cards like the Arrival Plus that will actually pay for some of these stays. I limit MS to about 10K per week. Which is enough to cover about a $200 hotel stay. I found one WM that will let me do 2K per day. I have to drive a little to get there, but it works.

    • Andy Shuman says:

      You limit MS to 10K a week? Wow! Well, then you’re in a totally diferrent ligue. For me here in NYC, Walmarts take a lot of driving, tolls, gas, and time. And even a wrong cashier can make the whole drive futile.

  6. Anon says:

    Good post, again, Andy. Really glad you’re back!

    For obvious reasons the vacation rental aspect isn’t posted about within this sphere. I’m looking forward to your post(s).

    The only meal I’ll eat in a hotel is breakfast. Eating at local places is a good part of traveling, and I like contributing to the local economy as well. BUT I don’t travel much to the ‘first world’, where budget considerations might warrant lounge food.

    • Andy Shuman says:

      Thanks – and fair enough. While I do use lounges, I don’t dine in hotel restaurants in Asia or Latin America (except for some sumptious hotel buffets in Bangkok), because like you said, it doesn’t make sense.

  7. […] 5) What are points worth to you? by LazyTravelers. I like this post, though I’m more in the “burn them all” category. Still, the author makes some very good points. One in particular that I like is that miles and points are real money. If you are a frequent traveler, you should be picky about your redemptions. For more on this topic, see my post What are points and miles worth? (“normal people” edition) […]

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