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Miles shared his thoughts yesterday about why he prefers hotel points to airline miles. Although I wholeheartedly agree with the headline, Miles’ argument became far less compelling to me when he chose Hilton points for many of his examples. But that’s why InsideFlyer UK can be valuable to readers… the different perspectives of the various contributors.
Which is why – even though I also believe that the out-sized value in the loyalty programme hobby comes from hotel points and status (although Hilton Honors is doing its best to change that) – I decided to write a counter-point detailing why airline miles are FAR more popular than hotel points.
For Many People, the Flight is the Big Expenditure
In Europe, we are rather spoiled. It’s easy to allocate more of your travel budget to accommodation when you can get to dozens of attractive destinations within 2-3 hours on a low-cost carrier or a mainline carrier forced to complete against those LCCs. For long-haul, competition between airlines means that airfares rarely get completely out of hand, and often you can find incredible fare deals in Business Class.
But leave your Euro-centric privilege aside for a moment and think of Australians/Kiwis, South Americans, etc. EVERYWHERE is far away and expensive for them. So when Miles and I talk about the value in luxury hotels, other people are thinking “I’ve got to get there first… can I use miles to reduce the cost of the flight, and just stay at a cheap hotel / B&B / Airbnb / couch-surf once I get there?”
Returning to Europe, I’m sure that you’ve seen the occasional headline. “Single traveller penalised…”. B*******s!! Accommodation costs what it costs – converting it into a “per person” cost is just dodgy maths. But take a family of four on holiday. That’s four return tickets to be bought, whilst a well-chosen hotel room(s) or flat rental will comfortably sleep the entire crew.
Although unquestionably harder to use, airline miles can help to reduce the cost of the most crucial, expensive and least flexible element of many holiday itineraries.
To Earn Hotel Points, You Need to be Staying in Hotels Already
Think of all of the various ways to earn Avios. I suspect that you can think of dozens. Now think of how to earn Hilton points. I bet you got stuck at two: a credit card (only in a few countries) and staying at Hilton hotels. There’s a third option – buying hotel points- but as much as we promote this option as providing outstanding value, your standard leisure traveller is going straight to the easy option of Trivago / Expedia.
So it’s wonderfully easy for somebody like Miles – whose day job involves business travel – to earn hotel points during business travel and then exchange those points for free holiday nights. And if somebody else is paying for those business trips, even better…
But hotel points won’t help your standard tradesperson or office worker pay for his/her holidays, since they won’t ever earn any “organically”. But that office worker can shop at Tesco, buy petrol at Shell / Tesco, pay with a BA Amex, etc. and accumulate enough miles to reduce the cost of that holiday flight.
The REAL Value from Hotel Chain Loyalty Programmes Isn’t Points so Much as Elite Status
I am admittedly an outlier. Not only do I obsess over the value of hotel points, but I pay for 100% of my own travel. So, when I see the Conrad St. James for 80,000 points I don’t think “free”, I think $400 (£305), which reflects my valuation of an Honors point based on having spent my own money to buy them (or earn them from prior stays). But crucially, I didn’t get my hotel points from shopping at Tesco or buying petrol. (unavoidable day-to-day activities) And I could always get a cashback credit card instead of the Honors Barclaycard. So there’s no way for me to treat hotel points as “free”.
I’m not often in the market for £300+ room nights, but I could probably have simply reserved a entry-level room at the Conrad for roughly £300, which means that spending points is nothing more than a different method of payment.
In my opinion, the exciting part of hotel chain stays isn’t handing over something worth £300 (or an actual £300) for an entry level room. The fun part is booking an entry level room and receiving:
- an upgrade, sometimes to a suite
- free breakfast – sometimes boring, occasionally spectacular
- 4pm late check-out
- happy hour in an executive lounge, often with beer, wine, spirits, snacks, etc.
No matter how you paid for the entry level room, thanks to elite status you can easily receive benefits worth far more than £300.
No Miles? Forget About Flying First Class or Even Business Class
I would have led out with this argument, but I recognise the difference between “travel hacker popular” and “regular person popular”. Miles are “travel hacker popular” because they allow you to travel in Business Class or First Class for a fraction of the headline price. It’s easy to complain about Lufthansa and British Airways surcharges, but a reward flight still provides a substantial discount against paid fares. And a savvy travel hacker just avoids the worst surcharge offenders in favour of Iberia, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, United, etc.
Friends and family marvel about how I regularly fly in a premium cabin. But instead of being rich, they simply know that I’ve figured out how to earn and burn airline miles. Otherwise I would be broke or would have stopped travelling years ago…
Even though miles can sometimes seem boring in comparison to luxury hotel suites, they are more relevant to your typical traveller, which is why they are far more popular. What do you think?