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The advice given by people writing about points/miles (including myself!) can sometimes seem confusing – even contradictory – but there are usually good reasons for that. Today I wanted to share a tip that is actually very simple, but might at first glance appear to fly in the face of other popular points/miles axioms…
Two tips you might have read before are:
- Stick to one (or a small number) of hotel programmes, in order to easily understand how it works, and to make getting elite status more realistic.
- ‘Flexible’ points (like American Express Membership Rewards Points) are more valuable than any of the specific potential transfer partners (because once you make a transfer, you lose the flexibility to transfer to a different programme that might end up suiting your needs better).
There are good arguments for both of those positions, but it’s important not to get too attached to an idea if it ends up costing you money or limiting your travel options. Today’s 2-minute travel tip is that maintaining a reasonable points balance with a wide range of hotel programmes can save you a huge amount of money and stress.
What ‘reasonable’ means in practice will depend on your personal circumstances and travel pattern. For me, it means always having enough points to book at least one room for one night at a nice hotel in any major city. So, for example, 70,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points, 80,000 Hilton Honors Points, 75,000 Radisson Rewards Points, etc.
By always having points available in a range of programmes, I maximise my chances of being able to find availability when I need it – regardless of how busy a city might be, or how last minute a trip is.
If you stuck with just one hotel programme and there was no availability using points, or you had kept all your points in a flexible programme and there wasn’t time for a transfer to be processed, you might end up with no option but to pay a ludicrously high cash rate.
A recent example…
A couple of weeks ago, at short notice, I needed to book a hotel room in Leeds for the upcoming Saturday night. Due to a lot of big events going on in and around the city that weekend, most hotels had no points availability, and cash rates were through the roof at the few hotels that weren’t completely sold out.
If you were a Hilton loyalist, you would have been out of luck, regardless of whether you wanted to use points or cash to pay:
IHG Rewards wasn’t much better, with no points availability anywhere and cash rates for the city centre Holiday Inn Express starting at a scarcely believable £447(!!!) for one night:
Marriott’s closest hotels (either cash or points availability) were miles away in York and Manchester:
Cash rates with Radisson were only slightly less alarming than with IHG (and it was the same story at any hotel within about 30 miles):
Fortunately, because I had a decent stash of Radisson Rewards Points ready to use, I was able to avoid paying crazy sums of money and handed over just 30,000 points instead:
I normally value Radisson Points at ~0.35p each, but got about 3 times that value here. Unlike most other extreme valuations (eg. would you really pay £15,000 for a flight?) this was a genuine saving, as if I didn’t have points available, I would have to have paid a ridiculous amount of money somewhere. The stay was necessary and cash rates everywhere were very high.
In this article, I’ve focused on how having a wide range of points ‘currencies’ at your disposal can get you out of a pickle when hotel rates are high, but it also allows you to take advantage of any last minute sweet spot redemptions you might happen to notice too.
In general, I prefer to keep my points as flexible as possible, but given the time it can take to transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points across to hotel programmes, transferring some points in advance can actually give you more flexibility overall.
When I last did some experiments a couple of years ago, the transfer times from Amex were as follows:
- Hilton Honors: Usually 24 hours (but can be more)
- Mariott Bonvoy: 1-5 days
- Radisson Rewards: 8-11 days
Do you try to diversify your points portfolio too, or prefer to stick to one programme you know well?