We talk a lot on Head for Points about how to get the maximum value from your points. Sometimes, however, circumstances mean that you just want to get a free holiday – flight and hotel – even if you might not be getting every last penny of value.
Head for Points reader Peter sent us an email asking if we wanted to hear his story about how he spend 650,000 Avios and Hilton points on a holiday for two including five nights at the Hilton Barbados.
We thought this was an interesting story to illustrate this issue, as some people may not agree with his choices, so we were happy to run it.
It also includes a mini review of the Hilton Barbados if any reader is thinking of booking that.
Over to Peter. As usual, we have made some edits to fit our house style:
“I sometimes read on HfP people asking where to fly to get the highest value per point. For me personally this is not the main objective when it comes to spending points. What I really want is to get the most from my holiday by using my existing points stash.
We had just moved house and didn’t want to spend a lot of money so being Avios and Hilton Honors points rich came in handy.
My wife and I had managed to accumulate a total of 650,000 Avios and Hilton points. These came mainly through credit card bonuses and I also won 100,000 Avios in a HfP competition with Kaligo!
We wanted to fly business class long haul for the first time, but not travel too far, which is why we chose Barbados.
How I spent my points:
BA Club World flights
I booked Club World with a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher. The Avios cost was a total of 137,500 Avios (peak out, off-peak back). The cash outlay should have been £917.12 but I had an American Express card offer of £100 off a ba.com booking of £500 or more so it ended up being only £817.12. I also paid an extra £172 to pre-book our seats on the flight out – the less said about that the better.
People talk about a shortage of Avios reward availability but I had no problems. Even though the outbound was booked for a peak time in the October half-term holidays, I booked online just after midnight which was a doddle. The return flight was off peak and as there is generally good availability to Barbados, I booked at 8am via the UK call centre on the relevant day.
The flights at the time were retailing at £6299 for two people so (if you use the retail price as the basis for your valuation, which you shouldn’t necessarily do of course) I got 3.99p per Avios. This might have been due to it being half term but even off-peak flights retail at £3650 for two people which would still give a respectable 2.06p per Avios.
I won’t dwell on the flights as Rob covers it better than I could but as a first time business class flyer it was great. The only downside was that the gluten free club food is very unimaginative. We were provided fruit salad every meal (lunch, afternoon tea, evening meal and breakfast) and cold chargrilled vegetables for three out of four meals. It is, of course, streets ahead of economy and even my wife “quite enjoyed it” – high praise for someone who does not like flying.
The Hilton Barbados was 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night for a standard redemption. Hilton has a permanent great offer for Silver status members and above where you can get five reward nights for the points amount of four nights. This meant I would be paying 40,000 points per night.
However, I ended up not booking this room. I booked before the Hilton Honors system changed, making Standard rewards cheaper at times of lower demand. This meant, oddly, for my dates a more expensive Executive Room happened to be just 45,000 Hilton Honors points per night as a Premium redemption.
You cannot use the 5 for 4 on premium redemption but for only 5,000 points more per night I would get free drinks and snacks in the executive lounge for the two of us instead of only free breakfast as a Gold member!
The room was retailing for $211 a night (£859 total at the time of booking) so this worked out at 0.38p per Hilton Honors point. This is above the 0.33p baseline that Rob uses on HfP for valuing Hilton points.
Turtle Beach by Elegant Hotels
We did not have enough Hilton Honors points for the full holiday, so I used some of our Avios stash to book another hotel via ba.com. The 4* Turtle Beach by Elegant Hotels stood out as it was all suites and all inclusive, plus purported to be good for gluten free guests which my wife and I both need due to an intolerance.
The cost was 324,000 Avios for six days. I did not compare this to the inflated prices on ba.com but to Expedia where the hotel was retailing at £1690. I gained 0.52p per Avios this way.
This was not, by a long way, the most effective use of my points. However, as I wrote earlier, my main objective was to keep our cash costs down having just moved house and I was happy to use them this way.
Top tip here – initially the hotel was 370,000 Avios but a few months later it went down in Avios cost, though not in money cost. The £35 cancellation fee to rebook and save 46,000 Avios was well worth it. We were also upgraded for free to a sea view room when we arrived which was a pleasant surprise as it would have cost $59 per night to upgrade in advance.
Do I feel that spending 461,500 Avios and 225,000 Hilton points in such a manner was a waste of points? Not at all. Flying business long haul and spending 11 days on Barbados was brilliant, and all for a cash outlay of only £1022. Bargain!
Without this hobby and Head for Points I would not have been able to have a holiday like this, but now I’m building my up my reserves again for the next one.
Hilton Barbados review
As a PS., Rob asked me to briefly review the Hilton Barbados. It is a hotel where many HfP readers many be interested in spending Hilton Honors points or booking in order to get Hilton Honors status benefits.
Positioned on a peninsula, it is only 5 minutes from the capital Bridgetown and 20 minutes from the airport.
I got a good feeling as soon as I walked in the lobby. It is cleverly designed, raised up and open to the air allowing guests to feel the breeze whilst taking in the Caribbean vibe. Off the lobby was a bar, a general shop, a coffee shop, an upscale clothing store, a cash machine as well as a gem store.
As well as the lobby bar the hotel also has as further bar by the beach. There were two restaurants, the more casual Lighthouse restaurant (where the buffet breakfast is served) and a smarter restaurant called The Grille with a much promoted “award winning Caribbean chef”. We had a sandwich at the Lighthouse restaurant one lunchtime which was pleasant enough but we never tried The Grille.
There were three pools and a jacuzzi, one being a huge infinity pool where guests could to take free scuba lessons. The hotel also has two private beaches with lounge chairs and umbrellas.
The only negative experience we had was at check-in where we were initially downgraded from the executive room I had booked to a standard king!
We arrived two hours before check-in and had a room prepared for us early. By the time of our stay I had status matched to Hilton Diamond from Accor Platinum and I was told by reception that there was no space for an upgrade, although I had not asked for one.
I noticed the downgrade as the bed in the first room we were given was broken and the room was on floor 5 whereas the executive floors were floor 6 to 8. At reception they were very apologetic and we instantly were moved into an executive room.
Maybe this was the room that should have been allocated to us originally hence it being unavailable for an upgrade, but I did get the feeling that a Hilton Diamond should not expect too much extra at this hotel. We did get a late check-out at 1:30pm though rather than the usual 11am.
The good thing about this accidental downgrading was that I was able to compare a standard room with an executive room. Basically they were the same apart from a slightly uprated coffee machine, slight décor differences and a weird sliding door from the bedroom into the bathroom in the executive room. Initially I thought this was so you could watch the TV from the bath but in reality you couldn’t due to the position of the taps.
Here is the standard room:
And the executive room:
The bathroom was the same in both rooms with an odd low, shallow bath and a separate shower.
As the Hilton Barbados is on a peninsula the views were spectacular and probably a major selling point. An uninterrupted view of the Atlantic Ocean even allows you to see the curve of the earth.
If you are Hilton Diamond and will get executive lounge access anyway, I suggest booking a standard room. If you are Gold or below it is well worth the extra for an Executive Room as the free soft drinks and food from the lounge will more than cover the extra. The lounge is a good size with a separate annex through a set of doors if you want to have a meeting or work:
Note that as a Gold or Diamond member you can only eat breakfast for free in the Executive Lounge. This is basic continental with just one type of egg, a couple of cold meats, pancakes, bread, three types of cereal and pastries. It was an extra $15 per person to eat in the Lighthouse Restaurant for breakfast if you want the full buffet experience ($30 if you have no status).
There were cakes and cookies in the lounge during the day and a light dinner in the evening. We were given gluten free pancakes every morning, gluten free cake in the afternoon and were provided gluten free food specially cooked for us in the evening. The views were amazing and the staff were really superb, taking a genuine personal interest in us.
Since I’ve booked the hotel it seems to have gone up a reward level. In low season it is now cheaper and in high season more expensive on points but, overall, the hotel provided a good base and everything you would need for a stay in Barbados and is well worth staying at.
The Hilton Barbados website is here if you want to find out more.
How to earn Hilton Honors points from UK credit cards (June 2021)
There are various ways of earning Hilton Honors points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Hilton Honors Gold status for as long as they hold the card? It also comes with Marriott Bonvoy Gold, Radisson Rewards Gold and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
Did you know that the Virgin Atlantic credit cards are a great way of earning Hilton Honors points? Two Virgin Points can be converted in three Hilton Honors points. You can apply here.
You can also earn Hilton Honors points indirectly via American Express Gold, the American Express Rewards Credit Card and – for small business owners – American Express Business Gold and Business Platinum.
(Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)