Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Why January 2013 was an amazing sweet spot for a free Maldives holiday on points

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There is a generally accepted view that, over time, all reward schemes get worse.  Many people say that you should spend your points as you earn, rather than holding them for retirement or some unspecified time in the future.

I don’t necessarily agree with this.

It is very easy to pick out examples of how loyalty programmes have got worse.  If we take Avios, for example, there are many areas you can grumble about.  In truth, on a 10 year horizon, the Avios / BA Miles scheme has actually got a lot better in many ways:

Reward Flight Saver cut the tax on European redemptions from £100+ to £35.  No other European frequent flyer programme has copied this move, shamefully.  Short-haul redemptions in Europe via Miles & More or Flying Blue are a bit of a joke, as are using other oneworld miles (eg Qatar Privilege Club miles) for British Airways flights in Europe.

Qatar Airways, SriLankan, Royal Air Maroc and – soon – Alaska Airlines joined oneworld, giving you new earning and spending options.  Aer Lingus has also developed as an option for low tax US redemptions.  We have, admittedly, lost airberlin and LATAM.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold and Amex Platinum have introduced high sign-up bonuses (10,000 points and 30,000 points respectively) which convert 1:1 into Avios, and other new card options such as Capital On Tap have launched

You now have guaranteed ‘2 business, 4 economy’ seat availability on even on the busiest routes at the most expensive periods.  No other competing frequent flyer scheme offers something similar.

The truth is that a couple can still earn 100,000 Avios per year without breaking sweat simply by applying for the right American Express cards at the right time, and combined with a 2-4-1 voucher from a BA Premium Plus American Express card they can easily get one decent premium redemption per year.  

This article shows how a couple with no American Express cards can earn 178,000 Avios from scratch fairly quickly.  Send the link to your friends if they don’t understand how quickly you can build up your miles from scratch.

I have been in this game long enough to remember the days before 2-4-1 vouchers and before generous Amex bonuses.  You may need more miles for a reward flight these days but the miles are FAR easier to earn.

But back to the Maldives ….

It is true, though, that there are times when various deals coincide to create what, in retrospect, was a great opportunity.  January 2013 was one of them.

The Conrad Maldives is one of the most luxurious hotels in the Hilton family.   The cheapest villa sells for around £800 per day including taxes during high season.

For anyone thinking of a Maldives holiday there has always been a way of using Tesco Clubcard points to book this.  It involves converting Tesco points into Virgin Flying Club and then converting Virgin Flying Club points into Hilton Honors points.

Tesco Clubcard was once the holy grail of Avios collecting

In 2020, Tesco Clubcard is a relatively minor way of earning Avios.  Apart from the odd insurance offer – such as the current deal for taking out pet insurance – it is hard to earn huge numbers of Clubcard points.

It used to be the total opposite.  Tesco was throwing points around so liberally that it had to impose a cap of 30,000 points per quarter (= 72,000 Avios) to control people.  At one point you could redeem Clubcard points for cars at four times the face value of your vouchers, and some people were walking away with entirely free cars.

Whilst we didn’t know it then, January 2013 was an amazing sweet spot to book the holiday of a lifetime in the Maldives via Tesco.

In January 2013:

  • Conrad Maldives was 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night (now up to 95,000 Hilton points per night)
  • The Virgin Atlantic to Hilton Honors conversion rate was 1:2 (now 2:3)
  • Virgin Atlantic was running a 50% conversion bonus from Tesco (now you get 20% at best during promo periods)

Conrad Maldives pool

What did that mean in practice?

January 2013:

10 nights at Conrad Maldives (worth £8,000 at peak periods) cost 500,000 Hilton Honors points

Hilton elite members save 20% (and you could get Silver status for free with their credit card) so that fell to 400,000 Hilton Honors points

400,000 Hilton Honors points required 200,000 Virgin Flying Club miles at 1:2

With the 50% conversion bonus running that January, that meant you needed to convert £533 of Tesco Clubcard vouchers

Yes, £533 of Tesco Clubcard vouchers would have got you £8,000-worth of Maldives villa for 10 nights!

It is also fair to say that Clubcard bonus promotions were a LOT thicker on the ground back in 2013 than they are today.  With Tesco Direct and Tesco Wine now closed it is very difficult to run up a high Clubcard balance.

Let’s compare that to August 2020:

10 nights at Conrad Maldives (worth £8,000) costs 950,000 Hilton Honors points on most dates

Hilton Honors elite members save 20% so that falls to 760,000 Hilton points – but with the Hilton credit card, which gave free Silver status, no longer available this is trickier to obtain

760,000 Hilton Honors points requires 506,000 Virgin Flying Club miles at 2:3

With no ‘open to all’ Virgin Atlantic to Tesco Clubcard bonus this quarter, you would need to convert £2,024 of Clubcard vouchers

The net effect of all of these changes means that the cost of redeeming for this dream Maldives break is now 3.8 x what it was when the stars paths crossed in January 2013, if you use the ‘Tesco to Virgin to Hilton’ route.

Conrad Maldives restaurant

Here is the thing though – it is still a decent deal.

Whilst very few people will have £2,024 of Clubcard vouchers sitting around – frankly, it is virtually impossible now that Tesco Direct and its bonus point deals have gone – those who could would still be very happy to get a Maldives villa for 10 nights which would cost you £8,000 in cash.

Conrad Maldives is still the best value Hilton redemption, I think.  Even buying Hilton Honors points in the current ‘100% buy points bonus’ is good value if you want to book here.  Any hotel with an underwater restaurant – see photo above – must have something going for it!

Comments (107)

  • Connor says:

    Shame there hasn’t been any decent promotions recently. Used to buy tons of Lego and sell it back on Amazon to break even, ended up with around 50,000 points overall for not much work. Managed to get a good few 7 day stays in Tenerife all inclusive out of it.

    The only ones now tend to be the NOW TV sticks or BT home phones, both of which are significantly more expensive than other retailers.

    • Secret Squirrel says:

      And they managed to strike an agreement with ebay to take down now tv listings! Grrrr…

      • Connor says:

        Amazon was even more complicated for me. I was made to fill out a form detailing all specifications of the boxes, what apps came with it and what could be installed on it AND then send 1 of them to their office in Seattle to “check” it. Still worth it as I got about a ton of points and was making around £18 a box. (£25 at Tesco v £50 on Amazon)

  • Anna says:

    In 1998 OH and I went to the Maldives with the now defunct Airtours! No points, premium cabins or underwater restaurants but we paid £800 each for 2 weeks All-Inclusive as a last minute Teletext deal (remember them?) And of course the beaches were as gorgeous and the diving and snorkelling out of this world. The island was quite underdeveloped and casual and I remember the bar staff letting us mix our own cocktails from the available spirits in the AI package! We probably drank the cost of the holiday given the price of drinks there.

    • Hugh Jardon says:

      Ah! The Maldives, a person after my own heart, the quintessential Indian ocean location, blessed with tranquillity, with a rich historical legacy of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, woven into the fabric of such a magical location,

  • Peter North says:

    I’m guessing retirement must be quite boring

  • Thomas says:

    Reading this post reminded me of a story that you ran Rob on the guy who went to some obscure car rental place and drove about a million times from A to B to get bonusses. Although cartridges flogging on ebay was smart, this guy for me is still the king of exploring a loop hole in car rental for gain!

    Cant seem to find this article, would be good to rerun in the spirit of this site!

    • Rob says:

      Not sure it ever was an article. It was a mate of mine, he comes to our parties if you ever get along to one.

  • meta says:

    I love reading about Steve Belkin and his exploits. And it’s not just the famous Thai rice farmers story!

  • Jtz says:

    This is still an amazing deal at 5 nights, stayed last year and it was so worth it, sneaky trick for those with the hilton visa, pay your bill at resort on this and it somehow triggers bonus points….shhh

  • cinereus says:

    Don’t know why the Conrad Maldives gets rated so much. It’s really not that great. Maybe it’s worth more than £50/night but not all that much more.

    • Secret Squirrel says:

      £50 per night in the Maldives? Maybe a local fisherman’s outhouse with no running water will cost you £50.
      Have you ever stayed at the Conrad Maldives?

  • WaynedP says:

    Re LT sustainability / value retention of loyalty reward schemes, it’s well to remember that they are simply a form of corporate currency, and should be approached with an attitude of enjoy the occasional ephemeral sweetspot as an unexpected windfall, but expect medium term devaluation as an outcome of both the success and failure of the underlying corporate and be prepared to lose the lot in some circumstances. If some bad events can still topple national currencies, how much more vulnerable must corporate currencies be ?

    Case in point for SAA Voyager Miles (VM) collectors this week: Extension of the 12 week old moratorium on VM redemptions for a further month announced today (with no further equivalent extension to Tier Points or VM expiry dates), but no change to the uninterrupted opportunity to continue to earn further VM through existing programme partners stated without any hint of irony.
    Source: Business Insider South Africa