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)

  • Saxon says:

    I’d be very interested in a similar article on some of the greatest avios earning opportunities of all time. A few are mentioned here, I’ve also read about eg printer cartridges, fully refundable hotel rooms, foreign currency a few times but the free car through club card is a new one. What was the offer, how did it work and how did people exploit it?

      • tony says:

        (sorry, should have said that was a story about some bloke who bought £800 worth of biscuits and got a flight on concorde)

      • Jerrry Butler says:

        Do you think the biscuits were the Plane Variety….Geddditttt???

    • Greenpen says:

      A group called Motorpoint became a partner so Clubcard vouchers could be exchanged at four times their face value for cars. They probably imagined that they would attract customers with a couple of hundred pounds of vouchers that could be offset by offering less of a discount during negotiations on the final price. Winner for them.

      Alas (for Motorpoint) it was possible to earn a very large numbers of Clubcard points quickly, often for effectively nothing, so they found themselves giving away lots of cars. They withdrew from the their Clubcard partnership with no notice as they would have gone broke!

      Some other Clubcard partners discovered the same thing; guess there were many red faces at both Tesco and Motorpoint.

      • Secret Squirrel says:

        I was an active member of PTS back then and the Motorpoint vouchers were the craziest redemption I ever heard of.
        Stories like people buying up all the available baby club bonus point vouchers off ebay to get the points towards a car. Someone walked into Motorpoint with 8k worth of clubcard vouchers converted into MP vouchers, asked to look at a brand new 8k car on the forecourt, salesman very enthusiastic.
        Then getting to the payment stage for the 8k car, pulls out a stack of vouchers and the sales people not knowing what to do.
        20 mins later, a bit of sweating this person drives away with this 8k brand new motor.
        Those were the days…

      • Rob says:

        A few friends and I actually created such a list on a private chat a couple of months ago …. might turn it into an article. The problem is that bits of it sound like (because they were) abuse and therefore not necessarily something that should be broadly publicised.

        • Secret Squirrel says:

          Do you know about the sport socks?

          • Rob says:

            No …..?!

          • Yuff says:

            Or chillies……..

          • Secret Squirrel says:

            Lemons & Limes also!

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Remember both of those but I didn’t know what I know now about clubcard

            Mr muscle and condensed milk wasn’t bad for a more recent one.

          • Secret Squirrel says:

            The socks were a well kept quiet promo. I later discovered there was a little secret community on PTS with the admin & selected others only in the know allowed in.

          • Navara says:

            Tv cables!
            Plus using you redeemed voucher when Sainsbury’s started to take them.

        • flyforfun says:

          This is the double edge sword of sites like this, Moneysavingexpert etc. Once a points opportunity goes into the wild, and everybody joins in, the points sponsor panics and removes or blocks access to the opportunity.

          Hence why I’d agree with Rob in keeping some things to limited circles – how do I join Rob? 😉

        • David says:

          From memory, there was 1,200 clubcard for buying a case of wine, which worked on Lambrini and the own brand ‘Sparkling Perry’. £10 a case or so, so 0.3p/airmile plus the booze. Glad I had a big garage to store things in back then. Then it was 1,000 clubcard for ‘flat screen TVs’, which also worked on the microfibre screen cleaning cloths which cost about £3.

          Was almost a full time job to keep track, but very lucrative.

          • Secret Squirrel says:

            Been a few times were generic bonus point codes were stackable on one online grocery order. There was a reference article on PTS with all the codes, you put shopping in and then entering every code at the end. Remember getting over 4k pts for a £55 grocery shop and things you needed also.
            Then the stackable wine codes, buy case of 6 x bucks fizz get 2.5k pts.

          • Secret Squirrel says:

            What about the cables, some guy got in trouble for buying multiples and racking up hundreds of thousands of points and the builder who got arrested for using a bonus point MOC & putting a peice of paper in the slot instead of the Moc hundreds of times!
            Bring back Beef in Gravy! 😄

        • Navara says:

          Beef in gravy

          • Anne says:

            Beat me to it – cleaned out the freezers of beef in gravy at several local Tescos when that promo ran back in the day!

      • Lady London says:

        Anyone know how many people actually did get the car?

        • Secret Squirrel says:

          I only read 3 or 4 on PTS but that’s only on that departed forum now!

          • Secret Squirrel says:

            Nobody mentioned Rolex watches yet. I got one and sold onto watchfinder, not quite 8k car but half that.

  • TripRep says:

    I have Avios CW flights booked for a potential return of 15 nights early next year, but v likely to be postponing it til Autumn 2021, or later.

    It will of course depend on me keeping HH Gold, do we know if just being a Hilton Visa Platinum holder gets you Gold?

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      Holding the card gets you silver, £10k spend for gold.

    • Anna says:

      I’m going to dig out your review, TripRep, I’ve got 550,000 HH points and put enough through my HH visa that this might be doable in the not too distant future. I was thinking of the 95k Seychelles resort, I’d forgotten about the Conrad. OH is a keen diver so would love this.

      • Hugh Jardon says:

        Ah Diving! an activity that I yearn for, I will be taking in this exhilarating sport at Westminster Lodge, on a trip to the ancient city of St Albans, I intend to use my points in the HIX London Colney, whilst wondering around the sublime Roman ruins of Verulamium.

        • Lady London says:

          Stayed at HIX London Colne – very very ordinary, uninspiring. What doesnt show is it’s kind of an island right next to a supermarket with a petrol station alongside the hotel. Surrounding the island you’ve basically got IIRC 3 sides of M25 traffic including heavy lorries and everything else, zooming past or heavily changing gear approaching the roundabout then changing up getting of the roundabout towards the M1 or the link road towards the A1. You kind of get the boom of the traffic vibrations through the building even though the double or is it triple? glazing is excellent.

          Even if I was there for St Albans i think I’d spend pretty much the same low number of points at the excellently rated IHG at Watford Junction with the top rated Hilton property at Watford Jn. a close second. YMNV. I used to work in the area you will enjoy yourself some nice pubs about.

      • Secret Squirrel says:

        Which Seychelles resort Anna, Northolme or Labriz?

  • Jo says:

    Went in March 2016 For honeymoon still best time ever. It was prob 90000 points per night already back then – still worth it.

  • AmandaB says:

    Baffled by the point of this article

    • Dickie H says:

      Well it’s an insight into the art of the possible, especially for new readers. I suspect that we’ll see an increase in sweet spots like these ones when we finally get the better of this pandemic.

    • Rob says:

      It’s a long-winded meditation on whether loyalty schemes continually get worse or not. It’s actually an old article I thought I’d re-run, which is why there are 4 articles today instead of 3.

    • Ken says:

      It’s like the old ITV game shows.

      ‘Let’s take a look at what you could have won’ as the screen revolves to show a small motorboat or caravan.

    • xcalx says:

      “Baffled by the point of this article”

      Were you not around during these givaway times?

      Personally I love these nostalgic look backs, brings back so many memories. Tesco also had the R&R combined with a golden ticket (win win)

      Rob, was it January 2012 that amex gave away the money cards for a fraction of the points. That was a true freebie.

      Still some old stuff that can’t be mentioned.

      • Rob says:

        Yes! That was a good one. Amex started offering Tesco gift cards for MR points but mispriced them. I think I got £1k-worth.

        • David says:

          Wow – an offer I managed to outdo Rob on! Got myself £1200 in cards plus a few cases of wine and a Dyson handheld. 🤩

  • Louise Westlake says:

    Ah, Tesco Clubcard points. With a family of 5,they were a god send. Several holidays to Florida, a cut price holiday to Mauritius, and 5 x free flights to Australia (from that 50% bonus) ! No tax charges on air miles flights then. I always paid deposits in cash to stay under the Radar. Those idiots getting free cars was the end, and wrong. That company took a huge cash hit.

  • MT says:

    I had forgot about the Hilton Platinum Visa and it seems I still have one by checking my Hilton Online Banking! I assume you still earn points for spending, is it 1 point per £1?

  • Paul irving says:

    Here is my video review from December 2019 of the Conrad Maldieves.

    The trip was free and got free breakfast being Diamond, but we still spend £5000 on seaplane and food in 10 days!

    https://youtu.be/cqN110-3zJI

    • Secret Squirrel says:

      Was 5k a joke? We spent 1.3k Inc everything and we eat out each night, no pot noodles!

      • Jo says:

        How’s £1.3k even possible? seaplane transfers costs $1000 for 2 ppl.

        We were on super budget though no pot noodles, free (super full) breakfasts, no lunches apart from a $500 lunch in undersea restaurant and decent dinners and a couple of excursions for 7 nights I’m sure we spent more than $1000?

        • Secret Squirrel says:

          7 x nights, free breakfasts plus extra for lunch, eat at Ramgali bar each night & room service. Easily doable a few years back due to gbp/dollar rate.

          • Yuff says:

            You are at $1120 for 2 adults on arrival, just for the seaplane back in 2016.
            A burger at rangali bar was £30-£40, pretty hard to keep it at £1300 if you ate diner every night.
            If you had an afternoon tea instead of diner a few nights maybe, but £1.3k including transfers is really pushing it.
            It would not take much to spend £5k after the upgrade from a standard beach villa to a family over water villa………

          • Secret Squirrel says:

            I’ve still got the bill for £1320 for 7 x nights inc seaplane transfers for 2x in 2018.
            Rangali bar burgers were £16 each + happy hour Soft drinks so about £40 a night. Room service was cheaper than that for pizza + drinks being diamond.

          • Julian says:

            Burgers haven’t got that expensive at the Beach Bars in Mallorca, even in 2020 and despite the horifically inflationary effect of the Euro.

            Sounds to me like the Maldives are a rip off joint for over earning westerners determined to feel they are going somewhere super special (not to mention super eco unfriendly) to me.

        • Secret Squirrel says:

          For sure looking at your itinerary. $500 lunch, excursions and eating out probably more like 3K – 4K.
          Easily done at that place, especially with Uber expensive lunch!

          • Erico1875 says:

            I can’t imagine it is any better than Merru.
            We did that for 300 a night Inc meals.

  • The Original Nick says:

    3v cards had me visiting no end of Tesco stores clearing their stores of them on Saturday mornings during 2013.

    • Brighton Belle says:

      I have seen 3v cards still in Boots recently. They have an old stock problem.

      • Secret Squirrel says:

        I believe they were supposed to be pulled off the shelf due to loading issues at the till.

    • Yuff says:

      Or do what I did and they would close a till down for me, regularly, to put £2-3k through😄

      • Secret Squirrel says:

        Had that happen to me also. Opened up a new tillpoint just to process my large handful of 3v cards. 3K later and off I went! 🤩

    • xcalx says:

      “3v cards had me visiting no end of Tesco stores clearing their stores of them on Saturday mornings during 2013.”

      You would have been out of luck around my patch. Non left on the shelves by Saturday. I met the lady who restocked theTesco stores in my area and she told me the dates she would be restocking the shelves, plus she put extras in the unit under the card display. I omce bought £15500 of 3vs in 48 hours from tesco and Morrisons.

      • Yuff says:

        Or get them to open their secret cupboard, on the aisle, where all the gift cards were kept.

        • Secret Squirrel says:

          Ahh yes, the secret locked store cupboard under the stands or behind CS desk in the drawer. I remember once finding empty racks so asked at CS, lady stated “I think your in luck as the man who fills the racks left a pile here”.
          She opened the drawer and pulled out a big, fat wad of 3v cards, made my day! 😆

          • Yuff says:

            It was always a result finding an unopened box of gc’s, it wasn’t just 3vs that were lucrative when zeek was around you could sell all sorts of gift cards that were discounted for a profit…..
            Some posters on here got business rates selling to zeek…..

    • the_real_a says:

      I suppose i can tell the story now as the opportunity is long since closed, but what most of you did not realise was that 3V cards could be bought via electronic means at Payzone equipped stores many of which accepted AMEX. The bin was different to the physical card bought at supermarkets and was not banned at Ernie. So for about 18 months after you all thought the opportunity was closed… it wasn’t.

      • Secret Squirrel says:

        Yes, the electronic voucher version through the till.

        • the_real_a says:

          My “local” at the time was an Esso garage that paid full Tesco points on purchases too…

          • Secret Squirrel says:

            Yes, the double dip! 😅

          • Yuff says:

            Only thing better than that was using discounted Tesco gc’s to buy 3vs which back in the day’s was a regular occurrence

      • Charlieface says:

        I tried that line for months but couldn’t find a single Payzone for miles that accepted Amex. Loads of Paypoints, but that was useless