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)
What did that mean in practice?
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.
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!