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)

  • Froggitt says:

    It turned out that the Clubcard generosity was part of the previous Tesco management’s attempt to make it look as if sales were great….e.g. all those 3V cards (those were the days when I couldn’t pass a Tesco store without going in and having a look!!!)) with all the points all made it look like sales were still going like a train, when in reality, the discounters were eating their lunch and dinner.

  • jacko bloggo says:

    “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….”

    In 2013 those sign-up bonuses where 20K and 40K respectively, you’ve merely re-enforced the premise you were arguing against that that reward programs get worse. I note you don’t mention that the marriott amex card gives 2 reward points per £1, whereas in 2013 the SPG card it replaced gave 3, or that Amex gold gave double points on all travel spend in 2013, etc…etc….Amex has gotten SIGNIFICANTLY worse across the board since 2013.

  • Julian says:

    As Louise Westlake says above there were no taxes and charges on Air Miles bookings originally and one only needed to book by telephone at least 14 days ahead and then send in the physical paper vouchers in the post to make a booking free of all further charges.

    So to claim Reward Flight Save is some massive improvement in terms made by the IAG Group compared to the original Air Miles scheme is untrue. The reason Reward Flight Saver exists is to make a redemption less totally worthless than it would otherwise be on a short haul BA economy flight given the very low cash fares now charged for some of them.

    Also what remains inexplicable is that there is no equivalent of Reward Flight Saver long haul, especially given that the massive taxes and charges levied on British Airways flights vs those of Iberia render an Economy booking using Avios long haul virtually worthless at any off peak fare time of the year.

  • Ming the Merciless says:

    I’ve just booked a multi partner redemption which has yielded 25p per Avios in value compared to cash booking prices. As these were entirely earned but tesco, it works out at around 60p per club card point.

    • Gavin says:

      It’s not a real valuation though unless you were actually ready to book at the cash price!

      • jacko bloggo says:

        Valuation and saving are two entirely different things.

        If you win a £10K holiday, it’s still a £10K holiday, even if you had no intention of paying £10K to go on holiday.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        This is one of those arguments I never really agree with – value vs market rate.

        You might not have paid £10k cash, because you didn’t have that sort of money or you’re tight, but if its exactly what you want to do and its costs £10k from every similar provider then its worth £10k, end of.

        However, If you can get similar for £8k for cash everywhere then its worth £8k not the £10k that this single provider was quoting.

        • John says:

          If it wasn’t possible to get via points then you would just never do it. So it might as well be worth a million.

          When there’s an airline sale you don’t say that you got £2 of value for £1. You might say that you paid £1000 for long-haul J ticket that is often sold at £2000. But maybe you would have paid £1500. So maybe you only got £1.50 of value for £1.

          Points are just sort of a permanent sale with restrictions

  • Jimmy says:

    Nokia mobile phones
    Perfumes
    3V
    Cartridges
    but my favourite….. Forever Love CDS

    Has allowed me to travel all over the world in the front for cheap! 🙂

    • John says:

      And the Halo game pre-orders? I think they were 500 or 1000 points each..

      • Secret Squirrel says:

        There was a whole load of pre order games with 500 – 1000 pts for paying £5.00. Then there was a 1500 pts one online for a day.

    • Secret Squirrel says:

      Dongles!

    • Anna says:

      I got 1500 points for buying a £30 Prezzo voucher which we spent on a pre-cinema meal which we would have had anyway!

      • Lady London says:

        I was not in the game at that time. I came in just in time to see the real earners on T. disappear round a corner.

        Cant do the pet as my address is apparently high-risk for pets so expensive. Even though I do indeed have a choir of feline pets at home.

  • Jimmy says:

    Talking about the Maldives – not quite the Conrad… But taking the clock back to 2011 and a newly married Jimmy and the Holiday inn Resort Maldives.

    It was 15k per night! At a time when IHG bonus points were as easy to pick up as free points at Tesco (eg very easy!).

    Now – we went for 7 days, paid the first night as cash for an overwater villa – the rest Paid with points. The only points option was the garden villa and my hope was that they would join the reservation and let us stay in the overwater villa.

    Good news and bad news. Sadly they didn’t let us stay and moved us into the garden villa. Good news was when we got back to London – all the points had been refunded.

    So seven nights for the price of one! Was the best use of points ever! Used the points at the Time Square Crown Plaza the year after which was a lot cheaper at the time as well and really well placed.

    Fun times! 🙂

  • flyforfun says:

    My best was xmas 2009 when they had 500 bonus points on CDs and DVDs. These were new releases too, not crap (except for the Susan Boyle CD!). Bought 50 items. Had £264.50 to convert that quarter so 63,490 Miles (don’t think it was called Avios yet?) Unknown to me, they were doing a double value transfer that quarter so ended up with 126,950 miles! So 1 free J ticket to South America! Add my Amex 241 and for about £1500 the two of us went to Buenos Aires, Iguasu Fall and Rio in Business! (£500 for the CDs and £500 each in “taxes”).

    Great trip and also really highlighted the vast gap in service from a excellent Worldwide fleet crew, to a really juvenile mixed fleet one on the way back (really, does it take common sense that you don’t admonish or argue with your fellow crew members in front of the passengers? Not, the galley where I may have stumbled into, but in the cabin!!)

    • Secret Squirrel says:

      I once got 3650 cc points for buying a new born baby basket containing talc, teddy bear, wipes etc. You had to open the packaging to take out a booklet with a Moc & various bonus point vouchers which brought the price down to £8.00. Sold the baby basket on ebay for double what i paid inc all fees.

  • 1ATL says:

    My sweetest deal when working in the travel industry was to Hilton Rangali (before it was designated a Conrad) back in 2002.
    £29 per person per night (no single supplements) for a beach villa. We went for 10nts, bartered a deal with a couple from Yorkshire who we got friendly with who were staying there that we’d give them our daily replenishment of bottles of water in return for their buffet breakfasts that they weren’t getting up for (£40 per person had we paid). We got great fares on Sri Lankan who at the time operated non-stop Heathrow-Male service for a shade over £200rtn and had an amazing holiday. I think the most expensive aspect was the seaplane transfer.