Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Holiday lessons (2): ‘Earn and burn’ is not always your best strategy

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I spent 17 nights in the Middle East over Christmas and New Year. I had to use a variety of techniques to get the cost of this trip down, since we booked at short notice and hotel costs were not far behind what you would pay in the Maldives or Barbados.

Instead of reviewing each stage of the trip, I want to focus on lessons worth sharing.

Entry level accommodation at The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Resort

The first article in this three-part series was called ‘Avios is not always the answer’ and you can find it here. It explains why – on specific routes and in specific flight classes – other airline schemes can offer far better value even if you have an Amex companion voucher.

This is the second of the three articles. I am trying to keep the story in chronological order, so at this point we have checked out of the Burj Al Arab after three days to spend three days at The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert Resort in Ras Al Khaimah (website here).

A full review of the resort will follow in a few days, so I won’t cover it here.

Let’s call today’s topic:

‘Earn and burn is not always the answer’

One of the general principles of collecting miles and points is ‘earn and burn’.

By ‘earn and burn’ I mean don’t let your balances build up. The idea is that you try to spend at roughly the pace you earn.

Airlines and hotels love to devalue their reward charts. I can remember when all InterContinental hotels were 30,000 points per night – now many are 70,000. It is only five years ago that Hilton capped rewards at 50,000 points per night – now it is 95,000.

You can take this mantra too seriously though.

There is a lot to be said for sitting on your points until a blockbuster redemption comes along.

The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert WAS a blockbuster redemption.

Irrespective of the UK weather over Christmas, it is a great time to visit the Middle East. With a daily peak of 26-27 degrees, it is pleasantly warm but not excessive. It is good enough to sunbathe but you are unlikely to get burnt. You can walk around without breaking into a sweat. Unless your sole intention is to burn your body to a crisp, the climate is ideal.

Not usually available for points – the tents at The Ritz Carlton Al Wadi

Here is the maths

We booked Al Wadi for three nights and took two rooms, since my kids are too tall now to spend much time on rollaways or sofa beds.

A ‘room’ at Al Wadi is basically a house. If you look at the first picture above, each block is two semi-detached units. They connect seamlessly so if you have two you end up with a massive 3,400 square foot detached house. Each has its own private pool – so we ended up with two!

This doesn’t come cheap at peak periods.

The cash cost for three nights, per room, was Dhs 11,432 including taxes. This was £2,429 at the time we booked, so for two rooms the cash cost would have been almost £5,000 for three nights.

Using Marriott Bonvoy points, it averaged out at 200,000 points for each room, so 66,666 points per night.

To save you getting your calculator out, this worked out at 1.2p per Marriott Bonvoy point.

My usual valuation of a Marriott Bonvoy point is 0.5p. I usually say that if you get an opportunity to redeem at this level then you are doing OK. I got well over double my recommended value here.

Why ‘earn and burn’ would have meant a disaster here

The snag was that I needed 400,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to book this.

The reason I had so many points sitting around is that, for a decade, I have been earning far more than I have been spending.

My Bonvoy points are primarily from the old Starwood Preferred Guest days, where the best value was for mid-market hotels. We don’t stay in many mid-market hotels, given a choice, so the points mounted up. Most of my redemptions were for tickets for concerts in the SPG Suite at the O2 in London, or other SPG Moments events.

If I had taken a strict ‘earn and burn’ approach, redeeming whenever I could have got 0.5p per point, I wouldn’t have been able to do the Al Wadi Desert redemption.

Who should do ‘earn and burn’?

I do understand the contradiction here.

I keep telling you in articles that a certain value per point is ‘acceptable’, but then I keep telling you that I managed to redeem for a substantially higher valuation.

(I don’t do myself any favours here. If I pretended that it was easy to get 1.2p per Marriott Bonvoy point then I could probably sell a lot more Marriott Bonvoy American Express cards, given the 20,000 points sign-up bonus.)

Who should ‘earn and not burn’?

The following groups should be able to massively beat my recommended points valuations and so should not redeem until they find a blockbuster deal like mine:

  • People with children, or teachers, because you are tied down to school holiday redemptions and prices are generally higher, so redemptions better value
  • People who like to travel at peak periods because that is generally when the weather is better and more attractions are open, or because you travel to see ‘peak period’ events

However, if you fall into one of the following categories you are unlikely to get blockbuster returns from your hotel points:

  • People who are free to travel at any time of the year and so can target periods when hotels and flights are cheaper and attractions quieter (the irony of travelling at peak periods is that you pay more but generally get worse service and poorer upgrades)
  • People who travel mainly to second-tier cities where peak pricing doesn’t really exist (the Crowne Plaza Sheffield doesn’t cost much for a week in August)

There IS a risk from ‘earning and not burning’

Clearly you are taking a risk by not redeeming whenever you get the opportunity. As sure as night follows day, you can be sure that a loyalty scheme will devalue over time.

This is why you need to be sure that you will get an opportunity to do a ‘blockbuster’ redemption if you are going to hoard your points. There is no point turning down a Marriott redemption worth 0.5p per point because you think you might find one worth 0.6p per point in a year. This level of saving can be wiped out in a devaluation.

If you are turning down a Marriott redemption worth my target of 0.5p, you need to believe that you can get 1p+ at some point two or three years down the line. If you have children or otherwise travel at peak periods, this is a sensible view. If you are free to travel when you want, you may want to stick with ‘earn and burn’ because you will never find yourself needing a room at a peak period somewhere.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

PS. There is a difference between hotel points and airline miles here, I think. A hotel is more likely to have a room for points at peak periods than an airline is to have a flight for miles.

Hyatt guarantees you can book on points if a standard cash room is available, irrespective of the cost of that room. Marriott does the same, albeit there are more loopholes for hotels to exploit. Across all chains, hotels are incentivised to open up reward rooms on peak nights because, if occupancy is 95%+, the loyalty scheme pays them the full cash rate for your room rather than a nominal $25-$50.

PPS. Another factor to consider is your ability to buy miles and points cheaply if a blockbuster redemption comes along. For much of 2020 we saw bigger discounts and longer promotional periods than usual. The final article in the series will look at this.

Comments (81)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • GraeM says:

    Were you supposed to be travelling abroad at that time when the rest of us were basically in lockdown and had Xmas day only to see relatives, with travel forbidden?

    • Chris Heyes says:

      GraeM Rob was traveling for work that’s what he does lol
      I seem to remember London was in Tier 2 at the time Rob left so even if it wasn’t work no problem there.
      Rob can travel anywhere he wants (as long as he’s allowed in)
      Yes there could be a moral issue at some point in the future ?
      Do i need to actually need to go there/do that but that’s Rob’s problem or “not” lol

      • Anna says:

        You’re either in breach of the rules or not!

      • Doug M says:

        I’m not judging here, I leave that to others. But the suggestion Rob was travelling for work is a nonsense. It was a holiday with family during which he may have done a bit of work, like many of us do on holiday. But I don’t think with his experience he needed 17 days in the Middle East for a couple of puff pieces about points use and hotels.

        • Rob says:

          I have never, at any point, said that this was anything other than a family holiday, which was booked and done fully in accordance with the rules in place at the time. Don’t get grumpy because you were here for Christmas – assuming you live in London, you were equally free to hop on a plane until 19th December.

          • Doug M says:

            My feeling irrelevant, I could equally say don’t get so defensive. I was responding the suggestion this was work.

          • Chris Heyes says:

            Rob If you do a piece about where/how during your Holiday “It’s Work”
            A holiday is when you don’t do “any work” lol
            When I used to deal in Antiques if i went on holiday but went round buying antiques it was work (my partner told me so lol)
            when i didn’t look for antiques it was a holiday my partner told me so !
            When i said have we to do a working holiday, France, Belgium it was yes please can we have a holiday after, hence 3/4 week holidays started lol

        • yorkieflyer says:

          Holidays were perfectly legal at that time, so no judgement required.

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      As far as I know he travelled when it was still allowed. Remember the government only changed the rules at the very last minute disrupting lots of peoples plans. So things changed while abroad. It doesn’t make sense to cut your trip short when you’ve already started it

      • kitten says:

        Speaking of which, did not seem to make sense to come back in January.either. Would have made more sense to stay there.

        Even Boris said no need to hurry back when the bad news was announced on Saturday 19th December if you were already away.

        I had very important reasons to be back and was in fact due to travel back the folliwing day but it was the first time there was any sense of firmness in dealing with this so I took Boris at his word and stayed away.

        Some people that went away at Christmas to places like Dubai and Barbados did sound a bit smug though. It was like “I’m rich enough and I’m safe so I don’t care about anyone else”. That was a bit annoying when the message about how serious this is and how everyone rich or poor should play their part was finally beginning to percolate to parts it hadn’t reached when people had to miss their Christmas.

        • Rob says:

          We had a long discussion about this. I was perfectly happy to move into a serviced apartment for a month or two. However, we didn’t have all the IT and paperwork needed for home schooling and home working and my wife was not too happy working 1pm to 9pm (although as she could have spent AM by the pool or on the beach I’m not sure what the problem was!).

    • Peter K says:

      Leaving aside whether or not it was ethical, Rob’s flight left the day before the rules were tightened so he is in the clear as far as whether he was allowed to go.

    • yorkieflyer says:

      Travelling abroad before Christmas for holidays other than T4 from circa 20 December onwards was not banned, so please stop implying otherwise

    • Thiago says:

      Why would you criticize Rob publicly for something totally unrelated to the article?
      Have you ever thanked him for the tips and ideas that helped you to save money or maximizing your points or adding extra value to your holiday? Your comment is totally unnecessary and irrelevant and just pisses people off.

  • William Avery says:

    I know this is not an area little covered but are there are good alternative burns for Asia Miles. Sitting on a pile about to expire and don’t think we have the confidence to book a big long haul trip right now.

    • kitten says:

      whatever you book make sure it is on a European airline or departing Europe to get EU261 protection and right to rebook another date f.o.c. when the airline cancels.

  • Tom says:

    Virtue signallers strike again. It was perfectly acceptable to travel to the Middle East from London in December until it went into tier 4.

    • GraeM says:

      Perfectly acceptable in the middle of a global pandemic and with London in a very bad way. Legal, yes, but ethical and the right thing to do is another matter. I’ll leave it at that.

      • Mike says:

        It’s no more unethical than flying. According to the UN, climate change is shown to affect ethnic minorities and developing countries more than any other affected group. Persons living in London have a terrible climate footprint that costs lives.

      • yorkieflyer says:

        Please do what you feel is right for you and avoid lecturing others as to their moral obligations unless you are a member of the clergy

  • Alan says:

    Well no travel abroad since March last year so my points balances have increased significantly! Generally I’ve tended to hold out for some outsized redemptions but at these balances I think I’ll be closer to just using for any 0.5p/pt options for hotels. The nice thing for hotel programmes is you can still earn status without paid stays, unlike airlines (with the exception of VS). However I’m not chasing BA status as much now, it was mainly valuable on short-haul trips but with those being poor value on Avios from outwith London and longhaul trips being in CW redemptions there’s less benefit from the status. That makes it easier to do more redemption flights.

    • Doug M says:

      I disagree with what I think you mean about BA status and short haul. Depending on when you want to fly and how many of you, Avios on SH can be a real winner. As gold it’s not just the double Avios option, but the additional availability before needing to do that.

      • kitten says:

        If you have status with BA especially Gold then your avios potentiate as you will be shown seats and flights available for avios that low/no status won’t.

        This is one of the things that keeps avios relatively useless and really hard to use for those that don’t fly enough to have BA status when they search.

        It’s not just the double avios to get any seat if you’re Gold, what’s shown to you as available with avios is much, much less as to which flights and which classes is much more restricted further down the status chain.

        For example as a lowly Blue or Bronze on my route it’s quite typical to see only Business Class available and only on the worst flight of the day. Whereas someone with Silver status may see an Economy seat on same flight for avios that’s not being shown to a Blue. Gold may see seats in Y and C on those and on the better flight(s). This, at the same time. Checked this many times over the past few years.

        Given by definition Blues and, to a lesser extent, Bronzes are more likely to accrue only low balances this is a bit dirty of British Airways as it makes it harder for those people to get any benefit from their miles.

        Lifetime tier points or previous status held does sometimes improve the set of avios seats shown to you as a lowly Blue or Bronze but current status seens to have the major effect.

        • Alan says:

          @Kitten yep agree the increased availability in Y with Gold was very handy but as I say the £100-odd extra cost for the connecting flights (not to mention the extra time) makes it much less appealing than it used to be.

        • Doug M says:

          First I’m gold so I would say this. But I think you’re completely right in what you say, and completely wrong in your conclusion. What BA are doing is favouring those that fly and earn, over those that use and abuse(?) Supermarket/Shopping earning. It’s not a bit dirty, it’s rewarding loyalty, and by that I mean encouraging you to fly on cash tickets.
          One of the really good things about BAEC is how they do favour status, for every whinge about seat selection fees (will reduce CS rolls out) there is a contrasting person glad as a FF to get a decent seat with a late booking. For every disappointed Blue not getting the redemption on the flight they want there’s a status person finding they can.
          Obviously BA have to balance making the rewards from non-flying earning so poor, that people go elsewhere, but I think they have it about right.

      • Alan says:

        @Doug M the issue is if you’re not in London then BA charge you another 9k Avios + £35 plus you have to connect in LHR. When it was free to get the domestic connection I found it worth it in economy with Flounge access but with the extra cost (~£100) I find it’s normally cheaper to fly direct from Edinburgh.

        • Doug M says:

          So it changed for the worse for you, that’s the nature of things. London is where it’s at for BA. They’re never going to suit everyone, and I could complain as a London based flyer about why would they subsidise regional connections. It’s never going to be what everyone thinks it should be.

        • Anna says:

          If you’re flying in F you’ll be on a long haul trip and won’t be charged avios for the domestic leg. You can also choose to fly the connection in Y which brings the RFS to £35 which is still the cheapest way of getting to LHR by a long way! But I totally agree that people living near London airports get a better deal.

          • Alan says:

            Yep, it’s not an issue for long haul as normally in CW anyway. It’s the short haul stuff where it has become much worse value. Clearly it’s a decision that suited BA given their London-centric approach but just highlighting it makes Gold of less value as a result for many of us based further afield and thus it’s not just short haul flights but other long haul flights that I have moved away from BA, as there is less benefit of chasing status.

      • yorkieflyer says:

        sadly only true for those in the home counties

  • Doommonger says:

    Earning and burning for certain stays sometime makes sense , though extended stays in more exotic locations can be problematical, I had an elongated Christmas break away, and the Hotel food didn’t agree with me , it may have been the change in climate or water or possibly both, but I felt bloated a lot of the time and also suffered from some terrible excess gas and indigestion so the benefit I felt I had got from burning the points was really spoilt by the health problems I endured.

  • Henry says:

    One of the best possible redemptions is Al maha in Dubai. 80,000 points for a hotel that is normally £1000 a night plus full board included on redemption (breakfast, lunch, dinner and two activities). Must work out around the 2p a point mark all in. Sweet spot if UAE resident is paying for ENBD marriot bonvoy card (about 300 quid), get 150,000 bonvoy points bonus which is pretty much enough for two nights there.

    • Rob says:

      It – but no kids unfortunately. On the list for when my son hits 12.

      • babyg says:

        Its age 10…

        • Rob says:

          Excellent, we can go from April then!

          • babyg says:

            sure, if Boris lets you back in without having to quarantine in a hotel (this all sounds like hot air to me)… but then again im sure there’s a points opportunity there too..

    • MinR says:


      Stayed a couple of nights at the start of the year – 70K per night Full Board. Cash rates were $1700/n! The food at the resort is exceptional.

      I thought 5 days would be a stretch at the resort, but knowing better now, I would happily book 5 nights to take advantage of the 5 for 4 offer.

      It would be interesting to know how the Ritz Al Wadi compares to Al Maha.

  • Tony says:

    Don’t forget the outlier Accor ALL

    0.02€c per earnt point with ability to use in 2,000 point chunks against a hotel stay. Best plan is to use on low – mid tier and earn on higher status hotels.

  • Prins Polo says:

    Re: Hyatt guaranteed availability – don’t get too excited about that. A lot of hotels go around this by not offering “standard rooms” so the guarantee is worthless (and Hyatt does nothing about the issue). Plenty of reports on Flyertalk – Andaz Maui is a prime example with its separate fake category of standard rooms to preclude people from booking with points.

    • Rob says:

      True, but in general it works – a couple of dodgy instances out of almost 1,000 hotels does not invalidate the policy.

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