Edited by: Michael Y. Park
& Keri Stooksbury
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There’s no denying that points and miles can make amazing travel happen. Whether you’re interested in flying at the front of the plane or exploring never-before-seen destinations, reward travel unlocks a whole new world of opportunity.
We practice what we preach here at Upgraded Points, which means we’re just as invested in award travel as you are. To that end, we asked our team what their all-time favorite redemptions have been. Here’s what they said.
How am I supposed to narrow down my redemptions? I spend a lot of time on the road and I’m constantly mixing points and cash to stretch out their value. This means that a lot of the time, my cent-per-point (CPP) value is very high — especially since I tend to head to aspirational properties.
When it comes it hotels, I’m a sucker for beach vacations. I’ve been to both the Maldives and Bora Bora, but almost nothing beats Calala Island in Nicaragua. This Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) property is bookable using World of Hyatt points, and, as an ultra-all-inclusive resort, it’s stunning.
Calala Island consists of just 4 rooms on a private island, which can make availability difficult to find. Luckily, my favorite hotel award site, Max My Point, has just added tracking for Calala, so it’s now exponentially easier.
I visited in 2020 and paid 40,000 World of Hyatt points per night (there is a 3-night minimum, so I paid 120,000 points in total). Rooms for this hotel retail at around $3,800 per night for 2 people, making my CPP value 9.5 cents each!
I haven’t actually flown my favorite airline redemption yet. It’s scheduled for my birthday in January and consists of (mostly) first class flights around the world.
Here’s how it breaks down:
Overall I’m super excited to try out all these products — and it doesn’t hurt that I have a 6-night stay at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi in the middle!
My family and I were originally booked from Honolulu (HNL) to Phoenix (PHX) to Miami (MIA) to Rio De Janeiro (GIG) in coach for 20k AAdvantage miles each. This was an amazing deal that let us put together a great Hawaiian vacation, but not a return trip to look forward to after a month on the islands.
I had set up some alerts on ExpertFlyer, and the day before we were due to depart I received an alert for business and first class availability to São Paulo (GRU) — close enough. The only issue was that it was leaving from Maui (OGG) 3 days later.
So, what did we do? We flew to Maui, stayed at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa for 3 nights, and then flew first and business class home!
I was able to book 2 seats in Flagship Business for 50k AAdvantage miles each and 2 in Flagship First for 60k each. The new routing was Maui (OGG) to Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK) to São Paulo (GRU), and that JFK connection meant a nice visit to the new Chelsea Lounge.
Everything just fell together perfectly to make the ending of our Hawaiian vacation something to enjoy.
I travel a lot, which is why most of my elite statuses are earned the old-fashioned way. Despite this, I have my favorites when it comes to visiting places. I’m kinda lame because I love going back to Australia!
In the summer of 2022, I embraced my remote work lifestyle and traveled with my 3 kids to Phuket, Thailand, for 3 weeks of sun and fun. We had been previously on a family vacation, so this was less of a touristy trip and more of an office with a new view (and a pool, and a beach).
My husband’s IHG One Rewards account was flush with over 200k points after he’d spent years traveling from the U.S. to the U.K. for work. After a search on IHG’s website, I landed on the Holiday Inn Express Phuket Patong Beach Central.
For my stay, I initially booked 20 nights for 2 rooms at 7,000 points per night per room, receiving every fourth night free due to holding the $0 annual fee IHG® Rewards Traveler Credit Card.
As if this weren’t a great enough deal to begin with, I made my booking in March 2022 and checked rates again randomly in May 2022. To my delight, the nightly rate had dropped from 7,000 per night to 5,000 per night! I canceled my original booking and rebooked at the more attractive rate, saving 60,000 points!
With the fourth night free, I paid 150,000 points total for 2 rooms for 20 nights each, or 3,750 points per night. Rooms were going for around $35 per night during this period, so while my redemption value of just under a penny per point wasn’t spectacular, it’s still nearly double what we value IHG One Rewards points, which is 0.5 cents per point.
We received 2 connecting rooms with a view of a quiet courtyard, and our building was conveniently near the pool, lobby, and laundry room. The infinity pool entertained my kids to no end and was the perfect way to refresh after a quick walk to Patong Beach, which was just a block away. We were also incredibly close to amazing beachfront street food, restaurants, massages, groceries, and the all-important 7-Eleven.
With my kids, no matter the holiday destination, the breakfast buffet is often a highlight. The Holiday Inn Express Phuket Patong Beach Central’s free breakfast buffet delivered, surprisingly. Every morning featured pastries, fresh fruit for days, sugary cereals, an egg dish, a hot Thai dish, and a hot Indian dish. We loved starting our day at this property, and having a heavier breakfast allowed us to have a much lighter lunch in our room after a morning at the beach.Hot Tip:
Want free breakfast but don’t stay often enough to earn elite status? Check out our guide to the best credit cards for complimentary breakfast at hotels!
We have zero complaints about our 3 weeks spent at the Holiday Inn Express Phuket Patong Beach Central, and we’d love to visit again. Unfortunately, I think we hit such an amazing mid-pandemic deal that we’re unlikely to see rates dip that low again (they were around 7,900 points per night for a similar timeframe in the summer of 2023).
The proximity to Patong Beach can’t be beat, and it’s far enough away from the chaos of Bangla Road (but close enough if you want to see what the fuss is about).
Just as the world was beginning to open up after COVID-19 restrictions, I wanted to do something special for my family — especially my parents, who had been cooped up and dealing with a shuttered business for months.
So I drained my Marriott Bonvoy account to book 2 rooms for 5 nights each at the incredible St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Mexico for 680,000 points. Demand was soaring for hotels at that time, especially in destinations like Mexico, so rooms were going for over $1,600 per night.
I was thrilled to be able to get my family to one of North America’s premier resorts to enjoy some well-earned relaxation and pampering — and I got a heck of a deal in the process!
My all-time favorite redemption was a mistake award fare on a TAP Air Portugal flight. It was a one-way business class flight between Newark (EWR) and Casablanca (CMN), with a layover in Lisbon (LIS).
Back in 2020, I just happened to be searching for rates using EVA Air Infinity MileageLands miles, which is a program nobody really talks about — and I found an unbelievable rate of 12,500 miles and $50 in taxes and fees at the time.
I transferred Capital One miles, which took a nerve-wracking few days to transfer, but I was able to book this ticket. Immediately, EVA Air fixed its awards and the rates were back to normal. This was definitely a unicorn of a redemption, and I haven’t been able to replicate it since. Of course, getting to visit a new country (Morocco) was amazing on its own, but there’s truly nothing like the thrill of finding and successfully booking a mistake fare.
Points and miles can be some of the most valuable tools when it comes time to travel, especially if you’re looking to save money (and maybe be a little bougie). We’ve gathered all our favorite redemptions here — what are yours?
All airlines have their own versions of reward programs for free flights. The ones that give you the highest value tend to be international, such as Avianca Lifemiles, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and more.
This is a pretty nuanced question but long story short: Yes! Hotel points allow you to stay at certain hotel chains without paying any cash. While the value of your points will differ depending on which chain you’re redeeming your points, they’re always worth collecting.
If you’re based in the United States, finding international travel awards can be overwhelming. Rather than focusing on a single frequent flyer program, consider earning points with a flexible point currency such as American Express Membership Rewards. These can then be converted to a variety of airline miles for international flights.
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UP's Bonus Valuation
This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.