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All-Time Bests: The Upgraded Points Team’s Favorite Redemptions

Carissa Rawson's image
Carissa Rawson
Carissa Rawson's image

Carissa Rawson

Senior Content Contributor

269 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 51U.S. States Visited: 36

Carissa served in the U.S. Air Force where she developed her love for travel and new cultures. She started her own blog and eventually joined The Points Guy. Since then, she’s contributed to Business ...
Edited by: Michael Y. Park
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Michael Y. Park

Editor

20 Published Articles 212 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 60+U.S. States Visited: 50

Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and que...
& Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

36 Published Articles 3282 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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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.

Carissa Rawson, Senior Content Contributor

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.

Favorite Hotel Redemption

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 swings
Is it any surprise that I’ve booked to go back? Image Credit: Carissa Rawson

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!

Calala Island cash cost
Image Credit: Hyatt

Favorite Airline Redemption

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:

  • San Diego (SAN) to London (LHR): United Polaris; $755 and 40 PlusPoints
  • London (LHR) to Abu Dhabi (AUH): Etihad First on the A380; 62,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles
  • Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Bangkok (BKK) to Tokyo (HND): Qatar first class and JAL first class; 50,000 AA miles
  • Tokyo (HND) to Dallas (DFW): JAL first class; 80,000 AA miles

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!

Chris Hassan, Social Media Manager and Family Travel Contributor

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.

James Larounis, Senior Content Contributor

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!

I’m somewhat good at finding Qantas business class space for 55,000 Alaska Airlines miles. I’ll never refuse a trip to Australia!

Qantas Airways business class seat
I love the business class seating on Qantas. Image Credit: Jamie Larounis

Keri Stooksbury, Editor-in-Chief

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

Holiday Inn Express Phuket Patong Beach Central
The Holiday Inn Express Phuket Patong Beach Central was great for my family! Image Credit: IHG

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).

Nick Ellis, Editor and Content Contributor

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.

St. Regis Punta Mita
I’d do anything to go back! Image Credit: Marriott

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!

Stella Shon, Editor and Content Contributor

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.

TAP A330 900neo business class cabin
TAP’s business class was more than adequate for just 12,500 miles. Image Credit: Daniel Ross

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. 

Final Thoughts

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?

Frequently Asked Questions

Which airline has best value for miles?

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.

Is it worth earning hotel points?

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. 

Which frequent flyer program is best for international flights?

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. 

What is the best points card for travel?

There are a ton of available options for those looking to earn points with their credit cards. Check out our guide: The 14 Best Travel Credit Cards to see which fits your needs. 

Carissa Rawson's image

About Carissa Rawson

Carissa served in the U.S. Air Force where she developed her love for travel and new cultures. She started her own blog and eventually joined The Points Guy. Since then, she’s contributed to Business Insider, Forbes, and more.

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