I’m just going to get this out of the way right off the bat. I don’t think that using airline and hotel points for travel is always the best and cheapest option to see the world.
Here’s the deal, I know that I’m being a bit of a hypocrite on this. I use points. I use them A LOT. We spent five weeks in Marrakech and Europe over December because of airline points.
Sort of, anyway.
It’s true that we did get to Marrakech and leave from Cologne, Germany using airline points on the Star Alliance network (and it was a nice bit of business class flying, too). That was fantastic. But that was just part of the total package. We used HomeAway for most of our accommodations, barring a few short hotel stays. We do have hotel points with both Hilton and IHG, but it proved to be a better deal and cheaper in the long run for us to stay in apartments with our traveling family of five.
We also paid for our own transportation from Marrakech to Amsterdam using (cue gasp! from some people with deep seated hate) Ryan Air. It was much cheaper than trying to schedule flights with points. MUCH cheaper.
And because we planned ahead, we didn’t have any of the extra charges that are the mainstays of the horrified postings I see all over about Ryan Air and their service. We printed our tickets before leaving home, we prepaid for checked baggage, and we were crazy strict about how much our carry-on weighed. It really wasn’t that disruptive. And it cost 50,000 miles less per person to fly into Marrakech than to fly into Amsterdam, while costing about the same in Ryan Air tickets as the flight fees would have been. For our family of five, that was the difference between exotic vacation and no vacation.
I also need to say this about our Ryan Air experience – by the end of the flight I was hoping for some of those reported hard sales on food. We were really hungry after our o’dark thirty flight, and every time the cart passed us the flight attendants totally missed our desperate waves of starvation.
While I’m on the subject of Morocco – I really feel the need to plug our fantastic riad, which we booked on special through Expedia and cost less than the Motel 6 in Santa Barbara when we used the pre-paid and nonrefundable rate, including a full delicious breakfast every morning – Dar Limoun Amara. Here’s my Trip Advisor Review – because we loved it that much.
We could have used Hilton or IHG points in Marrakech, but we wouldn’t have had a better time, and in truth we would have spent more on food and transportation than we did staying in our wonderful little riad. In fact, that’s true about every city we stayed in using apartment rentals – the cost of the food and extras we saved by having a kitchen and just using the grocery store saved us more than staying in a hotel on points would have. We travel with three athletic and constantly hungry teens and pre-teens. I can’t afford that much food, even at McDonald’s.
It seems like the heyday of points travel is on a decline – points programs are being revamped right and left, fees are creeping in and up, and anyone who does not have access to regular business flights for earning potential is going to have a harder time accumulating the points needed to take that dream vacation to Indonesia.
In fact, our family saved British Airways Avios for several years, only to have to hurriedly schedule the trip to Asia for which we had been hoarding when British Airways announced their own program changes – changes that were going to cut us out of the price of the tickets. To beat that we had to make reservations for December 2015 travel in January 2015. Also- we made them on Cathay Pacific. Their fees are nowhere near the ridiculous amounts charged by BA – who seems to leave you paying pretty much the full price of the ticket while flushing thousands of avios (their rewards miles) down the toilet simultaneously.
When you take into account sites like Priceline and their bidding process, airfarewatchdog (which is advertising a flight LAX to Jakarta for less than $700 today), and the numerous tools available to notify travelers of travel fares that drop – you might end up paying the same or less as you would attempting to use airline miles with all their fees and restrictions.
Don’t get me wrong – used judiciously, points programs can make the most amazing travel dreams come true. A good points accrual credit card can get you started to some fantastic places. But they are not the answer for every travel dream, sometimes that takes research and spending money, and quite often it takes some compromise.
Just keep in mind while using points programs that they aren’t the Holy Grail of travel – sometimes you might do better without them.
Atlantis the Palm photo by: By Danesman1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons