My all time favorite award redemptions

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I’ve been playing the points & miles game for over 10 years now.  Throughout that time, this hobby has led me to many, many incredible experiences.  For this post, I looked back at my past award redemptions and picked out my 10 favorites.  These are the experiences that were truly remarkable.  In each case listed below, points & miles made these experiences possible because I would never have paid the retail price otherwise.

Points & miles have unlocked amazing experiences over the years.  I can thank Virgin Atlantic points for the opportunity to get flipped off (jokingly) by Sir Richard Branson.  Sure, others have been choked by him, but who else has been flipped off?

Two things jumped out at me when I made this list.  First, it’s amazing that 4 of my top 10 awards were possible thanks to Hyatt!  If you’ve wondered why I keep picking Chase Ultimate Rewards as my favorite transferable points program, this is it.  Second, only 5 of the top 10 awards can be reproduced today.  This reinforces why it’s so important to jump on amazing opportunities when they happen.  You may not get a second chance.

Here now, in descending order, are my top 10 award redemptions of all time…

#10 Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme

Still bookable with points today? Yep

In 2014, my family went on a fantastic trip to Paris and Switzerland.  In Paris, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Vendome, in a suite.  The suite cost us 33,000 points per night at the time (most of which were transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards).  If you were to book the same room today it would cost 48K standard (43K off-peak, 53K peak) points per night.  If you were to pay for the suite outright it would likely cost over $1500 per night.

The shower doubled as a steam room!

The hotel was awesome. We were upgraded to an Executive Suite thanks to my having top tier Hyatt elite status at the time. Unlike the suite we had booked, the Executive Suite had a living room separated from the bedroom, and a second half bath. This was great because it meant that our son had a room and bathroom of his own. The master bath shower also doubled as a steam room. Seriously. Our room had a freakin’ steam room in it! I only used it a few times, but it was great.

My favorite feature of the hotel was the ability for top tier Hyatt elites to order room service breakfast, for free, up to 50 euros per person.  We typically had enough breads and meats left over each morning to also cover a lunch or afternoon snack.  And, the food was excellent.

I posted a bit about the Paris trip here: A novice’s guide to Paris.

#9 Grand Hyatt Santiago Diplomatic Suite

Still bookable with points today? No. The hotel is now a Mandarin Oriental.

At this hotel, we paid the standard award rate at the time (maybe 12K points per night? I don’t remember) and we were upgraded to the Diplomatic Suite thanks to my top tier Hyatt elite status.  We absolutely loved the huge windows overlooking the Andes mountains!  The hotel also featured a club on a high floor with terrific food, and views nearly as good as ours.

#8 Andaz Costa Rica Resort At Peninsula Papagayo

Still bookable with points today? Yep

I wrote about our trip to the Andaz Papagayo here: Huge value from Hyatt – Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Costa Rica.  At the time, the resort cost only 15K points per night, but it’s now up to 20K standard (17K off-peak, 23K peak).  Regardless, compared to the cash rate (at the time of my stay it would have cost nearly $1500 per night!), paying with points can be an awesome deal!  The resort was beautiful, the staff were fantastic, and we loved participating in many activities available at the resort.

Relaxing in the shade on the beach
Our room
Andaz Papagayo Sunrise
View from our balcony
Monkey shenanigans
The coffee tasting barista class was my favorite
Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Costa Rica Mixology Class
The Mixology class was awesome too.
Chorreadas cooking class
Room service breakfast was included for free for top tier Hyatt elites.

#7 Alila Ventana Big Sur

Still bookable with points today? Yep

As I said in my Ventana Big Sur review: Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Did I say “wow”?  Wow!

My wife and I loved everything about Ventana.  The property itself is beautiful.  The surrounding area (Big Sur) is fantastic.  Our suite was awesome.  We hope to return often (and yes we have booked a stay for this coming winter).

This is not the place to go if you want to play golf or tennis.  You won’t find those options here.  This is not a place to bring kids — it’s adults only.  This is a place to relax, to enjoy nature at its most beautiful, and to bring your dog — dogs are welcome here.

Ventana Big Sur costs 30K points per night standard.  That’s a great deal for a resort that usually charges over $1,500 per night!  Even better: all meals are now included (this wasn’t true when we visited).

We were upgraded to the Vista Hot Tub Suite. This is a photo of our “backyard”.
This deer visited our Vista Hot Tub Suite.
Vista Hot Tub Suite: Bath and shower
Vista Hot Tub Suite Living Room & Bedroom Combo
The main pool
Path to restaurant
Restaurant view
Ventana Big Sur Alila Hyatt California Big Sur House Breakfast
Breakfast and view
View from path near our room
Glorious redwood trees

#6 Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, Baden-Baden, Germany

Still bookable with points today? No (unless you get bumped like we did)

Brenners is part of the Leading Hotels of the World

For our one night stay in Baden-Baden, Germany, we had booked a Marriott hotel with points: Roomers Baden-Baden, Autograph Collection.  Before our stay, the hotel reached out to say that they were overbooked and would return our points and put us up in another hotel.  The hotel they proposed didn’t look nice at all, so I wrote back and suggested instead the top rated hotel in Baden-Baden: Brenners Park Hotel.  To my surprise and delight, they said yes.  I wish we had been kicked out of a multi-night stay instead!

I’ve stayed in many very nice luxury hotels, but this was probably my favorite of them all.  Service included a personal greeting as we drove up the hotel, a line of personnel inside to greet us, and a personal tour of the hotel and room.  The hotel offers a connected, and amazing, full service spa (yes, I took full advantage of it!).

Backyard view
The backyard leads to this public walking path.
Indoor pool

We got a kick out of their pillow and blanket menus:

#5 Singapore Suites

Still bookable with points today? Yep

In 2013 I flew international first class for the first time.  I had flown business class before then, but not first class.  On this trip, I flew around the world: from the U.S. to Frankfurt on Lufthansa First; from Frankfurt to Bangkok on Thai First; from Bangkok to Hong Kong on Thai First; and finally from Hong Kong to San Francisco on Singapore Suites.

Until flying Singapore Suites, I thought that first class was a nice incremental enhancement over flying business class.  But then… Singapore Suites.  It was in a class of its own.  The suite itself was roomy and beautifully appointed.  And the service was beyond incredible.  The flight attendants seemed to know what I wanted before I did.  You can read my original review here.

Currently, Singapore isn’t flying many routes with suites, but hopefully that will change when travel to and from Asia opens up more widely.  The only way to book Singapore Suites is with Singapore’s own Krisflyer miles.  Luckily they’re miles are easy to get since you can transfer 1 to 1 from Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, or Brex:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (~17 hours)1 to 1 (~1 day)60K to 25K (~1 day)1 to 1 (~7 hours)1 to 1 (Instant)
About to dig into my evening meal
View from my seat when my suite’s door and windows were open.
The flight attendant asked if it was OK if she made up the suite across the hall as my bed.  Why yes!  I then had a separate bedroom and living room!  And the bed was incredibly comfortable!
Sure, we appear to be all smiles, but the flight attendant practically had to drag me off the plane kicking and screaming when we got to San Francisco.  I didn’t want the experience to end!

#4 Cottages.com 8 bedroom Manor House

Still bookable with points today? No

In February 2017, we reported an absurd Wyndham deal: Book any Cottages.com property for only 15,000 Wyndham points per night.  The deal was only available for a few days, and was limited to 50 bookings, but it seemed that relatively few people jumped on the deal because I had no problem booking my 8 bedroom English “cottage” the day after the deal was announced.  You can read about our trip here: Seeking value, finding adventure for 15K Wyndham points per night.

We paid only 15,000 points per night for the 8 bedroom Newton Manor House, shown above. The house is in Swanage Dorset, England, which we discovered was an awesome place to visit.
Manor House dinner for 12
Old Harry Rocks, in Swanage Dorset England. It was possible to hike to here from the Manor House.
Lighthouse view on another hike from our “cottage”.

#3 Etihad First Apartment

Still bookable with points today? No

In late 2019, I flew Etihad First Apartments.  I paid 80,000 American Airlines miles plus $51.40 in taxes and fees to fly from the Seychelles to London, with a very short layover in Abu Dhabi.  The flight from the Seychelles to Abu Dhabi was an unremarkable four hour business-class flight.  The 8 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to London in Etihad’s First Class on board their A380 aircraft, though, was remarkable.  It was awesome.

Not only was the first class suite amazing, but the cabin crew was phenomenal.  Four crew members separately came to introduce themselves and to help plan my time on board.  It was an overnight flight, so I wanted to sleep, but I also wanted to get the most out of my time on board.  We worked out a plan that included a small meal before sleep, then a cold meal at breakfast so that I could sleep a bit longer (a hot meal would require more time), then an on-board shower.  This had to be the best flight of my life, edging out even Singapore Suites.

Sadly, thanks to the pandemic, Etihad has indefinitely parked its A380 aircraft (the ones that featured Apartments).  It is likely that they’ll never return to service.

My seat. Along the right is a bench seat that would later be turned into a bed.
View from my seat toward the aisle. Across the hallway is a second suite. Each suite has doors that close.  I found it interesting that they styled each suite with different hues.  My apartment had dark brown leather whereas the one across the hall is more cream colored. 
Bed time! I found the bed to be very comfortable.  This is one place where my Singapore Suites flight was better: it had an insanely comfortable bed. This one was comfortable, but not insanely so.  I still slept very well!
The original breakfast plan was smoked salmon on bagel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good. How could they make this tasteless?
A crew member quickly noticed that I hadn’t eaten the bagel sandwich and asked if I’d like something else. Curious what would happen if I went off-menu, I asked for an Eggs Benedict. The chef met the challenge brilliantly. It was awesome.

#2 Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa

Still bookable with points today? Yep (but price will jump in March)

Marriott’s Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa opened September 1st 2021.  Just 10 days later, Nick and I visited the resort for a brief 3 night stay.  It was fantastic!  For details, see: Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa: Guide & Review and Le Meridien Maldives first impressions: Wow!.

Incredibly, this resort is currently only a category 5 Marriott which means that rooms are bookable for 35K points per night standard (30K off-peak, 40K peak).  That’s an incredible deal.  When we booked our stay, overwater bungalows were available at that rate, but now you’ll have to pay $50 or 10K points extra per night for a sunrise overwater villa (totally worth it — I recommend paying cash instead of points for this).  Unfortunately, in March 2022, Marriott is planning to do away with award charts and so the award prices at Le Meridien are likely to spike much, much higher.  Book before March (even for a stay after March) in order to secure this deal.

Le Meridien Maldives Riviera Pool & Bar. Doesn’t this look like an artist’s rendering? It’s almost too perfect. But, no, I snapped this photo myself in real life with my iPhone 11 Pro.
View from the shower. Here you can see my room’s bathtub and deck.
It was possible to swim from the overwater bungalows to a reef with terrific snorkeling.
Overwater bungalows
Nick’s deck at sunset.  His room was on the sunset side of the west jetty.  The sunset rooms cost more, but we preferred my sunrise room since the surf was calmer on that side and it was closer to the snorkeling reef.

#1 Necker Island

Still bookable with points today? No

Picking my favorite award redemption of all time was easy.  Necker Island wins hands down.  My wife and I had an incredible time, we got to hang out with Richard Branson and a bunch of Lemurs, we enjoyed nearly non-stop included activities, and we made lifelong friends.

To be sure, it wasn’t cheap.  I paid 1.2 million Virgin Atlantic miles.  That award included all meals and activities for two.  Sadly (very sadly!), at this time, Virgin no longer offers the option to use points to book a Necker Island Celebration Week.

For details about our stay, see: Is Necker Island really worth 1.2 million miles?

From left to right: Sir Richard Branson (not yet astronaut at the time), Me
Great House pool at night
Necker Island View from Patio
View from our Patio
Zip lining
Necker Island Breakfast
Breakfast table
Richard Branson jokingly gives me the middle finger… At least, I think it was a joke…
I loved the Lemurs!
Even scuba diving was included!

Share your favorites

What were your favorite award redemptions?  Please comment below!

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dizzy

More of a feeling of satisfaction on how I earned points/how I redeemed them.
I did the Wakkanai $7/night mistake rate for 15 nights…stacked with a couple IHG promos. I earned I think 140k points from this? Maybe more. Really dug that area TBH. Super remote! Incredible sushi at the grocery store (lotta fish came right in there) for like, $3-4 bucks a meal. Also some amazing uni don bowls which is a local specialty. I ended up taking a ferry and camping on the nearby islands afterwards.

Then I did the Endless Suprises promo. I was backpacking in India at the time and it actually cost less to send them international from Dharamshala then from the US. 94 entries for about $25. I earned another 50k from this plus $100 of visa gift cards.

There was another promo on my trip too for paid stays I think I spent like $200 all in and got another 40-50k points.

I then used these points to pay for all of my hotels along the Appalachian Trail which I hiked after this. A lot of towns didn’t have IHG properties but when they did it was nice. I usually split with some hikers too so got some free beers/meals along the way.

Then since I had a few weeks to kill until my job started I lived in Tuscon for two weeks on a 5k point breaks offer. Right outside Catalina state park and on a bike trail

Last edited 1 year ago by dizzy
Ricardo

My all time favorites:

Domes of Elounda for 60000 Marriott points (private pool with the most beautiful view ever).

Qatar Q suites Bangkok-Doha-Boston using AA miles.

Suite upgrade at the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau in Buenos Aires for 25000 points a night

4 nights for the price of 2 (using a buy 2 get 1 free night promotion, plus a 4th free night) by using the Citi Prestige 4th night free when you could use it talking to a concierge, at The Vines of Mendoza in Argentina a Leading Hotel of the world. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.

Upgrade to the Governors suite in Aruba at the Hyatt Regency for 7 days (25000 points a night). 2800 sq feet, with 3 balconies, a refrigerator full of drinks every day, private front palapa, full living room with and dining room, etc.

12000 SPG points at the Hotel Tambo del Inka in Urubamba, Peru.

20000 SPG points a night at the Hotel Marques de Riscal in La Rioja, Spain, Hotel design by Frank Gehry.

Hotel Convento de Espinhero in Evora, Portugal (no longer belongs to Marriott/SPG). I got a modern suite inside the Convento.

Suite at the Jaffa, a Luxury Collection hotel in Tel Aviv/Jaffo, Israel. An old French Hospital converted into a Hotel…

slaven

suggestions on how to book Le Meridian for a Jan 2023 stay at current rates? booking calendar stops in November 2022.

slaven

thanks for sharing. now where’s Nick’s list?

Dugroz Reports

Looks like Newton Manor House (Swanage, UK) still shows as bookable on Cottages.com — I’d guess you can still use Wyndham points to get it? (for a LOT – maybe 100K – 200K per night)

Amy

My favorite of all time was the old Hilton safari redemption, which I learned about via FlyerTalk. From landing at the Nairobi Airport through being returned to the airport, everything was covered — a night at the Nairobi Hilton on each end, nights at Salt Lick Lodge in Tsavo, all game drives, meals, etc. When we checked out of the lodge, I think we owed something like tips + $10/day in laundry and additional beverages. Before we went, my husband kept saying “What if it’s a scam? What if we get to Nairobi and there’s no one there to greet us? What if the people on the internet who claim they’ve done it are all plants?” By the time we were leaving he was asking “What credit cards should I get?”

From there we went on to Capetown to the Arabella Sheraton, which was also a great redemption.

We also used miles and points to cover huge portions of a 10 week, RTW trip in 2018, and lots of smaller trips with family and on our own (many times to Hawaii and Europe particularly), but getting to see elephants in the wild was a dream that Hilton (and a manager who let me do mattress runs without going to his hotel) made much more possible.

slaven

That safari trip sounds amazing – Is #1 on my bucket list. i just cant figure out how to use points to cover costs of such a trip (excluding airfare).

Amy

After they got rid of it, we took 3 parents to Kenya for a safari a few years later. We used miles and points on the way (long layover in London, for airfare), in Nairobi. We also skipped birthday and Christmas gifts that year with those parents and considered it as our gift to each other.
It was not cheap, but at my father-in-law’s funeral maybe 8 years later, his buddies were commenting on how much he talked about that trip in particular. So it was definitely worth it!

alcwj

instantly bookmarked post excellent post and looking forward to share the same experience

Christian

My favorite redemptions have been Cathay first class HKG-ORD. Cathay first class is always superb but my wife and I flew this route several times and couldn’t get enough of The Wing lounge near the gate. The price was right too, at 70,000 Alaska miles.

martin

HA!
in 1995, before program changed,
50,000 Continental Air miles for TWO round trip tickets to ASIA
To Bali, with some days in Hawaii on the way

Christian

Economy?

Grant

Hey Greg, I love your top 10 list. This is a good reminder that great awards come and go (or go up to much higher prices), so book them ASAP. Looking forward to seeing Nick’s top 10 soon 🙂

farnorthtrader

Quite remarkable how experiences can differ so much at the same locations. I would rate our stay at Park Hyatt Paris Vendome as my biggest disappointment in rewards redemption (Park Hyatt Vienna, Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, Le Meridien Pyramids in Cairo, and JW Marriott El Convento in Cusco, Peru would also be in this category). My family stayed there (in three rooms) when my children were 6, 8, 10 and 12 and both my wife and I were diamond members at the time. Not only did we get no suite, we got no upgrade at all as far as I could tell. In addition, despite them knowing the ages of our children, they placed us on three different floors for our three rooms. I asked for help in this regard and they would do nothing. The bell staff repeatedly ignored us and it became very apparent that they really would prefer not to have children in their hotel (at least I hope that was the issue, we do have three children of different races).
In contrast to this (on the same trip), we (8 of us including parents-in-law) stayed at the Trianon Palace at Versailles as Hilton golds and were provided with a suite upgrade for one room and multilevel upgrades for the other two rooms. We were comped breakfast (which was amazing) for all of us and the staff were amazing. They even comped us tea and macarons in the evening! Definitely makes my top 10. At the top of my list, I would add the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai (also with large suites in the old building), Al Maha, Conrad Macau, Conrad Tokyo, Andaz Papagayo, Hilton Luxor (the hotel isn’t amazing, but the people and location are awesome), Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice (suite with an amazing view), and (just for the quirky factor) Hotel Elephant in Weimar, Germany. My list definitely tilts in favor of Hilton

Point

Great post Greg. It would also be interesting to see your top value redemptions at the lower end, where you received high value for your points/miles, even though I would assume that it would be difficult to remember and collate.

Chris

Etihad Apartments (AUH-JFK)
Hilton Seychelles Labriz – only complaint is no upgrade despite Diamond status
Marriott Powerscourt (Wicklow, Ireland) – Upgraded to amazing suite
Lufthansa First on 747-8i (FRA-EWR)
Qatar Airways business (JFK-DOH-SEZ) (A350-900 and A330-300)
United (EWR-SFO-SYD) (757 and 747-400) – All economy, but it was my first award redemption)
Hilton Sorrento, Italy – Room was old, but great food, pool, and views.
TAP Portugal business “throne” seat (EWR-OPO) (A321LR)
jetBlue Mint Suite (JFK-LHR round trip)

Susan

I loved this post and remember reading most of these reviews as they happened. I’d love to request as a blog post or podcast that your P2s weigh in … I’m always curious how long it took them to embrace this hobby of yours, what they think when you guys come up with these crazy redemptions like Neck or 40k to Far Away, etc… and their general impressions. Still working to get my P2 fully committed!

Mary Jane

Redemptions that you experienced are the reason I started this game and always recommend you to friends. You, Nick and Stephen’s unbiased and knowledgeable recommendations are way above The points guy and view from the wing. Please never change!

Byron

Next week at Ventana and in the spring Le Meridian

Matthew

One of my fav redemptions was also Etihad apartments, CDG-SYD for my boyfriend using AA. I really wanted to go with him, but I got a ticket with an even better deal ORD-SYD for 8k miles. Of course now I wish I would have splurged since I never did end up fly Etihad apartments, but I’m glad he got to enjoy it and my AA redemption was really cheap. We had a great time at the Hilton in Sydney. The executive lounge was a madhouse at times, but the liquor was free flowing. The Hyatt in Melbourne was incredible, with a much better lounge. Other top picks: Conrad Dublin, Hyatt Centric Milan.

paul5795

I think this post was just an excuse to post more pictures of Greg with Richard Branson . . . . 🙂

Flying Tedward

Completely agree on Etihad Apartment and Singapore Suites,each of which my wife and I were fortunate to have the double bed. Personally, my list would include AA 12K r/t web specials to visit my 91 year-old Mum in Rhode Island several times a year. Redemption value: priceless.

Denise

I have been at this a long time–not always using points and miles to the best of their advantage–but have still had some good uses:

  1. In 2014, Round the World in first using 140,000 USAirways miles per person, just before the merger with AA. Notable legs included: JFK-ICN in Asiana F. My husband and I were the only passengers. Shanghai-Auckland in Air New Zealand Business. One of the best 12 hour flights of my life. Bangkok-Frankfurt in Thai First and FRA-ORD in United Global First. (Not that memorable because United and we slept the entire flight.)
  2. 1 week at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in 2006 just before a major devaluation–100,000 HHonors points for the ENTIRE WEEK!
khatl

Great post…
Mine top ones are: Concorde to NY the week before Christmas, then back first class to LHR for 140k Avios pp and reasonable taxes, no fees. Concorde now unavailable, but first class return is now 160k peak + ~$1,000 in taxes and fees
or
Al Maha full board incl all activities (as I booked before they changed it) for 5 nights for 240k Bonvoy points over New Year 2019/2020 (and I got 80k of those refunded). The price for this has now almost doubled to 400k and you now have to pay for some activities such as 4*4 dune rides

Just a Note

The Etihad Apartment makes business class almost seem like economy by comparison. For lodging, Al Maha would be at the top.

Cavedweller

That’s the only thing I missed the APARTMENT the rest doesn’t matter .The 380 was a bad big $$$$ idea..

Adam W

Greg,

Thanks for this post 🙂 This is one of my favorite posts from you. Please encourage Nick to do the same with his top 10 redemptions of all times

anonymous

Greg, what’s the outlook for (at least) business class awards to Europe going forward? Which programs will you be focusing on for those? I ask, because with all the constant devaluations, I worry that even transferable currencies won’t help much eventually. (I’m on the west coast.)

Your skills and insights are always appreciated.