When Using Points Doesn’t Make Sense

Filed Under: Airbnb, Credit Cards
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Without question, I receive tremendous value when redeeming miles and points, and particularly on the hotel front. Combined with elite status perks, hotel awards have not only allowed for some great stays at properties that would otherwise have been a bit out of reach for me, but have made the increasing frequency of travel in our household a little less painful.

So I’m a big fan of using points for hotels, particularly when said points can be acquired inexpensively or through credit cards. But there are times when using points for a hotel just doesn’t make sense — or where hotels don’t make sense in general.

And one of those times is when you realize at the last minute that you need a hotel in London for three people.

Last minute? You’ve been talking about this trip for actual months!

Yeah, I know. But for almost all of that time I was planning on a different version of the trip. Travel is easy when it’s just Ben and I — we don’t even care if we’re at the same hotel — but it’s different when I have my family in tow.

A few days before we left, a change in plans meant there was an extra ticket to the One Direction concert. And because Ben is a fantastic friend and a generally good sport, we invited my 15-year-old niece to come along:

A further reshuffling of plans meant my husband would be flying with her, so in the space of a few hours we’d gone from “doesn’t matter, wherever you want to stay” to “ZOMG need to find a hotel room for three people in one of the most difficult cities to do that in.”

London geography wasn’t helping either

For those unfamiliar with London, the main airport, Heathrow, and the O2 Arena where the concert would be are about as far from each other as can be. They’re also on opposite sides of Central London, which is where the bulk of the hotels you’ve heard of are located.


So for this trip, we knew we wanted to stay closer to the O2. Two long commutes are easier for me to adjust my work schedule around than several short ones, so the goal was to stay as far East as possible — ideally in Canary Wharf or the Docklands.

Many London hotel rooms have a low capacity

That being said, I would have gladly dealt with a less-convenient location if there had been a Central London option that made sense on points. The challenge, however, is that most “standard” hotel rooms in London have a maximum occupancy of two.

Some chains will allow you to use additional points for premium rooms, but that adds a layer of complexity and there aren’t always many of these rooms available. But I started making my way through the list of award options just in case.


Of the Starwood hotels in London, there was nothing available in the central zone that could accommodate three people:


The Park Tower had availability, but we would have been crowded in a tiny room with a rollaway, and the location in Knightsbridge was less than ideal. So not a great option, especially for such an expensive redemption:



Of the Hyatt properties, the Churchill only allows three people in Junior Suites or larger — none of which were available.


The Andaz allows three people in a Large King, which isn’t bookable on points.


So that was out as well.


While it’s typically my backup hotel chain, Hilton probably has the broadest assortment of options in London, and is probably where you should start if you’re booking a room for a larger group.

I’ve had great stays at the Hilton London Tower Bridge, and it’s convenient enough for the O2. Rates were very very high at the last minute though:


I’ve also heard good things about the Hilton London Canary Wharf, which would have been ideal location-wise.


But to accommodate three people we would have had to book a Junior Suite, which was rather pricey:


Club Carlson

Of all the major hotel chains, Club Carlson makes it the easiest to redeem for larger rooms, so they were a strong contender. The only property with availability was the Plaza on the River, which wouldn’t be super convenient, but was the most reasonable option so far.



Feeling frustrated, but not defeated, I looked at Marriott options as well. My husband has top-tier status there, so we could have taken advantage of his benefits, but there wasn’t anything particularly compelling.



In an effort to not leave any stone unturned, I also checked IHG options. Several of the Crowne Plaza properties will allow three or four people, though sadly none were available.


An alternative to hotels

Realizing that I was scraping the bottom of the points barrel if the best options were looking like an Holiday Inn Express, I thought of checking airbnb.

I’ve rented apartments for longer stays overseas — typically for a month or more — but this was the first time I’d considered renting a place for just a weekend. The idea was compelling though — if we could find something large enough, Ben could stay with us as well, which would make everything much more convenient.

I wasn’t interested in sharing space with a stranger, so filtered for private units with at least two bedrooms and two bathrooms:


And to my surprise (don’t judge, it had been a frustrating hotel search up until this point), there were tons of options available, and in the exact area we wanted to be:


Once we’d decided on a property, the actual booking was easy through the airbnb portal. A two bedroom and two bathroom apartment in Greenwich was about $620 all-in for the two nights — far better than the rates we’d been considering for hotels (in either points or dollars).


Even better, airbnb counts as a travel provider for the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®, so I’ll be able to use my points for a statement credit — making this stay still “mostly free to me” even without using traditional points.

While the accommodations weren’t as glamorous as some of the places we review around here (Ben will have his full review later), it was certainly serviceable. The location was great for us, and the views were fantastic.


Bottom line

Hotels can certainly be trickier when traveling with a larger group, and while London typically has tons of options for using points, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

But we ended up with something that worked just fine for us, and was still a pretty good value overall. And everyone slept well, which is the most important thing!


Have you tried airbnb overseas? What would you have done in this case?

If you don’t already have an account with airbnb, you can receive a $25 credit when you sign up as a new user. We receive a credit as well, which we of course appreciate. Feel free to share your links if you’re a current user!

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  1. We travel with our daughter, a teenager, so I understand your dilemma! What did you think of the bedding? I have become spoiled with upscale hotels on points and the nicely enclosed comforters. The last time I rented an apartment (in Paris), it was a fabulous, charming location, very pleasant space inside, but I really don’t want to think about how often the comforter was washed (especially after experiencing the tiny washer which I know they used for sheets).
    I’ve become so fussy I’m afraid! I guess you could email and inquire about the bedding?

  2. In my opinion, AirBnB is always a great option if there is a major event in a city as the prices don’t seem to be affected by demand/supply. Recently I decided to fly to Salvador in Brazil for the carnival in February 2016 (As I just paid just 150 Euros from Europe due to an Error Fare) and Hotel/Hostel rates were of course insanely high during that time. So a friend and I booked an apartment directly in the city center for a fraction of the cost of a ‘regular’ accommodation 🙂

  3. I’m finding I’m trending more toward AirBNB nowadays when I travel abroad. While it can be challenging to not have the service associated with a hotel (like when my lost luggage was getting delivered during the middle of an Oktoberfest evening), an apartment can’t be beat in terms of space and price for the location. Using the Oktoberfest example, we got a spacious 2 bedroom apartment for 2 couples an 8-minute walk from the Wiesn. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t nearly as expensive as a hotel.

  4. Silly question, but at 15 years old isn’t your niece old enough that she could be trusted in a room of her own? Would take more points, but would only require a entry level room to be available.

    That said looking forward to the airbnb review.

    I guess it to much to hope for that Lucky might even do some more independent boutique hotel reviews in the future?

  5. In similar situation, I’ve just booked 2 rooms on points and emailed the hotel to request for connecting rooms. Never failed me and far less a hassle than looking for rooms that sleep more than 2 legally.

  6. @ Kate — It was actually quite good. I specifically looked for places that were exclusively used as rentals (given they probably have a cleaning crew and send the laundry out, etc.) The pillows and sheets were great, the comforters were wrapped in crisp duvets, though the towels were a little scratchy.

  7. @ No Name — Well, I’m sure she could be, but now we’re talking three rooms for two nights. Given that most London hotels are in a higher category, that would have been ~120,000 points between us for the two nights, which is just a lot.

  8. Ben – I’m finding it hard to figure out who is writing the blog posts these days. I don’t mind guest posts but there ought to be a clear indication of who is writing at the beginning IMHO. Love your blog. Read it every day.

  9. @Blueline7 – FYI it says right at the top that it is Tiffany that wrote this blog and does so for each blogger. October 2, 2015 by Tiffany

  10. You probably did not have time but I can tell you from personal experience: if you find a standard hotel room overseas with 2 queen beds (as opposed to the more common 2 twin beds) but max occupancy is listed as 3 and you are a party of 2 adults, 2 small children (under 12), ask elite reservations to contact the hotel to see if they will allow it. Or contact the hotel yourself but I think it works better/more seamlessly if the elite line does it – “Hi, this is Big Chain Elite Reservations and I have a valued Platinum Member who wants to reserve a standard double room for his family – two adults and two small children. They will be using the existing bedding – 2 queen beds. Is that acceptable? If so can you please note this fact on the reservation?”). Whether the hotel will allow it or not depends on their interpretation of the local regulations, but you won’t know unless you ask. This has worked great for me a few times when I wanted to use free nights for my family in an expensive city like London.

  11. In our recent trip to London, in April, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Vauxhall.
    The room was fine, though the breakfast sucked. Awful tasting sausages, no bacon, and cereal made the main options.

    But, for two nights we stayed at the Ramada London Docklands using DLH points.
    Never managed to use them yet, so we all got ourselves a night at a hotel. Dad and I at the Ramada and Mum in Frankfurt for our return trip (later in may — I meant from UK not London!)

    The Ramadas room was okay, but the breakfast was AMAZING. Like, literally, best I ever ate except for Country Inn and Suites Newark.

    The hotel on Amelia Earhart Strabe was good enough, the breakfast was (I was told) delicious but as I was vomiting everything from my toes to my tonsils…..

  12. I believe SPG’s official policy is that you can pay something like $50 a night to add a third person to an award reservation … that is, at least if you can find a hotel with 2 double or queen beds available, which admittedly may be hard last-minute in London. And in my experience, many hotels around the world do not particularly enforce the rules about whether you have 2 or 3 people in the room as long as you are not too blatant about it…

  13. Traveled to London, southern France and Paris in May. I think I am a more common type of pointshound- someone who has a day job and family responsibilities and thus can’t achieve much status or build up a huge points cache outside of credit card bonuses and occasional flights/hotel stays. For London we used the Hilton Reserve card 2 free nights for the Conrad St. James- amazing! But it would be 80,000 points a night for a regular points stay. In southern France we stayed in the countryside, no hotels where we wanted to be, so ended up at an incredible BnB heavily recommended on tripadvisor, it was 100 euros a night and just incredible.

    Finally, for Paris we had 4 nights and thought about using 40,000 SPG points for the Westin Vendome for 2 of the nights. But that part of the city didn’t interest us much, we wanted a more “neighborhoody” vibe, for lack of a better term. Found a great 800 square foot apartment a block from the Republique metro station for a total of $107 a night. Fantastic area, fantastic place. I’d rather spend the $215 (2 night worth of our stay) and keep the SPG points for another use, like converting to 50,000 AA miles.

    We also travel as a family with 2 kids. For that, hotels often don’t work. Pretty much always use airbnb for houses or apartments. Not a bad pick yet in 10 tries. So much better than being crammed into a single room or even suite.

  14. @Kate;
    I have rented apartments in Paris and each time I carry my own mattress pad, mattress covering and my own sheets and towels. When you are going to spend 2-3 weeks in the same place, it is worth carrying this around. Sometimes I just leave it there.
    When you add up the cost of the trip, an extra $200 (I get 3 suitcases with Star Alliance Gold) to assure I have a comfy bed and towels is well worth it.
    I prefer apartments for longer trips just because I hate the idea of going out for all my meals. I have to eat gluten free (medical necessity) and it is stressful to find safe places.

  15. I rent with Air BnB when hotels are exorbitantly priced or when the chains are too far from the city center (or don’t exist). For example, Florence, Italy, where all the chains are way outside the core. I rented a cute flat a 5 minute walk from the train station instead, and it even had a washer, which was needed in the middle of a long trip.

  16. My experience on Airbnd is very disappointing. Our family (2 adults& 1 kid) went to Paris last October and decided to try on Airbnd. I booked nice apartment behind LV shop on Champ Elysee. But this is what happened;
    1. We were landing on time at 3.05pm and arrived apartment at 4.15 pm, no one waiting as promised, I call the number that gave by host and find that the person who suppose to bring us in and show how to use equipment already gone because she said we were arriving late. Hey, 70 mins from CDG to Paris to consider late!
    2. No Amenity: no shampoo, soap in apartment. In toilet has only one small paper roll left. And host said she will bring it to us by TOMORROW or we should buy by ourself and she will refund later which is very inconvenience.
    3. Host said she will come to see us on tomorrow, but she never come.
    4. We bought all amenity and host said she will come to see us when we check out and give the refund which is not surprising that no one show up.

    There has a lot more issue during our stay and it made me don’t want to use Airbnd again.

  17. i had two terrible AirBNB experiences in a row this summer (won’t go into detail; suffice to say, the hosts were not the most responsible or friendly people in the world) and i’ve decided i am sticking to hotels from now on. i never really was that into being in someone else’s home but i’ve certainly learned to value the ability to call the front desk when a significant issue arises. not having that really adds an element of stress to travel that i just don’t need.

  18. @Kate, if you are squeamish about the comforters, you probably don’t want to know how often the comforters in hotels are cleaned either. In regard to the washers in the homes, there are almost no vacation rentals where the comforters are cleaned in the homes, they are taken out in virtually all cases. While you might be able to cram it in, it won’t get clean and it will take so long to dry that it is not cost effective to have the machine tied up for so long and the cleaner sitting waiting for it. We manage about 100 vacation rentals near Disney World, so have a decent idea about how often both hotels and vacation rentals launder the comforters.

  19. @Patrick – thanks, I see it now, but it is in tiny font in grey scale against a white background. I guess that’s why I missed it and imagine it may be the same thing for others.

  20. There are so many great hotels which aren’t in chains in London. It surprises me that you couldn’t find a decent hotel – it doesn’t give me great confidence in your points company. It’s almost like your picking a hotel because it gives you points rather than for any normal reason

  21. Your niece is really cute in the vid!

    Is she writing any reviews for this trip? (With ur help in editing if required. )

    She could put forth her contributions. Lol.

  22. @ Sam — That doesn’t even make any sense. Of course we look at hotels based on where we can use or earn points; that’s sorta our thing! We aren’t travel agents.

  23. @ flyingfish — I didn’t even think to ask her! Let me see if she wants to, though I’m hesitant to take any additional time away from school and sports this week.

  24. It may look like there are a lot of rooms available on AirBNB but a lot of those properties are not actually bookable. The hosts just keep their calendar opened even when they know they’re booked, though I’m not sure for what purpose (these are full-time rental units, not personal residences, so I assume they’re also booking the same property through some other method). I recently booked a room at the last minute through airbnb and I had five consecutive requests turned down for lack of availability.

  25. I’m a habitual hotel-user (always Starwood as my go to when travelling solo as I have elite status but there are occasionally boutique hotels here & there when traveling with my partner) & so have become accustomed to the style & idiosyncrasies of hotels when travelling. I decided to exit my comfort zone for once & tried AirBNB when I was in Manhattan for several days last time (2014). The place wasn’t cheap but was still far less than a hotel (not difficult in Manhattan, but still), had a great location for me (14th & Seventh – I am NOT a midtown kinda guy), a fantastic/friendly owner who simply could not have been more accommodating if he’d tried, & was a perfectly-sized, funky one-bedder. What’s to complain about?

    That said, despite my great experience, it still made me highly nervous before, during and after, particularly after having read practically all of the AirBNB horror stories as they came up in the media. I tried it once but just don’t feel comfortable enough with it to do it again, though of course this was absolutely no reflection on my ‘host’ or property. Much like I cannot quite feel comfortable enough to try (much less regularly use) Uber, I just don’t think AirBNB is really for me. I almost feel that I need the faceless corporate behemoth in the background to make sure that, if there’s a major (or even minor) stuff-up, I can claim recompense in a more defined manner. Also, quite sadly on my behalf, where’s the fun if there isn’t points redemption or earning occurring? *giggle*

    Maybe the world is divided into hotel people and AirBNB people – we all just have to get along!

  26. I’m currently trying to determine where my “Points vs. Cash” break-even point lies. It seems to be a three-pronged decision involving not simply the redemption rate of cash versus points, but also comparing the rate of the hotel in question against alternatives (hotel and non-hotel).

    For example, I’m trying to decide whether I should redeem 20,000 SPG points for the Westin Paris Vendome at an excellent redemption ratio of 4.262 pts/nt. At first glance, that redemption rate seems like a great option. But the room rate listed for my stay is over $800/nt. For three nights, spending 60,000 is exhausting a minimum of $1200 in SPG currency.

    My dilemma is figuring out at what cash rate would I pay out of pocket to stay at an acceptable (if not the same level) lodging alternative, rather than utilizing those valuable points? I would never pay $800 for the Westin Paris Vendome if there were reasonable alternatives. Even using SPG point valuations, we are looking at a minimum $400/nt in points. I would use points rather than pay $350 for a reasonable alternative, but at what point does that decision flip to cash outlay?

    The absurdity of the Westin Paris Vendome rate listed becomes quite clear when one looks at Air BNB listings in the same area for ~$800/nt. Literally every option surpasses the value of the Westin — and it’s not remotely close. Still, I’d rather redeem points than outlay $3200 for 3 nights. At $400/nt, the result is pretty similar — the majority of the options on Air BNB are a better choice than spending $400/nt in points at the Westin, but the fact that points > cash in general still push my choice to points.

    I’m starting to find that my tolerance for cash outlay probably falls somewhere at 50% of the points value required to secure lodging. For this booking, that means I’d probably pay cash for any reasonable alternative that meets my needs if it costs less than $200/nt. Unless staying at the hotel/resort itself was the primary draw (in Paris, it certainly is not) then paying double the alternative outlay to redeem points seems like a poor choice to me. I’d rather save them for a more valuable redemption or use them for flights after transferring to AA.

    I’m curious to hear whether any other readers have done this analysis, and where their respective break-even points fall.

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