For a long time, there’s been an obvious discrepancy in my miles and points balances. Airline miles make up roughly two-thirds of my points, with hotel points occupying most of the remaining third. Granted, the recent Marriott/SPG merger and the amazing hotel bargains available evened things up temporarily as I worked on increasing my Marriott points, but the gap is definitely there.

Tricks of the Trade statistics reveal a similarly interesting imbalance. Articles on airline miles, particularly Avios, receive the most traffic while articles on anything hotel-loyalty related get far less attention.

Many people prefer airline miles over hotel points but do they have it all wrong? 

Let’s be clear here – I’m not looking to wade into discussions of whether there’s more value/enjoyment from redeeming points for a business class flight rather than spending a night at a high-end hotel. That debate is always going to be highly subjective and everyone will have their own views. Instead, I’m looking at the reasons why you might choose to focus on collecting airline miles, hotel points or indeed both.

Range of collecting opportunities

Broadly speaking, racking up significant amounts of hotel points comes easiest to those who do a fair amount of business travel, especially genuine road warriors. For them, it’s all about being strategic and taking their bookings to whichever chain is offering the most lucrative promotion at the time. Sure, you can convert all of your Amex Membership Rewards points to Hilton, Marriott or Radisson Rewards but it’s still going to be tricky to earn a large number of hotel points on a consistent basis.

Airline miles, on the other hand, can be earned in many ways without having to step foot on a plane. Shopping at Tesco, taking out a magazine subscription or purchasing things online via the BA eStore or the Virgin Shops Away portal are all easy methods to rack up Avios or Virgin miles.

Winner = Airline miles

Additional taxes to pay

For me, this is one of the crucial advantages of hotel points and the main reason why I’m keen to encourage more people to move away from their ‘Avios bubble’. Apart from pesky resort fees – especially at hotels which are most definitely not resorts (I’m looking at you St. Regis New York!) – redeeming hotel points for a free night means an actual free night!

The most common complaint I get from people trying to use their Avios is the amount of cash they have to pay on top of the miles they’ve saved up. Sure, £600 in taxes for a long-haul business class flight to the US might seem like a bargain compared to the £3,000 cost of a cash ticket, but it certainly tests our preprogrammed notion that airline miles = free flights.

The Conrad Tokyo charges 8% taxes + 15% service charge per room per night. Pay with points and you won’t pay any of that!

Winner = Hotel points

Increased flexibility

Some people can firm up an itinerary a year in advance and are happy to book regular non-refundable cash tickets based on those plans. I’m not one of those people. What’s more, I’ll often need to make small adjustments as the date of travel approaches. Airline miles give that flexibility, with BA and Virgin miles both offering the ability to make changes or even cancel entirely up to 24 hours before the flight for a full refund minus a £30-£35 fee. That same flexibility just isn’t there with the majority of cash tickets unless you’re willing to pay for expensive flexible tickets.

It’s not unusual, however, to find hotels offering a fully flexible rate for not that much more than the prepaid non-refundable price. While hotel points, of course, offer huge value and added flexibility – that flexibility isn’t necessarily a complete gamechanger. In that sense, airline miles come out on top.

Winner = Airline miles

Cancellation charges

Unless you’re a BA Gold Guest List member for example or booking a Gold Priority Reward, cancelling an Avios ticket will cost you £35 per ticket. While that’s hugely more palatable than the hundreds if not thousands that it can cost to change a paid ticket, the maths don’t always add up. If I’m looking to book tickets for my family, I’ve got to factor £100+ for each booking. Since I often book one-way tickets, I’m looking at more like £200 per trip. Not an enormous amount but it’s enough to stop me speculatively making a whole bunch of bookings well in advance.

By contrast, if I know I might be travelling to a particular city and a hotel that I’m considering has reward availability I’ll happily book it in the knowledge that I can cancel it, often up to 24 hours before arrival and get a full points refund with no additional charges.

Winner = Hotel points

Hard expiry dates

Both airline miles and hotel points will expire after a certain period of account inactivity. (You can find a program-by-program list of airline miles expiry dates here and hotel points expiry dates here). However, programs such as Singapore Airlines Krisflyer and Lufthansa’s Miles and More have ‘hard’ expiry dates on their miles. That means your miles will expire a fixed amount of time after earning them – no matter what you do.

That can be quite a disadvantage and a deterrent to avoid building big balances with those programs. I’ve been eyeing a Singapore Airlines redemption, but have held off making a large transfer to Krisflyer until I’m ready to make the booking, for fear of losing the miles a few years down the line, just in case my plans change.

As far as I’m aware none of the major hotel loyalty schemes has hard expiry dates. Some like Hilton and IHG do have quite restrictive 12-month expiry dates which you need to watch out for.

Winner = Hotel points

Smaller amounts of points required

Unless you’re using a British Airways 2-4-1 companion voucher, redeeming miles for flights requires you to pay per person. 100,000 Avios for return business class tickets to New York is achievable, but that jumps to 300,000 Avios for a couple with a child – which will seem out of reach to some people.

Hotels, on the other hand, will often allow you to redeem points for a room that can accommodate two adults + a crib/rollaway bed.

As you can see above, the same 120,000 Hilton Honors points that get you a room at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi for one person, can get you a free night for three people.

Winner = Hotel points


The ‘results’ above would seem to back up the gut feeling that I’ve had for a while, hotel points can offer tremendous value and should certainly not be dismissed.

I think it’s fair to say a happy medium is required. Everyone’s personal/work situations are different but in an ideal world, you should diversify and collect both airline miles and hotel points. That’s certainly what I try and do, although I naturally find airline miles easier to come by than hotel points – something that’s reflected in my points balances.

I’m really interested to get your views on this one – do you focus on collecting airline miles, hotel points or both?  


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