When earning points, it’s always important to have an eventual redemption goal in mind, especially during these strange times when our points balances are racking up faster than we can hope to spend them.
As we continue to daydream about our future travels, I thought it would be helpful to talk about the differences in how far our points will go in different parts of the world.
After all, due to many underlying factors, like cost, popularity, and flight availability, some regions around the world are fundamentally easier to “do on points” than others.
In this post, let’s take a tour around the globe and identify which places are “easiest” for smoothly executing our Miles & Points strategies and booking a highly optimized trip.
In This Post
1. South East Asia
South East Asia is commonly regarded as a backpacker’s paradise because of the cheap cost of travel and living, and for the same reasons, it would also be my top choice for a more luxurious trip using points that doesn’t break the bank.
If you wanted to experience a higher level of luxury, First Class redemptions with the latter two can also give you a dream start and end to your South East Asia trip.
In addition, you have the possibility of flying the “long way around” through Europe or the Middle East (perhaps linking together one of the other points-friendly destinations on this list).
Indeed, recall that one of the best sweet spots with Aeroplan these days is to fly to the “Asia 3” region – ideally optimized for South East Asia trips – for 85,000 Aeroplan points in business class.
For short-haul flying, Avios redemptions on Cathay Pacific or Malaysia Airlines will shuttle you from place to place, as will Aeroplan bookings on Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways. And the region’s cheap travel infrastructure always gives us the ability to fall back on a laundry list of ultra-low-cost carriers, such as AirAsia, Scoot, or Lion Air.
On the accommodations side, hotel loyalty programs tend to give you outsized value in South East Asia compared to other parts of the world, especially if you have elite status.
This is true on both ends of the spectrum: luxurious resorts like The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi can be booked as a Category 6 property, whereas the same quality elsewhere in the world might run you Category 8 prices.
Meanwhile, even a Category 2 hotel in South East Asia will most likely provide you with comfortable rooms, a picturesque pool scene, and a killer elite breakfast in the mornings.
Throw in the fact that non-hotel accommodations, like villa rentals and Airbnbs, can also be booked at bargain prices – and you’ve got all the ingredients for a very memorable, yet affordable adventure.
2. Middle East
Home to three of the world’s leading airlines in Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways, it’s no wonder that many Miles & Points enthusiasts end up developing a very close familiarity with the Middle East throughout their points-collecting careers.
For most Canadians, an Aeroplan redemption on Etihad Airways is probably the most accessible route to the Gulf, and you can add a stopover for 5,000 points to take in the sights of the UAE’s capital.
Alternatively, consider collecting Alaska miles, Asia Miles, and American AAdvantage miles for Qatar Airways Qsuites (widely considered the world’s best business class), or splurging Alaska or Emirates Skywards miles for an unforgettable ride in Emirates First Class.
Within the region, Avios redemptions on Qatar Airways will be your short-haul transportation of choice, especially now that the Gulf blockade has been lifted and most regional flights have resumed.
For hotels, I’d say that the Middle East has one of the greatest concentrations of high-end chain hotels in the world, and they represent fantastic deployments of the Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors points that you’ve stockpiled.
Both chains have impressive portfolios in the region, with some top-notch properties like the Waldorf Astoria DIFC, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, or the W hotels in Dubai, Doha, and Amman all scoring very high marks.
Compared to South East Asia, the Middle East also has the advantage of not being quite as popular of a tourist hotspot, giving you very good chances of securing a stunning suite upgrade as a member with elite status.
In terms of the value of your points, I should note that the aforementioned properties tend to be relatively affordable if booked with cash, too, given the highly competitive nature of these local hotel markets.
But there are always pockets of exceptional value to be found, and we can look no further than the Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai – a $2,000+/night Bedouin Suite with a private pool and all-inclusive meals and activities for as little as 70,000 Bonvoy points per night at the off-peak rates – as one of the most aspirational Marriott Bonvoy redemptions worldwide.
3. East Asia
Compared to South East Asia, the East Asian metropolises of Japan, South Korea, and Greater China can be slightly more expensive as tourist destinations, but remain ripe hunting grounds for Miles & Points bargains.
You’ll still enjoy an abundance of options for the long-haul flight, whether that’s the aforementioned premium carriers across the Pacific, or enjoying a stopover in Europe along the way.
Again, some of the best names in luxury travel are on the table, between ANA and Japan Airlines’s twin First Class cabins and the enticing possibility of Lufthansa or Etihad Airways First Class the long way around.
Regionally, there’s no shortage of airlines to shuttle you around on short-haul Aeroplan or Avios bookings either.
In particular, it’s worth pointing out that international flights between China, South Korea, and Japan can often get disproportionately expensive to the distance flown – a problem easily resolved by Aeroplan’s new distance-based charts within the Pacific region and the one-way stopover allowance.
Why pay $891 for a journey through the trio of East Asian nations, when you could instead pay 13,000 or 30,000 Aeroplan points in economy class or business class, respectively?
In terms of the hotel experience in East Asia, there’s a nice mix of the highly aspirational type (like The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto at a Category 8 with Marriott Bonvoy or the Conrad Osaka at 95,000 Hilton Honors points per night) and extremely affordable Category 1–4 options that are more commonplace throughout China.
Overall, the value for your hotel points might not be quite as spectacular as you’ll find in South East Asia, both in terms of dollar value (due to the higher cost base) and the hotel experience itself (since you’re more likely to be staying in a city hotel, where you won’t spend much time on the property, rather than a sunny resort with beaches and pools).
Having said that, the elite recognition remains excellent and the breakfast buffets tend to be just as impressive, so it’s hard to go wrong if you’re looking to redeem points at a good value in this part of the world.
4. Indian Subcontinent
At the confluence of all the regions we’ve discussed so far lies the Indian Subcontinent, so it’s only natural that your loyalty points can be applied to good use for travelling throughout this region as well.
I personally haven’t travelled extensively through India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc. just yet, but they’re on my list of upcoming travel goals for the near future.
When that time comes, I’ll definitely be planning a set of flights to the subcontinent along both the transpacific and transatlantic flight paths that we’ve already discussed.
From the west, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Swiss, Lufthansa, and Turkish all serve multiple destinations in India and its environs. To the east, connections are similarly plentiful on ANA, JAL, Thai Airways, and Singapore Airlines.
(Speaking of which, if Singapore Airlines can, through its ownership, help the young upstarts at Vistara develop into a premium Indian airline, then that’ll be even more promising for trips to India in the future.)
And if you’re looking for a simpler itinerary for this relatively long journey, you might go with Air Canada’s direct flights from Toronto to Delhi and Mumbai, which sneak in under the 8,000-mile threshold on the Atlantic chart.
Consider redeeming 85,000 Aeroplan points in business class at the lower end of the dynamic range, or perhaps booking in Economy Latitude and applying your eUpgrades.
On the ground, I’ve been told that if you have elite status with a hotel loyalty program, you can expect to be treated like royalty in this part of the world.
Cost-wise, many high-end hotels are priced as low as Category 1 or 2 with Marriott Bonvoy, with even Ritz-Carltons available at the Category 4 level. At the same time, I’ve been told that mid-tier and top-tier elite status carries more weight here than elsewhere, with vice-presidential and presidential suite upgrades not necessarily uncommon.
I look forward to finding out for myself someday on an extended trip through the region while using my points to add to the experience.
In the meantime, one part of the subcontinent where I do have experience travelling is the Maldives – a place where the outstanding value of Miles & Points has been well-documented over the years, although some travellers may find the upfront costs prohibitive.
For more details, consult my two-part review of the JW Marriott Maldives and a discussion of the true costs involved for a trip to the Maldives’ overwater villas.
As you can tell by now, many of the best destinations for maximizing your Miles & Points tend to be straddling the line between the developing and developed worlds.
In these countries, the cost of labour remains lower than in Western countries, but rapid growth and strong demand for travel have led to abundant flight connections and fierce competition in the hotel market.
Now, these places have made for some of my favourite trips around the world, but there’s no denying that they tend to make for “bigger” trips for the average traveller to plan around.
What if you wanted to take an “easier” trip not just in terms of maximizing points, but also in the traditional sense – somewhere a bit closer to home, perhaps without having to deal with any major language or cultural barriers?
Well, a simple transatlantic hop to Europe might be what you’re looking for.
Geographically, Europe’s proximity to North America means that flights are short and sweet: as little as six hours from the East Coast, or eight to nine hours from the West Coast.
Most eastbound flights tend to be overnight, which may be a good thing (if you’re looking to maximize time on the ground) or a bad thing (if you really wanted to maximize the business class experience with your points) – in the latter case, aim for one of the “Dayliners” from Toronto to London for the full daytime experience.
With Aeroplan, we have a solid range of business class airlines to choose from, between Swiss, Lufthansa, Austrian, Brussels Airlines, and TAP Air Portugal.
But with fuel surcharges no longer a concern, I do imagine many of us will now choose to fly Air Canada business class across the pond – whether that’s a direct redemption when the dynamic pricing is favourable, a “Latitude Attitude” booking when it isn’t, or even a Business Flexible booking to sample the Air Canada Signature Suites before we fly.
Other sweet spots are also worth a mention, such as 13,000 or 50,000 British Airways Avios for an off-peak Toronto–Dublin flight on Aer Lingus in economy or business class, respectively. For such a short flight duration, perhaps an economy class seat would be worth the significant savings here.
Geography also plays into your favour once you’re on the ground. Star Alliance and Oneworld collectively offer a huge array of airlines for short-haul flying through Aeroplan and Avios, respectively. And just like in South East Asia, we can also fall back on the low-cost stalwarts of Ryanair and EasyJet to see many places within a short span of time.
When it comes to hotels, the overall value proposition may admittedly be a step below some of the other destinations on this list. What do you expect from the continent that gave us “continental breakfast”?
But there will always be good deals to hunt for, from the luxurious $600+/night Mystique Resort on Santorini, to a Category 4 Autograph Collection in ultra-expensive Zurich, to basically any city hotel in the height of summertime when the cash prices are much higher than usual.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the best ways to rack up rewards points and earn elite status, so it’s important to also think about how we plan to maximize the fruits of our labour.
In general, I’d say that Asia, the Middle East, and Europe tend to be the best destinations around the world in terms of the feasibility of redeeming your points for the best value.
Conveniently, these regions can be linked with each other in a comprehensive round-the-world trip, and it’s no wonder why such round-the-world trips (whether with Aeroplan, Avios, ANA, etc.) are so popular among the community.
Now, what if you want to travel to places that are not on this list? Well, it’s not that you won’t be able to get good value from your points – rather, you’ll just have to work a little harder for it.
In a subsequent post, we’ll take a look at the opposite side of the coin: the destinations around the world that are the most challenging to book on points.