This March I spent my Spring vacation in Prague, my favorite city in Europe. Every part of the trip had a miles and points component, so I thought it might be useful for readers to get some insight into my thinking when putting together an award trip.
Getting There: Star Alliance
This award ticket started as a summer reservation between Portland, OR and Prague, with a return flight to New England (PDX-PRG-BOS). Since my preferred airline is Delta, however, I continually monitored Skyteam award availability until I was able to find a low-level Business award ticket on Delta and KLM.
Having booked my summer trip on Delta, I then had to decide what to do with my United award reservation. It would have cost $150 to cancel the trip and re-credit the miles to my account, since I don't have elite status on United. However, changing only the origin city cost just $75, and changing the date was free, so I decided to pay the $75 and turn the ticket into a Spring vacation.
My transatlantic flights were originally scheduled to be on Lufthansa on my outbound leg and Tyrolean Airways, an Austrian carrier, on my return flight. However, my Tyrolean Airways flight was canceled due to a schedule change, and I was rebooked into United Economy for my return flight. I hate flying United, and that goes double for flying United in Economy, and that goes triple for flying transatlantic flights on United in Economy. The United reservation desk, however, was unable to rebook me on a partner airline, like Lufthansa, which operates a good international product, even in Economy, unless the partner airline had award availability. Since the cancellation happened so close to my departure, no award seats were available and so I was stuck on United.
Total cost: 60,000 United miles, $181.80 ($106.80 in taxes and fees, $75 award change fee). Total value: $1,150-1400. Value per point: 1.61-2.03 cents per mile.
Staying There: Hilton, Club Carlson, PointsHound, Marriott
I spent two nights at the Hilton Prague Hotel, which is now a Category 6 hotel. You can use the HHonors Points Search Tool to see that a standard room award costs 30,000 HHonors points every month except June, when it jumps to 50,000. In March, when I stayed there, it was a Category 5 hotel, costing 35,000 points year round under the old award chart. This is a good example of how the March 28 Hilton devaluation reduced the cost of some mid- and low-tier properties (while increasing the cost of top-tier properties). As a Hilton Gold member I was pretty sure I'd be upgraded to an executive floor, but to be sure I spent 4,129 points one night and 9,178 points the second night to guarantee an upgrade. Since I value HHonors points at about .4 cents each, this was about $53 in points to guarantee the upgrade for two nights, which I found very reasonable, given how much value I got out of the Executive Lounge.
Total points: 83,307. Total value: $420. Value per point: .5 cents per point.
Next, I spent three nights at the Park Inn Prague, a category 3 hotel costing 28,000 points per night. Even as a non-elite "Red" member of the Club Carlson program, I was still upgraded to a "Residential Room" with a small sitting area, one full bathroom and one half-bath.
Total points: 84,000. Total value: $420. Value per point: .5 cents per point.
PointsHound is a relatively new online hotel booking portal. Most online travel agents, or OTAs, pass along a portion of their commission on hotel reservations in the form of a rewards program like Expedia Rewards, or through cashback portals like TopCashBack. Instead, PointsHound passes along part of their commission in the form of airline miles in one of their partner programs, including all four of the major US domestic airlines. The complete list of partners is:
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- Delta Skymiles
- United MileagePlus
- US Airways Dividend Miles
- Virgin America Elevate
- Etihad Guest Miles
- Club Premier KmP
- Best Buy Reward Zone
If you're staying at non-chain hotels, or hotels where you don't collect that chain's loyalty points, and you redeem your miles for high-value awards, like intercontinental premium cabin awards, you'll get more value by booking through PointsHound than through a traditional cashback portal.
I made a PointsHound reservation at a very small business hotel in the Žižkov neighborhood of Prague, Hotel Aron. The hotel was horrible; my "non-smoking" room stank heavily of smoke, the reception insisted on keeping my key when I left the hotel, and there was no security worth mentioning. However, my 431 Delta Skymiles did recently post to my account, which at 2 cents each is about a 7% rebate against the $122.50 I spent for two nights.
Since I was leaving early Sunday morning, I spent my final night at the Courtyard Prague Airport, a Marriott property. As a Category 2 property, I spent just 10,000 Marriott points for the night. The hotel was located immediately across the street from both Terminals 1 and 2, the non-Schengen- and Schengen-zone terminals, respectively. The convenience was incredible, but the morning I was leaving was the same night that the Czech Republic moved to "summer time," and since I had no idea whether my iPhone would automatically adjust, I ended up staying up all night anyway in order to make sure I made my 6 am flight.
Total points: 10,000. Total value: $79. Value per point: .78 cents per point.