Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa, Lake Como

Most of the miles and points community gets obsessed with a metric called “cents per point” (CPP) or “cents per mile” (CPM).

What it refers to is how much value you got for your points. If you spend 10,000 points and got $1,000 in value (meaning, $1,000 is the lowest price you’d reasonably expect to pay for that same thing), you got 10 cents per point in value (or 10cpp).

Yet, it’s a debate as old as time in the miles and points world.

If the First Class seat to Japan costs $20,000 round trip and you spend 200,000 miles, your CPP is 10 cents. But you’d never reasonably have paid $20,000 for that ticket so, to some, that metric is meaningless. Some will say you should compare it to a coach ticket because that’s really what you would have bought. But that makes no sense, since you didn’t fly in coach. Others would say you bought an experience that your money couldn’t have bought – and that makes it real.

What follows is the cost of a two week trip in Italy, assuming I either earned transferable points and redeemed those, or earned 2% cash back (the gold standard for cash back and spent that). We’ll see the difference in flights and hotels and see not just “CPP” but an overall return on spend. 

Note, in a perfect world I could account for things like signup bonuses and bonus multipliers that go higher than the 2% cash, but to even the playing field, we’ll just compare 1 point against 1 cent of cash back – because that really is the difference on the redemption side.

In fact, you could pick apart this chart a million ways, based on earn rate, point value, etc. But in all data analysis, you have to find a way to standardize and you’ll see if anything, my methodology slightly hurts the points case, though the end results remains the same.

But let’s take a look at how I used points for a 14 day trip to Italy, with Lake Como and Florence the primary stops.


Emirates Business Class (A380) JFK-Milan


7 nights: Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa, Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy (Review)

5 Nights: Sina Villa Medici, Florence Italy

2 Nights: Hyatt Centric Centrale Milan

Trip ComponentCost in PointsCost in CashCPPEquivalent as cash (1 cent = 1 point)What that would've bought
Flight X 2 on Emirates 5th Freedom direct JFK-MXP (Milan, Italy)290,000 + $480 RT in taxes/fees + $387 Lap Infant$11,042.35 (includes those taxes and fees)3.5
The same flight in economy ($3,003 for two adults and one lap infant)
Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa, Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy - 7 nights191,000$12,0006.81

We have a budget of $273 a night using cash. The best hotel I can find under that in Lake Como is the Hotel Villa Aurora. This is a 3 star hotel, not in the best town, but it is OK.
Sina Villa Medici (Marriott Bonvoy Autograph Collection) for 5 nights290,000 Bonvoy points$3,100 (While the rates were over 900 Euro during our stay, I'm going to use the quoted cost for next summer of 563 Euro or $620 USD.)1.06
$2,900Basically equivalent even though we got the 5th night free on the Bonvoy award.

It's tougher to compare with Bonvoy points worth around half a cent, but consider that the credit card earns 2 points per dollar on most purchases, the same as a 2% cash back card.
Hyatt Centric Milan CentraleWe used 2 free night certs so the cost was zero. One was from the personal Hyatt credit card and one from spending $15,000 on the same. In points, the hotel was 15,000 a night so for equivalency's sake: 30,000 pointsFor the dates of our stay it was 280 Euro a night (peak time) and so we'll round to $300 a night; $600 total.2$300We'd have had a budget of $150 a night. We could have stayed at the B&B Hotel Milano Centrale

Not as nice but close enough.

As is always the case in big cities, you don’t tend to win huge with points. This has been the case for as long as I’ve been in miles and points (20 years, if you can believe it). When I go to Paris, for example, I can find nice hotels sub $200, so I feel no need to drop immense amounts of points to stay at a Marriott or Hyatt.  

Even in a place like New York City, you can do pretty well shopping around for cash rates at a non-chain when you consider just how many points the nicer chain hotels cost.

So I wasn’t surprised to see the big difference was in the flight and Lake Como.

The Flight

My wife was very wary about traveling with a 17 month old overnight to Europe and then 8-9 hours back during the day. It was our first trip of this nature and her trepidation was understandable. I’m sure someone will chime in that she was being “high maintenance” but everyone has what turns a trip from fun to not fun, and her ask was that we fly direct and in business class, or it would stress her out too much. (We’ve been together 6 years, so it’s not like she didn’t know I could make Business Class work.)

Therefore, connecting flights were out – eliminating some cheaper points options via CDG or AMS. In reality, with ITA not available yet via partners (it is available on Virgin as of this week (HT to Tim for discovering it!), but I booked this a year ago).

When you see all the gear we travel with when we fly and if you have kids, you may understand – and some of you are probably just better at it than we are and don’t mind coach. Like everything else in miles and points (and life!) what you may find perfectly fine, others may consider a deal breaker.

As you can see, this was the 2nd biggest win by the numbers, but actually the biggest win in terms of making this fantastic trip happen. All CPP wins are not ordered by the actual CPP value!

If we’d earned cash back on a 2% card like the Citi® Double Cash Card, we could have taken the same flight in coach. A grueling flight, overnight, with a baby.

For the exact same cost in points, I booked us two fantastically comfortable business class seats, including a bassinet placed in the best possible position (diagonally in front of my wife, attached to her seat). We had lounge access both ways and boarding in Milan, we actually boarded from the lounge AND got the nice staff to allow us to store our stroller on board instead of gate check as we didn’t want to risk not having it for the walk through customs. Our son slept about 3 hours each way in the bassinet and gave us both some time to sleep on the way there and relax on the way back (OK, I worked – what else is new?)

Emirates A380 Business Class seat
Emirates A380 Business Class seat

By the way, this flight was on an Emirates A380, so when our son got restless we were able to walk him around by the bar in the back – a nice touch we also would not have had in coach.

Verdict: I wouldn’t have paid the $11,000 for business class tickets. We wouldn’t have taken the trip.

The Hotels

I care about hotels, a lot. Maybe more than my wife. With an infant, having a nice hotel room and nice hotel amenities means a lot, because you inherently spend more time at the hotel!

In fact, as our hotels went down in quality over the trip, it had a noticeable impact on our mood. With a child in tow, there is more down time and the room is even more important, but to be clear, it’s been important to me ever since I got into points and learned the difference! I don’t need fancy things like butlers and all that, but I care immensely about a modern room, on-site amenities, and the level of service.

By the time we got to the room in Milan, a standard room around 160 sq ft and with the hotel lacking any amenities (there is a spa like thing in the basement that is a 30 Euro access fee, even for Globalist, and was frankly awful), we were ready to come home.

The 7 days we spent at the Grand Hotel Victoria Concept and Spa, Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy were just heaven on earth. We loved every minute of it and would have liked a few more days. But it wasn’t that we wanted more days in Lake Como! We wanted more days at this hotel.

Had we stayed at the Hotel Villa Aurora which would have been a cramped room and with no amenities like a pool, I don’t know if we’d have even wanted 5 days. 

The hotel made the difference and while I wouldn’t have turned down some time to explore Lake Como, the only reason we want to go back is this hotel and that we can use a reasonable amount of points to be in a nearly flawless hotel / resort AND be on the Lake.

In Florence, the hotel was just “OK” which probably was in line with it being roughly equivalent to pay cash or points.

The room was small (they were sold out, so no Titanium upgrade was available, understandably in summer). The first room they gave us was in the “old” wing and was full of hazards for our baby. Despite being told no other rooms were available, the manager on duty magically found us a similar room but in the new wing. While the same size, it had a small balcony and was much more modern, with a lot fewer ways for our son to hurt himself.

Sina Villa Medici, Florence - Pool
Sina Villa Medici, Florence – Pool

It was great to have the pool (below) for a respite and we used it 3 of the 5 days. But it was hardly the luxury of the Lake Como hotel. The food and drink service was managed by “Harry’s Bar” which, if you know the brand, meant 30 Euro pizzas and 30 Euro cocktails.

They also had no umbrellas for the chairs (not shown) except one, so we couldn’t actually lounge there. That said, the pool was much better than no pool! It was HOT.

The location of the hotel was “OK” although one night we almost missed the parking garage closing time and I asked about leaving the car in front of the hotel. I was told it was fine, but that there was a decent chance of a broken window by morning. Luckily we made the garage!

Lastly, our hotel in Milan. We liked that it was free. Better than paying even the $300 for a somewhat equivalent hotel. It was super easy to take the Metro to the center (the line by the Centrale train station had elevator access for a stroller as did the Duomo stop).

Bottom Line

It’s undeniable that having a stack of points made this entire trip not just as good as it was – but possible at all. Sure, I knew to book a year in advance to ensure booking success on the Emirates non-stop, but that’s part of the hobby!

80% of our enjoyment from the trip came from a hotel we couldn’t have (wouldn’t have) paid for with cash and we would not have been happy at what the equivalent cash to points would have bought us.

And if not for the flight (not free, but discounted to the cost of flying economy thanks to points), we almost certainly would not have gone.

So sure, CPP may not always be an exact “value” of what you got for your points. But there is also no doubt that high CPP redemptions are awesome – and they make travel better.

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  1. I think this is exactly why we are all different, life would be boring if we were all the same.

    Since I do not sleep on planes, and I think first/business class food in at best mediocre, I prefer to fly economy to get to my destination. I have flown most of the long distance international carriers first/business class products, but I have yet to be impressed. Ranging from Emirates shower, Qatar Q-Suites, Etihad first, etc…, it just is not for me.

    I have been Hyatt Globalist for many years, and I always prefer the Hyatt Places/Houses, but again that is just me.

    I think that it is important that people get good value per points, ten cents per point is very good, but I think it is more important that people travel based on what works best for them.

  2. Great work Dave. Very well explained.. I calculate using almost the same methodology. I focus on what I normally would spend, and what other alternatives are available in same area which I could have used.

  3. The difficulty with making these comparisons is to make it apples to apples.

    You’re not looking at a 2% card, and rightly so, because that wouldn’t have obtained big bonuses the way we build our points fortunes. You’re comparing cashing out, not 2% cash back.

    You could have flown Econ for 60k rt pp, right? So rather than spending $3000 you could have saved 170k = $1700, or 6 nights in that amazing hotel in Como. That would be apples to apples… for your family you thought it made sense

    • @usernamechuck: Correct. I’m just comparing a cash out. The 2% card is simply to center a basis of thought comparison. But in the end I’m comparing 1 point to one cent on the redemption side. It’s true that there are also more opportunities to earn more points but I couldn’t possibly normalize that data.

  4. Excellent analysis. If not for the hotel, would you have even gone to Lake Como? I often find myself considering a place to visit just because of the hotel or the deal.

    • @MichaganBlue Great question as I’m often the same. Lake Como had been on my list for some time. We’d have eventually gone but I’m sure when I saw cash prices I’d have picked something like the Hilton or Sheraton and would have no doubt been disappointed.

      In many cases, I discover a place entirely because I find an amazing looking resort.

      I’ve never been to Cap Cana DR but grabbing the Ziva before the points went up last year means we will 🙂

      Other times point just get me a much better experience than I’d pay for. Cannot wait to stay at the Tambo Del Inka in Peru which i probably would not have splurged on 3 nights for in cash. But using three topped off credit card certificates, it’s a steal!


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