As anyone who recently unfollowed me on Instagram due to incessant holiday smuggery will attest, I spent a hefty chunk of August on holiday. In fact, I was on holiday for a whopping TWO WEEKS.
Who goes on two week holidays nowadays? They’re an indulgence usually only reserved for honeymooners, seven year olds (or do holidays just seem to go on forever when you’re that age?) and city traders who are forced to take such lengthy holidays simply to prove they’re not fiddling the markets.
I couldn’t believe it when I set my out of office on August 13th to say I wasn’t returning til September. It was one of the greatest feelings there has ever been.
But the best part? It was a points holiday.
A POINTS HOLIDAY.
I like collecting points. It doesn’t matter if it’s at Starbucks, Superdrug or Sainsburys, I will gather up any points you’ll throw at me and lovingly coo over them.
But cashing in points? It’s like the impossible dream.
Okay it’s easy enough to do at Boots or whatever, but free flights and hotel rooms always seem massively out of reach.
I travel fairly regularly and I do all my spending on BA and Virgin Atlantic credit cards, but my husband travels a lot. Between us we’d amassed what I assumed was a decent stash of points so back in May we decided to ruddy well blow them. BLOW THEM ALL.
But it wasn’t easy.
ST had thousands and thousands of Starwood points, but we struggled to find a really nice hotel we could go to for more than say, two nights. I was actually stunned by how many points we’d need for some of their hotels. I mean sure, a free night anywhere is amazing, but I didn’t want to travel to some random city for a two week holiday JUST because one night would be free – I’d rather just go somewhere I actually wanted to go.
But then I found the Sheraton Salobre – a Starwood hotel where we could get *ten* nights free with our points. A hotel with seven pools, two golf courses, a spa, picture perfect views and unanimously positive reviews on TripAdvisor. Ten nights. For free. IN AUGUST.
The catch? It was in Gran Canaria. A place which for no good reason at all I’d always assumed was a hell-hole of cement, Carlsberg and peeling sunburn.
We booked it anyway, because all the pictures on the hotel website looked too nice not to. After all, it was a five star hotel, it was free (!), there’d be guaranteed sunshine and we could laugh about it if it all went horribly wrong.
Well nothing went wrong. It was perfect.
I don’t know where my definitely offensive stereotype of Gran Canaria had come from, but having now been I am happy to say I am ashamed at myself for being so judgemental. Gran Canaria is a stunningly beautiful island. I know I’m not alone in this misconception though, I had lots of comments on Twitter and Instagram from people who were ‘surprised’ by how nice it looked, including from people who had actually been.
Clearly there will always be ‘Brits on tour’ type areas in most European destinations, but in Gran Canaria it seems you only need to get a few streets away from that to find you’re actually in a really cool place. A place with moon-like mountains and sahara-esque sand dunes. I felt like I was walking on a Star Wars set half of the time.
With the benefit of ST speaking Spanish, we were able to chat to people to get the best tips for places to go. And from the locals we spoke to it seemed they were very keen to show us the ‘real’ Gran Canaria…the parts of the island that don’t have a backdrop of full English breakfasts and ‘funny’ t-shirts.
The sunsets at Puerto de Mogan are exquisite. No land looking in this direction between here and Cuba! (According to my husband, I should probably check that on a map).
We didn’t do heaps of exploring though, we didn’t have a car and the point of the holiday was to do as little as humanly possible. Luckily the hotel was the most wonderful place to do nothing. We spent ten days just totally blissed out. Even golf seemed like too much of an effort by the end of the trip. Reading felt strenuous when the alternative was sleeping in a Balinese bed overlooking the sea.
Given we were looking for pure relaxation, we definitely found it at the Sheraton Salobre. I LOVED this hotel.
Maxi dress – Pampelone (more about this ACE resortwear brand in another post to come!)
The food was fantastic, the service was excellent, the layout was fab (okay it’s massively sprawled out and confusing, but it made it feel like an adventure discovering all the pools!), the spa was excellent, the free shuttle bus into town was reliable, the views were incredible, the room was awesome and it was SO chilled out.
But I certainly did more than ok as a veggie too!
Because this hotel is so out of the way (literally up a mountain) you’re surrounded by people who have specifically chosen to stay somewhere quiet, and that’s really nice. If you like reading a book in peace and your evening entertainment being ‘cards on the balcony’, you’ll love it. It’s nearly entirely couples and families (the rooftop pool is adults only, but otherwise it’s gorgeously kid friendly) so it’s probably not somewhere to go to hook up with hot strangers/dance til 4am, but that’s kinda obvious when the hotel website describes ‘a haven of peace and tranquillity’ from the opening line.
We both said we’ll go back, if not to the hotel itself then definitely to the villas within the property. (Which still get to use the hotel facilities, FYI). A quick check on Booking.com (because I love their booking brilliant ad) shows seven nights in the hotel being around £900 with breakfast at the moment. That’s for two people. The villas are less. And obviously the Canaries are famously hot and sunny all year round being just off Africa, so it’s by no means a summer destination. (I am trying to make the case to go back for winter sun). We paid 36,000 SPG points for ten days, but had to pay for breakfast/dinner.
As for how we got there, we used points again (BOOM!) and cashed in some Avios to fly business with Iberia. I wouldn’t ever justify flying business for short haul usually, but Heathrow to Las Palmas is four and a half hours and it was with points so being flash was allowed. And fair play to Iberia, they treated us like royalty.
Erm, can we take a minute to appreciate this personalised passport cover from Aspinal? £45 *with* the embossing. Here.
But it wasn’t just the flights and hotel I managed to wangle with points. Oh no! (Can you tell I’m very excited that I finally found something to spend the points on?!). I actually started the holiday with a points spree in Heathrow.
I signed up to Heathrow Rewards a while ago as I was paying so much to park to pick up ST that I wanted to at least get some points out of it. Awesomely, I converted our ‘orphan’ Emirates points from the honeymoon into Heathrow Rewards points just before we left (it’s instant, if you’re tempted, more info here) which meant I had £120 to spend anywhere in duty free.
I did rather nicely eh?!
If you do have small pots of points that are just sitting around doing nothing, definitely convert them and USE THEM before they expire. I am obsessed with The Points Guy and Head For Points for top tips. (Yes, there are blogs dedicated to maxing your points. And they are BRILLIANT).
From Gran Canaria we flew out to San Sebastian for four days before heading home, but I’ll blog about that separately. There are too many pics/words in this post already! (Update! You can read my San Sebastian post here.)
I was really impressed by how easy it was to use our SPG, Avios and Heathrow Rewards points to make this trip happen. For some reason I thought it would all go tits up, like we’d arrive in the hotel and they’d say we needed to stump up the cash or the flights would prove impossible to book, but no. Once we’d chosen a destination it was staggeringly easy. And we flew on a Friday in August!
I did do a lot of research and the blogs I mentioned above definitely helped tremendously, but it all just WORKED. Which is precisely what you want of course, when you’re being rewarded for being a loyal customer. We purposely try to stay in Starwood hotels when we’re in cities with a lot of choice, so it’s nice to be rewarded for doing so. (I still can’t get over having ten nights for free in such an amazing hotel).
We may never collect enough points for a holiday like this ever again, but my god it was good.