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For myself (and probably many of us in the miles and points hobby) there’s a tendency to get caught up in finding award chart sweet spots and the most lucrative transfer partners. Sometimes, as I recently discovered, this leads to overlooking other opportunities to squeeze the most value from your hard-earned points.
Yesterday, I was looking for award flights to Hawaii for me and the kids later this year. My intention was to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to an airline partner from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Ink Business Preferred. And I had a strategy figured out to save the most points … or so I thought.
See, flights from our neck of the woods (Western NY near the Canadian border) to Hawaii are typically pricey. So I hadn’t thought to check paid flights at all. But out of curiosity, I had a peek at the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for potential travel dates. And boy am I glad I did!
Here’s why you should always check the travel portal before you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to airlines.
If I’d Transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to Airlines, I’d Have Wasted Over 50,000 Points (Ouch!)
Living where we do, we can take flights from the Buffalo, Rochester, or Toronto airports. I’d had my eye on flying United Airlines or Air Canada to Hawaii, because you can book these flights using Singapore Airlines miles for less. All 3 airlines are part of the Star Alliance so you can use any of their miles to book award flights within the alliance.
Singapore Airlines charges 35,000 miles round-trip in coach to Hawaii, while booking with United Airlines will set you back 45,000 miles for the exact same flights. Singapore Airlines and United Airlines are both Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners, so it made the most sense to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore Airlines to book these cheaper award flights to Hawaii.
Until I searched the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal for our possible dates:
Lesson learned – NEVER assume! I know there have been lots of cheap fares to Hawaii of late, but they’re almost always from the West Coast or airports that aren’t convenient to our home, so I’m glad I checked. From the example above, I could have booked flights on Air Canada (and earned airline miles, too) for just 22,368 Chase Ultimate Rewards points each, or 89,472 points for the 4 of us.
Had I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore Airlines, I would have spent 140,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (35,000 points X 4) for a similar itinerary. That’s a difference of 50,528 Chase Ultimate Rewards points – and it sure would have stung hard if I’d done it and discovered these tickets after the fact.
Looking at it another way, between the welcome bonus and minimum spending points I earned this past fall with the Chase Ink Business Preferred, I picked up nearly enough points to book 4 round-trip flights to Hawaii for my family – that’s pretty crazy for a single credit card bonus.
And here’s the thing: If I held the Chase Sapphire Reserve, these flights would have been even cheaper. That’s because with the Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each when you redeem them for travel through the portal (as opposed to 1.25 cents each if you only have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Ink Business Preferred). You can read more about what Chase points are worth here.
So in this case, the flights would have cost 18,640 Chase Ultimate Rewards points each (~$279 airfare / 1.5 cents per point) or 74,560 points total. That’s a savings of nearly 50% off compared to transferring points to Singapore Airlines for similar flights.
Even if you don’t collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points, there are similar portals with other flexible points programs where you might snag a deal when there’s a cheap sale like this.
- Citi Premier (and Citi Prestige, until September 2019) cardholders can book flights at a rate of 1.25 cents per point through the Citi ThankYou portal (I have both these cards and love the new bonus categories on the Prestige – here’s more about the value of Citi points)
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express cardholders can use Pay With Points for airfare at a rate of 1 cent per point – but you’ll get a 35% rebate if it’s a coach flight on your selected airline, or a Business or First Class flight on any airline (team member Meghan swears by her AMEX Business Platinum – here’s our post about the 35% Pay With Points rebate)
Keep in mind, this trick to save points is really only useful for cheap coach tickets. If you’re looking to book more expensive Business or First Class flights, you’ll almost always do better transferring points for an award flight – unless there’s an incredible sale.
Did I pull the trigger on these flights? Alas, I couldn’t, because my kids’ schedules are still a bit up in the air around that time. But you bet I’ll be checking the portal every single time I’m considering an award flight in the future. You never know what you might find!
Always, always, always check the travel portal for the points price of paid flights before you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to airlines for an award ticket. The same principle applies to other flexible points programs, as well.
While testing travel dates for an upcoming family trip to Hawaii, I found flights through the portal for over 12,000 points less per person compared to transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore Airlines for a similar itinerary. Had I booked, we would have saved over 50,000 points by booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal (and earned airline miles for the flights).
And if I held the Chase Sapphire Reserve instead of just the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred, my savings would have been even more substantial. That’s because Chase Ultimate Rewards points in your Chase Sapphire Reserve account are worth more when you book through the portal compared to the other cards.
Have you ever saved a ton of Chase Ultimate Rewards points by booking through the portal instead of transferring to airline partners? I’d love to hear your success stories!
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