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I Saved $800+ by Pairing Basic Economy With the Right Credit Card and Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

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I Saved $800+ by Pairing Basic Economy With the Right Credit Card and Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Meghan HunterI Saved $800+ by Pairing Basic Economy With the Right Credit Card and Chase Ultimate Rewards PointsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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INSIDER SECRET: With a credit card that offers perks like free checked bags and priority boarding, it’s easy to outsmart basic economy and save big.

Earning Ultimate Rewards points with many of the best credit cards for travel never fails me. And having a card that helps avoid baggage fees saves me hundreds of dollars every year.

As an example, on a recent trip to Denver I was able to save $254 per ticket and get two free checked bags just for having a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and the right credit card.

On this particular trip, the cost of round-trip tickets was outrageous, so I decided to buy two separate one-ways for myself, my daughter and my mom. I got lucky with cheap outbound flights on ultra-low-cost Frontier and was able to find an even better deal on our return tickets.

Here’s how the deal on the return flight came to be.

Outsmarting Basic Economy

Standard economy tickets were going for $328 one-way from Denver to Missoula.
At the same time, one-way basic economy tickets were only $74. That’s a $254 difference per ticket, which is huge when you’re buying three seats.

Just remember, when booking a basic economy fare, you’ll usually be forced to board last and be restricted to just one personal item (no carry-ons). But if you have the right credit card, it’s possible to outsmart those restrictions.

In this case, I used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to pay a majority of the cost of the tickets and charged $5 to my United Explorer Business Card. Because I’m a United Explorer Business cardholder, I get priority boarding and a free checked bag for charging a portion of the ticket to my United Explorer Business Card.

I used 14,300 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and put $5.40 on my United Business Explorer card to book three one-way tickets between Denver and Missoula.

So not only did I save $762 by booking three basic economy tickets instead of standard economy seats, but I also saved $60 by getting two free checked bags for being a United Business Explorer cardholder. That’s $816.60 in savings if you account for the $5.40 I charged to my card.

Again, it’s important to note that with a basic economy fare (regardless of what credit card you hold) you won’t be able to select seats, which can be an issue for families or groups wishing to sit together. Here’s a good guide to the basic economy fare rules from each of the major airlines and tips to avoid checked baggage fees.

Also, take a look at this list of the best credit cards to avoid baggage fees. Free checked-bag perks are common with cobranded airline credit cards but don’t forget about the other cards that can help you avoid charges for airline checked baggage. American Express offers several cards that include annual statement credits to cover incidental fees for your preferred airline, including:

These statement credits can cover all sorts of fees like inflight meals, lounge passes and checked baggage fees — but if you want priority boarding you’ll have to choose a cobranded airline credit card.

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Featured image courtesy of Efetova Anna/Shutterstock.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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I try so hard to stay away from United, but just had to book a flight with them to Mexico… I can’t believe how shi$%y their lowest basic economy is. No carry on? No seat selection? Do I also have to pay to use the restroom??? United is a joke.

I have Chase United, Chase Sapphire, and AMEX Delta cards. I am wondering if aside from using points from the Sapphire account, if it is worth using the Chase United card to purchase United tickets for the free luggage or if the points and insurance coverage from the Sapphire card would make a better choice.

Any comments?

I’m curious on how one splits the paying of things such as you did with your Chase points and the small amount on your United Explorer Business card. How do you separate that small amount on the United card? At some point I’d like to be able to split things between my AA Executive card and my Chase Preferred card. Just wondering how to best do that. Thanks for sharing your information.

Vince,

If you look at his billing, he only used enough points to cover the majority of the fare. There was a balance due of $5.40, which had to be paid some way, either more points or by credit card.