Unlocking Value with Chase Ultimate Rewards: Part II

Chase Ultimate Rewards

In an earlier post (you can read it here ), I went over the benefits of having the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) or the higher end Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) when paired with the Chase Freedom and/or Chase Freedom Unlimited. You are getting the same rewards currency (Ultimate Rewards Points) and you can combine the points into a single pot. When you combine them into the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve account, you now have the ability to transfer to airline and hotel partners. You can also use the points to book straight from Chase. In this post, I’ll demonstrate when you’re better off using the points to book straight from Chase and when you are better off using a transfer partner.

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A list of all the transfer partners for Chase Ultimate Rewards

For this example, we’ll do a round trip from Chicago (ORD) to Honolulu (HNL) from October 2nd-October 9th.  United is the only airline that flies this route non-stop from Chicago. If you’re sitting on 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points and assuming you have the CSR or CSP, these are your options:

  1. Book the trip with cash and avoid points altogether. This will cost you $913.40 per person

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 2. Book the trip straight from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal.

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this will cost 60,893 points per person. (Your redemption is 1.5 cents of value per 1 point). If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, this will cost you ~73,000 points per person (Your redemption is 1.2 cents of value per 1 point).

3.Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United’s MileagePlus frequent flier program on a 1:1 basis.

This redemption is only 45,000 United Miles per person. This is obviously the clear winner. By avoiding Chase and booking this trip via United MileagePlus, you saved yourself 15.9k -28k Ultimate Rewards points. The savings can now be used towards a future trip.

Here is an example when it is more advantageous to book from Chase’s portal rather than transferring the points into MileagePlus.

For this example, we’ll use a round trip itinerary from NYC (LGA) to Chicago (ORD) from October 17th-24th. Assuming we have sufficient Chase points, here are our options.

1.Book the trip with cash.  This would cost $99 on American Airlines (that’s actually a really good deal paying with cash).

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2. Use the Chase portal to book with Ultimate Rewards Points. Since we’re using Chase’s portal, we can use the points on any airline that’s listed. For this trip, American Airlines happens to be the cheapest redemption since they happen to have the cheapest airfare for this itinerary. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (pictured below), 6,560 Ultimate Rewards points is all it takes for a round trip ticket. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you would still get an amazing round trip redemption of 7,872 points per person. Also keep in mind, when you use Ultimate Rewards points to make a redemption, these flights are eligible to earn miles. Just add in your American Advantage frequent flier number and you would earn miles for this trip. It’s free to sign up so you have nothing to lose.

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3. Transfer the points into a Chase transfer partner such as United

For this itinerary, It would require us to transfer 25,000 points from Chase to United to book this trip via MileagePlus miles. Among the three options, this would be the worst. Booking with Chase we’re getting 1.5 cents of value per 1 point. With this redemption, you are only getting 0.4 cents per point. Unless you have elite status with United and you’re confident you’re going to get upgraded to first class, this is a redemption you should avoid. It will end up saving you ~18k+ UR points that you can use for something of greater value.

So, the take home message when redeeming UR points is check the redemption rates on Chase’s transfer partners as well as Chase’s portal itself. By doing so, you might save yourself hundreds of dollars in points.

$84 Round Trip Chicago to Los Angeles

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Anyone from Chicago interested in cheap tickets to the Los Angeles area, Frontier Airlines is currently offering round-trip airfare from Chicago (ORD) to Los Angeles (LAX) for $84. There are multiple dates for departure in September, October, and November. I did a quick flight search on Google and you can see the departure and return dates below.

 

        Departure dates from ORD highlighted in green.

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  Return dates from LAX highlighted in green.

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Please do keep in mind that Frontier follows the “ultra low cost” model where you will have to pay just to carry on a bag. If you have ever flown on Spirit, you know the drill. If the bag you bring fits under your seat, it’s free. I keep a separate bag for Frontier and Spirit airlines that fits enough clothes for 5 days but is small enough to fit under the seats. The exact type I have is below (Solo CLA9014 Pro Rolling Overnighter Case). There are many variations and brands which you can Google and they all have the same goal of helping you avoid paying the carry-on fee.

$294 Round Trip from U.S. to London, Birmingham and Paris

Anyone looking for a great deal to Paris (Charles De Gaulle), London (Stansted), or Birmingham, Scandinavian carrier Primera Airlines is launching non-stop service from Newark and Boston starting in April, 2018. The Denmark and Latvia based airline is launching introductory fares at $99 one way to Europe and booking is currently available at http://www.primeraair.com. I conducted a quick search and the cheapest return flights were priced at $195. If you can get a round trip for $294, that’s a really good price for a trip to Europe. Flights will depart four times a week from Newark and three time a week from Boston.

Earning JetBlue Points on Emirates

For those of you traveling overseas on Emirates, don’t miss out on an easy opportunity to earn JetBlue points. You can make an Emirates Skywards membership and earn points  for Emirates but unless you’re traveling frequently or making multiple trips on business class, it will take a while to accumulate anything meaningful. Instead, you can enter your JetBlue number and earn miles for a program that doesn’t require a ton of miles for travel.  The number of JetBlue miles you earn is based on distance and class of booking. You can see the chart below

 

 

If you end up booking the cheapest fare on Emirates, economy saver, you will get 1 point for every 2 miles in distance that you have traveled. If you’re wondering how many JetBlue miles that will earn from your departure city, use a website such as http://www.webflyer.com and enter your departure and arrival city. I’ll use a round trip from New York City (JFK) to Dubai (DXB) as an example.

 

The round trip distance is 13,660 miles. Were you to book an economy saver fare, this would earn you half of that or 6,830 JetBlue points. If you booked economy flex, you would receive 13,660 JetBlue points and the amount increases as you increase your booking class. The most valuable aspect of JetBlue’s frequent flier program is that they allow a 2 adults and 5 children to combine their miles into a family account free of charge. The individuals do not have to be related so you can also share the points with a friend. If you have parents that are traveling overseas via Emirates, you can sign them up and have them earn points as well. And if they don’t intend on using them, they can book you an award ticket on JetBlue under their account.  So when you’re booking your ticket on Emirates, just remember to click the drop down tab under “frequent flyer program” and click JetBlue. Enter your TrueBlue number and those points will be credited to you in about 10-14 days after the conclusion of your trip.

When booking on Emirates.com, select JetBlue and enter your TrueBlue number on this screen. 

Airbnb vs Hotels

airBNBEven though Airbnb has been around since 2008, I never used it to book an accommodation until 2015. For those of you who have never used it, it is a website where homeowners rent out their houses, apartments, condos, cabins, even tree houses. There are filters that allow you choose what type of accommodation you’re looking for such as an entire place or a single room. I have used it seven times since and all but one of my stays were excellent. Five of those trips have been in Europe where I strongly believe booking Airbnb was the better option versus booking a hotel. During our trip to Prague, decent hotels were going for $140+ in desirable locations such as Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Nonetheless, there were many excellent apartments and condos near these locations that were listed on Airbnb.  These accommodations were just a 5 minute walk away from Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square, which eliminated the need for taxis, Uber, etc. Including taxes and cleaning fees, our total for 3 nights came out to just $67/night. I’ve included pictures of the place we booked below.

 

There are a few things to keep in mind prior to booking an Airbnb:

1) Make sure the place you’re interested in has a minimum of five reviews that are spaced apart (I ignored this step once and ended up booking a place that had no reviews.  This resulted in my one below average experience using an Airbnb.)

2) If the owner has not posted pictures of the interior, that’s a red flag and you should avoid it.

3) Try to book a place that is a short walking distance away from as many tourist attractions as possible. By doing this, you’re saving money avoiding taxis and Uber.

So whether you’re traveling somewhere where hotels might be pricey or if you’re traveling with multiple families and want to rent out an entire house on a beach, Airbnb is a great alternative to hotels. If you use my link here you will also get $40 off your booking of $75 or more.  If you have used it before, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading.

– Shiraz

 

 

Leveraging Your Routine Spending into Points: JetBlue

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post the first step you should take prior to flying is enrolling in that airline’s frequent flier program (if you haven’t already). It only takes a few minutes and it’s free. And the best part about being part of a frequent flier program is you don’t necessarily have to travel to earn the miles. You can allow your routine spending habits do that for you. For this post I’ll go over the benefits of using JetBlue as a gateway to Amazon.com.

JetBlue – If you do any type of shopping on Amazon.com, JetBlue’s frequent flier program (TrueBlue) is one which you should absolutely sign up for. If you click on the Amazon.com link through JetBlue’s website and then make your purchase on Amazon, you get 3 points per dollar on your purchases. All it takes is a few clicks and I have posted screenshots below on how to get to the link. Just as an FYI, make sure your browser cookies are enabled so JetBlue can verify you shopped on Amazon using their link.  Another important thing to remember is making sure you add items to your cart AFTER clicking on the JetBlue link. If something was already in your cart, JetBlue won’t track that as a purchase you made via their link and the points won’t be credited.

Step 1) Make a TrueBlue account with JetBlue if you don’t have one. When you log in, this is the home screen. Click on the blue rectangle.

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Step 2) Click on “our partners” on the bottom left

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Step 3)  Click on “learn more”JetBlue3rdPage

 

Step 4) This is the last step. When you click on “shop and earn”, you are directed to Amazon.com.

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Once you are on Amazon.com, everything you purchase except Amazon gift cards will earn you 3 points per dollar. Amazon sells gift cards to retailers such as Starbucks and Whole Foods. Those also earn 3 points per dollar. From my experience, points will usually post one month after you have made the purchase on Amazon.

For those of you near JetBlue’s main hub in New York City  (JFK) as well as secondary hubs such as Boston, Los Angeles (Long Beach), and Fort Lauderdale, you would benefit the most since you have access to just about every non-stop route that JetBlue flies.

If you live in a city such as Minneapolis, Indianapolis, or St. Louis you might ask yourself if a few clicks are worth the trouble when JetBlue does not fly to your respective city. But let’s say you wanted to take a trip to California and you wanted to visit both San Francisco and Los Angeles. If time and fatigue were not an issue, you could make the 380 mile drive up or down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. But if you wanted to save time and fly, that is a route that JetBlue serves. It is also a route that does not require a ton of points for an award ticket. A random search for an August date shows that it takes 3,000 points to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

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One way flights from San Francisco to Los Angeles (Long Beach Airport) are as low as 3,000 miles per one way ticket.

 

For my Chicago friends and family, let’s say you wanted to visit South Florida via Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. You could make this round trip happen in September for as low as 6,800 points or 3,400 points one way.  If you use Amazon with any type of regularity, don’t miss out on your opportunity to earn JetBlue points.  As far as I know, JetBlue is the only airline that has a partnership with Amazon which allows you to earn points.

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In my opinion, JetBlue has the most family friendly frequent flier program of all the U.S. carriers. They allow 2 adults and 5 children to pool points into a single household account. The individuals do not have to be related so you can also make a combined account with a friend. This makes it much easier to accumulate and redeem for award travel. So while you’re signing yourself up for an account, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get your spouse and kids signed up as well.

Leveraging Your Routine Spending into Points: United

Unlike any other U.S. airline, United Airlines has a very useful application for iOS and Android that could help you earn miles by spending as you normally would. The app is called is MileagePlusX. You link your credit card(s) to the app and when you’re ready to purchase at a listed retailer or restaurant, it immediately generates a gift card for payment. So if you wanted to reload $10 on your Starbucks app, you would earn 20 United miles (in addition to the credit card points) by using the MileagePlusX app to purchase the gift card. The MileagePlusX app syncs really well with the Starbucks app so when the gift card is generated, it gives you an option to launch it via the Starbucks app. It’s noteworthy to mention that the current quarterly 5x reward category for Chase Freedom is restaurants. Starbucks happens to fall into this category so if you link the Chase Freedom with the MileagePlusX app and purchase the $10 gift card, you would get 20 miles from United for using the app, in addition to 50 points from Chase (5 points x  $10) for utilizing the Chase Freedom in the 5x quarterly category. That’s 70 points for a $10 reload you might have done anyway.

When you go to a retailer like DSW, you can enter the exact amount ($49.21 for example) once the cashier tells you the total and a gift card for that specific total will be generated. Some retailers like Amazon require you to purchase in increments of $5. United’s award redemptions are never lower than 12.5k miles per one way ticket so getting an award ticket exclusively from using the app would take a while. But if you’re a few hundred to a few thousand miles short or you have United miles that are expiring and need some type of activity to push back the expiration date, this app would be very useful.

Earning Miles 101

Whether you are a college student planning your summer travels or a well established professional planning your family vacation, the first step you should take is making a frequent flier account for the U.S. legacy carriers (American, United, Delta, Southwest) as well carriers such as JetBlue and Alaska. Remember, to make a frequent flier account with any of these airlines is free. And if you happen to fly on any of them, all you have to do is plug in your frequent flier number and you earn miles for that trip. With all of these frequent flier programs, you don’t even need to fly to earn miles. Your routine spending habits might assist you and I will get to that in a future post.

Once you have accumulated enough miles, you can redeem them for a free flight.  Sometimes when I make this suggestion to friends,  they might respond by saying “that airline does not fly to my home airport so I won’t need it.” Never say never.  Over the last 16 years, mergers and acquisitions have resulted in airlines serving a locality which they may have not served before. For example, if you live in Minneapolis, a city not currently served by JetBlue,you might not give much thought into opening a frequent flier account with JetBlue. However, it might be just a matter of time before a larger airline such as American, Delta, or United becomes fixated with JetBlue and decides to acquire them. Or JetBlue might decide to expand to Minneapolis and if you are equipped with miles, you have a head start in accessing their network to different destinations.

Applying for a Miles Earning Credit Card

Before getting started on posts detailing the advantages of various credit cards, I wanted to get a few important points across via a simple flow chart. This flow chart is aimed mostly for the younger mid-20’s and under crowd but I suppose anyone can benefit. It is important that you don’t rack up unnecessary spending on a credit card just for the sake of getting the bonus. My general rule is this: If your normal spending habits allow you to get the credit card bonus and you meet the criteria of the flow chart below, go ahead and get it. This includes paying tuition or buying a big ticket item such as a laptop or TV that you would have purchased anyway.  If you don’t see yourself spending the $2,000 or $3,000 that is required over the first three months to hit that bonus, wait until an opportunity arises. If you don’t pay off your monthly balance in full, the interest you will pay will negate the benefits you have earned from obtaining the credit card bonus. As the old adage goes, that is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Credit card bonuses are certainly the easiest way to earn a huge chunk of points/miles but a little discipline is required.  If you find yourself not being a good candidate to earn miles via a credit card, don’t be discouraged.  There are other ways and I’ll get to those in upcoming posts.

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Thanks for reading

– Shiraz

Maldives: Miles Redemption Breakdown

Boston to Dubai, via Toronto: 40k United Mileage Plus miles redeemed per person

First leg of our trip to Dubai was on an Embraer 190 flown by Air Canada. This redemption cost 40k miles per person. When I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve back in September, they had a limited time offer of 100,000 bonus miles upon spending $4k in the first 3 months. Thanks to tuition, I hit that threshold pretty quickly. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred, you can transfer your points on a 1:1 ratio to United and then use one of their Star Alliance partners to fly. This is exactly what we did.

 2nd leg: Toronto to Dubai

This leg of our trip was on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner flown by Air Canada in economy class.  This was part of the redemption above. Air Canada is a Star Alliance partner of United.

Star Alliance

When using United MileagePlus miles, you can redeem them on any of their Star Alliance partners above.

 

Abu Dhabi to Male, Maldives: 30k American Airlines miles redeemed per person

My wife and I both signed up for the American Airlines Platinum Select credit card by Citi a few years back and received the bonus 50k miles after hitting the minimum spend threshold (that tuition again). American Airlines is part of One World Alliance but they also have several partners outside the alliance where you can find great redemptions. Etihad happens to be one those partners outside of One World. Others include, Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Airways, Alaska Airlines, and WestJet. One World partners are all below.

 

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American Airlines AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on any of the airlines listed above. This is in addition to several that are not part of the One World Alliance

Male to Rangali Island: TransMaldivian Airways.  Partial cost offset by 55,000 American Express points.

When you book a trip to Maldives, there are two ways to get your island: by an expensive speedboat transfer or a ridiculously expensive seaplane transfer. Unfortunately, the sea plane transfer is offered by a single company, TransMaldivian Aiways,  which allows them to price the 30 minute flights for as much as they desire. They are not affiliated with any airline alliance so you can’t book them using miles. And it costs $546(!!) per round trip ticket to get to your island if it is only accessibly by seaplane. Since we booked the Conrad in Rangali Island, Maldives using Hilton points, our only option was taking the seaplane transfer. Since I couldn’t use miles and I wanted to reduce the cost burden of the seaplane transfer, I redeemed 55,000 American Express Premier Gold points for $550 in statement credit. AMEX Premier Gold has 20 airline transfer partners as well as the highly coveted Starwood hotels program as a transfer partner. Transferring to almost any of the programs would have given me significantly more value than the 1 cent per point I received by redeeming the points for statement credit. But I also hated the idea of spending $1,092 in cold hard cash for a 30 minute round trip flight. Redeeming the points made it a more palatable $273 round-trip per person. As for the experience itself, it was a very unique and scenic flight. The plane seats about 14 passengers in relatively narrow seats. The plane flies at around 4,500 feet so you get a great view of many islands with their over-water villas on the way to Rangali Island.

 

Conrad Maldives, Rangali Island: 620,000 Hilton Points

I’m not quite sure I’ll ever have another redemption in my life that will require as many points as I needed for the Conrad Maldives. This redemption took a lot of planning and required meeting multiple Hilton Card bonuses to have enough points for an award redemption. Back in 2015, My wife and I both applied for and got the Hilton Honors American Express credit card. It had no annual fee and the bonus was 75,000 Hilton points for spending $1,000 over the first 3 months. In 2016, we both got the Citi Hilton Honors Visa card. This offer was 75,000 points if you spend $2,000 over the first 3 months. I timed my car maintenance expenses and college expenses in a manner which I was able use the Citi Hilton card and get the bonus. My wife’s card was used in a similar manner. So if you’re keeping track, that is now 320,000 Hilton points we have accumulated between the two of us. Then earlier this year, American Express had a 100,000 point offer on their Hilton Surpass card. The annual fee was $75 but it came with automatic Hilton Gold Status. The benefit of having Gold status was significant. It ended up paying for the annual fee many times over. Both of us were able to achieve the 100k bonus due to miscellaneous spending + partial tuition.  Point count: 535,000 between the two of us. At this point, we had enough for 3 nights but due to the unpredictability of the weather (it was technically going to be rainy season in July), we really really wanted to get that in that 4th night. It was around this time that Hilton started a new feature in their Hilton Honors program in which you were now able to combine your points with 10 other people.  This was the break we needed. I asked my mom and dad if one of them was willing to apply for the no annual fee Hilton Honors AMEX card and get the 75k bonus after spending $2k in the first 3 months. Since they had a relatively large expense upcoming, they obliged and received the bonus. I was able to transfer those points into my account. Point count:  ~ 620,000.  Now we had enough points for 4 free nights at one of the best accommodations in the Maldives. Nightly rate if paid for in cash? $670. But the best part of this redemption is the Hilton Gold status that came with having the AMEX Hilton Surpass card. As Hilton Gold members, Conrad upgraded us from the superior over-water villa that we had booked to a retreat over-water villa. The cash value of the upgrade per night is about $130 a night. Multiply that by 4 and the upgrade is worth about $520. Hilton Gold members also had other benefits at the hotel such as free tea, biscuits, and lunch sandwiches between 4 and 5 pm and free mocktails between 5 and 6 pm. Buying lunch or mocktails at the Conrad with cash is not cheap. I’d peg this value at about $60 per day between two people. Multiply that by 4, that’s an additional $240 in value. For paying a total of $150 of annual fees between the two Hilton AMEX Surpass cards ($75 each), we derived about $760 in value. In addition, we both get a free night during our card member anniversary.

 

 

Male, Maldives to New York City, via Dubai

This was the part of our trip that really helped in reducing the overall miles/cash expenditure of our entire vacation. Sometimes you just get a little lucky. Back in early May, one of the travel blogs I follow sent out an alert on twitter about a mistake fare for a 1 way ticket from Maldives to NYC on Emirates. The mistake fare was $201 per person (!!!) for the 1 way ticket with dates extending as far out as December. Since Maldives was a trip I had been planning anyway, I thought I’d book the ticket and wait and see if Emirates would honor it. 24 hours after booking, I received an e-mail from Emirates that our tickets had been cancelled and that they would not be honoring the mistake fare. I was slightly disappointed but was prepared for this outcome. One week later, I received a call from Emirates asking me if I was still interested in that one way ticket. I told the rep I absolutely was. The booking/reservations agent informed me that there was a reversal in their decision and that they would be honoring the mistake fare. $201 per ticket from the Maldives to NYC is a steal. To put this into context, this flight would have cost $1,400 in cash per person or 70,000 Emirates miles (which I did not have)  and additional $100+ in taxes person.  Once this domino fell, everything else fell into place. Sometimes you just get a little lucky.