Travel hacking is becoming more well known now. If you are not familiar with the term it simply refers to using points accumulated from purchases and sign up bonuses from credit cards to pay for flights, hotels, cars, and even activities. Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the best programs to redeem points for travel. They have multiple transfer partners which allow a great flexibility in using your points.
This is part 2 of a series I am writing for travel hacking. Follow the link to see part 1 where I go into the details of Chase travel credit cards: The Best Chase Travel Credit Cards Explained: Jump Start Your Travel Hacking.
The first step is to of course get the credit card and accumulate a decent amount of points. The most common being the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred. Both are great starter cards and I recommend them myself. You make your minimum spend requirement, 4,000 and 5,000 in 3 months respectively. Then these points come rushing into your account and a smile breaks across your face seeing such potential.
Next, a thought comes creeping into your head…how the heck do you use these?
First let’s start with how you shouldn’t use them. These comments assume you like traveling and if you don’t, that’s okay too. The below examples will also be referring to the Chase Ultimate Rewards ecosystem, but if you have points with other credit card companies the same will apply for you. Only difference will be the exact numbers I use may not be true for non-Chase scenarios and the transfer partners won’t be the same. So before you go spending those points, read this first!
How NOT to use your points
- Credit card statement – It might be tempting to just take those points as a statement credit as it’s practically cash, right? Resist! This transfer is only a 1 to 1, meaning (in Chase points) 100 points = $1. We can do much better when you use those points for travel.
- Gift cards/online purchases – This is similar to the statement credit, these often still only use the 1 to 1 point transfer ratio or less and is not the best way to maximize your points.
- *Booking travel through Chase’s online portal – I put an asterisk here as this is usually not the best method, but there are sometimes exceptions. Your points are worth 25% more by booking travel through Chase (50% if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve). We have beaten the credit card statement value here, but we can still do better!
How you SHOULD spend your points
Travel partners…travel partners…travel partners.
The best value you can achieve from your points is to transfer them to travel partners. By transferring points we can often achieve a 1 to 2 ratio. Meaning our points are worth double! There are deals that get even higher ratios too.
Travel partners include both hotels and airlines. It’s possible to get 1:2 point ratios with both. Not all hotel points are worth the same though. Let’s take a look.
Using Points on Hotels
Chase ultimate rewards has multiple hotel partners. They include Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and Ritz-Carlton. They are not all created equal though. Hyatt usually has the best point to dollar value ratio. Next would be Mariott, I’ve found them hit or miss but compare with Hyatt and see what comes out ahead. The other two, IHG and Ritz-Carlton are much more expensive in terms of points and I’ve personally never found them to be a valuable use of points.
If you are looking at booking a hotel make sure to start your search with awardmapper.
They list all the award points for every reward program out there. This a great place to start your search and get an overall feel of what category each hotel is in the area you are looking. This directly relates to the amount of points it will cost. In the right hand column they list all the hotels and the point range to book it.
On the left hand side of the screen you can further click on each award type and filter for the points you can transfer. In the Chase ultimate rewards case, we can look at Hyatt, Marriott, Intercontinental, and Club Carlson. In the above search I found Hyatt had a hotel for 5000 a night, while Marriott’s next cheapest was 7500 points.
Once you get a good point overview, you can go to the specific hotels websites and search for bookings with points to check availability for the time you want to go.
Just a general note, you can usually achieve much better point value with airlines rather than hotels. Don’t feel discouraged if you feel like hotels you are searching for all come up with higher point costs.
To see how we used Chase points for booking hotels check out Our First Travel Hack: Colorado
Using Points for Airlines
Travel partners…travel partners…travel partners.
Sinking in yet? Point transfers to airlines is the bread and butter of travel hacking! Following these tips and you’ll never have to pay for an airline ticket again, only the taxes. This makes travel MUCH more affordable and it’s how HerFI and I take multiple trips every year while still stashing money away for retirement.
Chase has the following airline partners: Aer Lingus, Air France, KLM, British Airways, Iberia, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United, and Virgin Atlantic. This means you can transfer Chase ultimate reward points to these airline partners at a ratio of 1:1. So 1 point of Chase UR points is worth 1 point in the Airline partners point system.
To complicate things further, each of those transfer airlines operate within their own airline alliances. Airlines partner with each other that allow the use of their points on other airlines. For example, it is possible to transfer points from Chase to United Airlines. United will have a reward booking but the flight you take isn’t on a United airplane, it could be on an Air Canada plane.
This big network of alliances lets you use your Chase UR points for a large number of destinations. This is why Chase points are so valuable and highly coveted. This flexibility is at the top of its game.
To get a full grasp of the possibilities I created this info-graphic to show how all the airlines are connected. At the top of the info-graphic is your Chase UR points which can be transferred to the airlines below it. Each of those airlines have alliances that are shown by the arrow. Southwest is the exception here as they do not operate in any alliances, so I put an X below them.
Do note that there is limited availability for the airline alliances when booking with points. You won’t always be able to use an airline alliance when trying to plan out how to use your points. Luckily there is a great tool you can use to search for points, similar to awardmapper.
Steps for Searching
#1- Award Hacker
Awardhacker is a great tool to start your search to book a plane with points.
Let’s look at an example where we go from PDX to CUZ. This is a similar search HerFI and I made when we booked our flights to Peru. You have multiple options for searching for flights. I had to go up to 2 stops to get any flight availability and also chose Show Off-Peak award to see all available options, aka cheapest.
There were multiple results ranked lowest to highest points. On the right side you see the programs that you can transfer points from. Looking at the third options we see United Airlines with a blue highlighted UR. Based on information we know and the info-graphic, we can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to United.
#2 Go to the Airline’s Main Website
From this point we need to go to United’s website to look at award bookings. Sometimes you’ll need to call if you don’t see any award availability on their website. Airlines don’t always list all partner flights online, so give them a call to make sure you know all your options. Back to the online search, I did the same search on United as I did on awardhacker.
I started searching in June, but I wasn’t able to find a 20k return point flight in that time-frame. So I adjusted my start time to April and was able to find a 20k depature and 20k return flight. This resulted in 80k points roundtrip for 2 people from Portland to Cusco. Taxes came in for a total of $134 dollars. The comparable dollar amount for this flight came in at $1754. This equates to about a 2 cent per 1 point value, a good point value to shoot for.
Looking at the airlines for this route, we see that we’ll be flying with United Airlines, Copa Airlines, and Avianca Airlines. Make sure when searching for flights you use the award search and if the option is available to search alliance airlines, make sure to select that as well. With united, I only needed to search the award travel.
With most airlines and hotels, you’ll need to create an online account with their point program to be able to even search for point bookings. These accounts are free and if you do decide to book an award flight with them, you’ll need that account to transfer points from Chase UR to the partner.
Point values to shoot for
So what is a good deal? Generally the sweet spot is to aim for a 2 cents per 1 point conversion. It’s possible to get higher cents per points, but it usually involves finding the limited deals or special offers from airlines. When you are searching, if the dollar cost is pretty low then you may be better off booking through the Chase online travel portal. If the dollar cost seems average or high, then transferring points is usually always better.
Awardhacker – Use to start your search for booking airlines with points.
Awardmapper – Use to start your search for booking hotels with points.
Awardwallet – Use to keep track of all your award points, like personal capital or mint for your award points.
Reddit/churning – Good community to discuss about “churning” credit cards for their sign up bonuses. They talk about accumulating points.
Reddit/awardtravel – Good community to discuss about all things redeeming points. You can even ask advice for a specific trip.
Doctorofcredit – Good articles and resources for credit cards, current sign up bonuses, and any changes in how you can spend points.
Don’t be intimidated searching for award flights. It does take more time than a normal booking but the rewards are so worth it. Hopefully by following along with my examples you can save yourself some time and make using your points just a little bit easier.
If you got any cool tips or tricks on using credit card points let us know in the comments. Further if you have any questions we’ll be happy to answer them. Keep on travel hacking my friends!