Sunday Reader Question: Earning Elite Miles and Using Systemwides on Flights Paid With Points

by on May 13, 2012 · 16 comments

in American, American Express, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards

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TPG reader Grainne asks:

“If I book an AA flight with Ultimate Rewards points, do I still get my AAdvantage miles for the trip?  Also, and very important, as I fly to Dublin and London can I still use one of my systemwide upgrades? (I am Executive Platinum with American).”

To answer your question simply – yes and yes. Flights booked with Ultimate Rewards are actually paid tickets that Chase buys on your behalf and then charges you 1 point per cent (or a discounted .8 point per cent if you have the Sapphire Preferred). So a $1,000 flight from Chicago to London will cost you 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points if you have the Ink Bold or Freedom and only 80,000 if you have Sapphire Preferred.

To answer your second question, since American’s systemwide upgrades are eligible on every paid fare class, you don’t have to worry about what fare class is being booked. However, if you were trying to buy a Delta flight and use a systemwide on an international flight, you’d want to book into Y, B or M class – so you’d want to book the flight over the phone with a Chase rep so they could confirm the fare class before you purchase since they do not show fare classes through the online booking tool.

Most credit card point programs will let you book “Any flight, any time” using points (see below for a list of each major currency and how much each point is worth towards flights). The great thing about doing this is that the flights purchased are paid flights, so they are eligible for elite mile accumulation as well as potential systemwide upgrades (depends on the type of systemwide). The downside is that the value of your points is capped at a fairly conservative level- you will never got more value out of them than what is set. However, when you can transfer them to airline frequent flyer programs and then book expensive awards, that’s when you can get the most value out of your points. However, you don’t earn elite miles and can’t use systemwides when you redeem awards, so it’s all a give and take.

American Express Membership Rewards: 1 point = 1 cent towards airfare. Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders get 1.25 cents per point.
Capital One: 1 cent per point. You purchase the ticket on your own and receive statement credit for the purchase.
Chase Ultimate Rewards: 1 point = 1 cent towards airfare. Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cardholders get 1.25 cents per point.
Citi ThankYou Points: 1 point = 1 cent towards airfare. Thank You Premier cardholders get 1.33 cents per point.
US Bankcard FlexPerks: $400 ticket for 20, 000 points, $600 for 30,000 points

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Frequent Miler

    Brian, the Ink Bold has the same 1.25 cents per point booking options as the Sapphire Preferred

  • Pointasaurus

    But, with Cap1 you get 2 points per dollar of spend on all expenditures all the time therefore in reality travel related awards are yielding 2 cents per dollar charged on their card. A slight twist.

  • PJ

    anybody cares to share your Citi Thankyou card experience when it comes to use points to buy flight tickets through their exclusive agent ?

  • Jwsky

    US Bankcard FlexPerks gets you a $400 ticket for 20k points, $600 for 30k ect. And you get $25 credit for purchases on the flight plus the miles.

  • Shahyan

    I think the question was do you get AAdvantage miles for booking with UR *points*, not through the UR portal… maybe just my mistaken interpretation.

  • thepointsguy

    Correct.. and the answer is yes

  • thepointsguy

    Correct.. you also get 2x on travel/dining with Sapphire and a 7% yearly dividend so a potential of 2.14 cents back per point (but just in those categories). But you are right on that you should focus on which cards offer the best category spend as well

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks- will update!

  • thepointsguy

    Cool- will add that to the list!

  • JP Cross

    I’ve recently booked both United flights and SPG rooms using UR points and while the United flights earned miles just fine, the W room did not earn any points or stay credit! This came as a bit of a surprise to me but perhaps I was naive. Might be worth mentioning as I really thought I had 5 stay nights coming which didn’t post and was a bit disappointed. Would have been better off using SPG points for the W stay to get my elite credit.

  • catalandres

    Note: for the American Express Zync card 1 point is 0.75 dollars towards airfare.

  • ELS

    Question: if you book a flight, say on Delta using UR points… and something happens that you need to change or cancel the flight… how is that handled? is there the normal 150 change fee? or do you just lose the points? Thanks in advance!

  • Pkerr

    I think some clarification might need to be made for the following statement…

    “”… 1 point per cent (or a discounted .8 point per cent if you have the Sapphire Preferred). So a $1,000 flight from Chicago to London will cost you 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points if you have the Ink Bold or Freedom and only 80,000 if you have Sapphire Preferred.”

    If you ONLY have the Ink bold then you don’t get a discount, but if you have BOTH the Ink Bold and the Sapphire Preferred then the Ink Bold points are also discounted.

  • Ben Mckelfresh

    Capital One Orbitz card has the same feature where you use points from the credit card to book any flight available on their search engine. The airline thinks you paid for the plane ticket so you get your miles on a free flight!

    Example: I flew to Japan on a ticket purchased with Orbitz points. I got so many American miles from the flight to and from Japan that I was able to book a free US domestic ticket from the free miles I earned from my free flight to Japan! It was the most rewarding award flight to date!

  • Abhi2610

    I understand that I can not transfer UR points to Delta Skymiles program, but other than that, is there is difference in using UR points to book Delta vs. booking United (for eg.).

    I am deciding between Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Delta Amex Gold. If I can use UR points at many more places, and only advantage of Amex is getting a checked bag free, I would go with Chase. Any suggestions on this?

  • Eraffini

    actually, just talked to Chase — and they told me that they can’t see what fare class they are booking and that all of their fares are “non-upgradeable” — This is a real bummer since I was trying to book W class fare and use a systemwide upgrade on United. Guess I have to do this through

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