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

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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

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