How to Redeem Points for Adventures, Events and Experiences
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
I typically encourage readers to use points and miles exclusively toward award travel, since gift cards, merchandise, and other alternatives provide less value. However, there are some exceptions, and today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen shares some redemption options apart from flights and hotels that can still offer an excellent return.
Most discussion of award redemptions centers around airfare and hotel stays, but there are many other ways to use points and miles. Just last month TPG took advantage of SPG Moments to celebrate his dad's birthday, redeeming Starpoints for two VIP tickets to see the Utah Jazz play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. As a native New Yorker, I'm a big Knicks fan, so if you read that post and got a bit jealous, join the club!
There are many similar programs out there that allow you to redeem for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Some of these redemptions have a fixed price, while others are offered in an auction format. In both cases, availability tends to be limited, so you'll want to make sure to get in on them while you can. In this post I'll go through these redemption options and highlight the ones that offer the best value.
TPG gave a detailed overview of his experience at the Knicks game, but there are many other options in the SPG Moments portfolio. The page is actually very easy to navigate, as you can sort by category, quickly view auctions or fixed price offerings that are ending soon, or even search by the number of Starpoints required. My SPG balance currently sits at close to 34,000 points, so if I don't want to get attached to a more expensive option, I can narrow the search results to those within my price range.
There are SPG Moments to fit a variety of hobbies and interests. Here are a few examples:
- Sports packages: play golf with Darren Clarke in Thailand, catch some college hoops action at Madison Square Garden, or attend the 2015 NHL Winter Classic in Washington, D.C.
- Theater packages: see Penn & Teller, Jersey Boys, or Million Dollar Quartet in Las Vegas.
- Music packages: attend the "Tribute to Puccini" concert in Belgrade, Serbia, or catch Britney Spears in Las Vegas.
Let's take a look at some of these options and see what type of value you can get out of them.
The Las Vegas shows are typically available for 10,000 Starpoints, which gets you two "premium" tickets to the event. Ticket prices for the orchestra and front mezzanine at the shows range from $92 - $200 apiece. At the low end, that's a value of 1.84 cents per point, but at the high end, you get up to 4 cents per point. TPG pegged Starpoints at 2.4 cents apiece in his November valuations, so even if you wind up in the cheaper seats, it's still a decent redemption. It's worth noting that Vegas show tickets can often be had at a steep discount if you're flexible about your schedule and seating, especially mid-week.
SPG Moments gets more interesting when you start looking at true "packages" that include more than just tickets. For example, the round of golf with Darren Clarke in Thailand is actually just one part of a package that also includes passes to the Thailand Golf Championship, tickets to the tournament's opening reception, three nights at the St. Regis Bangkok (including breakfast), and complimentary transfers to and from the country club. This auction just went for an amazingly low 29,000 Starpoints.
Here's the crazy thing: as a Category 6 property, the hotel alone would cost you 20,000 Starpoints per night! The paid stay would set you back $877.77 at current exchange rates, so if you won that auction, you'd be getting just over 3 cents per point of value based on the hotel alone. Of course, you still have to get yourself to Thailand, but TPG can help with that. It's worth looking through SPG Moments from time to time (since the options are updated fairly regularly). If you find an experience that's up your alley, you may be able to get it for a song!
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Another option to redeem points for experiences comes through Ultimate Rewards. One valuable component of the program is the ability to transfer points & miles to partners; however, you can also redeem Ultimate rewards points toward travel and experiences at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. While this may not be as valuable as transferring points and then booking flights or hotels directly with travel partners, it does allow you to redeem points for experiences in numerous cities around the world.
To find these options, log in to your Chase account and open up the Ultimate Rewards site. From there, hover over the "Use Points" icon at the top and choose the "Explore and Book Travel" option. The next page allows you to search for the traditional travel items (flights, hotel rooms, and rental cars), but the last option is "Activities." You can search for experiences by location over a range of dates, and you'll see that these can be booked using money or your Ultimate Rewards points.
You'll definitely want to check paid rates directly with the vendor before booking through Ultimate Rewards. For example, one of the options when you search for activities in New York is ice skating in Central Park:
The activity will set you back $20.97 or 1,677 Ultimate Rewards points (again, a redemption value of 1.25 cents apiece). However, this price through Ultimate Rewards is consistent regardless of the date you want to go. According to the skating rink's website, the price is much higher on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and during holiday weeks. Since the activity includes skate rental when booking through Ultimate Rewards, you're actually getting an activity worth $26 on those days, which raises the redemption value to 1.55 cents per point. Plus, you're guaranteed a spot on the rink even if walk-ups are sold out!
Another way to redeem points for experiences through Ultimate Rewards is specifically for cardholders of the Chase Sapphire and Sapphire Preferred. TPG actually wrote about these events back in 2012, shortly after he took a lucky reader to attend the Conde Nast Traveler 25th Anniversary Gala. He also utilized the program to attend the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah this past January. Unfortunately, the newly designed Ultimate Rewards site does not seem to have these packages anymore, so you'll need to visit the above link to see the upcoming events.
With all of these event packages, you have the option to purchase them as well as redeem points for them, and the purchase price actually sets the redemption value of your points at 1 cent apiece. TPG chose to purchase the Sundance package rather than redeem his Ultimate Rewards points for it. However, if you do want to redeem points, it can wind up getting you significantly more than 1 cent per point.
For example, right now the only available package is to attend specific performances of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. It includes two Orchestra seats, private entrance to the music hall, and a 90-minute pre-show reception, including a buffet, open bar, and a meet-and-greet with two of the Rockettes. You can pay $400 or 40,000 Ultimate rewards points. Tickets to the show range from $110 - $189 apiece, so it appears that the value they set is relatively on par. Of course, this depends on how much you value a free buffet and open bar!
While Delta has done a great job of imploding its loyalty program over the last few years, you can still redeem SkyMiles for a variety of experiences through their online auctions. When you visit the above site, you'll have to log in and provide your contact information to unlock the auction catalog. Unlike SPG and Chase, there are no fixed price packages available. Instead, you'll have to bid and hope that no one else wants the package as badly as you!
Unfortunately, the value you get out of these auctions tends to be quite low. For example, one package gives the winning bidder a $300 gift card to The Modern restaurant in New York, plus a kitchen tour (for up to four guests) and an autographed copy of a book by restaurateur Danny Meyer. There are two of these packages available, and at the time of writing, the current top bid on both is 37,500 miles. If you only consider the face value of the gift card, the current redemption is just 0.8 cents per mile, and even if you peg the tour and book at $100, the package value only jumps to 1.07 cents per mile. That's only slightly better than the Pay With Miles option, and bidding is open until January 20, 2015 on both, leaving plenty of time for the price to get even higher (and the value to get lower).
If you really want to break the (SkyMiles) bank, pony up for the VIP Daytona 500 package, which includes two suite tickets, parking, pit passes, pre-race fanzone tickets, and a picture with the race winner. While that sounds like a dream come true for a Nascar fan, the current bid is 289,000 miles!
That being said, if you do have a ton of SkyMiles, there are some pretty neat redemption options:
- Four tickets to the Knicks game on Christmas Day, including access to the Delta Sky360 club (current high bid: 51,000 miles)
- Trip for two to Argentina to build 6 new homes for Habitat for Humanity along with 48 Delta employees, including round-trip BusinessElite tickets, 9 nights in hotels, ground transportation in Buenos Aires, and all meals (current high bid: 183,000 miles)
- Tickets to the 2015 People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles (current high bids: 170,000 - 171,000 miles)
United Airlines also has a similar site, though their offerings are much more limited.
Exclusive to Europe, Hilton HHonors has partnered with Golden Moments to allow you to redeem points for a variety of excursions and other experiences. You can drive a Ferrari in Germany, bungee jump in Italy, or hike through the snow in France. However, the vast majority of these redemptions offer very poor value.
For example, one option is to take a hot air balloon ride in the UK, which will cost you 83,740 Hilton HHonors points. I found the exact same experience on the Golden Moments UK site, where it sells for £132.99 (or approximately $209). This is a value of only 0.25 cents per point, and I see similar values for other experiences on the site. While Hilton devalued their program significantly last year, you should still be able to get much better value through hotel stays!
Generally speaking, it's best to use your points and miles for their initially designed purpose: hotel points for hotel stays and airline miles for award flights. However, if you're sitting on huge account balances and are looking for some neat ways to redeem, these experiences could be a good option. Just be sure to investigate (or at least estimate) the out-of-pocket cost of the experience to make sure that you get the best bang for your buck.
Have you redeemed points and mile for experiences?