Maximizing Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Domestic Travel
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In August, Chase introduced a fantastic new credit card that caused a stir among points and miles enthusiasts: the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. The card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. This sign-up bonus is worth at least $1,500 when you redeem the points directly for travel, but you can get even more value by transferring them to partners like Hyatt and United. Today I’ll continue my series that highlights how this sign-up bonus can get you to specific destinations. Our first subject was Hawaii, but now I’d like to stick closer to home and consider domestic (continental US) travel.
Before getting into specifics of how you can travel within the US, here’s a quick reminder of how I’ll approach this series. For starters, I’ll be looking primarily at transferring these points to partners as opposed to booking travel directly. This tends to be where you can get outsized value from your Ultimate Rewards points. In addition, I’ll assume that you spent $3,000 on travel and dining purchases and $1,000 on everyday purchases to meet the minimum spending required for the sign-up bonus. This will leave you with 110,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
Finally, I’ll break this down by flight and hotel, both of which tend to be the largest expense of a vacation. If there’s more than one option for each, I’ll include that as well. Note that in some cases, you’ll be able to book two round-trip tickets, but if you have your eye on first or business class, chances are you’ll only be able to book a single ticket (if that).
Keep in mind too that these suggestions only apply to a single individual opening the Sapphire Reserve. If you’re looking to travel with a spouse, significant other or family member, it could make sense for you both to open the card. There’s also the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which can further boost your Ultimate Rewards account balance, and there are many other credit cards that can further enhance your trip. I’ll try to highlight those options where they apply, though keep in mind Chase’s 5/24 rule as you plan out your card application strategy.
With that all out of the way, let’s take a look at how the Chase Sapphire Reserve can help with your domestic travels!
Option 1: Transfer points to British Airways
One of the best ways to utilize Ultimate Rewards points within the continental US is by transferring your points to British Airways. Thanks to the carrier’s distance-based award chart, you can book round-trip award tickets for as little as 15,000 Avios on either American or Alaska, both of which partner with British Airways. This used to be even more lucrative until the 4,500-Avios option was eliminated in North America, but it still unlocks the following redemptions:
- One-way flights of up to 1,151 miles (like Chicago to Orlando): 7,500 Avios
- One-way flights of up to 2,000 miles (like Charlotte to Las Vegas): 10,000 Avios
- One-way flights up up to 3,000 miles (like Seattle to Miami): 12,500 Avios
Unfortunately only American flights will appear on the British Airways search engine, so you’ll need to call in order to book an award ticket on Alaska. I’d strongly encourage you to use ExpertFlyer to search award inventory (or even set alerts) ahead of time so you’ll know when flights are available.
Option 2: Transfer points to Southwest
Another option for flights within the US is Southwest. While the Rapid Rewards program is revenue-based, Southwest still offers a pleasant experience and points can be worth up to 1.9 cents apiece on Wanna Get Away fares (TPG pegs them at a more conservative 1.5 cents apiece in his most recent valuations). I have many friends and family members who love Southwest thanks to its free checked bags and waived change and cancellation fees, and the beauty of the Rapid Rewards program is its relative simplicity: If there’s a seat available for sale, you can redeem points for it. The pricier that seat is in dollars, the pricier it will be in points.
You can use a couple methods to extend the value of your points even further. First, you can maximize your redemptions by taking advantage of the carrier’s no change fee policy. If the price of your award ticket drops after you book it, you can exchange that ticket for free and receive the point differential back into your account. More importantly, you can get a ton of value out of the program if you can earn the Companion Pass. This perk allows you to bring a companion for free on all Southwest flights, including both paid and award tickets. You can even get it for almost two years if you time it right!
Note: The sign-up bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card can help improve your chances of snagging a Companion Pass, but note that transfers from Ultimate Rewards do not count toward Companion Pass qualification.
Option 3: Transfer points to Korean Air
If neither of these programs works for you, consider transferring your points to Korean Air’s SkyPass program. While the award-booking process is a bit convoluted, this is a great way to gain access to another partner airline: Delta. Korean uses the “standard” price of 25,000 miles for a round-trip award flight on Delta within the US, but you can also book a round-trip flight in first class for just 45,000 miles. Of course, you must find low-level availability on Delta and then go through the aforementioned booking process, something that’s even harder now that Delta no longer publishes award charts.
In addition to Delta, Korean also partners with Alaska Airlines, and round-trip coach flights will set you back just 20,000 miles (first-class award tickets are double that amount, at 40,000 miles round-trip). However, remember that British Airways also partners with Alaska, so there are only certain scenarios when you’d get a better value by transferring to Korean:
- Economy tickets for flights of more than 2,000 miles in distance (e.g., Orlando to Seattle): On flights over 2,000 miles, you’d need to spend 25,000 Avios for a round-trip economy award ticket on Alaska booked through British Airways. That exact same flight would only be 20,000 miles booked through Korean.
- Almost any first-class flight: British Airways classifies domestic first class as “true” first class, commanding a 4x premium over economy. As a result, a round-trip first-class flight from Boston to Portland (a distance of 2,537 miles) would cost just 40,000 Korean miles but a whopping 100,000 Avios.
While you’re restricted to round-trip award tickets on both Delta and Alaska when booking through Korean, you are able to include a free stopover, allowing you to book something like Boston (BOS) to Portland (PDX), stop for a few days, then fly Portland (PDX) to Seattle (SEA), spend a few days, then fly back from Seattle (SEA) to Boston (BOS), all for 20,000 miles in economy or 40,000 miles in first class.
Option 4: Transfer points to United
A final option for domestic flights through Ultimate Rewards comes by transferring them to United. This probably allows the smallest potential to maximize your redemptions, as you’ll need 25,000 miles for a round-trip Saver economy award ticket (or 20,000 miles if each leg is less than 700 miles in distance). The cost is double for a round-trip saver first-class award ticket. That being said, if you’re near a United hub like Houston or Denver, this could give you access to some of the most convenient flight options.
As you can see, the Ultimate Rewards program gives you many options for transferring points to partners that then allow redemptions on flights within the US. Note that there is some overlap among these programs, so it’s essential to know when one makes sense over another.
Option 1: Transfer points to Hyatt
One of my favorite Ultimate Rewards transfer partners is Hyatt Gold Passport, and you have hundreds of properties across the US at which you can redeem your points. The best part of this value proposition is the relatively low number of points you’d need for these properties:
- Category 1: 5,000 points per night
- Category 2: 8,000 points
- Category 3: 12,000 points
- Category 4: 15,000 points
- Category 5: 20,000 points
- Category 6: 25,000 points
- Category 7: 30,000 points
Note: The Hyatt Credit Card could be a nice pairing here, as it’ll give you two additional free nights with the current sign-up bonus.
Option 2: Transfer points to Marriott
Another option for free hotel stays through Ultimate Rewards is by transferring to Marriott Rewards. While the award chart isn’t quite as lucrative as that of Hyatt, you can still book top-tier Category 9 hotels for just 45,000 points, and Category 1 properties can be as low as 6,000 points with PointSavers awards. In addition, since you can now link your Marriott account with your SPG account, you can actually convert your Ultimate Rewards points to Starpoints by first transferring to Marriott. This could be a great option for Starwood’s low-tier hotels, especially for weekend stays, as you’d need to transfer just 6,000 and 9,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott for weekend redemptions in Category 1 and 2 properties (respectively).
In some cases you could come out ahead by booking a revenue stay directly through Ultimate Rewards at 1.5 cents per point (assuming you have the Reserve card), so be sure to confirm paid rates before initiating a transfer. Also, just like with Hyatt, you have Cash + Points awards to utilize, and the program also allows you to make award reservations even when you’re short on points. This can allow you to lock in a pricier redemption for a stay way into the future and then build up your Ultimate Rewards (or Marriott Rewards) balance leading up to the stay.
Option 3: Transfer points to IHG
A third and final option for hotel stays in the US is the IHG Rewards program. Like with Marriott, top-tier properties are significantly pricier than they are in Hyatt Gold Passport, but there are a few ways to get a lot out of your redemptions. The first method is to book a room at a PointBreaks property. This special allows you to book free nights for just 5,000 points at select properties, and the list rotates every few months. You’ll rarely see luxury brands like InterContinental properties on the list, but this can offer some substantial savings if you’re planning a trip to any of the participating locations.
In addition, the IHG Rewards program frequently runs special promotions that can extend your points even further. Past examples include discounts on Points & Cash bookings and 1,000 points on your birthday, so be sure to look for these options when considering a transfer from Ultimate Rewards to IHG.
Flight: Four round-trip flights from Chicago (ORD) or Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Orlando (MCO) using British Airways Avios
Hotel: Three nights in a Category 3 Marriott property (or Category 4 with PointSavers availability)
Total cost: 105,000 Ultimate Rewards points
Flight: ~$525 worth of flights on Southwest
Hotel: Three nights in a Category 6 Hyatt property (like the Andaz 5th Avenue)
Total cost: 110,000 Ultimate Rewards points
Flight: One round-trip first-class flight on Alaska through Korean Air SkyPass
Hotel: Two nights in a Category 7 Hyatt property
Total cost: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points
Flight: Four round-trip coach flights on United
Hotel: Two nights in a PointBreaks IHG property or a Category 1 Hyatt property
Total cost: 110,000 Ultimate Rewards points
Flight: Two round-trip first-class flights on Delta through Korean SkyPass
Hotel: Two nights in a Category 4 Hyatt using Points + Cash
Total cost: 105,000 Ultimate Rewards points + $200
Traveling within the US may not carry the glamour of long-haul business-class flights, but there are a ton of sights to see and a plethora of travel options for getting to them. Whenever you’re looking to travel domestically, it’s great to have options and not be locked into a single loyalty currency. This is one of the main reasons why it’s critical for all travelers to have transferable points. Hopefully this post has given you some strategies for planning your next trip around the country if you’re a proud new holder of the Sapphire Reserve!
How would you book a vacation within the US using the points from the Sapphire Reserve?
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.
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