A Week in Puerto Rico — Reader Success Story

May 2, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how award travel has affected their lives — the exotic vacations they’ve planned, the trips they’ve made to be with family and friends, the premium seats and suites they’ve experienced and so much more, all made possible by points and miles. I love to travel and explore, and it’s an honor to be able to help so many of you get where you want to go.

I like to share these success stories to help inspire you the way you inspire me! From time to time I pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy. If you’re interested in sharing your own story, email it to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!

Recently, I posted a success story from Ryan, who used miles to help his girlfriend save on an emergency transatlantic flight. Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Caroline, who used Ultimate Rewards points to book a week-long winter getaway. Here’s what she had to say:

Caroline saved points by booking

After a long, dark, and rainy winter in Seattle, my roommate and I wanted a warm beach vacation in a place we hadn’t visited before. We were planning to go somewhere in the Caribbean, and then I read on TPG about some of the opportunities to redeem points in Puerto Rico. I started to explore the flight and hotel options, and we decided to spend the week in San Juan.

We booked our trip entirely through the Ultimate Rewards travel center, since we had both signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card when the bonus was 100,000 points. Our economy flights on United cost a little over 42,000 points each. We took a red-eye on the way there, and both TSA PreCheck and our Priority Pass lounge access made the trip much more comfortable. I was even able to shower in the Turkish Airlines lounge during our layover in D.C. — that was a game changer!

We split our stay between the InterContinental San Juan and the Hyatt House, both of which cost us a little under 15,000 points per night. This ended up working out very well — the Hyatt House is centrally located, so it was only a 10-minute ride to wherever we wanted to go. We also loved being able to end our trip at the nicer hotel, though we were disappointed to learn at check-in that the Intercontinental tacks on a service charge (like a daily resort fee). I wish that would have been made more clear during the booking process, but I would still recommend the hotel to anyone looking for a nice beach resort in Puerto Rico.

With flights and hotels covered (minus the resort fee), our out of pocket costs during the trip were limited to Uber, restaurants and excursions. We had a great time exploring San Juan, relaxing by the beach, and going out salsa dancing. Highlights of the trip included taking a catamaran out to a deserted island and snorkeling, hiking through the rainforest to swim under a waterfall, and kayaking in Bioluminescent Bay.

Our trip probably isn’t the best value you’ve ever seen, but it fit our requirements of staying within our 200,000-point budget for the dates we wanted, so it was good enough for us! We’re in our mid-twenties, and given that this trip would have cost over $2,800 if we paid cash, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford it if not for the Sapphire Reserve. Thanks again, TPG!

One great feature of the Ultimate Rewards program is that it gives you a variety of options for redeeming points. In addition to airline and hotel transfer partners, Chase offers an online travel portal where you can book flights, hotels, rental cars and more. With the Sapphire Reserve card, you can redeem directly at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, and while that’s less than my current valuation, it’s a good deal when cash prices are low compared to the cost of awards.

Caroline’s itinerary provides a perfect example: Her stay at the InterContinental San Juan would have cost 50,000 points per night if she had transferred from Ultimate Rewards to IHG. However, since the cash rate was relatively low, she was able to save over 35,000 points per night by booking through Chase. In this case, using the Ultimate Rewards travel portal was clearly the better option.

On the other hand, Caroline and her roommate could have saved by transferring points to cover some of their other expenses. The Hyatt House is a Category 3 property, so award nights booked through World of Hyatt are just 12,000 points per night — about 20% less than what they paid by redeeming through Chase. Similarly, United charges 35,000 miles round-trip for saver awards between the US mainland and Puerto Rico. Assuming there was availability on the flights they wanted, transferring to United would have saved them about 7,000 points each.

Taking a great trip at a value you’re happy with counts as a success in my book, but learning to maximize your rewards will help you take more of those great trips in the future. When you have multiple options for planning award travel, do the math to figure out which method is most efficient.

Booking travel through Chase is easy, but you’ll often get better value by transferring points to partners like United.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Caroline for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.

Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions above). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured image courtesy of dennisvdw via Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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