How I used Chase Ultimate Rewards to book my trip to Croatia

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Earlier this year, I took my first points-funded international trip, to Croatia. My childhood best friend Lindsey and I spent almost two weeks exploring the country, starting in Zagreb and ending in Dubrovnik. I’m still relatively new to the world of points and miles (I was a cash-back girl in college), so booking this trip at the beginning of the year and then actually going in the summer was definitely a milestone for me.

I used points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to book award flights, and I also used it (in addition to other cards) while in Croatia to maximize my spending while there.

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Once you’ve been in the points-and-miles space for a bit, it can be easy to forget how daunting it can be for a beginner to get started. There is a lot of anxiety that stems from the fear of potentially not booking the best flights at the best redemption rates. I’ll admit I definitely felt some of that pressure when researching booking options for this trip, but the process actually ended up being simple and relatively painless. Looking back, I could have dug deeper into Chase’s partners to find a more valuable redemption, but I don’t have any regrets about my approach.

Here’s a beginner’s guide look into how I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred to pull it off:

Booking my flights with Ultimate Rewards points

I applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred back in June 2018, when the sign-up bonus was still 50,000 points and the $95 annual fee was waived the first year. That bonus, combined with my card spending throughout the second half of the year, gave me more than enough points to book a round-trip ticket from New York to Croatia on Air Canada and Lufthansa.

Since I was flying basic economy, I took advantage of the CSP’s 25% redemption bonus and booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal. The plan was to fly into Zagreb (ZAG), spend almost two weeks hopping from place to place, and then fly out of Dubrovnik (DBV).

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)
This view — taken on a walk to a monastery on the island of Hvar— alone was well worth the points paid for my flights. (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

I ended up flying Newark (EWR) – Toronto (YYZ) – Zagreb (ZAG) overnight on an Air Canada Rouge Boeing 767-300 for the trans-Atlantic segment. It was a pretty empty flight, which meant I could stretch out across my row and get some sleep. I flew back Dubrovnik (DBV) – Munich (MUC) – Newark (EWR) on a Lufthansa Airbus A321 for the trans-Atlantic segment. I had a window seat and slept pretty much the entire way back as well (thanks to ZzzQuil, my Trtl neck pillow and the thankfully unchatty couple next to me).

The round-trip ticket ended up costing me 57,311 Ultimate Rewards points, taxes and fees included. Now, is this the absolute best redemption I could have gotten? Perhaps not. But the booking process was simple and unintimidating. The Chase portal is powered by Expedia, which means the booking process is very similar to the experience you would have with a third-party booking process. I didn’t have to worry about paying additional fees and I still earned frequent flyer miles with both Air Canada and Lufthansa (flights paid for through the Ultimate Rewards portal are considered paid flights rather than award ticket flights). And both carriers belong to the Star Alliance, which will give me booking flexibility on future trips.

Using my CSP during my Croatia trip

There are two main expense categories that I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred on throughout my trip: accommodations and transportation.

We stayed in Airbnbs almost every night we were in Croatia, and I used my CSP to earn 2x on our stays. The one night we actually stayed at a hotel was when we visited Plitvice Lakes National Park (which is well worth the trip, for anyone who has this UNESCO World Heritage Site on their bucket list), where Lindsey used her Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and booked via hotels.com/venture to earn 10x miles.

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)
Our hotel (which Lindsey earned 10x points on with her Capital One Venture) was located right outside the entrance to Plitvice Lakes National Park. It had a great view partially overlooking the park from our room, and the bus stop was an easy 5-minute walk from the hotel. (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Neither of us wanted to navigate through Croatia in a rental car, so I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred for transportation, earning 2x. Travel is defined broadly by Chase, so our bus rides, boat rides and Ubers were all coded as travel on my statement. We started up in Zagreb, took a bus south to Plitvice Lakes National Park, took another bus over to the coastal town of Zadar and then yet another bus down to Split. From there, we booked catamarans to Hvar, then Brač and our final destination of Dubrovnik. Our Airbnbs were never more than a mile away from a port, so the only times I had to use Uber were to and from the airport at either end of the trip.

The best part? The cash back I earned throughout the previous year on other cards almost entirely offset the cost of the Airbnbs and various transportation methods, which means I was earning 2x on expenses that were already paid for in my budget. I racked up points for future travels without technically having to dish out any out-of-pocket money.

You can also use your Chase Sapphire Preferred to get 2x on dining, but I used the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card to earn 4% back on dining while in Croatia.

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)
I earned 2x on the catamaran tickets that we used to get from island to island, including Brač, pictured above. (Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

This trip wasn’t the most lucrative redemption or even the most simple redemption option out there, but that’s okay. The research and booking process taught me a lot (most importantly that redeeming points and miles is nothing to be intimidated by), and I’ll be able to make even better redemptions on upcoming trips. My Chase Sapphire Preferred has treated me well these past two years, and I will continue to recommend it to points beginners until I’m blue in the face. The option to redeem for travel through the portal with a 25% bonus is an easy way to get added value from your points when booking economy tickets, and 2x across a broad range of travel and dining expenses is a nice way to continue to earn rewards while on your trip.

If you’re looking for the right beginner travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred remains one of the best all-around cards to have in your wallet. Right now, you’ll also earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months (10,000 more points than I earned when I originally applied, albeit with a higher spending requirement).

Are you a beginner to the points and miles game? Check out TPG’s Beginner’s Guide for a crash course on everything you need to know to start earning and burning rewards like a pro! 

Featured image by the author.

2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.74% - 24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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