Skip to content

Visiting Six National Parks for $266 — Reader Success Story

Feb. 08, 2019
4 min read
Visiting Six National Parks for $266 — Reader Success Story
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Monique, who booked several trips with rewards from a single credit card sign-up bonus:

I dreamed about getting the Southwest Companion Pass, but figured it would be too difficult! So in the fall of 2017, when I saw your article about how California residents could get the Companion Pass after getting a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card and making a single purchase, I immediately signed up.

My companion (my boyfriend) and I looked at Southwest's route map and realized a lot of National Parks are within a reasonable driving distance from Southwest destinations. We checked competitors' pricing at those airports and did a cost-benefit analysis of visiting parks that had a closer regional airport. However, Southwest's fares were competitive in most cases, and the Companion Pass made it a superior deal.

Now that 2018 has passed, I’m happy to report we were able to visit a handful of National Parks. We flew to Las Vegas (LAS) to visit Zion and Bryce Canyon, to Salt Lake City (SLC) to visit Arches and Canyonlands, to Seattle (SEA) to visit Olympic National Park, and to Portland (PDX) to visit Crater Lake. The Southwest credit card offer had an additional sign-up bonus of 40,000 points; with the points we earned from meeting the minimum spend requirement, that covered all but one of our trips. We paid $186 out of pocket for one cash flight and the taxes/fees on the other four flights.

The fees to visit each park individually would have been $185, so we decided to get a National Parks Pass for $80 to use with our Companion Pass travels, saving us an easy $105. That brought the cost for our flights and park admission to $266. I also used my Chase Sapphire Reserve for all of our car rentals for peace of mind with primary rental coverage. All of these trips were really fun and showed us how beautiful and diverse US landscapes can be! We've also come to realize how great of a value the Companion Pass is, and we have our sights on obtaining it again.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

The Southwest Companion Pass remains one of the most valuable travel rewards out there, since you can use it on any flight (whether you're paying with cash or points) so long as there's an open seat. The standard path to Companion Pass qualification involves earning 125,000 Rapid Rewards points or taking 100 qualifying one-way Southwest flights in a calendar year, but a few shortcuts in the past few years (like the targeted offer Monique received) have made it more accessible.

The downside to these offers is that your pass is only valid through the end of the year, whereas qualifying the "hard" way (on points or through flying) lets you keep the pass for the remainder of the current year plus the entire following year. You also get fewer points than you would from the standard bonus on these Rapid Rewards cards, so you're effectively trading that value to expedite your Companion Pass. I think qualifying the old-fashioned way is generally the better deal, but these offers are a good option if earning 125,000 points is a stretch, or if you'll have a lot of opportunities to use the pass right away.

If you're on the fence about which approach to take, keep in mind that they aren't mutually exclusive. You could earn one bonus that comes with the Companion Pass and still work on reaching the points threshold by the end of the year to give yourself another year of eligibility.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Monique a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories 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. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

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

Featured image by (Featured photo by Rich Martello/Unsplash)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more