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How I overpaid by 13,000 points — reader mistake story

Dec. 02, 2019
5 min read
How I overpaid by 13,000 points — reader mistake story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Aaron, who chose an inefficient way to book award flights to Puerto Rico:

My wife and I are new to the points game. Recently, a friend recommended we apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve for personal spend. We already have a Chase Ink business card (we own our business), although we'd never redeemed the points we earned from it. The Sapphire Reserve was opened in her name, since the Ink card was in mine.

This past summer, we booked a cruise in Puerto Rico to celebrate our fifth anniversary, and I wanted to (finally) use Chase points to cover our round-trip flights from Houston. Although my friend offered to help me redeem them, I decided the Ultimate Rewards travel portal looked simple enough. Thus, I used 76,000 points to book two tickets that would have otherwise cost $475 each. A few days later, I proudly shared my redemption story with my friend, who promptly pointed out my error (two errors, actually).

First, I could have transferred those points to United Airlines and booked the same flights for just 70,000 United points total. Second (and much worse), I used my Ink account to book our tickets, so I only got 1.25 cents per point of value. Apparently, I could have transferred those points to my wife's account and booked the same tickets for only 63,333 points (1.5 cents per point)!

To add insult to injury, we didn't know we needed to bring our Priority Pass card with us during the trip. We "activated" the membership, but didn't realize a physical card would come in the mail, so we were denied access to the lounge in San Juan.

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A crucial step in mastering award travel is learning the various ways to redeem points and miles, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each one. That's especially true of transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards, which give you abundant redemption options from a single program. You can often get superior redemption value by transferring those points to airline and hotel partners, but when the cost of airfare is low relative to the cost of awards, you may be better off paying cash or redeeming points directly at a fixed rate. In Aaron's case, transferring to United would have been better than booking through his own Ultimate Rewards account, but not as good as redeeming through his wife's account to get 1.5 cents per point.

Aaron may also have been able to surpass that threshold of 1.5 cents per point by transferring to another airline partner. As I write this, Southwest Airlines has ample availability on flights between Houston and San Juan starting at just over 28,000 points per person round-trip. That's about 26% less than what Aaron paid, and about 12% less than redeeming through the Ultimate Rewards portal with the Sapphire Reserve card. Even better, Southwest has round-trip flights from Houston to Fort Lauderdale for just over 5,000 points and $11.20 in fees per person. He could pair that with JetBlue or Spirit Airlines flights between Fort Lauderdale and San Juan for under $150 per person round-trip, and end up paying much less overall (in terms of points and cash combined).

Those itineraries include a stop, so they're not interchangeable with nonstop flights on United, but they illustrate the importance of weighing all your options before you commit to any one booking method. There are many ways to book an award; a great way to learn the game is to seek those ways out and push yourself to find the best deal among them. As for the lounge snafu, the Priority Pass app comes with a virtual membership card that will get you in the door just like the physical card. If you plan to visit a Priority Pass lounge but your card isn't available, the digital version is a handy substitute.

Related: The best ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Aaron a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image by Getty Images
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.

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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