Splitting up my trip saved me 25,000 points — reader success story
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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Reed, who found cheaper airfare by booking flight segments individually:
I was recently shopping for flights for a trip to Madrid with friends. I live in Charlotte and have AAdvantage Gold status, so I wanted to book Oneworld flights. Tickets from Charlotte to Madrid (with a connection in Philadelphia or New York) were going for around $1,200. I checked the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to see if paying with points would be cheaper, and found the same tickets for about 75,000 points.
I then changed my search to check the price of each segment — I always try to do this, as flights out of Charlotte seem to be more expensive. I found the exact same American Airlines non-stop flights from JFK to MAD for $500, and found a similar American Airlines flight from CLT to JFK for $280. I ended up booking both flights through Chase for 50,000 points total, so I saved 25,000 points just by booking the legs separately.
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Searching alternate airports is a great way to find cheap airfare, but you can also save by searching for alternate itineraries with the same routing. In Reed's case, booking a single ticket with multiple flight segments cost 50% more than booking each segment individually, so splitting his trip into two tickets was an easy win. The caveat to this approach is that breaking your trip into parts makes you more vulnerable to delays or other setbacks. An airline's responsibilities end at your ticketed destination, so if a late arrival on one flight causes you to miss the next, you won't have the same protections you would when flying on a single ticket.
One facet of Reed's story that stands out to me is the discrepancy between the cash fares he found initially and the rates he saw through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Portal bookings top out at a redemption value of 1.5 cents per point for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders, so $1,200 of airfare would normally cost 80,000 points, and the combined $780 in airfare from Reed's two separate flights would normally cost 52,000 points. Reed found lower rates of 75,000 and 50,000 points, respectively, which means those flights were cheaper when booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
I find the Ultimate Rewards portal typically offers rates comparable to or higher than those offered by airlines directly, but Reed's experience is an example of why it's important to shop around. If you do spot a lower fare through a travel portal or other third party, make sure you're comparing apples to apples before you buy, as you may be eyeing a ticket in a lower class of service (like basic economy) or a consolidated fare with added restrictions.
Finally, Reed was smart to scope out alternatives for booking a paid fare, but he may have overlooked superior award options. American Airlines offers non-stop service between Charlotte and Madrid for over half the year, and you can book those flights as awards by transferring points from Ultimate Rewards to Oneworld partners British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus. Award rates on that route start at 32,500 points round-trip in economy, so Reed could have saved even more if he were able to find saver-level availability that fit his schedule.
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 Reed a 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 email@example.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. If your story is published, we’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.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!