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Why I used Chase points to book flights despite cheap airfares

April 15, 2021
8 min read
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Here at TPG, there’s plenty of reasons why we named the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card as a top travel rewards card. There’s a lot to love about this card, which was also a TPG Awards Readers Choice winner in 2020. From the lucrative sign-up bonus to its solid earnings rate and flexible redemption options, it's a great rewards credit card.

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It sounds obvious, but the best part about this travel card is all of the ways you can book travel using your points.

Arguably the best way to do this is by transferring your points directly to 10 airline and three hotel programs that allows for an infinite amount of award bookings. TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, but of course, the true value will depend on the specific redemption. While it takes a bit more due diligence to maximize Chase’s reward partners than some simpler fixed value points, the end result can result in an incredibly valuable deal.

Related: Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred should be the first rewards card in your wallet

But another option worth considering is to book travel (flights, hotels, cruises and more) through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, which offers a 25% points boost on points redemptions. This makes your points worth 1.25 cents each.

Sure, you could get a better value from transferring your points to Chase’s travel partners. But I’ve found that booking through Chase’s travel portal has saved me a lot of time and effort — and can make a lot more sense in many scenarios.

In this post, I’ll explain why I booked my recent trip to Dubai through the Ultimate Rewards portal rather than transferring my points to Emirates Skywards on my Preferred card. And even if you don't have Dubai or Emirates on your upcoming travel wish list, the thought process behind why I did what I did well be useful in many other scenarios.

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Booking travel on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Before we begin, let’s go over the three ways you can use the Chase Sapphire Preferred to maximize your travel:

Each option has its pros and cons and can come in handy in different contexts. For example, the transfer partner option is best for the points maximizer who wants to snag an awesome deal on a business class flight, potentially saving thousands of dollars.

Related: 6 sweet spots that get you more value for your Ultimate Rewards

But what happens when it comes to booking cheap flights? We’ve all stumbled on those unbelievable flight deals before. Here at TPG, we’ve seen recent roundtrip deals to Iceland for under $350 and United flash fares for about $30 one way.

Whatever the deal may be, you may think you should just pay cash for these flights and earn those 2x points with your Chase Sapphire Preferred card. However, there are many instances when I prefer to take advantage of Chase’s travel booking platform than transferring points — like on my trip to Dubai.

Take a morning yacht out of the Dubai marina to catch these incredible views of the city's skyline. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Related: How to get to (and stay in) Dubai using points and miles

Sometimes, it makes more sense to book economy

When it comes to long-haul flights (or when trekking halfway across the globe), flying business or first class is obviously the most comfortable way to go. However, I like to use my points sparingly and don’t mind the occasional economy flight to save my rewards balance.

Just recently, I booked a roundtrip flight to Dubai on Emirates. I’ve gathered the flight prices in cash vs. using Emirates miles for both economy and business class:

Fare classCashEmirates miles
Economy (roundtrip)$79872,500 miles + $200 in taxes and fees
Business (roundtrip)$4,785200,000 miles + $400 in taxes and fees

For the 12.5 hour flight (and a whopping 14 hours on the way back), a nonstop, economy booking for sub-$800 isn’t a bad price. In this case, transferring your miles to Emirates isn’t a good deal because you’ll still have to pay taxes and fees.

Related: How to avoid fuel surcharges on award travel

Still, I wanted to save some of my cash. I didn’t necessarily want to shell out $800 in real cash to book this ticket, so this is where booking through Chase using points at a fixed value can be immensely helpful.

The best part of this platform, for me at least, is that you can set the number of points you want to use. If you want to use points to cover the entire flight you could use 64,000 Ultimate Rewards points to book an $800 flight with your Sapphire Preferred at a rate of 1.25 cents each.

This deal actually becomes even sweeter if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve which awards points that can be used at 1.5 cents each in this manner.

Related: How to use the Chase Travel site

On the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you can choose how many points you'd like to redeem, with a fixed value of 1.25 cents per point. (Screenshot courtesy of Chase)

If you're like me and you just want to (slightly) reduce the final cash flight cost, you can select the number of points you’d like to use. I decided to use about 19,000 Chase points — worth about $240 with the Sapphire Preferred — which lowered the total price to about a more budget-friendly $550 in cash.

This is a great hybrid option since it’s truly up to you how much you want to pay for your flight with cash vs. points.

Related: How to decide whether to use cash or miles for airline tickets

You’ll still earn airline miles by booking through Chase’s portal

Another compelling reason why I book through Chase’s travel portal is that you’ll still typically earn airline miles on your bookings — even when paying with Chase points. When transferring your points to airlines to book award tickets, you lose the ability to accrue frequent flyer miles. But when booking with Chase points at a rate of 1.25 cents each, you’ll earn both frequent flyer miles and elite-qualifying miles.

Although Emirates isn’t a part of an airline alliance, it still holds many partnerships that allow you to choose where you’d like to credit your frequent flyer miles. Since I frequently fly with JetBlue, I decided to credit my miles to my TrueBlue account. Another high-value Emirates partner is Alaska Airlines, a program known for its hard-to-earn, yet valuable miles.

Since Emirates partners with JetBlue and other airlines, you can choose to credit your miles flown to other frequent flyer programs. (Screenshot courtesy of JetBlue)

Economy tickets (in my case, fare class X) earn a measly 0.15 TrueBlue points per mile flown, but I’d rather get my miles credited to a frequent flyer program I use quite often than risk them going to waste. I’m still waiting to get TrueBlue points for my flight home, but I should get a little more than 2,000 points total from this flight.

Bottom line

This is just one anecdote of how the Chase Sapphire Preferred has served me well.

I opened this card in September 2020 when the card last had an 80,000-point sign-up bonus, which has allowed me to book a business-class flight on Air France, quick hops back home to North Carolina and now, cover part of my trip to Dubai.

And now, the incredible sign-up bonus is better than ever. You’ll earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

This current sign-up bonus is worth $2,000 according to TPG valuations — a knockout offer from a card with just a $95 annual fee.

Application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card available with up to 100,000 bonus points

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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