Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Using Chase Ultimate Reward Points for a Trip to Hawaii

Last year we took a 7 night trip to Hawaii that was funded almost entirely by Chase and their Ultimate Rewards program along with two free hotel nights from the Chase Hyatt Card. We used 50,000 Ultimate reward points (+$22 in taxes) for flights on Alaska Airlines from Oakland to Maui, 100,000 Ultimate Reward Points for 5 Nights at the Hyatt Regency Maui, and two extra nights with free night certificates from the Chase Hyatt Card.

While this was not the most valuable use of these points, it was one of the easiest free trips you can take if you are on the west coast (CA: SFO, SJC, OAK, LAX, SAN, SMF OR: PDX, WA: SEA, BLI AZ: PHX AK: ANC). Since we have had a few people ask about how this works, I thought I would make a post explaining the process and how you could also make this trip work. As you can certainly find a better deal on a vacation rental or even less expensive hotels, I will focus just on the flights for the purpose of this guide.


Chase Ultimate Reward Points (UR) are not the only points you can do this with, but with the introduction of their new Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred cards it can be exceptionally easy and quick.

Stage 1: Yes you need to get a credit card... 

If you already have the cards or points, you can skip this stage!

This is where a lot of people give up immediately. They are either worried that getting a new credit card will hurt their credit score, or that they wont qualify for the card, or that the credit card company will somehow "get them" in the long run. Yes your credit score will drop temporarily by 10-15 points (90 days or so), but depending on your overall credit, it will likely go up higher than where you were before you got the card. I currently have *gasp* 17 open credit cards and we will check in on my credit to see how that worked out. 

Credit Scores: If you aren't sure that your credit is good (700+ FICO), we can now go over to Discover or a number of other free sites to check our scores.    
  

Within about 2 minutes of answering a few questions we are able to see our FICO credit score. Here is how it looks for me as of today.





If you find you are over 700, you should have no problem, people have picked up these cards at 650, but I would recommend waiting.

Annual Fees:  This is the next big turn off for people. Most of these cards have an annual fee, however for several of them the fee is waived the first year and after 1 year you can either cancel the card, or downgrade to a no-fee version and keep the account active (which is why I have so many open accounts).

Minimum Spending: So you are ok with getting a card, you don't mind dealing with the annual fee, now you have to commit to spending a large chunk of money in a relatively short period of time. Typically $4000 in 3 months. I hear a lot from people that they cannot possibly do this, but with some planning, its very achievable. Below are a list of ways you can accelerate your spending.

  1. Prepay your utilities (TV, Cell Phone, Internet) Comcast will happily take your money!
  2. Time your application with large expenses (upcoming trips, holiday shopping, Car Insurance)
  3. Buy Gift Cards for future purposes (retail gift cards are usually fee free, such as Amazon)
  4. Pay your rent, mortgage, or property tax with a credit card using Tio.com, RadPad, or your local tax assessors website. These come with a fee, so we only recommend using for minimum spending you cant otherwise meet.  
OK, you are still with me, lets take a look at the cards available for this particular purpose.

Each of these cards offers the option to redeem your points for travel bookings, which generally is not as good of a deal as transferring the points to an airline or hotel, but it gives you an idea of the minimum value you get for each card. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred - 50,000 points after $4,000
Annual Fee - $0 First Year ($95/year after) 
Cashback Value - $625 (1.25 cents/point)

Chase Ink Plus Business - 60,000 points after $5000
Annual Fee - $95
Cashback Value - $750 (1.25 cents/point)

Chase Sapphire Reserve - 100,000 points after $4000
Annual Fee - $450 (Minus $300/ Calendar Year for any travel purchases)
Cashback Value $1500 (1.5 cents/point) 

It is important to note that if you hold the Reserve card and another card, your points will all be worth the minimum 1.5 cents per point. The cards each come with various valuable benefits as well, but I am not here to sell you on a card! 

Stage 2: Pick your Dates, Find your Flights

Now if you just wanted to use your cashback value you would go to UltimateRewards.com, log in, and hit "Book Now" 

Here I have entered some sample dates just like any travel site.

My results include a dollar price, or the equivalent in miles. In my case I have the Preferred card so I am getting 1.25 cents per point in value. 


To make sure they arent trying to overcharge I go over to google.com/fights and check the same flights and everything looks fine (both sites want $438). 



The convenient thing about booking through ultimate rewards is that if you dont have enough points, you can pay some with points and some with cash. 


I would only recommend going this route IF you have the Reserve Card (would only be ~29,000 points for this), find seats on sale for under $350, cant find award seats for your dates, or if you need to book on a flight that someone else is already on. Also its unlikely you will find 4+ award seats on any flight very easily, but finding 2 or 3 and using pay with points for the rest might work out. 

On to the real Value! 25,000 points per round trip ticket on Alaska Airlines Nonstop to Hawaii (or 12,500 one way)

OK, so you want to get the best deal and you are ready to jump through some hoops. 

The first thing you need to do if you have not already is go over to britishairways.com and sign up for their rewards program called Executive Club. You will get a membership number that is quite long and impossible to remember! 

Once you have your membership number, you will head over to Ultimaterewards.com and find the Use Points Tab and the Transfer to Travel Partners option. 



Under Airlines, you will find the British Airways Executive program and link your account by entering your name and member ID. But we are not transferring any points just yet! 




Point transfers are instant and non-reversible, so we don't transfer anything until we have confirmed that flights are available. 

Checking flights is relatively easy, but this is where it starts to get very un-intuitive. We are going to book with British Airways miles, To fly on Alaska, with points we got from Chase... So where do we search? AA.com! Yes we are going to use American Airlines website to check for seats. 

You enter your dates, your number of passengers, and be sure to click on "Redeem Miles"


 Once I get to the results page, I will want to narrow down my search by selecting Non-Stop flights only (this deal only works on non-stop flights) and "Economy MileSAAver" category. 

Now, I am sticking with the dates I used in the first search, but as expected my options are a bit more limited. There are no available seats on the day I want for 3 people for this particular route (AA will search nearby airport pairs for you). 

When I open up the "Full Calendar" I do see that later in the month there are some flights and if I move my dates out to end of October and into November I see this. 

Outbound

  
Return



Ok so I am going to pick the first set of dates that work for me. Out on the 27th and Back on the 3rd and continue. 

On the 27th I see the only flight available is the Alaska Airlines Flight AS 811


And on the 3rd I see lots of flights, but remember we want Alaska and we want Non-stop so we pick AS 840



Stage 3: Call to book your flights

Now, that is the end of our work at AA.com, we write down our flight numbers and its time to transfer our points. If you really want to be safe, because the transfers are instantaneous you can wait until you are talking to a human before you make that transfer. 

Call British Airways Executive Club Daily between 4:30AM - 5:00pm Pacific Time
1-800-452-1201

This call center is notoriously bad for wait times, but eventually you will get a human. They close at 5pm, so I would really call in by 4pm to make sure you get someone. Once you finally have someone on the phone you let them know you want to make an award reservation and you have the flight numbers and dates already. If you can see them on AA.com and they cannot, you may need to hang up and call again! 

Each ticket should be priced at 25,000 miles round trip and about $11 in taxes. They may tell you that you need to pay a $25 booking fee for using the phone, but they should waive it if you ask as these cannot be made online at this time. 

Now, before you hangup. Ask if they can give you your Alaska Airlines record locator this should be 6 letters long. You want this to take over to alaskaairlines.com or call up alaska and get your seats selected as the phone rep wont be able to help you with this! 

Thats it! 

If you have questions or want to know more, leave a comment, or send me an email. 




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