Trip planning with points: what’s in your wallet?

So first some news: we’re coming back to the States in this fall! 

Christmas in Chicago last year!

Today we cashed out our entire Chase Ultimate Rewards hoard — roughly 144,000 points, plus about $450 since we were a bit short — for four round-trip tickets to Chicago in November. I have to admit that it felt a bit shocking to see all those points go at once since I’ve been stockpiling them for a while without a specific purpose in mind, but I can’t think of a better way to use them than to get to see our family and friends back home.

At any rate, this all put me in the mood to talk about credit card miles/points and what cards we are carrying these days. I’ve been following quite a few “travel hacking” groups for the last year or so but I am not even remotely an expert, so for a lot more detailed information I’d suggest you check out blogs like The Points Guy or Million Mile Secrets. That said, I wanted to share my experiences — first with Chase cards, and then with the other travel-related cards I’m carrying in a separate post tomorrow.

Disclaimer: I obviously think that using credit cards to earn points/miles is a great option. However, I hope it goes without saying that this makes sense only when you are using cards to pay for things you already planned to buy. Don’t rack up a ton of debt in hopes of getting miles/points!

Anyway, on to the Chase cards …

So, Chase Ultimate Rewards is my favorite points/miles program. You rack up UR points on any of several Chase cards, then you can either exchange them for cashback or — for a higher redemption rate — use them in the Chase travel portal. The travel portal basically works like any travel aggregator site (Kayak, Momondo, albeit with fewer filtering options) and presents flight/hotel/rental car/etc. options from a wide range of companies. You can pay entirely or partially with points, which is nice when you are a short of what you need.

My one complaint with the Chase portal is sometimes the options aren’t that great — excessively long flights, or flights that for some reason seem a little more expensive than what I’d see on a Momondo or similar site. That was my complaint — until today. Turns out, you can call into Chase’s travel center, they can (at least sometimes) find the flight you are looking at elsewhere AND book it with points! 

I was again frustrated because an excellent, low-cost, relatively short Lufthansa fare I saw on Momondo wasn’t coming up on the Chase portal. I called and boom! (Ok, 45 minutes and then boom!)They found it for me, and for basically the same much-cheaper rate I’d seen online! Doing this rather than picking the best option coming up on the portal meant we saved hours of travel time on both ends of the trip, and at least a couple hundred bucks.

I’ve seen a lot of arguing in the points/miles world about the usefulness of the Chase portal versus transferring to various mileage programs, but because prices are so low right now (in the offseason anyway) we’ve found that using the portal makes the most sense because it is pegged to the actual price of the flight. We also don’t care about booking business class — a big perk of transferring to partners — so that is a nonissue for us. But, to each their own!

This is the fourth tme we’ve used the Chase points to book travel (not counting the flights we booked, and then had to cancel, for our friend’s wedding in Mexico since we moved here. Still sad about that). The other times were:

  1. Paid for part of our tickets home for Christmas last year (I believe points covered almost half)
  2. Four tickets to Paris in April
  3. Hotel in Munich for Oktoberfest because I couldn’t stomach paying cash at the elevated prices.

We used two different cards — in particular the sign-up bonuses — to earn the points for these trips. 


Chase Sapphire Reserve

This is our primary travel card. I was enticed to get this card during their initial (since expired) 100,000-point bonus offer. Even with the hefty $450 yearly fee, the 100,000 points (worth $1,500 in travel portal) and $300 travel credit made it a no-brainer. At the time I meant to cancel it, but I’m now thinking I’ll keep it at least until we move back to the United States. We’ve gotten a lot of value out of it thisyear because you get 3x the points on travel and dining out expenses, plus the card functions as primary rental car coverage when used to pay for a rental so you can save money by declining it. There are a bunch of other perks (replace your stuff if the airport loses a bag, gets you a hotel room if your flight is delayed, etc) but you can look those up on your own. It is now a bit less enticing now with “only” 50,000 sign-up bonus after a $4,000 minimum spend in three months, but still a good one if you travel a lot. Remember that the first $300 in travel-related expenses is credited back to you almost immediately, so you could argue that the fee is “really” only $150/year. Also noteworthy, points are worth more in the travel portal than the Preferred; 1.5 cents per point versus 1.25.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you are looking for a card for traveling overseas and don’t want to pay for the Reserve, this is your best option. It is $0 fee the first year, and $95 annually after that. We’ve had two — one for Chris and one for me — but I have since gotten mine switched to a no-fee card since I got the Reserve since it didn’t make sense to pay the fee for one I wouldn’t use as much. The 50,000 sign-up bonus is worth $625 in travel ($750 if you or your spouse has a Reserve card to transfer the points to for higher redemption), which can take your pretty far with airline prices being as low as they have been this year. It has no foreign transaction fees, you can transfer to various other airline or travel partners, and you get 2x the points on travel and dining. Because of the relatively low fee, good sign-up bonus and versatility of Chase points,  this is the card I see most often recommended for people getting into the points world. Plus, you could totally use the points to come visit us! Ha.

If you are interested in this card, please consider using our referral link so we get some bonus points too:

Tomorrow: Moving on to the hotel cards I’m working on right now!

In the meantime: What’s in YOUR wallet? 


2 Responses

  1. Kacie

    YAY! That is exciting! I agree, Chase points are so versatile and valuable, and I like that even if you don’t have quite enough, you can pay the rest with cash (unlike some hotels or airfare bookings on points). Really good to know that you had success when calling in vs. the online portal. I’ll keep that in mind.

    I am planning on keeping my CSR for awhile, too. I want to keep Chase happy with me for future cards, heh, but the side perks are really nice. The primary rental car insurance is a big boost over secondary, but also they have included roadside assistance up to 4 calls in a year. I dropped my AAA because of it.

    Then getting my TSA Pre-Check and yah. The annual fee really isn’t that much anymore. AND when you do a $300 travel credit thing, you still are earning 3% on that, so basically $9.

    So. My husband has a CSR and Freedom Unlimited; I have CSR, Freedom, and Freedom Unlimited. I’m going to hold steady with those for a bit. The hotel-specific cards are somewhat intriguing (and I have my SPG as you might recall) but most of them are with Chase, and I am approaching my limit so I need to think about it.

  2. Kasey

    I also have the Chase Amazon one (got before I got into travel rewards stuff) so I think I’m probably maxed on Chase cards, but in a few years if we come home and I decide to get rid of the Reserve I will probably try to reapply for the Preferred if I can! In the meantime I’m plotting to get Chris to apply for another Chase one lol

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