a seat in a plane

You’ve probably seen lots of bloggers telling you that you shouldn’t E-V-E-R use your credit card points at the fixed rates that credit card companies offer when you redeem them directly for travel or cash back.

Instead, they’d say that you should transfer your points to an airline or hotel to get the most benefit, or “cents per point” of value. That’s fairly sage advice in most cases, but in others it’s utterly useless. Sorry.

I just booked round trip business class from Europe to Los Angeles, on almost any date I wanted, for 87,000 points and $0, yes Z-E-R-O in cash, by using my credit card points towards travel, directly with Chase Ultimate Rewards. No transfers, no waiting for any points seats to open up — even though I used points. I’ll explain.

a hand holding a credit card

Chase Sapphire Reserve For The Win

When people talk about rewards cards, much often gets lost in the numerous details. This benefit, that benefit, all the maybe’s. Today, we’re focusing on one thing, and that is the power of using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to book great flight deals.

When you do, not only may you save points versus transfers to an airline program, but you are also able to earn points and elite status credit back, because it’s as if you are paying cash.

You also don’t have to find dates when points inventory is available, since any date where the cash fare is available, is available using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.

When an airline, or group of airlines files an attractive fare, booking with Chase Points is often too good to pass up. If i’d booked these same flights — subject to usual points availability of course — I would’ve paid over 135,000 points and over $1000 in fees.

Instead, I paid 87,000 points with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, and will earn almost 20,000 miles back from the airline I’m flying with. In this instance, British Airways. I’ll also earn over 350 tier points, which is a quarter of the way to British Airways Gold status.

How It Works Using Points For Cash Tickets

Good fares can be filed anywhere, for travel anywhere. For travel originating from the US, they can be somewhat fleeting, often only lasting a few days. You need to follow deals closely. But for air travel out of Europe, good fares can really stick around.

They can even allow departures from a wide variety of cities, to an even broader set of destinations. It could be options like five cities in Asia, or most of the continental US.

A couple of months ago, British Airways and American had a $1300 USD fare for travel from either Dublin or Budapest to the West Coast. I could pretty much pick and choose between LA, San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle and plenty more.

Once I found dates where that price was available, I logged into my Chase Ultimate Rewards account, and searched for the flights I had in mind. It’s worth noting that not all flights you see on Google Flights will appear in Chase Ultimate Rewards, but it’s not often there’s much difference.

I completed the booking and had the option to use all cash, all points, or a combo of the two. Any portion you pay in cash earns back 5X points on the purchase, which ties the best in class return on points of any card.

If you don’t have enough points for the entire purchase, you can simply apply as many as you have, at the rate of 1.5 cents per point. At that rate, 100,000 Chase UR Points would cover $1500 of hotels, or airfare.

How Do You Earn Point Back On Chase Flight Bookings?

Because the airline gets paid as if its cash, you earn full miles or points from the airline or chosen airline loyalty program — and elite status credit too. Chase is just taking my points, and then paying the airline or “travel agency” as usual.

This is a huge shift from typical points bookings made through airline frequent flyer programs, where with one exception — Virgin Atlantic — you don’t earn anything when you redeem your points for a flight.

a seat in an airplane

Making Use Of Great Deals

For people based in the US, this particular deal wasn’t necessarily a slam dunk, but the logic behind using Chase Points to cover great flight deals on any airline certainly is.

There are flash fares for $1500 in business class from the US to Asia, Europe, South America and beyond, which would offer the chance to use 100,000 points and $0 in cash, while still earning points in return.

The points you can earn back, in addition to elite status credit can be amazing. Plus, there’s no points redemption on earth offering better rates for the route than that. A sub 100,000 point redemption with no fees would be unheard of anyway, but earning things in return is next level.

But back to this particular style of deal originating Europe, even if you don’t live in Europe, it can make sense to use these deals to your advantage. If you travel to… let’s say… Paris, a few times a year.

You could simply use miles or a cheap one way ticket to get there. You’d then use one of these great deals to get back to the US, and then use the return portion for your next scheduled trip back to Europe, to get you there.

In other words, if fares are 2X expensive originating the US, and you’ll be going to Europe at least 2X, make these deals work for you.

Chase Points For Flight Deals

To keep it simple, there are times where cash fares are so good, it can make more sense to book the cash fare using your Chase Points, than trying to move points to a frequent flyer program and search for space.

The more you pay attention to flight deals, the more opportunity you have to decide on whether to pay with some points, all cash, or all points. Don’t forget that the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 5X points on flights booked through Chase Travel.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. Great advice! It truly varies between UR points through Chase Travel and transferring to the airline program. Delta often works cheaper to use Chase Travel. With United, on the other hand, if you have preferred status of any kind (holding their Chase Visa card would count), transferring for airline miles works much better. While I didn’t score a deal as good as yours, I landed FRA-EWR-MCO in one-way Polaris for 107,000 miles and about $125 in fees. Nothing close to that fare was available elsewhere.

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