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Happy Churniversary, Part 2: Burning

What good are earning credit card rewards if you don't use them? Here's how I have used my points to save money on travel since I started earning them a year ago. Since I have focused mostly on earning points, I haven't had as many opportunities to spend them yet, so this post will be considerably shorter than Part 1.

Note that I don't count travel expenses covered by the Sapphire Reserve's $300 annual travel credit as a redemption as I view it more as a rebate of the $450 annual fee, making the card effectively $150 annually. In addition, the cash prices listed for flights were the prices at the time I booked my reward flights, and are based on a round-trip basis (flight price = round-trip price / 2) when possible. For various reasons, one-way fares are almost always significantly more expensive, so listing the round-trip price is a more fair comparison for calculating the value of points.

Also, you may notice that my redemptions listed here are all flights, even though I could also use my points toward hotel redemptions. In general, I find that flight redemptions have greater value since there is much less variance and flexibility with flight pricing by comparison. I have a different strategy for hotels which I explain in more detail in a future post.

Redemption 1: Visiting family for the holidays

DateAirlineDestinationCash PricePoint PriceRedemption methodRedemption Value (cents / point)
12/16-12/26SouthwestSAN$45830,383 (18,000)UR -> Southwest1.51 (2.54)

My first redemption allowed me to make my annual visit home almost for free! At the time, I had about 12,000 Southwest miles sitting in my account from previous flights that I had taken. The cash price of the tickets at the time I booked was $458 round-trip, or 30,383 Southwest miles, or 1.51 cents per mile. Southwest prices their redemptions in proportion to the going cash rate, with the value per point typically falling between 1.5 and 1.7 cents per point. In this particular case, the value per point was on the low end, and I might have decided to fly a different airline or pay in cash instead of paying the full 30k points. However, since I only had to put up enough points for an additional 18,000 miles, I effectively got $458 of value for the 18,000 points I kicked in, or 2.54 cents per point spent! This is an excellent value for a point redemption, and really showcases the power of using UR points to top up an existing balance for a redemption.

Redemption 2: Trip to Japan and visiting family

DateAirlineDestinationCash PricePoint PriceRedemption methodRedemption Value (cents / point)
4/28ANAHND$70435,000United miles2.01
4/30-5/2JALHKD$2099,000UR -> British Airways2.32
5/11ANASJC$70435,000United miles2.01
5/15AAORD$22310,000UR -> British Airways2.23

As of this writing, I haven't actually taken this trip yet as I will be travelling in about a week's time. Shown above is the itinerary that I have planned out and how I have paid for it.

I first started by booking my flights to and from Japan using the 57,000 United miles that I earned from getting the United MileagePlus Explorer card last year, plus about 13,000 leftover United miles that I had accumulated in the past. I could have also transferred the missing 13,000 miles from my Chase account to top up the balance if I needed to. This got me to 70,000 United miles, which is enough to redeem for a round trip economy ticket between the US and Japan! The closest major international airport to me (O'Hare) has direct flights to both Narita and Haneda airports, so I got a direct flight to Haneda on ANA both because their service is superior to United (as would be expected of a Japanese airline), and because Haneda is much closer to the center of Tokyo than Narita. If you ever travel to Tokyo, try to fly in to Haneda if possible since it will save you at least an hour each way on the train to Tokyo. This flight was priced at $704, so by paying with 35,000 United miles, I got a value of 2.01 cents per mile in value!

Since I will be travelling at the end of April, I am taking a side trip north to Hakodate in order to see the last of the cherry blossoms and to get a feel for Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture. Fortunately, I was able to score some very cheap flights by transferring my UR points to British Airways, and then using them to book flights on Japan Airlines for 4,500 points each way! For short, direct flights (especially outside of the US), it's hard to beat the value that British Airways miles can provide! These flights would have cost $209 if I were to pay cash, so by using points instead I got 2.32 cents per point in value!

On my way back from Japan, I will be flying ANA to San Jose in order to visit family before I return back home. United allows open-jaw itineraries on award flights, and I am making use of it here on my return flight. Like my outbound trip, this flight was priced at $704, so by using 35,000 United miles, I got a value of 2.01 cents per mile!

Finally, I will be returning to O'Hare via an American Airlines flight that I booked for 10,000 British Airways miles (transferred from UR points). The one-way cash price for this flight was $223, so I got 2.23 cents per point of value!

Conclusion

By strategically using the points that I have earned, I am able to redeem them for travel at a significant discount, netting over 2 cents per point in value for economy-class flights. Given that I also aim to earn a credit card signup bonus every 3 months or so, I likely won't have to pay for flights out of pocket for the foreseeable future unless I choose to. Who doesn't like free travel?

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