Best way to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards for flight to Europe?
February 11, 2019 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Hi everyone! I'm new to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and I'm looking to plan a trip to the UK this fall (September 15 to October 6), flying out of Seattle, WA. I've been reading various forums that talk about different ways to transfer and spend points, but I'm not sure if it's better to book using the travel portal directly or through a partner point redemption. All the options are quite confusing. Does anyone have any recommendations on the best, most cost-effective route? Is there an easy tool to compare redemption options? Thanks!
posted by Aanidaani to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The nonstop Seattle to London options are Virgin and BA. You can transfer UR points directly to both these airlines. You can also book Virgin award flights with Singapore miles, which you can get by transferring UR points to Singapore, so that's a third (complicated!) option. The final, simplest option is as you say: treat the UR points as cash by using the Chase portal, and use them to cover or offset the cost of the flight.

Very roughly speaking: if you're planning to fly in business class or above, you'll want to convert to miles and book with an airline (and you'll need a lot of miles, obviously). If you have this many miles, it's worth taking the time to get things right. Any of the first three options I mentioned could be optimal (including the complicated by often much cheaper route involving Singapore Airlines). In which case, post questions on the UR forum on Flyertalk. You'll spend a lot of UR points to do this, but business awards and up are the best value in terms points spent vs dollars you would have spent to buy the ticket, so it's what the true point nerds focus on (although I should note that most of the true points nerds avoid the UK because of departure taxes and fuel surcharges. Doing this will cost you several hundred dollars in cash!).

If you're planning to fly economy, you can use the URs as cash (booking via the Chase portal) to offset/cover the cost. There's no real trick to this. It's like booking any other flight. Log in to the Chase portal, and book the flight whose schedule and cost works best for you. Use Google Flights to triage your search first (the Chase Portal is not great for usability). One nice bonus of using your UR points in this way is, from the airline's POV, you paid cash. That means you'll get airline miles for taking the flight and, if you have elite status with that airline, you're slightly more likely to get upgraded. You'll also have more choice of flights/schedule than if you use airline miles.

But personally, if you only ever fly economy, and unless you literally don't have the cash to buy the ticket out of pocket or you never fly domestically, I would not waste these points on a UK flight. This is because you get less value per points spent (~1-1.5 cents per point, depending on what credit card you have) than a business award, and you'll spend a lot of the points on UK departure taxes. Pay cash for the international flight and use the URs for domestic economy awards (which, weirdly, is best done by transferring URs to BA miles, and redeeming them on AA flights for as little as 7500 points for flights up to 1000 miles).
posted by caek at 3:08 PM on February 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

Agreed with caek. Unless you're looking at dates / routes with extremely tight availability ($$$ tickets) or you're trying to fly premium class, you are almost always better off booking with cash or through the chase portal.

Chase portal if you're looking to minimize your cash out of pocket expense (covering the departure tax with the points, which you can't do when transferring) or fly so rarely that you won't really have a good use for the points for travel in the future.
posted by true at 3:15 PM on February 11, 2019

I generally look at awardhacker to get a general idea of what airlines fly the route I want and how many points it would cost in a perfect world to get a flight via frequent flier program transfer. They're not always right.

Then I'll glance at google flights to get an idea for which dates are the cheapest.

Next, I'll pop into the Chase UR site, and compare the cost of direct redemption from their portal vs what a points transfer would cost (add a step for checking Southwest separately if it's a route they're on).

Then go with the best/cheapest option.

In this particular case, I show (with Sapphire Reserve) a nonstop flight on Norwegian Air UK on those dates for 44,734 points. Seatguru claims the seats are comparable to the more expensive Virgin flight.
posted by booooooze at 3:16 PM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

The problem isn't UK departure taxes. It's BA's BS surcharges, which are unmoored from any external expense (and indeed they had to settle a class-action suit concerning lying about that to customers). Those surcharges are HUGE. OP, do a dummy booking and get an idea before you transfer any UR to Avios.
posted by praemunire at 3:16 PM on February 11, 2019

Given Norwegian's financial health, I would not book a flight with them unless it was very soon. Next week, maybe, but not in six months.
posted by caek at 3:44 PM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Here's my workflow:
1. Check google flights for cash tickets. How does that flight feel? If it is more than double you want to pay, start looking into award flights.
2. My go-to to Europe is actually Chase UR to United. They have tons of availability and pretty straightforward, 60k points. Usually routed on Lufthansa. Small surcharges. If cash price is more than $1k, I usually transfer and book.
posted by sandmanwv at 5:00 PM on February 11, 2019

I would not book through Chase. I bought my tickets through them (with miles) to get out of state to see a dying relative. I arrived at the airport just before a significant snow storm and learned that Chase had booked the tickets but not paid for them. Because of the storm the waiting time to get through on the phone was longer than my time to board. I had to buy a new ticket and Chase refused to reimburse me the extra fee I was charged to do so. It was a stressful inconvenience that would have been even worse had I not had the means to pay for the ticket.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:00 AM on February 12, 2019

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