This is really part two of yesterdays’ post, Warning: The Ultimate Rewards travel booking is never a good deal!
Yesterday I posted about how you should not use the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. The crux of the argument is that the Chase portal is ripping you off. You get better redemptions by transferring to travel partners – to their frequent flyer programs. Further more, the portal has terrible availability and jacked up prices.
I stand by my argument that using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal to book your travel is always a bad idea. Always.
In the name of fairness I’d like to link to a post that Travel Summary shared with me on how sometimes there are good options. You can read the post yourself so you can get the other side… but I’ll sum it up by saying the argument is that you earn miles and that there are times where you’ll actually save points.
Here are the three reason I disagree on all accounts:
1) Their good deals are quite the anomaly.
These good deals are extremely rare. Travel Summary has an example of San Jose to Miami, roundtrip, for $156. Anyone live in those cities? Can you back me up and say that’s not a normal fare? It’s quite a sale, certainly, but that’s not what you’ll normally find.
I have a few friends who did not understand that you could transfer to United and spent twice as many Ultimate Rewards Points than if they transferred to United. Essentially, two of my friends bought $200+ tickets for short haul one-ways that would have been 10,000 United miles. This is most people. These is our friends and relatives.
Honestly, I’m passionate about this because these people paid more than they should have when they needed those points later. Chase promotes their booking portal because it’s easy… but it’s also easy just to check and see if United or Southwest has it for less points. All you have to do is the same search except make sure you check award flight.
And not only does it feel like the default use of your UR Points, but then some of the big bloggers tout it as a benefit when pushing the credit cards. I don’t like it, as I’m certain that more people are getting ripped off than are getting a good deal. Almost always, I’d say.
Again, $150 tickets, or even $300 roundtrip tickets across the US are rare. $800 tickets to India are rare too. I really honestly doubt that people are actually getting good deals through the UR portal.
Are there examples where there are flights costing less on the UR portal than on United? Yes, clearly there is a screen shot of at least one. Are they good deals? No.
2) It can be cheaper, but never a good deal
Ultimately getting barely over 1 cent per mile, at United’s fixed rate, is not good. It’s not good at all. Ultimate Rewards points are very valuable points, if only to transfer to United. People have all kinds of ways to value miles, but I don’t think I’ve done a booking with United miles in years that didn’t net at least 5 cents per mile when comparing to how much it would cost to buy the ticket on kayak.
Read my post on how to book the Pacific Hopper with United Miles. I paid 40,000 United miles each to fly this route in Business class:
We went from Saipan to South Korea (layover – saw a friend for a bit), Singapore (layover – spent a full 18 hour day walking around and enjoying the city), New Zealand (stopover where we spent two weeks), Rarotonga (destination, spent two weeks), Sydney (layover, spent the night at the Radisson Blu and toured the city), Bangkok (layover – got a free massage at the Thai Airways Business Class spa), Tokyo (was supposed to be a layover but we just got off the plane and spent some time there before catching a flight home on America).
When searching Kayak for the cheapest business tickets possible for the route, the price was still over $10,000. Now, we flew on nice airlines. Actually we flew business class on two of the seven airlines considered 5 star – Asiana and Singapore. And yet, our favorite was Air New Zealand Business Class on this trip. So if you think about it, the same ticket would have been way more expensive for these airlines. Yet, the cheapest was still $10,000.
A $10,000+ ticket (being conservative) for 40,000 miles. That’s 25 cents per mile.
Now I don’t assume everyone is as crazy as us and wants to see 8 countries on one ticket. But my point is that United miles have no limit. You can see more places and fly the nicest airlines for a better price than what the Ultimate Rewards portal will give.
3) Knowing how to use your miles is more powerful
There are people who are apparently Ultimate Rewards Points millionaires. People who can afford to pay for the ticket
Let’s say you did find a ticket to… say South Africa for $800 and therefore less than 80,000 UR points on their portal and you’d earn miles. Wow, that’s a rare price for that ticket. But I could get it for 65,000 United miles. (Did he say 65,000 United miles? Yes, read the post of The Secrets Of Award Engine Pricing.)
Further more your cash ticket is boring. I love United because I can add stopovers. For 17,500 United miles I saw Aruba, Panama and Puerto Rico (Read how to book the Caribbean Hopper). It was an awesome trip and I doubt that ticket can be found for $175. Maybe there will be an equal costing deal to Puerto Rico, but the routing possibilities using United miles are more abundant.
If you really are serious and would like to learn more about using miles to book awesome tickets, there’s plenty I can refer you to. For you more advanced people in the game, read United’s real routing rules and how to get around them. If you understand it, you’ll thank me later.
And if these people are UR points millionaires, shoot, I’d be flying business. And as I said in yesterdays post, there is no comparison when it comes to premium cabin. You’ll likely pay at least triple the points if you book through the UR portal for business class and who knows how much more for first.
People in the comments shared that they had experiences on both ends, the prices on the portals being jacked up and the prices being lower than normal. But as ___ points out, that’s a good reason to pay cash!
4) I would never pay for a domestic trip with United miles nor UR points
Now my parents fly domestic with their miles and that’s fine because that’s what they can do with their time right now. Fine. But they also don’t read about collecting miles. Is it safe to assume that my readers want to travel? Like international travel? If not this year, then possibly next or the next?
If not, if people would rather know how they can visit their parents in Ohio for cheap, I can write about that too. But I’ve been writing my site assuming that people want to know how to use their miles to see their dream destinations. I just assume, because with miles you can see your dream destination for cheap.
The other day I bought a ticket from Athens to Bucharest and paid $500.
It was a series of circumstances that led me to this decision. And understand I don’t take $500 lightly and I rarely pay for flights. In fact, $500 is one third of our monthly budget. The other day I alluded to our being full time travelers again and being transparent about our expenses. Well, I’ll give another pre-announcement bit of info… We (as a couple) are going to travel the world (and do it well) for under $20,000. That’s our new project essentially (but we’ll discuss that later).
Spending $500 is against my wallet and going against my wallet for travel is against the point of this site. I could have spent 25,000 United miles. So why didn’t I do it?
Well as I said, it was a series of events that led to it. First of all, know my travel style is to not worry about things and wing it. For example I’m in Bucharest and am suppose to be in Budapest on the 18th and have no tickets yet. I’ll get them on the 17th. Normally this works out but it turns out the situation in Greece wasn’t to favor this. There’s no international train and any other option would have been a long mess… and it wouldn’t have been too much cheaper.
Either way, we chose not to use miles, why? Well besides the fact the airport taxes would have also been a factor… it’s not worth it to me.
Here’s the reality: we want/do travel the world. We will probably have some reason to go to Asia (does one need a reason?) and those miles could end up saving thousands instead of hundreds.
That’s it. My point is that if not now, you’ll want those miles for international travel later. Think about it before you book a domestic trip. If you have more miles than me, that’s fine. But if you end up paying for an international trip simply because you used most of your miles on a domestic trip… you’re not using your miles well for your own needs.
If you don’t want to travel internationally, this doesn’t apply but again I do and assume you do. I would rather pay $250 each than miss out on a trip later because the ticket is way more expensive.
Boy, this could unravel a bunch of debates. But I’m curious how many of you end up using your points for domestic flights. If I was in the US needing a domestic flight I’d use Southwest points and if it was a OneWorld route I would have used Avios… but how many of you would use United miles or transfer UR points to Southwest for domestic flights? I suppose it depends on people’s travel needs and mileage bankroll.
As they say, YMMV.