Our Points & Miles: Exciting Redemption Possibilities for the New Year

It's that time a year again. As we start to disregard our resolutions, its also time to look at our point balances and dream of big trips in the future. 

Below, we outline Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR), American Express Membership Rewards (MR), Hilton Honors, and IHG Rewards Club. While we have points balances and status in other programs, these are the currencies we focused on building in 2017. In addition to what's listed below, we maintain accounts with balances for most US and International airlines, as well as hotels such as Hyatt (Discoverist status), Marriott (Gold status), SPG (Gold status), and Best Western (Platinum status).

As you look through the different "currencies," note the points are accompanied by what we call the Estimated Minimum Value (EMV). This is an approximate figure that you should be able to reach by searching for valuable redemptions. However, the actual value of points vary widely. For example, a $150 one-way domestic trip using United miles (transferred from Chase) could cost 12,500 miles at the saver level, giving you a value of 1.2 cents per mile. On the other hand, you could transfer 57,500 AMEX MR to Aeroplan to book a one-way business class flight on Star Alliance partner SWISS (which has an excellent lie-flat business seat and delicious catering). The SWISS nonstop from either JFK or Newark (EWR) regularly runs $6,611 one-way. This would give you a value of around 12 cents per point!

As a disclaimer, redeeming points and miles can be a bit of a "game" and process. That's why we are here to help! We can assist you in getting the best value for your points and miles with our flight and hotel points booking options. In addition, if you want to learn more about what points or miles to acquire and how to maximize credit card spending, sign up for our one-on-one points and miles consultation and we'll have you on your way to saving thousands of dollars a year on travel!

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Our End of the Year Total = 201,615 ($4,234 EMV)

Where did they come from?

We amassed UR points from the Chase Trifeca. That is, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (earns 3 points per $1 on travel and dining), Chase Freedom Unlimited (earns 1.5 points per $1 on all purchases), and Chase Freedom (earns 5 points per $1 on rotating categories and 1 point per $1 on all others). We also capitalized on the initial sign-up bonus of 100,000 points when the Chase Sapphire Reserve was first released (now down to 50,000 points sign up). In addition, most travel spending (other than airfare) and dining are put on our Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Exciting Redemption Possibilities

With UR, the possibilities are endless due to the ability to transfer to eight frequent flyer programs (including United and Southwest in the US) and four hotel programs (including Hyatt and Marriott). Below are three options that constitute outstanding value and exciting redemptions.

1) Get to Hawaii for free! A little known "sweet spot" is the use of Korean Skypass miles to travel on Delta Airlines to Hawaii. For only 25,000 UR transferred to Korean, you can fly round-trip in Delta economy to Hawaii. A quick look at Delta pricing shows these flights regularly sell for between $800 and $1,000 round-trip, giving you a value of up to 4 cents per point. Still not convinced this is a great deal? Delta's lowest mileage redemption to Hawaii is 60,000 Delta Skymiles per person!

2) Stay at a luxurious Park Hyatt for 30,000 UR transferred to Hyatt. The signature Hyatt properties such as the Park Hyatt New York and Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome regularly approach $1,000 USD a night for standard King accommodations. With spending 30,000 a night (as category 7 Hyatt properties), that gives you a value of over 3 cents per Chase point. Plus, who wouldn't want to be pampered for a few nights at a Park Hyatt?

 Park Hyatt New York. Image courtesy of Travellermade.

Park Hyatt New York. Image courtesy of Travellermade.

 Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. Image courtesy of Bedo UK.

Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. Image courtesy of Bedo UK.

3) Ready for the splurge? Try out one of the world's best first class products by flying Lufthansa from the US to Europe. Although the prices vary widely depending on your departure date and destination, Lufthansa first class can cost up to $15,000 per one-way flight (you can find some dates as low as $7,000). You can book the seat by transferring 110,000 UR to United, giving you a value of up to 13 cents per point!

 Lufthansa Airbuss a380 1st Class. Image courtesy of Eric Rosen/TPG.

Lufthansa Airbuss a380 1st Class. Image courtesy of Eric Rosen/TPG.

American Express Membership Rewards (AMEX MR)

Our End of the Year Total = 200,090 ($3,801 EMV)

Where did they come from?

We put together the stash of MR through a combination of two sign-up bonuses and direct airfare purchases. Signing up for the Premier Rewards Gold card (which awards 3 points per $1 on airfare, 2 points per $1 on gas and groceries, and 1 points per $1 on everything else) earned us a 50,000 a points bonus. Next, we earned a 60,000 point bonus for the Platinum card. Along with the incredible host of benefits including a priority pass membership, $200 yearly airfare credit, and $200 yearly Uber credit, the Platinum earns 5 points per $1 spent on airfare, which is like getting a 10% rebate on all airfare purchases!

Exciting Redemption Possibilities

Similar to Chase UR, the value of MR come from the ability to transfer to travel partners. The list of transfers has 17 airlines (including Aeroplan, Delta, and JetBlue) and 3 hotels (including Hilton and SPG).

1) One of the best ways to fly in a lie-flat business class bed over the Atlantic is using Aeroplan (frequent flyer program of Air Canada). Aeroplan requires 57,500 miles to fly Air Canada or Star Alliance Partners in transatlantic business class. Great options include SWISS, Air Canada, and Turkish Airlines . Using transferred MR could net you a redemption value of over 10 cents per mile! Not to mention, getting a gourmet meal and a quality sleep heading to Europe is a great way to kick off a vacation.

 Business class on SWISS's flagship 777-300ER. Image courtesy of SWISS.

Business class on SWISS's flagship 777-300ER. Image courtesy of SWISS.

2) Want to be wined and dined and get a great night sleep heading to Asia? Look no further than traveling on ANA (All Nipon Airways), the largest airline in Japan. With modern planes, friendly service, efficient operations, and an incredible first class experience, ANA is a great way to travel across the Pacific. Round-trip first class tickets on ANA from New York to Tokyo regularly approach $25,000. However, using a trick and booking the flights with Virgin Atlantic costs only 120,000 round-trip. That gives you a redemption value of over 20 cents per mile! Flying on a $25,000 flights by only paying a few dollars in taxes and fees? Sign me up.

 ANA 777-300ER 1st class bed. Image courtesy of Travel Sort.

ANA 777-300ER 1st class bed. Image courtesy of Travel Sort.

Hilton Honors

Our End of the Year Total = 270,488 ($1,623 EMV) + Free night certificate

Where did they come from?

A chunk of the points and the free night certificate came from the AMEX Hilton Surpass card. The Surpass card, which is being phased out for the new Ascend card this month, provided a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Honors points and gives an excellent return of 12 points per $1 at Hilton properties. The remaining points were acquired from stays as we spent quite a few nights at Hilton properties over the past year. As a Gold member, we receive a return of 30 points per $1 spent after factoring in bonuses and the Surpass card.

Exciting Redemption Possibilities

You don't have to travel far to run into one of Hilton's hotel brands. While points can be valuable for a quick overnight at a Hampton Inn or downtown Hilton (stay tuned for our  upcoming review of the Hilton Downtown Nashville), points and free night redemptions at luxury properties turn a normal weekend getaway or vacation into a memorable experience. Below are three Hilton brands to explore with points.

1) Waldorf Astoria - The pinnacle of the Hilton brand. Waldorf properties have 29 locations across the globe and all feature the signature Waldorf service and high-end amenities. Two properties to consider are the Grand Wailea Resort in Wailea, Hawaii, and the Waldorf Astoria Park City in Park City, Utah. At both resorts, standard room rates are regularly around $1,000 a night so it makes for a great use of points.

 Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria Beach Resort. Image courtesy of Hilton.

Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria Beach Resort. Image courtesy of Hilton.

 Suite at the Waldorf Astoria Park City, UT. Image courtesy of Hilton.

Suite at the Waldorf Astoria Park City, UT. Image courtesy of Hilton.

2) Conrad - Luxury properties with city-center locations. Although a step down in luxury from the Waldorf Astoria properties, Conrad hotels are a great stay in excellent central locations. Two exceptional locations are the Conrad London St. James located next to Westminster Palace and Conrad Hong Kong located in the Business District with sweeping water views. Conrad rooms in London and Hong Kong can be found for under $400 a night many weekends, which makes these hotels a great value.

3) Curio Collection - A collection of locally inspired  properties in city and adventure locations. Due to the locally inspired features, each property is completely different. Two of the Curio hotels we are looking forward to exploring are the Ames Boston Hotel and The Renwick Hotel in New York City. With excellent city center locations, both make for a great launching point to explore Boston or New York. Both properties sell for between $300 and $400 a night depending on the season and day of the week.

 King room at Ames Boston Hotel. Image courtesy of Ames Boston Hotel.

King room at Ames Boston Hotel. Image courtesy of Ames Boston Hotel.

 King Suite at The Renwick Hotel, NYC. Image courtesy of Tripadvisor.

King Suite at The Renwick Hotel, NYC. Image courtesy of Tripadvisor.

IHG

Our End of the Year Total = 84,401 ($591 EMV) + Free night certificate

Where did they come from?

Seeing that we did not stay at a single IHG property the entire year, the points and free night certificate came from the Chase IHG Rewards Club sign-up bonus. The Chase IHG card is one of the best credit card values on the market. For an annual fee of  only $49, your IHG account is credited with a free night stay each year you renew. The best part about the free night? It can be used at any IHG property in the world, regardless of price. This includes the luxurious Intercontinental properties and the newly-acquired upscale Kimpton boutique hotels. Assuming you stay in a hotel at least one night a year, the card really is a no-brainer to have stashed away.

Exciting Redemption Possibilities

1) To get the best bang for your points, look at Intercontinental hotels. Some of the nicest are the Intercontinental Bora Bora (which features over-water bungalows), Intercontinental Hong Kong, Intercontinental Sydney, and the Intercontinental New York Time Square. Rooms in New York and Sydney regularly cost around $400 night, Hong Kong around $450 a night, and Bora Bora is usually over $1,200 a night! All properties are bookable for free with 70,000 IHG points or by using your free night certificate.

 Harbor view from the Intercontinental Sydney lounge. Image courtesy of Intercontinental.

Harbor view from the Intercontinental Sydney lounge. Image courtesy of Intercontinental.

 Over-water bungalow at the Intercontinental Bora Bora. 

Over-water bungalow at the Intercontinental Bora Bora. 

2) A more practical, but still luxurious option, is to book a night at a Kimpton hotel. IHG recently acquired the boutique chain and you can use IHG points and free nights to book stays at all of their properties. Each Kimpton is unique so do a little research to find one that looks appealing to your style. Prices per night vary across the brand but weekend nights can be had for between $200 and $400.

 Lobby at Kimpton Gray Hotel Chicago. Image courtesy of Gray Hotel.

Lobby at Kimpton Gray Hotel Chicago. Image courtesy of Gray Hotel.

 King Spa Room at Kimpton Gray Hotel Chicago. Image courtesy of Gray Hotel.

King Spa Room at Kimpton Gray Hotel Chicago. Image courtesy of Gray Hotel.

As you can see, the value of points and miles varies not only from program to program, but also depending on the redemption you choose. Even at the lowest redemption levels, the fact is points save you money! Whatever your point redemption plans are for the new year, we wish you a very happy, healthy, and exciting 2018 from our family to yours!

-A & E