If you missed my initial post about why I chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as my starter travel rewards card, I recommend going back and checking that out before diving into this. (And if you don’t have a credit card at all, you may want to read my initial credit card post about why building credit is essential as a young person.)
Now to the juicy stuff: how I redeemed my 50,000-point acquisition bonus (after spending $4,000 in three months; easy if you can put rent on your credit card) for a resort valued at approximately $1,100.
(Keep an eye out for my next travel rewards post about the American Express Platinum card—I just got it in the mail and I’m currently working toward my 100,000-point bonus. Once we cover why the Platinum is my next move, I'll write a follow-up post about ducking annual fees and being strategic without hurting your credit.)
First thing’s first
When I got my acquisition bonus, the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal valued it at approximately $683. Not bad, I thought, I’m sure I can get a few nights at a hotel for that much.
But my “points strategy” changed as I began exploring the portal. Rather than using them incrementally over time (5,000 here, 8,000 there) as I spent weekends in various U.S. cities, I started to think about how spending $200 or $300 here and there wasn’t too financially taxing.
In other words, I budget for a few hundred dollars a month in travel expenses, so it doesn’t really bother me.
Spending several (like, MANY) hundreds of dollars in one sitting, though, definitely hurts, and I couldn’t see myself throwing down $500+ for an international-style trip without some serious planning.
So, my strategy was: blow the whole wad in one sitting for a soul-crushingly awesome experience that I would not otherwise pay for.
Being the slave to spreadsheets that I am, I began combing through the Ultimate Rewards portal and keeping track of the frontrunners. I had already decided on Cancun, which, looking back, was solely because of the flight loads that weekend—a factor that was later rendered moot since I purchased the flights anyway.
But Thomas and I had a lot of fun in Cabo last year, so I thought the other side of Mexico may be fun—especially since Mexican tourist destinations offer a LOT of inexpensive all-inclusive options, by far the best route.
I wanted to go for three nights, but realized I would probably be spending a little bit out of pocket to do so. The Ultimate Rewards portal is powered by a third-party booking engine (Expedia, I believe) so you can see all the hotel listings, their amenities, the price in USD, and the point redemption.
I found several 4-star results that looked pretty good, but most of them would require me to spend all my points and $100-$300 extra to cover all three nights. I didn’t feel stellar about any of them, so I kept searching for a few days and decided to go for a weekend instead.
That’s crucial—give yourself time to plan. I’m big on finding and booking everything in one day since I’m usually traveling close-in (within the week), but having a couple days to weigh my options, read TripAdvisor reviews, and stare at my spreadsheet fantasizing helped a lot.
*Major key on weekend trips: pick the first flight there and the last (or second-to-last) flight back. We had basically all of Friday (because we landed at 11), Saturday, and Sunday, because we flew out around 6:30 p.m. It helped us make the most of a two-night excursion.
The magic of transferring points to partners
Right as I was about to book a 4-star resort with iffy food reviews, I noticed a resort that looked stunningly beautiful—and stunningly out of my price range. I’m sure you know where this is going.
The resort was listed at 44,000 points per night (about $550) in the Ultimate Rewards portal: the Hyatt Zilara Cancun. Someone had mentioned to me that, every once in a while, the travel partner (in this case, Hyatt) will list properties at a lower point value on their own site.
So I moseyed over to Hyatt’s site with very, very low hopes. Then I saw it—the Hyatt Zilara, listed at 25,000 points per night. In other words, I had enough points to cover two nights completely at 50,000 points total, vs. the 88,000 points it would cost in the Ultimate Rewards portal.
I was thrilled. I double- and triple-checked the rules, validating via The Points Guy that the transfer coefficient was 1:1, then I quickly transferred 50,000 points to Hyatt and booked the Zilara. As I was checking out, the Hyatt receipt said the final cost was $1,100 or 50,000 points.
It’s a pretty unique thrill to earn 50,000 points for doing your regular spending and being told that’s worth $680, but it's an entirely different thrill deriving an $1,100 value from those points—especially since the Sapphire card has no annual fee the first year, effectively being cost-free ($95 after the first year—we'll get into the annual fee game in a few weeks).
Always, always check the transfer partner (Chase's full list is here). Make sure you’re getting the best deal on Ultimate Rewards. You usually are, but every once in awhile, you'll find a gem.
The Sapphire Preferred card is literally a no-brainer if you have good credit and want a free vacation (*and you’re paying off all your cards every month with no debt!*).
All-inclusive resorts are an insane value—cutting corners to save money when you’re going to a country like Mexico will just downgrade your vacation. I have to say: staying in a 5-star resort with incredible food and incredible accommodations made me realize how, in a lot of cases, you get what you pay for (or rather, spend points on).
Lastly, and perhaps the best takeaway of all… money is only valuable insofar as it allows you to live the life you want to.
Taking a vacation with a loved one is the most valuable, memorable way I’ve ever found to spend time, and I’ve never regretted the money I’ve spent on travel—I can’t say the same about my Louis Vuitton bag, expensive jewelry or fancy clothes. I've made plenty of regrettable purchases in my past, and none of them were the experiences I had traveling.
If you found value in this article or this blog and you want to sign up for the Sapphire card…
I don’t get paid (obviously) to write this blog or publish content, so if you’re planning on signing up for the Sapphire Preferred card, I would really, really appreciate if you’d use my referral link to apply—I know, I know. A shameless ask. But if you’ve derived any value at all from my efforts, that would be an amazing way to support my weekly posts. Let me know if you do so I can properly thank you.
Happy travels, my friends!
The young woman's money guide for all the things you're too embarrassed to ask your friends. Build the life you thought you were too broke to afford through managing your spending habits, travel hacking, and simple, smart investing.
Full-time Brand marketer at Southwest Airlines, part-time Yoga Sculpt teacher, occasional Waffle House Model and reformed materialist.
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