I’ve had to cancel or postpone numerous trips due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the one that hurt the most was a two-week jaunt that would’ve taken me, my wife and daughter through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand — originally scheduled for May and June of this year. While all of my hotel reservations were refundable, I was also able to get my money (and miles) back for all of my flights by waiting patiently for the airlines to cancel or change the itineraries.
Now, I’m working to recreate a largely-similar trip in 2021 — and I’ve just snagged a redemption for which I am particularly excited.
Read on for more details on how I used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to snag a gorgeous suite in Tokyo that would’ve otherwise set me back almost $1,200 per night.
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Of course, before I could use points to book a gorgeous hotel room, I first needed to earn them. Fortunately, Chase Ultimate Rewards has a variety of options for doing just that, and I have what I believe to be the perfect quartet of Chase cards:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Allows me to earn 3x points on travel and dining purchases and comes with a host of additional perks and benefits
- Chase Freedom: Allows me to earn 5% back on rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter)
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Allows me to earn 1.5% back on everyday purchases, though new cardholders can earn even more right now
- Ink Business Cash Card: Allows me to earn 5% back on office supplies and telecommunication services (on up to $25,000 in combined purchases in each category per year)
The information for the Freedom Unlimited and Ink Business Cash have been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The Sapphire Reserve has been especially rewarding over the last few months, as Chase has added a number of enhanced bonus categories in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. First came 5x points on grocery purchases for the months of May and June (up to $1,500 per month in combined spending). Then, the issuer added new bonuses that run through Sept. 30, 2020 — including 5x points on gas purchases and 10x points in select streaming services (both of which apply to the first $1,500 in combined purchases).
And even though the Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited and Ink Cash cards are all technically cash-back cards, I can combine those points under my Sapphire Reserve to effectively “convert” them from cash-back earnings to fully-transferable Ultimate Rewards points.
By strategically using these cards across various merchants — and occasionally going through the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal — I’m able to build a large balance of Chase points. These, in turn, can then be put toward a variety of valuable rewards.
As we set about recreating our trip, we knew we wanted to hit some of the same destinations — ideally using Alaska Airlines miles we’d accumulated over the years. After some searching, we were thrilled to find three business-class awards on Japan Airlines from New York-JFK to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) on the exact date we wanted.
Then, after a little more digging, we realized that we could leverage Alaska’s free stopover option on award tickets to spend a couple of nights in Tokyo before continuing on from Tokyo-Narita (NRT) to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (SGN). In all, we spent 195,000 Alaska miles plus just $119.10 in taxes and fees.
Our return flight will check off a major #AvGeek bucket-list item for me, as it will include Singapore Airlines’ nonstop flight from Singapore (SIN) to Newark (EWR) — the world’s longest.
The hotels in Southeast Asia matched our previous trip exactly, which left just one item: the two-night stay in Tokyo.
Traveling with our daughter is incredible, but we always enjoy having extra space in our accommodations. As a result, we focused our search on properties that would allow us to book right into a suite. And given Tokyo’s notoriously-expensive reputation, this quickly led us to the conclusion that we’d be using points. While both Marriott and Hilton allow you to redeem points for upgraded rooms, availability is hit-or-miss, and the award rates can be very high.
Enter Hyatt, which recently started allowing suite awards online. And a quick search through Hyatt’s website landed us on the Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo. A standard room would be 25,000 points per night, while a suite would set us back 40,000 points per night — and give us more than double the space. Sold!
READ MORE: Your guide to the World of Hyatt award chart
With my World of Hyatt account balance at just over 19,000 points (from prior stays and spending on my World of Hyatt Credit Card), I was well short of the 80,000 points needed to cover the two-night stay. Fortunately, I knew that I could leverage the power of transferable currencies to convert my Chase points into Hyatt points at a 1:1 ratio. And, since the transfer would process immediately, there was almost no risk that the property would suddenly sell out.
I logged into my Chase account, launched the Ultimate Rewards portal and navigated to the “Transfer to Travel Partners” section. Since I had already linked my World of Hyatt account number, it took just a few quick clicks before 61,000 Chase points where on their way to becoming Hyatt points.
Sure enough, after logging out of and then back into my Hyatt account, the points appeared. I reran the search for my two nights, and the room was mine for the booking.
Within mere minutes of deciding to make the transfer, my reservation was confirmed.
Here’s why we promote transferable points so frequently here at The Points Guy. If I had booked a paid, member rate directly with Hyatt, that two-night stay would’ve set me back ¥251,988 (or ~$2,390.19 based on current exchange rates).
Hotels.com would’ve been $50 higher and required prepayment — though I could still cancel for free.
And using Chase points directly through the Ultimate Rewards portal? That would’ve been a cool 64,405 points per night excluding taxes and fees — which would’ve boosted the nightly rate to over 81,000 points.
Instead, by transferring my Chase points to World of Hyatt I was able to book both nights for less than the price of a single night through the Chase portal.
When you calculate the redemption value (using Hyatt’s member rate), I’m getting 2.99 cents from every point — almost double the value I’d get from the Chase portal and nearly 50% higher than our own valuations of Ultimate Rewards points.
Now, that’s not to say that redeeming Chase points directly for travel — or using the new Pay Yourself Back feature — has no merit. There are times when an airline or hotel doesn’t release award availability, and I’ve used my Chase points in this way for inexpensive flights when I wanted to keep cash in my wallet.
Nevertheless, this is a clear example of the outsized value you can get from credit card rewards — especially those that allow transfers to travel partners.
I am incredibly excited for my family’s recreated Asia trip next year, and I hope that the world of international travel will allow it to happen. If all goes to plan, my Chase points will have enabled me to book a luxurious hotel room in Tokyo that would’ve otherwise been out of my budget.
And if you focus your credit card strategy on transferable point programs, you can do the same thing too.
Featured photo by Matteo Colombo/Getty Images