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Many travelers see points and miles as a way to “fund” leisure travel. Whether it's exploring cities on another continent, enjoying the beaches in a tropical paradise, or even just taking advantage of a long weekend, points and miles help make those adventures possible.
While brag-worthy trips make for fantastic and fun redemptions, not all award travel fits this category. Over the past couple of months, points and miles helped my wife and I facilitate a move halfway across the country and ease the ever-accumulating costs associated with doing so.
Here's how I did it — which will hopefully give you some ideas and tips for your future trips.
Using Miles For Flights
During our moving process, my wife and I took a total of three roundtrip flights between the greater Philadelphia and Chicago areas. Thanks to a healthy stash of transferable points, the only out-of-pocket costs we needed to pay were award taxes and fees.
Our first trip to Chicagoland came a few months ago when our primary travel purpose was to figure out the general area we would conduct our home search. Several carriers operate direct flights between the two cities, which gave us a multitude of flight options to consider. Both cities serve as hubs for American Airlines, so that was the obvious choice.
For this journey, my wife and I lucked out and found American Airlines Web Specials that let us fly between the two cities for less than 10,000 American miles per person each way. It's not uncommon to find great award prices on this route, but finding these awards at desirable weekend travel times can be a challenge.
Our next trip happened in July, spread over the course of a couple weeks. We flew between the Philadelphia (PHL) and Milwaukee (MKE) areas for this trip, as we were visiting family nearby in addition to continuing our home search. Once again we flew American — but this time we booked the flights using British Airways Avios.
Direct flights from PHL to MKE span just 690 miles. American Airlines saver level awards cost 12,500 miles in economy or 25,000 miles in first class accordingly. However, the same exact flight booked through British Airways costs just 9,000 Avios in economy or 16,500 Avios in first class.
We ended up booking first class for our outbound flight. And that wasn't for the in-flight experience. Instead, we booked first class because of the checked bag allowance: Domestic first-class travel on American airlines comes with two free checked bags. In the midst of trying to move an apartment full of belongings across the country, every free bag helps!
By booking this flight with Avios instead of American Airlines miles, we already paid 33% fewer points. But it gets even better. At the time we booked, Chase Ultimate Rewards featured a 30% transfer bonus to British Airways. That further reduced our points outlay for the trip. Instead of transferring 33,000 Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways for two one-way first class flights, we transferred just 26k points to book the same flights.
Points and Miles to the Rescue: “Bonus” Redemption
We initially booked our return flight from ORD-PHL. Again we used Avios, but this time just in economy. After all, the extra bags stayed behind with nearby family. However, we never quite made it to ORD for our return. That's because I left my wallet behind before the trip to the airport and did not realize it until much too late. Unfortunately, this was not the first time I have forgotten vital travel documents ahead of a scheduled flight. Nor was it the second.
Luckily, I was able to quickly book a slightly later flight from Milwaukee back to Philadelphia using Avios. Thankfully, I had enough time to get my wallet and still be on time for that flight.
Thankfully transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards to British Airways occur immediately. If you want to know how quickly points and miles transfer — especially time-sensitive ones like this — refer to AwardWallet's transfer times resource.
Because we were within 24 hours from the scheduled departure of our original flight, I was unable to cancel that trip and get my Avios returned. But all wasn't lost. Instead, I was able to change that flight to a later date. Then, I called back the following day to cancel that flight. My Avios were successfully redeposited.
Anyone in a similar situation should keep this option in mind. And it could apply to award travel beyond what is booked with British Airways. Airlines often allow changes closer than whatever free cancellation window might exist. So, pushing out your scheduled travel to the later cancel may be a creative option to still retain hard-earned points and miles when your travel situation changes at the last moment.
Our third and final house-related trip happened near the end of August and was actually when we closed on our home! Once again, we maximized the number of belongings we could take with us without charge. This time, we booked flights on Southwest between Philadelphia and Chicago-Midway.
Southwest lets all passengers check up to two bags for free. And my wife and I made the most of this allowance. While we had credits from previous travel plans that changed, we could have also booked these flights with Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 directly to Southwest as well.
Using Points for Hotels
Journey #2 saw us stay with family for the entirety of our trip, but our other two treks to the Chicago area required hotel stays. Once again, Chase Ultimate Rewards eased our travel costs.
Like Southwest and British Airways, Hyatt hotels are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. Hyatt happens to operate a fairly wide array of properties in the greater Chicago area, too.
For the six hotel nights across journeys #1 and #3, my wife and I were able to snag stays at Category 1 Hyatt hotels for all six nights. Standard pricing at such properties is 5,000 points per night. Meanwhile, peak awards cost 6,500 and off-peak awards cost 3,500.
All but one of the nights we stayed were off-peak. That means we enjoyed six hotel nights for a total of 22,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards. In other words, we were able to forgo the roughly $150 per night room cost for an average cost of fewer than 4,000 points per night. That's a redemption value of over 3.5 cents per point!
While the cost of homeownership is just beginning, my wife and I were able to put our points and miles to good use throughout our home search process — all the way up until we actually closed on our home.
We took advantage of a couple of solid American Airlines Web Specials plus two great Chase transfer partners to really maximize our points and miles. Add in the (unnecessary) excitement of booking a flight four hours before departure, plus the incredible value achievable with Hyatt hotels at even low-level properties, and it becomes even more apparent just how useful points and miles can be for non-leisure travel.
We might not have the stunning pictures and memorable experiences of far-flung getaways that we could have booked with the same points. However, we do have a pretty solid consolation prize of a new home to enjoy for the foreseeable future!
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