When my dad was diagnosed with cancer just over two years ago, I told him I wanted to take him to Israel. I couldn’t think of anything more healing than a trip to the Holy Land, but I wasn’t about to spend $2,000 each on flights to get us there.
Thanks to some long-held credit cards, I had enough points to get us there and back, in business class, for less than $100 each. Here’s exactly how I made it work and some insight into the credit card that helped make it happen, my Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
Secure application on issuer’s website.
Annual Fee: $550
Bonus: 60,000 Points
APR: Variable Rate
Rewards Rate: 1X-10X Points
Details: Full Review
Terms and restrictions apply
Annual Fee: $550
APR: Variable APR depending on credit worthiness.
Rewards Rate: The card offers 10x points per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars as well as 5x points on air travel booked directly through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after you spend $300 on travel purchases annually. Additionally, earn 3x points per dollar spent on all other travel and dining purchases and 1x everywhere else.
Sign-Up Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after using your card to spend $4,000 within three months of account opening.
Who Should Use This Credit Card? Frequent travelers who are serious about earning travel awards.
Why We Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
Right off the bat, Chase Sapphire Reserve features a $300 annual credit for travel purchases. That means the annual fee is effectively just $250 per year for frequent travelers. You also get free access to more than 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges and restaurant options around the world. Those lounges usually give you free food and drinks, cleaner bathrooms, fast internet and a comfortable place to sit outside of the ruckus of an airport terminal. Plus, the Sapphire Reserve will get you access to the upcoming Chase Sapphire Lounge network.
If you’re looking to elevate your travel experience, look no further than the Chase Sapphire Reserve. When you first get approved, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months — that’s worth $900 in travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and potentially more if you transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s airline or hotel partners.
How I Use Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
For our trip to Israel, I combined points from two sources: United Airlines and Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, the vast majority of the points I used for the trip originated from my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. While the credit card comes with a steep annual fee, it saved me at least $10,000 on airfare for this trip alone. It’s easily worth the annual fee if you travel regularly.
Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points per dollar on dining and travel purchases and 1x points per dollar on all other purchases. But it also features a $300 statement credit for travel purchases each year, a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry and Priority Pass Select airport lounge access. This is in addition to many popular benefits, like rental car insurance and trip interruption and cancellation insurance. There’s a reason I never leave home without it.
Transferring Points to United for Flights on Turkish and LOT
You can use Chase Points to book travel in the Chase rewards portal for a 1.5 cent per point value if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (you get less with other cards). But even better, you can transfer points to airline and hotel partners to get even more value.
For this trip, I moved points from Chase to my United Airlines MileagePlus account, which, like other transfers from Chase, uses a 1:1 ratio. I moved 229,000 points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to United to reach the total number of points needed for four one-way international business class trips from North America to the Middle East. Note that the rules for this type of booking have changed since our trip. You may need a different amount of points depending on the specific flight.
Our final route took me from LAX to Warsaw on LOT Polish Airlines business class and the rest of the way on Turkish Airlines first class. My dad went from Denver to Tel Aviv through Newark. We flew back together from Tel Aviv through Istanbul and Chicago to get to Houston for his cancer treatment at the end of our trip.
A quick search today puts those flights at around $7,500 each round-trip, or $15,000 total, for the full experience. I paid less than $100 each, which is enough savings to buy a decent used car. At 340,000 points total (85,000 each way), that’s a value of about 4.4 cents per point, assuming a $15,000 total cost. That’s nearly three times the value I would have gotten using my points in the Ultimate Rewards portal.
Keep a United Credit Card for More Award Space
While you’re clearly getting more value out of traveling with United’s MileagePlus, you’ll also be more limited in your travel dates. And finding an international United travel award flight that works for you can definitely be a struggle. If you have any of the several United credit cards, however, you get access to extra award space.
I’ve kept the United℠ Explorer Card for a long time, primarily for the free checked bags and extra award space features. After a couple of years of not getting my money’s worth for the $95 annual fee, I called up Chase and asked to be downgraded to a United card with no annual fee. The basic United MileagePlus card I have now (which is not publicly available to apply to) gives me the same extra award space without the annual fee.
Flexible Dates and Advanced Planning Make Award Travel Work
Even booking far in advance, being flexible is one of the best ways to make award travel like this work for you. While you can use Chase points for 1.5 cents per point value on any flight with no blackout dates, I clearly got a much better experience and value using my points for premium travel.
Last-minute deals may be rare for this kind of trip, so try to plan as far out as you are able. Due to my dad being sick, I waited until about two months before, and award flight options were limited. If you can piece things together just right, though, you’ll be on your way to Israel, or anywhere else, for a fraction of the list price. For me, that’s what award travel is all about.
My 2 Favorite Rewards Credit Cards for Free Travel
Are you looking to rack up miles and points quickly to earn free travel? Below you’ll find information about the two credit cards I used to take my dad on a business class trip to Israel. Also, read how another Slickdealer earned 300,000 Amex and Chase points in only six months. It’s an inspirational story!
Update: I’m sad to share that my father passed away in September 2020. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to take this trip together. It was very meaningful for both of us and I’ll cherish the memories we made forever. In his memory, please make sure every man you care about who is 50 or older gets an annual PSA blood test. It’s a quick and simple test that can be done at the same time as a cholesterol or other blood screening, and it could catch prostate cancer early and save their life.
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