As I’ve stated before, reader requests are one of my favorite parts of running this site. It’s very satisfying to help others get champagne travel on a beer budget.
A few days ago, Vic from Dad is Cheap emailed me with a request. Here’s a slightly edited version of his email:
Hi Michael, I have a question…
I got the sign up bonuses for Capital One Venture, Chase Sapphire, and Amex SPG. I wanted to somehow combine all of these together for 3 plane tickets to Hawaii for a family trip. My tentative dates are 10/23 – 10/30 and I’ll be flying between LAX and KOA.
I’m getting a little confused on transferring points to airlines and then not having enough and having to buy more points. Any pointers? The airlines don’t say clearly how much the cost would be if I paid partially with points.Does award availability go back and forth? I might just use the Chase Points through the Chase portal to book it through UR, and pay the difference. With my Capital One Miles to be used possibly for a rental car there.
Thanks for reaching out Vic!
Free roundtrip airfare to Hawaii is one of the great gets for travel hackers. It’s not impossible by any means but Hawaii is a really special place so flying there and back for free will put a smile on anyone’s face.
Now getting three roundtrip award tickets is a tall order. Let’s see what we can do…
Buying Points or Miles is Usually a Bad Deal
In his email Vic brought up the idea of buying points or miles. Airlines will often present you with such an option if you don’t have enough miles to redeem for a flight. Those offers are usually a bad deal.
If you only need a thousand miles or so to get to an award redemption it might be worth paying twenty or thirty bucks to lock in that award ticket before it disappears but you’re probably getting a bad value if you’re buying many thousands of airline miles.
The two main exceptions are if you are buying during a major promotion or if you are buying the miles for a redemption for an award in a premium cabin for international travel.
Diversification of Miles/Points = Many Options
Vic has acquired points in three totally different programs – Capital One’s miles program, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (UR) program and Starwood’s Preferred Guest (SPG) program. This provides him with various redemption options for flights.
He could purchase a ticket outright and get the cost reimbursed by Capital One.
He could get the ticket through the UR program where each point can be redeemed for 1.25 cents of travel cost.
He could transfer UR points or SPG points to an airline and redeem through that airline’s frequent flyer program.
Let’s Start With A Google Flights Search
When you’re looking to book an award flight it’s good to first understand which airlines fly nonstop to your destination. Connections are not fun, they lengthen flights and they add schedule risk so it’s best to fly nonstop if at all possible.
My favorite flight search engine these days is Google Flights, as I detailed previously. A search for flights between LAX and KOA shows that there are three major airlines flying nonstop between the two airports: American, Delta and United.
One of My Favorite Redemption Options May Be in Play
Seeing American Airlines show up as a nonstop carrier for a short to medium distance itinerary of interest is great news. That’s because in addition to the possibility of redeeming American Airlines miles for the itinerary there may be the possibility of redeeming British Airways Avios for the itinerary.
Redemption rates for British Airways’ Avios program vary with distance of the flight. Though there was a recent devaluation there are still some great redemption values.
Let’s head over to the British Airways website to check availability….
An award search shows there aren’t three award seats for the LAX to KOA flight on 23 October but that there are more than three award seats available on 24 October.
There are more than three award seats available for the return flight on 30 October also!
Finding three award seats for a roundtrip itinerary is not always easy but in this case we’ve done so and it only requires some mild modifications to Vic’s desired dates of travel.
Let’s proceed a bit further in the mock booking to determine how many Avios the redemption will require.
We’ve hit the jackpot here. We’ve found three award seats on the itinerary and it requires a reasonable amount of miles (Avios) and there are no annoying fuel surcharges.
Our Google Flights search showed that the cash price for this itinerary was $674 per ticket, or $2,022 for three tickets. If we subtract out the $33 in taxes that have to be paid for the award tickets, the actual received value for this redemption is $1,989. Dividing that price by 75,000 Avios yields a value of 2.7 cents per Avios. I generally value Avios at about 1.4 cents each so this would be an excellent redemption!
Two Great Transfer Options to Pull This Redemption Off
Vic wrote that he got the signup bonuses for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express. Both of these cards are mainstays on my list of the best travel credit cards. The bonuses for these cards can vary though so I’m not entirely sure how many points Vic earned.
We’ll proceed with the assumption that Vic earned 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points as the CSP signup bonus as that is the current offer. Similarly, we’ll presume that he earned 25,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points as the signup bonus for the American Express card.
Both of those programs offer transfers to British Airways. The Ultimate Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio. The SPG points generally transfer at a 1:1 ratio also but there is one positive twist – if you transfer 20,000 SPG points to an airline, SPG throws in a bonus of 5,000 additional miles. So 20,000 SPG points become 25,000 British Airways Avios.
So my recommendation for Vic would be to transfer 20,000 SPG points and 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways, yielding him the 75,000 Avios needed to grab all three award tickets.
If he earned more than 25,000 SPG points as a signup bonus he could shift the transfer a bit toward the SPG side and use less of his UR points.
A Note on Timing of Transfers
There is one element of risk associated with some transfers – they’re not always instantaneous. That means that an award redemption that shows when you initiate the transfer may be gone by the time the transfer completes. The lag for a transfer can vary with the program the points are coming from and the program they’re going to.
Fortunately, redemption from Ultimate Rewards to British Airways is instantaneous. On the other hand, transfers from SPG to British Airways can take several days.
In the off chance that there isn’t an award seat available by the time that SPG to British Airways transfer completes, he could use his Capital One miles to offset much of the cost of purchasing that third ticket.
The Final Word
Finding three award tickets on the same itinerary isn’t always easy. We’ve done it though in this case and our find also yields a great value per point. I recommend Vic jumps on this redemption immediately and then starts his snorkeling and luau planning!
Vic – Nice work on obtaining three diverse cards with versatile redemption options. Please let us know how your planning turns out! I hope this post helps you book a dream vacation to Hawaii!
UPDATE: Vic Got the Deal Done!
See Vic’s update in the comments section below!
What are your thoughts on this redemption plan? Have some other suggestions? Share them in the comments below!