Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the most valuable credit card rewards programs around. Chase offers several
This is the story about how I used these credit card rewards to book a round-the-the-world trip for my parents, largely in business class.
The goals for this trip
Over several decades, my parents have traveled much of the world together, however they had two large remaining goals. First, they wanted to visit Uganda, where my father created a foundation to have wells drilled for villages that have no clean water. They also wanted to explore Australia and New Zealand, a part of the world that they hadn’t been to before.
Rather than take two separate trips to Africa and Australia/New Zealand from their home in Atlanta, they realized it would be easier, quicker, and less costly to visit both destinations on a round-the-world trip. My goal was to help them use their Ultimate Rewards points in the most efficient manner, minimizing the amount of points redeemed, and additional charges paid. Thankfully, they had enough points to book all of their international travel in business class, but they didn’t mind flying in economy for domestic flights within Australia.
Evaluating the Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners
Chase offers seven different Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners, but they weren’t all equally suited for this trip. To begin with, Southwest is largely a domestic carrier, with just a few international destinations within Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Virgin Atlantic offers international service and has several partners, but it’s award chart requires a lot of miles, it collects massive fuel surcharges, and it often requires round-trip tickets.
Singapore’s KrisFlyer is an excellent program, especially when flying on Singapore Airlines but it also requires many miles for travel on its partners, and adds fuel surcharges. The same is largely true for British Airways. Korean Air SkyPass and Flying Blue are both good options for international travel, but I wasn’t able to find the necessary award availability on these carriers and their SkyTeam Partners.
However, I had great success with United Airlines. First, United offers reasonable award prices:
- 80,000 miles per person for the business saver award from Atlanta to Entebbe, Uganda
- 85,000 miles per person for the business saver award from Entebbe, Uganda to Sydney
- 80,000 miles per person for the business saver award from Sydney, Australia back to Atlanta
The total price for the major international flights on this trip would be 490,000 miles for two people, in business class. Furthermore, United never imposes fuel surcharges on its award reservations, which makes it the least expensive option in terms of additional dollars paid. The total price for all the taxes and fees added up to $161 per person.
Finally, United introduced a new feature in 2016 it calls the Excursionist Perk, which gave them a free, one-way flight from Sydney Australia to Auckland New Zealand. This feature, which replaces both its previous stopover policy and its Around The World tickets, allows you to receive a free one-way flight within a MileagePlus defined region, so long as you are booking two one-way flights and returning to the same MileagePlus defined region.
In their trip, they had three one-way flights, and returned back to North America, so their flight between Sydney to Auckland, in business class, didn’t cost them any additional miles. Normally this flight on Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand, would cost 15,000 miles per person in economy class or 30,000 miles in business class.
I found award space to be pretty generous on United’s Star Alliance partner Turkish Airlines. They departed on the non-stop flight from Atlanta to Istanbul, which was operated by an Airbus A330 with lie-flat seats in business class. They then connect Entebbe Uganda on a Boeing 737, which made a brief stop in Kigali Rwanda on the way. After their visit to Uganda, they departed again on a Turkish Airlines 737 to Istanbul.
However, I wasn’t able to get them a very efficient routing to their next stop in Sydney. They took a nine-hour Turkish flight, again on an Airbus A330 to Seoul, South Korea, where they connected to an Asiana Airlines 747 flight to Sydney. After exploring Australia and New Zealand, they returned home on United’s 12-hour, non-stop, Boeing 777 flight from Auckland to San Francisco. They then connected to a four-hour, Boeing 737 flight home to Atlanta, nearly six weeks after they departed.
Flights within Australia
For their domestic flights within Australia, I helped them to transfer their Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways, which offers excellent deals on short-haul flights on its Australian partner Qantas. Over the course of six flights, they got to visit the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, Ayers Rock, Kangaroo Island near Adelaide, and the island of Tasmania. Some of these flights were less than 650 miles long, and only cost 4,500 British Airways Avios points per person, in economy. Award availability was generally excellent, although there were a couple flights that weren’t available in economy class, so they had to book them in first class, for twice the points. In New Zealand, they simply rented a car for two weeks to explore at their leisure. Just note that you have to call British Airways to book most short-haul Qantas awards.
It was great for them to have the flexibility to use their Ultimate Rewards for this trip of a lifetime, but it certainly wasn’t simple to book. Although there were several airlines that they could have transferred their points to, United and British Airways turned out to be perfect for their needs. And ironically, they never flew British Airways and only had two of their flights on United. By carefully using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you too can book a trip of a lifetime.