Recently, a reader reached out to me for some advice on an upcoming trip to Europe with his wife. They had amassed a massive stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points — 425,000 to be exact — but they couldn’t decide exactly how to book their trip. They knew they wanted to start their journey in Prague, but they weren’t sure where they wanted to end up. They also weren’t exactly sure when they wanted to leave, but they worried about the prospect of booking a one-way flight without a plan for the ride home.
First off, I told them that they had it made. They had plenty of miles to do what they wanted, and it was no big deal to wait to book the flight home. With so much flexibility in their travel plans, they could easily search for award space for the flight home once they arrive in Prague and make plans from there. I quickly learned this couple wasn’t too sure about transferring their points to airline partners. From my understanding, they planned to book each of their one-way flights through the Chase travel portal.
This was a mistake, I said, because using airline partners would leave them much better off. Here’s why:
One-way flights can be exorbitantly expensive, especially at the last minute.
First off, one-way flights can be crazy expensive when you pay in cash. That may not matter to you when you’re booking with airline miles and only paying airline taxes and fees, but it represents a wasteful way to use flexible points when your award fare is tied to the price of your flight.
Case in point: I looked for some examples to show the reader how much more value he could get with miles and found plenty of award availability from Newark and JFK (his closest airports) for 30,000 miles one-way. However, for the exact same dates in May, similar flights started at $767 in economy — or 51,180 Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Why spend more flights than you need to for the exact same flight?
Frequent flyer programs typically make booking one-ways a breeze.
Also note that most frequent flyer programs make booking one-ways a breeze, but that’s especially true with programs that still offer award charts like American AAdvantage. There’s simply no reason to book a round-trip with the same frequent flyer program if you can get a better deal on either leg with different programs.
Having flexible points means you can compare airline programs before you transfer and book.
When you build your award stash in a flexible program like Chase Ultimate Rewards, you have even more options at your disposal. The reader in question here could easily transfer points to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio to pay for his departure, but he could consider availability on Air France/Flying Blue, British Airways, and other airlines for his flight home. With so much flexibility on a departure destination and dates, this scenario would make it easy to save a lot of points. After all, you can frequently find one-way flights from many European cities to the U.S. on Air France/Flying Blue for 25,000 miles one-way or less.
What’s the bottom line?
If you plan to book one-ways for your next trip, consider using airline miles over flexible travel points. You may score your flights for a lot fewer points overall, and you could end up with flights you like better to boot.
Of course, it always pays to compare all your options, whether that means using miles or booking directly through a portal. I recently booked one-way flights on Air Portugal from Rome to Chicago through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal because I got a better deal than if I had paid with miles. You never know what kind of deals you will discover unless you take time to look.
Do you use airline miles for one-way flights? Why or why not?
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