How Ultimate Rewards Points Saved the Day to Get Me Home in Style
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A couple weeks ago, I was in Toulouse with TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig for a tour of the Airbus facilities and to see (and fly on) the delivery of the 10,000th Airbus aircraft — an A350 to Singapore Airlines. I’d been on the road for a couple weeks straight and was really straining my body and health, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to fly on a delivery flight. Unfortunately, the day before we were supposed to leave, I got sick and couldn’t possibly imagine continuing on to Singapore for 12 hours, then on to Seoul and back to New York. I got really sick with an increasing sinus cold that would not get better by flying around the world, so I made the tough decision to skip out on the delivery flight to head home and get some rest.
There was only one small issue — I had flights from Toulouse to Singapore, Singapore to Seoul and Seoul to New York, but I needed to be in Miami. For the last-minute booking that I’d need, one-way tickets from Europe to Miami were astronomically expensive (about $8,000). Airline fare rules are crazy and they’re really expensive last minute and for one-way flights like the one I needed. But, thankfully for me, I have a ton of points that really came in to save the day.
I originally looked to Aeroplan to book Lufthansa’s first-class product, which is one of my favorite ways to cross the Atlantic. You can book an Aeroplan award flight on this route for 70,000 miles and $350 one-way transferred from Amex Membership Rewards. Unfortunately for me, however, when I went to look for a ticket, the Aeroplan website was down — and I confirmed on United’s site that there was only one seat left to book. Better not to wait.
Fortunately, I also have a fairly healthy balance of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. United is a partner of Chase and also a member of Star Alliance with Lufthansa, and there just happened to be one seat available in Lufthansa first class from Toulouse (TLS) to Miami (MIA) via Frankfurt (FRA) for 110,000 miles and $200.
I instantly transferred points from Ultimate Rewards to make up the difference — the miles appeared in my account right away. With the 110,000 miles in my United account, I booked the award and was all set to go on the A380 for the following day.
It’s quite easy to search for award availability with United, especially for such a straightforward routing. All you need to do is go to the carrier’s website, search for award travel on your desired route and look for saver award availability. Lufthansa is notorious for not releasing first-class award space to partner programs (like MileagePlus) until within 15 days of departure, at which point there are often many open seats, making it a fantastic option for last-minute award travel in particular.
Unfortunately in that scenario, it also means that you’ll have to pay United’s close-in booking fee of $75 — unless you have elite status with the airline (though you can typically save on the fee by booking an award for far in the future and then changing the dates for free within 24 hours of ticketing).
When you look at this redemption as a whole, paying just $200 and 110,000 miles for a ticket that costs about $8,000 is a great use of miles. Of course, it also begs the question if it’s worth it to splurge on first class, especially considering Lufthansa’s business-class product is pretty good and only costs 70,000 United miles.
It really depends how many points and miles you have. I have tons (thanks, in part, to the superior earning on the Sapphire Reserve), so I wanted to go big on my flight home — especially because I wasn’t feeling well. And, in this case, economy and business awards weren’t available, making it even easier to justify the redemption.
In general, I’d prefer to pay the 70,000 Amex Membership Rewards points (plus ~$350) transferred to Aeroplan, but having the option to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United was no bad redemption in my book. Plus, when the Aeroplan site was down, it was a relief to be able to fall back on my Ultimate Rewards points.
As for the flight itself, it was great — something I’ve come to expect with Lufthansa. The carrier’s first-class product is solid in every respect — superior service, great food and wine (when you can drink it) and a comfortable lie-flat bed in a 1-2-1 configuration on the A380. The treatment was just what the doctor ordered, and the flight attendants were so friendly — I was treated like a prince, slept like a baby and ate like a king.
An example like this is exactly why I work hard to maintain a large stockpile of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. With the new Reserve Card (and soon the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card), it’s much easier to do just that. Reserve comes with a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points, which I used for a one-way flight in first class on Korean Air. However, because I earn 3x points on both travel and dining — the two categories I spend the most in — I’m able to continue adding to my balance of Ultimate Rewards points. I’m already looking forward to my next trip in Lufthansa first class.
Have you ever used Ultimate Rewards points for emergency last-minute travel?