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Using Ultimate Rewards For Car Rentals = Great Deal

By November 7, 2013 December 19th, 2013 4 Comments

Using Ultimate Rewards To Minimize Wedding Expenses

This upcoming weekend, I have to go to a friend’s wedding in Jacksonville, Florida.

In an effort to minimize expenses, I am using 18,600 Southwest points to get from Chicago to Jacksonville.

Not a bad deal, given that the cheapest flight on Kayak is $606 and isn’t even non-stop!

KAYAK Search Resultssd-1

For hotels, the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville was listed as one of the recommended hotels for the wedding and was going for $157 a night after tax.

KAYAK Search Resultsasdf

While that certainly wasn’t a bad rate, I had something like 12,000 Hyatt points in my account from using the Hyatt Credit Card, so I opted to burn those points.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville is a category 3 property and cost 24,000 points for 2 nights, which I think is a great deal. For the extra 12,000 points I was lacking, I opted to transfer points over from Ultimate Rewards.

Hyatt Gold Passport 2dd-1

While the issue of flights and hotels were taken care of, after doing some research on Wikitravel, it seems a car is a necessity in Jacksonville.

Unless you want to spend a lot of time waiting for buses, a car is a must to fully experience Jacksonville; due to Jacksonville’s size and low density, most destinations are not within walking distance of each other. Mass transit is limited to the city bus system, and an elevated rail system in the downtown district that links both banks of the river with a crossing on the Acosta Bridge. The bus system is minimally adequate; no bus runs past midnight, and many bus routes stop running at around 8 or 9PM.

In Chicago, I don’t own a car and even when I travel, I try to rely on public transportation as much as possible. However in Jacksonville, just getting to and from the airport in a cab would cost $50 each way. Therefore it seemed to make more sense to rent a car.

While I have a pretty good handle on frequent flyer programs and hotel programs, I literally know nothing about car rental programs!

Typically I just either use USAA (to avoid the under-25 fee) or peer to peer car rental services like RelayRides (which I have found to be way cheaper and have a better selection of cars)

Car Rental Search

To start off my search for a car in Jacksonville, I used Kayak.com to get a general base price for my weekend rental.

I was looking to spend around $50 total for the rental but for a 2 day rental, the cheapest option was $108 from Advantage!

KAYAK Search Results2dg

I remembered Daraius of Million Mile Secrets had a great 11 part guide on car rentals, so I went through and read it all and was surprised to see that in his examples, Chase Ultimate Rewards was the cheapest option!

Typically using points / miles for anything other than their intended purpose is a TERRIBLE value, so I was curious to see if Daraius had just gotten lucky or if using Ultimate Rewards for car rentals was actually a good deal.

I headed to UltimateRewards.com, logged in using my Chase Freedom Card, and proceeded to do a car rental search.

Car Results2

Astonishingly, the cheapest option was only 5,772 Ultimate Rewards Points or $57.72 in cash, while the most expensive “premium” option was 9,625 or $96.25. Both of these options were STILL cheaper than the cheapest option on Kayak…

What is cool about the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is that you can either pick to pay with UR Points, Cash, or a mix of cash and points.

So even if you didn’t have any UR Points in your account, you could still use their portal to book a cheap car rental and just pay in cash!

Another neat thing is that unlike Hotwire or most discount car rental sites, according to the terms and conditions on Chase’s travel portal, as long as you cancel 2 days before your rental, there aren’t any cancellation fees!

Trip Cartasdf

I was about to book the car rental via Chase because paying either 5,772 UR Points or $57.72 was WAY BETTER than paying $108 via Kayak but I ended up getting distracted and came back a few hours later to book it.

Instead of logging in with my Chase Freedom, I accidentally logged in with my Chase INK Bold, which like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, gets a 20% bonus when you use it to book travel on Chase’s travel portal.

I have never used this “perk” before but wrote about it here. By solely logging in with my Chase INK Card, the price for the rental in points dropped 20% to 4,617 UR points!

Unfortunately the 20% only applies to using points and not if you are paying in cash (although it is still a great deal in my book).

Car Resultsd-1

Recap

Ultimately (no pun intended), renting a car for 4,617 UR Points was an offer I couldn’t refuse so I went ahead and booked it. However even if I didn’t have any Ultimate Rewards points, it still would have been a great deal to pay only $57.62 out of pocket instead of the normal asking price of $108.

To make things even better, Chase’s flexibility policy is fairly lenient and as long as it isn’t 2 days before your rental, you should be able to cancel free of charge.

While normally using points / miles for non-flight or hotel activity is a terrible deal, I have to say that using Chase Ultimate Rewards for car rentals seems to be a hidden gem.

I have a ski trip in January to Beaver Creek and will definitely be checking out the Chase travel portal when I need to book a car for that trip!

Using 46,767 points from Ultimate Rewards (4,617 points), Hyatt (24,000 points) and Southwest (18,600 points), I was able to cut the price of my 2 day trip to Jacksonville from $1,027 ($607 flight + $314 hotel +$106 car) to $0 out of pocket…

Getting the hang of frequent flyer miles and hotel points can be tricky at first, but once you understand the basics, the savings are unreal!

-Parag

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4 Comments

  • Sorab says:

    Hi Parag,

    I've been a regular reader of your blog and enjoy your tips and thoughtful insights. Since we're talking car rentals, I have something to add that you may find useful.

    Car rentals on Kayak are always the *most* you can expect to pay for a rental car. There are always a ton of coupons that can be used to get a discount on the "rack" rate you see on Kayak. The challenge is to identify which one out of the hundreds of coupons will work best.

    Out of curiosity I ran a quick search for your itinerary JAX (11/08 – 11/10) to see if you can save some money using coupons. Here's what I found:

    $50 for an Economy car at Budget (rack rate $119)
    $62 for a SUV at Budget (rack rate $166)
    $47 for a Compact at Hertz (with a pay-now coupon)
    $59 for a Compact at Hertz (regular rate $117)

    Incidentally, these rates are better than Hotwire is currently offering ($56). Hope this helps.

    Cheers!

  • I wouldn't say that any of this is a great deal. Just because it was a better rate than you got on Kayak doesn't mean it was a great rate. Did you try pricing direct or with other OTA?

    Similarly, using Kayak for an airfare search meant you actually never saw the Southwest fares; Kayak doesn't show those. But given the fixed-rate value of their points it is safe to say that the cheap award you booked also would have been a pretty cheap fare.

  • Frequent Flyer University says:

    @Wandering Aramean – I checked Hotwire and it was around $80 – $100. Since it was only 5k UR, I thought it seemed like a good deal and saved me from out of pocket expenses. To each their own. I also did check Southwest because I booked via Southwest and it was $335 RT when I booked. Again, I'd rather not spend money out of pocket if possible.

    @Sorab – Wow, thanks for the info. If you are interested in doing a guestpost on car rentals, let me know.

  • Great post! I found the discount codes with Avis are giving me the best
    price usually. I used about half a dozen and it’s normally 50% (often
    80%). I never had trouble with the rentals and had some spectacular
    Mercedes upgrades in Europe.

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