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How I used 75K Chase points for a last-minute trip to Greece

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Half the fun of having points and miles is finding creative ways to use them and smart ways to earn them. Right now, two of the best travel rewards cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, both have sign-up bonuses of 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

To show you exactly how far a lucrative sign-up bonus can take you, TPG challenged me and a few other teammates to use those 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a trip that illustrates their value; we also aimed to demonstrate the value of Chase’s many transfer partners, which usually provide the most lucrative return.

I knew I wanted to go somewhere far, somewhere warm and somewhere where my cash would go further. So, here’s how I used 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to fly round trip to Greece on Emirates and stay two nights at the Grand Hyatt Athens. (Quick note: My trip was short, sweet and perfect, but you should use my experience as a jumping-off guide for a longer Greece or Europe getaway.)

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

How I planned this trip

When I sat down to decide where to go with my 75,000 points, I knew my schedule was tight due to a previously planned work trip and the fact that I was getting married in three weeks. Still, I wanted to go as far as possible to prove that you’re not stuck with U.S.-based airlines or domestic destinations.

That’s when it hit me: Look at fifth-freedom flights. These are flights that don’t ever actually stop in the operating airline’s home country. I am based in New York, and I knew that Dubai-based Emirates operates a flight between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Athens International Airport (ATH). The April weather in the Mediterranean was the icing on the cake.

Luckily, Emirates had some incredible award rates for the dates I was heading out, even for business-class tickets. However, I also wanted to use the points for my lodging, so I opted for an economy award seat. I then turned to Hyatt and its points-friendly award chart to round out my trip.

45,000 points for a round-trip economy ticket to Athens on Emirates

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

My jaw hit the floor when I realized that I could fly round trip on Emirates, a luxurious airline, for just 45,000 miles and $150 total in taxes and fees. Each one-way ticket came in at 22,500 points. Even if you didn’t want to stay in Athens, that’s an incredible price for a one-way leg to start a European adventure. It was also tempting to see that Emirates’ snazzy business-class tickets were going for just 54,000 points each way.

EMIRATES

Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to the Emirates Skywards loyalty program at a rate of 1:1. They usually transfer instantly (at least, in my experience), making it easy and quick to book once you find a great deal like this. (In fact, it felt like such a good deal that my sweet mom, who has a stash of Emirates points, booked my fiance to join me for a little pre-wedding getaway. Thanks, mom!)

The cash price for this round-trip flight was $840, so this redemption came in at about 1.9 cents per mile — enough over TPG’s current Emirates Skywards valuation of 1.2 cents per mile.

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I’ve been lucky enough to fly Emirates in business class on both the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777, and those experiences were pretty stellar — especially on the ultra-lux A380 with an inflight bar. However, sitting through long flights in economy isn’t an issue for me, and I already knew that Emirates’ service would probably make this roughly nine-hour flight breeze by. Still, I paid $49 each way to reserve seats in a two-seater row for more comfort and ease for the overnight flight.

Related: A step up from your average economy: Flying Emirates’ A380 from Dubai to Johannesburg

Now, here’s the catch: The Athens-bound flight left Newark at 11:55 p.m. and arrived in Athens at 4:05 p.m. the next afternoon. Flying out that late isn’t the most fun, but sometimes, that’s the physical and mental price you pay for a great deal.

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

It was totally worth it. The Emirates economy experience was wonderful, with some incredibly friendly crew members who took care of us. It was a rather empty flight, so my fiance (who doesn’t have the ability to fall asleep anywhere like me) was able to move to an empty four-seater row to sleep for the flight.

Even our return flight was empty enough that we could move to a four-seater row together and essentially turn it into our own flying couch. Best of all, we got one of Emirates’ famed Polaroid photos taken of the two of us before we took off.

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

On both flights, we enjoyed great meals with wine (significantly better than most U.S.-based airlines), a huge selection of entertainment and comfortable seats with space to spread out and relax.

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

2 nights at the Grand Hyatt Athens

What made this trip really come together was realizing that Athens is home to the Category 3 Grand Hyatt Athens and that there was standard award availability for just 12,000 points per night (plus taxes and fees). This meant that a two-night stay would only cost 24,000 points. Just like Emirates, World of Hyatt is a 1:1 transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

HYATT

Add the 24,000 points for the Hyatt stay to my 45,000 round-trip Emirates booking, and my total points spent for flights and hotel came out to exactly 75,000 points. I’d call that a win.

Cash rates at the time were going for 295 euros (about $318) a night, which was expensive compared to other dates. I later realized it was because the hotel was totally booked up for an international conference. By using points, I was able to get a value of 2.65 cents per point — well over our current valuation of 1.7 cents per World of Hyatt point.

HYATT

Throughout the year, this hotel has plenty of off-peak award availability at 9,000 points per night, so be on the lookout for those reduced rates when planning your own trip. Or, do as I did and move to one of Athen’s central boutique hotels with really affordable rates to extend your trip.

Unfortunately, I don’t have status with World of Hyatt, so I can’t speak to those benefits. However, my experience at the Grand Hyatt Athens was fine without it.

The hotel itself isn’t in the heart of touristy Athens and close to the major attractions, but it’s a quick 10 euro ($10.81) taxi ride to basically anywhere you’d want to go. I do want to point out that it’s a big, busy conference hotel, so if that’s a turnoff, you may want to book elsewhere. In terms of what you get when booking with points, though, you won’t find a better deal.

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

Our points got us into a massive room with a king bed, a couch, a coffee table, a big enough bathroom, a spacious closet and an unfurnished balcony that, from one side, offered views of the ancient Acropolis. The room was modern, air-conditioned and very stylish, but the truth is that we hardly spent any time in it.

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

We spent most of the time exploring Athens and its charming streets (note: pack comfortable shoes). We did set aside a warm afternoon for the best feature of the hotel: a rooftop infinity pool with jaw-dropping views of the Acropolis. After so much walking, it was incredible to kick back in the sun and relax. We loved wading around the rooftop pool looking out at the city and the Parthenon, one of the most famous buildings in the world.

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

The hotel also has an upscale restaurant and a rooftop bar where you can enjoy those same views with a drink in hand. Rather than pay conference hotel prices for a meal, head to the cash-only Greek restaurant called Ta Filarakia a few blocks away; there, you can load up on amazing snacks and wine for cheap.

Was my trip worth it?

TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

Hard yes. While some people might say flying to Greece for a few nights is a wild idea, I have to remind them that this trip was purely an experiment and a way to show others how effective a great sign-up bonus can be.

What can 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards get you? It can score you an amazing round-trip economy experience to a destination on the other side of the world. It can get you a comfortable and chic place to sleep and one of the best rooftop pools I’ve ever experienced. It can bring you to a place where you drink wine for cheap, walk down ancient streets that shaped democracy and spend time with some of the friendliest people in the world.

If this had been a personal trip, I would likely have paid cash to bop around Greece’s many beautiful islands and slept solidly at night, knowing that points and miles saved me a significant chunk of money to get to the country. But hey, even though we just had a long weekend, I felt like we did everything we wanted to do in Athens without feeling overly tired or rushed.

Bottom line

I frequently struggle with deciding how exactly to spend my points and miles. Do I burn them quickly with a business-class flight, or do I milk them to take me farther for longer? For me, it’s usually the latter.

Although this trip was short and sweet, I hope it shows how being creative and flexible can allow you to make your travel dreams come true.

Some of the best points deals I’ve ever seen on flights and hotels have been on last-minute redemptions like this. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve offering 75,000-point sign-up bonuses, now is a great time to apply and see where you end up. Greece was right for me at the moment, but with Chase’s great transfer partners, you could be living it up in Austria, riding camels in Dubai or even taking it easy on the beaches of Mexico for a few days.



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