PointsAway reader Jarrod wants to travel to St. Louis, Missouri from Jacksonville, Florida from October 4th until the 6th to visit a friend and see the Jaguars play the Rams at Edward Jones Dome. Read on to find out how this whole trip, including roundtrip airfare, 2 nights at a great and centrally located hotel and even the tickets to the Rams and Jaguars game can be had for free.
Current Program Status
Jarrod has 2,000 AAdvantage® miles, but does not currently have a significant balance in any other program. He does not currently hold any airline or hotel-specific cards or memberships with significant point balances.
Jarrod’s built himself a reputation on Twitter as @JagsChef when he’s not busy serving as Senior Sous Chef at EverBank Field, home of the Jaguars. Jarrod served as culinary commander in chief for a recent Bold City Brigade event that raised thousands of dollars for the Boselli Foundation, which provides a wholesome, comprehensive after-school teaching program to underprivileged children in Jacksonville.
After inventing the Bold City Burger, a fan favorite at EverBank Field during offseason events including several major soccer games, Jarrod was elevated by the Jaguars Twitter audience to the title of Chuncle, an adoring combination of Chef and Uncle, the highest status that can be bestowed upon a Nephew (The #Jaguars Twitter community is a weird place).
Because St. Louis is located in the United States Central Time Zone, kickoff for the game is slated for 12PM local time. An average NFL game is about 3 hours in length, and we’re going to assume that if he really books it, Jarrod could make it to the airport in time for flights departing around 6PM or later on Sunday evening for his return flight. We’re going to assume he can leave anytime on Friday on his way out to St. Louis.
How to Fly
Three possibilities presented themselves, with one the clear winner.
Delta has an itinerary connecting through Atlanta available that meets our time criteria. Jarrod would arrive in St. Louis on Friday early afternoon and would leave St. Louis on Sunday evening at 7:30PM, well after the end of the game but still arriving back in Jacksonville at 11:59PM, making work the next morning not a horrific prospect. The flight would take 32,500 points + $10.
This point amount is well within reach, even working up from zero, by taking advantage of the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Card by American Express®. Two offers are running at the moment as listed on our Sign-Up Links page. The first offers 30,000 points after $500 in purchases. The second is available through the CreditCards.com CardMatch tool and offers 25,000 points after your first purchase and 20,000 additional points after $5,000 in purchases.
The card offers free checked bags and Zone One boarding on all flights, along with a 20% discount on in-air purchases.
I checked on American Airways availability given the fact that Jarrod already has miles in the AAdvantage® program. Unfortunately, there’s not good availability on either end of the trip. If he can leave on Thursday and stay until Monday, that would make the trip a fairer deal.
The key to redeeming miles for domestic American Airlines flights is to utilize MileSAAver fares using American miles or British Airways Avios. MileSAAver fares take only 12,500 points each way, or half the 25,000 points required required for a regular coach redemption. That 25,000 points could just as well be applied towards a First Class MileSAAver fare, which is available presently on the way to St. Louis, but not back for Jarrod’s travel dates.
I normally don’t suggest redeeming miles toward first class travel unless it represents tremendous value. As the best flights connect in Dallas to and from St. Louis, there’s a fair amount of time spent in the air, but as few as 40,000 points could take Jarrod from Jacksonville to London for the Jaguars’ International Series game next year, thanks to the generous off-season MileSAAver flights from the US to Europe offered on American’s Award Chart.
The Citi® Platinum Select AAdvantage® World MasterCard® offers 40,000 miles after $3,000 in purchases. Cardholders also enjoy free checked bags and Zone One boarding. Importantly, cardholders also receive 10% miles back on any miles redeemed for travel, so a roundtrip coach class trip at 12,500 miles each way only really costs 22,500 points over the long-term, and a roundtrip first class trip at 25,000 miles each way only really costs 45,000 points.
Southwest Airlines appears to have the best itinerary for Jarrod, assuming the game doesn’t go into prolonged overtime. A Southwest flight leaving Jacksonville at 8:10AM, connecting through Ft. Lauderdale, arrives in St. Louis at 11:30AM on Friday. The return flight, a codeshare on AirTran, departs at 5:50PM on Sunday, connects in Atlanta and arrives in Jacksonville at 11:45PM.
Southwest’s program is one of our favorites because they offer a revenue-based points program. For flights where Wanna Get Away® fares are available, it takes just 60 points per dollar for redemptions. In other words, you get about 1.67 cents of value per point, which is pretty fair for a domestic flight. This escalates to 100 points per dollar on Anytime tickets and 120 points per dollar for Business Select®, so Wanna Get Away® fares are definitely the best opportunity to redeem miles with Southwest.
Because Wanna Get Away® fares are available for both legs of the trip, the itinerary comes in at just 18,599 points + $10, which is a substantial savings as compared to the $353.60 cash price.
The flight can be easily covered by the 50,000 point sign-up bonus offered by the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus® Credit Card. This card has a $69 annual fee that is not waived for the first year, and pays out its bonus after $2,000 in spending in the first 3 months. All the details are available on our Sign-Up Links page.
However, in this case we’d recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, with its bonus of 40,000 points after [highlight class=”highlight_class”]$3,000 in purchases. That’s because the card’s annual fee is waived for the first year and points transfer 1:1 to Southwest, along with British Airways, Korean Air, United, Virgin Atlantic, Amtrak, Hyatt, Priority Club, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton. The card also pays a 7% annual points dividend on all points earned throughout the year, even those already redeemed. The card offers 2 points per $1 on travel and dining purchases and 1 point per $1 on all other expenses.
Points must be transferred in 1,000 point increments, but the transfer is immediate. Assuming he earned just 1 point per $1 in meeting the minimum spending requirement, Jarrod starts with at least 43,000 Ultimate Rewards points and would be left with 24,000 after transferring 19,000 to Southwest. As you’ll see next, that’s a very good thing!
Where to Stay
As I mentioned, Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt, which has an outstanding award night redemption program. Nights start at just 5,000 points, going up to only 22,000 per night for the finest Hyatt properties in the world.
The Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch offers exceptional value as a Category 2 property, and is located just 1 mile away from Edward Jones Dome.
At 8,000 points per night for 2 nights, lodging at this great property would cost Jarrod just 16,000 points. Again, point transfers to Hyatt from Ultimate Rewards takes just a few minutes, so Jarrod can call Hyatt to confirm availability and then transfer points over to Hyatt while on the phone with the hotel representative.
Even after hotel and flight, Jarrod will still have 8,000 points remaining. I don’t recommend doing so because redemptions on travel can be more valuable, but Ultimate Rewards points can also be redeemed for cash back at a rate of 1¢ per point. That would result in an $80 statement credit, easily enough for a Lower End Zone ticket to the game on StubHub and to cover the $10 in taxes on the Southwest flight.
This is a great opportunity to show how an entire trip – airline, hotel and even an NFL ticket – can be had for free. Only signing up for Chase Sapphire Preferred® and completing a fairly reasonable minimum spend requirement gets the whole job done thanks to the great versatility offered by Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. It’s this very flexibility and the across the board 1:1 point transfers, most of which are instant, that make Ultimate Rewards my favorite program.
|Trip Component||Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|Southwest: JAX to STL Roundtrip, 1 Adult: 10/04/13-10/06/13||$353.60||18,599 (19,000 UR Points Transferred) + $10 flight fees (Negated by 1,000 UR Points Statement Credit)||$343.60|
|Hyatt Regency at The Arch: 2 Night Stay, 1 Adult: 10/04/13-10/06/13||$417.92||$0 (16,000 UR Points Transferred)||$417.92|
|Lower End Zone Ticket Rams vs. Jaguars, 10/06/2013||$70||$0 (7,000 UR Points Statement Credit)||$417.92|
|Total:||$831.52||43,000 Ultimate Rewards Points||$831.52 (100%)|