Editor's note: At the time of article writing, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offered 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Its rewards structure has changed, and it now offers 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all other purchases. New cardmembers can also earn a $200 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months and 5% on grocery store purchases (on up to $12,000 in spending in the first year).
If you’ve ever wanted to travel the world and visit far-off places, you should learn some tips from Brandon G. and his family. Brandon and his wife, Crystal, planned and took a weeklong trip to Japan with their two children — and they saved $4,751.37 in the process.
As a family of four, they were able to accomplish this trip with careful planning, by using certain credit cards, and by earning hundreds of thousands of credit card points. They started planning more than 11 months ahead of their scheduled trip dates. They wanted to arrange their flights first and then work out the hotels and tours for their week’s stay in and around Tokyo, the capital of Japan.
Planning so early gave them time to continue earning more points and miles that could go toward other parts of the trip. It also guaranteed the dates they wanted and gave their family a clear goal to work toward as they continued earning, planning, and booking.
Here’s how Brandon and Crystal saved $4,751.37 on their exciting family trip to beautiful Japan.
If you’re planning on flying to Asia from the U.S., you already know it’s going to cost a pretty penny. Flights aren’t inexpensive and, depending on where you’re headed, lodging might not be either. And if you’re traveling as a family, you might have to double or triple your expected expenses.
Brandon and his family are based in Hawaii, so they don’t get a lot of options for flights. However, because they use Chase credit cards, they have a lot of flexibility when it comes to travel. You can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book any available flight through the Chase travel portal. Taxes and fees are included in the pricing, so what you pay in points is the final price. As Brandon puts it, “The portal is just way too easy to use.”
To earn points, Brandon and Crystal like to leverage the expenses that come along with being small business owners. Currently, they run two businesses selling different types of apparel, and their primary points-earning expenses are shipping, advertising, and clothes.
They put the majority of their business expenses on their Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, which earns 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines. For dining and travel purchases, they use the Chase Sapphire Reserve. For gas, it’s the Chase Ink Business Cash. For everything else, including groceries, it’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited.
Each card has its own unique earning potential and benefits, so Brandon and Crystal like to use them accordingly. If one card earns more points than another on certain purchases, that’s the card they’ll use. It’s a simple way to maximize rewards on all your purchases.
Even better, you can transfer points between many Chase cards. This is beneficial because points are worth more on specific cards. For example, points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve are worth 50% more when you redeem them for travel, which is why Brandon and Crystal transfer their Ultimate Rewards points to their Sapphire Reserve card and use that to make travel redemptions.
For their flights, it would have cost a total of $2,384.64 for four roundtrip tickets on United Airlines between Honolulu, HI (HNL), and Tokyo, Japan (NRT). Instead, they paid only $494 and used 126,000 Ultimate Rewards points, completing the entire booking through the Chase travel portal. This got them a direct nine-hour flight to Tokyo on the way over. On the way back home, they had a 4-hour layover in Guam (GUM).
But the layover in Guam was hardly a bad thing. Once they arrived at the airport, they immediately headed to the Priority Pass lounge. Using their Priority Pass Select membership — a free benefit for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders — Brandon and his family were able to relax in comfort away from the crowded boarding area. They stayed in the lounge during the entire layover and enjoyed the complimentary food and drinks. This included a few beers for the adults and all the soda in the world for the kids.
After their long journey back to Hawaii, they were able to take advantage of another Chase Sapphire Reserve benefit: TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credit. They had used this benefit to receive Global Entry membership, which allowed them to bypass the huge U.S. Customs and Border Protection line. A few simple scans of their passports and they were able to quickly get back into the country.
|Expense category||Regular price||What Brandon paid|
For the entirety of their visit to Japan, Brandon and his family stayed at the Sunshine City Prince Hotel. As Brandon recalls, “It was a perfect place for us to stay.” That’s because the hotel was connected to a shopping mall that included restaurants and was within 10 minutes walking distance to a train station.
Brandon and Crystal planned the hotel stay around the great location, but also the logistics of arriving from the airport. Because of the hotel they booked, they were able to use a limousine bus. They pre-booked tickets to arrive at the doorstep of their hotel directly from the airport. This made it easy for them to avoid any mishaps with luggage or the language barrier because everything was already taken care of.
The limo bus service can make your journey to and from the Tokyo airports (Haneda and Narita) frictionless and efficient. Simply navigate to the limo bus website and go through the booking process. If you’re arriving from the airport, you can choose from the list of available hotels the bus route services and you’ll be dropped off right in front of the hotel. Even if your hotel isn’t on the list, you can check the locations of available hotels and see whether any of them are close to yours.
The hotel would have cost $1,460.73, but Brandon and Crystal used 97,380 Ultimate Rewards points instead. The hotel was also booked through the Chase travel portal, as with their flights. To get even more value out of the deal, Brandon made sure to check the hotel booking periodically to see whether the pricing had changed. Because the original booking was refundable, he had the ability to rebook the stay for free at any time and save himself some points — which he did multiple times.
The original hotel booking was for eight nights at $203 per night or a total of $1,624. In Ultimate Rewards points, that’s 108,000 points. By staying on top of changing prices, Brandon got a better deal at 97,380 points for the same nights. That’s a savings of 10,620 points, or $163.27. Not a bad deal for just keeping an eye on things in your spare time.
|Expense category||Regular price||What Brandon paid|
Other special deals
In addition to flights and hotels, you can also use the Chase travel portal for booking activities and experiences. For Brandon and Crystal, this meant getting in some special sightseeing activities without having to splash any cash.
If you’re in Japan, Mount Fuji and the city of Kyoto are must-see attractions. And with Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train system, you can easily travel around the country without sacrificing time. These trains have a mind-blowing top speed of 199 mph, which makes them their own must-see attraction. Overall, Brandon and his family thoroughly enjoyed their ride to Kyoto, where it felt like they were going 500 mph. These bullet trains allowed them to see both sights (Kyoto and Mount Fuji) during their one-week stay, even though neither attraction is right next to Tokyo.
For their Mount Fuji day trip, which also included a Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise, they avoided paying a total cost of $400 by redeeming 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points. For the Kyoto rail tour by bullet train from Tokyo, they paid 75,000 Ultimate Rewards points instead of $1,000.
Not everyone likes to use their points and miles on activities, but for Brandon and Crystal, it’s well worth it. Using points instead of cash frees up space in their travel budget to spend on other things, like food or souvenirs. Brandon and his family now have a physical memory of their trip to Japan in the form of a sword he purchased while they were there. “It’s on display in our TV room now,” Brandon says, “And if I didn’t have points, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to spend that $200.”
For Brandon, Crystal, and their two kids, using their points to cover the big parts of a trip makes complete sense. This points strategy allows them to really focus on having fun and exploring the area instead of worrying about large expenses.
Their boys loved visiting the four-story McDonalds in Shinjuku City, frequenting popular candy stores, and going to an owl bar/cafe. Brandon and Crystal enjoyed the ancient temples and beautiful architecture, as well as seeing geishas in person.
|Expense category||Regular price||What Brandon paid|
|Mount Fuji and Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise||$400||$0|
|Kyoto rail tour by bullet train||$1,000||$0|
The credit cards Brandon and Crystal used
Not all of these cards are necessarily categorized as being among the best travel credit cards, but Brandon and Crystal were able to combine the benefits from these cards toward the end goal of travel redemptions. Using the cards where they earn the most points is how you maximize your rewards.
For example, business cards are great for business expenses and a cashback card like the Freedom Unlimited is perfect for everyday purchases. For specific purchases, such as dining and travel, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is an excellent choice. If you can use each card for its intended purpose, you’ll earn more rewards. And with Chase cards, you can combine your Ultimate Rewards points together in your online account.
This is a huge benefit because points are worth more when redeemed for travel on certain cards. All Ultimate Rewards points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve are worth 50% more in travel redemptions. So 50,000 points on your Chase Freedom Unlimited is worth $500 toward travel, but 50,000 points on the Sapphire Reserve is worth $750 toward travel. It’s a massive increase in value for a simple transfer of points from one card to another. Even better, it’s a free benefit for anyone with multiple eligible Chase credit cards.
|Card name||Sign-up bonus||Rewards rate||Annual fee||Special perks|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months||10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else||$550||$300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass lounge access, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credit|
|Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card||Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months||5X points on Lyft rides; 3X points on the first $150,000 spent each year on travel, shipping, internet, cable, or phone services, and advertising purchases with social media and search engines; and 1X points per $1 on everything else||$95||Travel insurance and cell phone protection|
|Chase Ink Business Cash||Earn $500 bonus cash back after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months||5% cash back at office supply stores and on internet, cable, or phone services (up to $25,000 combined annually); 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $25,000 combined annually); and 1% cash back on everything else||$0||Travel insurance|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Earn a $200 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months||5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstore purchases, and 1.5% on all other purchases||$0||None|
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Brandon and Crystal transferred their Ultimate Rewards points from their other Chase cards to their Chase Sapphire Reserve to make all the bookings for this trip. They logged into their Chase online account and accessed the Chase travel portal through their Sapphire Reserve. Then they booked flights, hotels, and activities through the portal using Ultimate Rewards points. As mentioned above, the Sapphire Reserve receives 50% more value on travel redemptions, so it makes sense to use it for booking travel through Chase.
They also used Sapphire Reserve benefits as they traveled, like Priority Pass lounge access and Global Entry membership.
For frequent flyers who like Chase credit cards, the Sapphire Reserve is an essential choice. The $550 annual fee is steep, but it is easily offset if you take advantage of the $300 annual travel credit and premium benefits this card comes with. Plus, you earn 3X points ontravel (excluding $300 travel credit) and at restaurants. This makes it easy to rack up points on travel and dining purchases.
Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
As far as Chase business credit cards are concerned, the Chase Ink Business Preferred is one of the best. Because you can earn loads of points from its bonus categories that include common business expenses, it can be very valuable for business owners.
Brandon and Crystal earn the majority of their credit card points through business expenses, with the Chase Ink Business Preferred acting as their top option. With the number of points they’re able to earn, this card’s $95 annual fee is easily offset.
Chase Ink Business Cash
The Chase Ink Business Cash also brings in a lot of points for Brandon and Crystal. It earns 5% cash back on office supply stores and internet, cable, or phone services (up to $25,000 combined annually). Because its bonus categories are slightly different than those of the Chase Ink Business Preferred, Brandon and Crystal can maximize earning rewards on business expenses by using both cards.
In addition, this card also earns 2% cash back on gas stations and restaurants (up to $25,000 combined annually).
The best part, though? The annual fee is $0.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. With a flat, unlimited cashback rate, it’s easy to use this card for everyday purchases and anything not covered by bonus categories on other cards. For Brandon and Crystal, any purchases that aren’t travel, dining, gas, or common business expenses are covered by their Chase Freedom Unlimited.
Although some of these cards earn cash back, Brandon and Crystal aren’t redeeming the cash back for statement credits or a cash deposit. Instead, they’re getting more value out of the cash back by transferring it into Chase Ultimate Rewards points that they use on their Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
Overall, Brandon and Crystal paid just $494 for flights, hotel nights, and activities during a fun week’s visit to Japan with their two kids. This resulted in a savings of $4,751.37. They accomplished this through savvy use of earning Ultimate Rewards points with Chase credit cards and using those points to book everything they could.
|Expense category||Regular price||What Brandon paid|
Although not everyone has business expenses to pad their points totals, you can still apply for credit cards that have valuable benefits and rewards potential. With sign-up bonuses alone, you can easily travel more and spend less money along the way.
#1 Premium Travel Credit Card
- 50,000 point sign-up bonus
- 10X points on select streaming services (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
- 5X points with Instacart (up to $3,000), and at gas stations (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
- 3X points on travel and at restaurants
- $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
- Priority Pass airport lounge access