There have been two big, fun developments in the world of travel hacking in the past two weeks: Staples began selling $300 Visa gift cards online, and Office Max began selling variable-load Visa gift cards in-store. Those developments have been more than adequately covered elsewhere (see, e.g., $300 Visa gift cards, Office Max variable-load cards).
The fun part, of course, comes not from earning your miles and points, but from redeeming them. On the one hand, both of these new developments are profitable on a cash-back basis. A brand new Chase Ink+ card would allow you to annually manufacture $2,500 in cash back at a cost of $589.05 (98 variable-load cards, assuming Office Max quickly fixes the current pricing error and raises the cost of each card from $3.95 to the correct $5.95). If you master high-value Ultimate Rewards redemptions, you can get astronomical value at minimal cost: a $12,001 Lufthansa first class flight for $259.18 in fees, or something like a 97.8% discount.
So it's now easier and faster than ever to accumulate huge numbers of valuable Ultimate Rewards points. But Matt at Saverocity's post yesterday got me thinking about the fact that earning points more easily makes them no easier to redeem. Naturally you can redeem your cheap Ultimate Rewards points for cash, but many travel hackers find that unsatisfying when they know how to both earn and redeem points for much more valuable redemptions.
While Matt introduces the idea of "outsourcing" to describe finding additional time to travel by automating and having others perform routine tasks, there's another way outsourcing can benefit you: outsource your travel, by giving it away.
Why give away travel?
We give away travel all the time without thinking anything of it. If you have a partner, spouse, or children, you might be booking travel for 2 or 5 or 10 people, all of which is paid for with your own travel hacking expertise. We may not think of that as giving away travel because it's basically selfish: we want our loved ones with us while we travel!
At the other extreme of altruism are the variety of programs that airlines participate in, which allow you to donate, typically without receiving any tax advantage, miles and points you already have in your frequent flyer accounts (United, American, Delta). Those programs may be noble, and I don't doubt that the charities involved receive some cash or travel benefit when they receive a mileage donation, they also don't allow you to exercise your specialized knowledge as a travel hacker: knowing which redemptions provide the best value for your redeemed mile.
Somewhere in the middle is giving away travel to people you know, but just for the sake of letting them travel. If your niece is graduating from high school, you can outdo all the other uncles by sending her on an international romp for trivial out-of-pocket cost.
Trips to give away
When you've got a huge store of cheap Ultimate Rewards points, there are a few combinations that produce terrific vacations for trivial amounts of money. You may not want to take them yourself, but your relatives, young, old, or in between, might be thrilled to.
British Airways/Iberia Avios
The big three transatlantic options with minimal fees and fuel surcharges are Boston-Dublin on Aer Lingus (25,000 Avios round trip), Berlin-New York JFK on Air Berlin (40,000 Avios roundtrip), and Madrid-JFK/Chicago O'Hare/BOS/ (34,000 Avios roundtrip).
In case it needs to be said, Madrid, Dublin, and Berlin are all pretty amazing places to visit for the first time!
Since American Airlines is an Avios partner airline and has a terrific route network in Latin America, you'll also find great deals there when dispatching your relatives from Miami. Nassau in the Bahamas, Cancun in Mexico, Montego Bay and Kingston in Jamaica, and Providenciales in Turk and Caicos are all 9,000 Avios roundtrips from Miami.
From the West Coast, you'll probably want to send your loved ones to Hawaii for 25,000 Avios roundtrip from Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area, or Los Angeles and San Diego.
So now we've isolated some of the destinations our loved ones might like to visit. How can we put them up? Of the Ultimate Rewards hotel transfer partners, Hyatt Gold Passport is going to be our best bet, with IHG Rewards Club as a backup option (more on that in a moment). Let's narrow down our destinations by access to low-level Hyatt properties.
- Dublin. No Hyatt properties.
- Berlin. Grand Hyatt Berlin, 15,000 HGP points per night.
- Madrid. No Hyatt properties.
- Nassau. Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar (opening indefinitely delayed).
- Jamaica. Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall and Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall, 25,000 HGP points per night.
- Cancun. Hyatt Zilara Cancun, 25,000 HGP points per night. Hyatt Playa del Carmen, 20,000 HGP points per night.
- Providenciales. No Hyatt properties.
- Hawaii. Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, 25,000 HGP points per night. Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, 20,000 HGP points per night. Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, 20,000 HGP points per night. Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach, 12,000 HGP points per night.
IHG Rewards requires a special mention because of their random PointsBreaks list of properties that cost just 5,000 points per night. While IHG is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, it's essential to remember that you never have to transfer all the points required to book a PointsBreaks property! That's because you only have to have 5,000 IHG Rewards points in your account to be able to purchase an unlimited number of additional points at 0.7 cents each to top up an award redemption.
If, like me, you're always eyeing the PointsBreaks list for countries you might like to visit and stay on the cheap for days or weeks, remember: you don't have to go yourself! There might be somebody in your life who'd like to visit the Holiday Inn Mundanjiang even more than you!
Like a lot of people who started traveling early and often, I cut my teeth on discounted airlines and youth hostels. One of the most remarkable things about travel hacking is that it gives us and our loved ones the opportunity to see the world in more comfort and at far lower cost than was possible just 5 or 10 years ago.
So if you're having trouble redeeming points fast enough to drain down your rewards balances, don't forget that you can give travel away!