Matthew wrote a piece discussing the removal of Chase Ulitmate Rewards partner Korean Air SkyPass and the addition of JetBlue TrueBlue was the equivalent of a car dealer selling a “lemon.” I emphatically disagree, and here’s why I am turning “lemons” into lemonade.
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The Value of Miles is Personal
On a recent forum, a member of Starwood Preferred Guest asked what the previous value of the currency was, and what the new value would be. Point values are entirely personal. For example, in the case of SPG points, I would rather use cash if I get less than 2¢/point and would rather use points above that rate. (though under the new Marriott chart, points have been inflated 300%).
Matthew and I have both established our own point valuation for many currencies. His for Korean was higher than mine given his utility of the program. He rarely flies JetBlue. I fly JetBlue a few times every year but never redeem for Korean or their partners.
The value of any point currency is (and should always remain) personal.
Korean SkyPass Didn’t Add Value For Me
But what does all that have to do with SkyPass and TrueBlue?
Simple, I had never ever used SkyPass and often use TrueBlue for redemptions. While Korean’s SkyPass was not inherently worthless, it was worth nothing to me solely because I never received value from it. I left American because I could no longer use the once valuable eVIP systemwide upgrades. American made them impossible to use so instead of adding value to the program, they held no value for me and thus I matched to United 1K status instead.
Matthew was able to book for his clients one and two seats at a time, I always need three. Therein lies the problem. Long-haul redemptions to Asia with SkyPass are cheap, just 85,000 points in business class for some routes, but for my party of three that would mean spending 255,000 points – more than we would like out of one program. Thus, we never did due to the flexibility of UR points used elsewhere in the Chase Ultimate Rewards system.
JetBlue Adds a Unique Value
JetBlue frequently offers flash sales starting as cheap as $20 one-way especially around the northeast corridor. They run similar sales on the west coast, though I am not sure that even a $20 fare would be enough to lure Matthew from LAX to Long Beach. For our market (Pittsburgh) JetBlue offers just two flights, Boston and Fort Lauderdale. While we wish they still flew to JFK, we have loved the Fort Lauderdale service with excellent prices and a great customer experience.
Because JetBlue uses a direct valuation in TrueBlue points to the price of the fare in cash, it allows for two opportunities. The first is to almost always use entire point balances without leaving orphan miles in an account. The second is to take advantage of extremely inexpensive fares to a destination we can utilize on a consistent basis.
Consider for a moment that in the past, even with British Airways Avios distance-based award chart and the (now deceased) 4,500 miles redemptions for direct flights under 650 miles; my family still does better under the TrueBlue system for even farther distances.
One other key is that if they have a seat available, you can use points or cash to book it, just like Southwest. Compare that to legacy carriers like Korean who in particular have released fewer and fewer premium seats. What good are miles that you can’t spend?
TrueBlue Points Worth More Than Chase Booking Portal Value
Let’s Get Math-y
One argument Matthew has made is that booking TrueBlue should be done through the Chase booking portal and not by a 1:1 transfer. In essence, a Chase Sapphire Reserve card holder would achieve a 1.5¢/point value booking the flights through the portal rather than 1¢/point by transferring. Making his argument for him, one would also earn new TrueBlue points and status for flying the flight (a value of 1.2-1.6¢/point as he states). Following his math, let’s look at a particularly cheap Pittsburgh-Fort Lauderdale flight in the middle of September for $67.
- The cost of the flight through the booking portal would run 4,466 points
- I would earn back TrueBlue points at a rate of 3 points per $1 of the fare, in this case, $49 or 147 points.
- The effective rebate is another $2.35 at his highest valuation
There are two problems with his theory. The first is that his valuation is incorrect. Here is, in fact, the price using TrueBlue points:
And here is the price booking direct through the Chase Portal (as expected):
The actual value for this journey is 2.1¢/point or a little less as I am paying $5.60 out of pocket for TSA fees. If one chose to pay the $5.60 in cash on the Chase portal, they would pay fewer points 4,091 rather than the 4,465 to pay zero out of pocket. It’s important to note that TrueBlue miles are not charged for all of the $17.90 in junk fees (just $5.60 is due and is actually tax.) The value range is somewhere between 1.3-1.5¢/point and in this case is 1.53¢/TrueBlue point.
Regardless, I would pay 900 more points or 22% to use the Chase portal. Adding the earned True Blue points, I still come out behind 18.5%. It is a far better deal for me to transfer UR points to TrueBlue than booking through the portal.
What about mileage sales? TrueBlue just announced 20% off flight redemptions – that won’t work for Chase’s travel portal and saves you at least 20% of your points even if the values were even.
But Also This…
Expedia now powers the Chase travel portal booking engine, but they won’t have access to all of the sales that JetBlue may offer. In previous flash sales and limited run offers, I was unable to find the same 48-hour deals when booking on a third-party booking system rather than with the carrier directly. The very best deals are only available using TrueBlue points or at least that has been the case for me in the past. Perhaps that will be different going forward.
One more reason Matthew’s math doesn’t work for my family. If I were to take 255,000 Ultimate Rewards points and transfer them all to Korean under the old arrangement and I could find three seats in business class to our chosen destination at a convenient time, we would still have exactly one epic trip. With the same amount of points under the aforementioned JetBlue deals I have 39 roundtrips to Fort Lauderdale, or for our family of three 13 vacations.
(I can already hear the comments about the last statement)
We don’t want to go to Fort Lauderdale that often, but the value of 13 potential roundtrips for our family far exceeds one trip even of greater cash value. We have used TrueBlue points to save money on a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, and Merida, Mexico. They fill an important role in positioning us for other trips too, something Korean couldn’t effectively do.
While Matthew calls it a lemon, I call it lemonade – but what do you say? Was Korean SkyPass a better partner for your travel patterns or is JetBlue a better value?
Try using JetBlue points to go SFO-SEL in a Kosmo 2.0 F suite. That’s why people are upset.
@Askmrlee – I can understand that, but as is stated in the title, one must make lemonade out of lemons. I am sure that seeing those options go is a major loss to some (not to me personally, but then again Matthew already covered that side of things). But at the same time, Matthew gets no value from JetBlue and I do so for me it’s a great move – brilliant in fact.
Understanding your perspective, however, I would argue that this move seriously deteriorates the value of the proposition for some. While I am sure Chase is fully within their rights by the terms and conditions we all agree to (without reading), it seems unfair and a breach of contract (now that you’ve paid the $95-450 annual fee) to then take away a program so vital to your reason for using their services.
Might I suggest you call them and mention this in an effort to recoup some of your lost value? I had success getting some justice when they dropped the price protection, a major feature for me.
Unfortunately not a breach… it just sucks. Can you explain what you did re: price protection? I’d love to hear as I assumed we’d just get laughed at for calling in with that request.
It’s great that you get value from TrueBlue but doing all that math to prove you save like $15 isn’t why most of us are in this hobby. A lot of us would rather not travel than go to FLL.
We’re in it for those amazing redemptions and I think that was the point of Matthew’s post. Sure, maybe sometimes there is some marginal value to squeeze out using your method, but that wouldn’t be a very successful or exciting blog, would it?
Mattt – I called in and let them know how much I had gained from Price protection and why it was my go-to card (that among other things). I mentioned that for large purchases where price protection is important, I would switch my spending (absolutely true) and they offered a small concession, I think 5,000 UR points. I could have pushed it, but that’s worth $75 to me and I probably won’t earn another $75 before my fee hits so I felt like I came out ahead.
I want to emphasize that I am not flying that often to FLL, but rather positioning for other flights out of their competitive market. Flying from Pittsburgh is expensive especially to Caribbean and South American destinations, cheaper of course out of South Florida. For example, if I want to fly to Lima from Pittsburgh I will spend $800-1200 IN COACH compared with 6400 points roundtrip (plus $11.20 in taxes) and $250-300 from Miami/FLL. From Pittsburgh, I have to take a connection anyway, so whether it is in Miami, FLL, Atalanta, DFW, or Houston, my journey still includes a stop. I’d rather lower my overall costs and use a points+cash model to achieve greater value and savings.
I would add that we have plenty of exciting trips, suites in the Park Hyatt Bangkok, Beijing, Milan, and Sanya come to mind. We fly long-haul business or first class too, but have used other carriers for ease of accrual and execution of those tickets. The JetBlue partnership just means cheaper short-haul destinations. There are plenty we have yet to see and I am looking forward to exploring them.
Thanks for your comment, I appreciate the engagement.
Gotta roll with the changes, and make the best of what’s around.
Just like the weather in San Francisco: if you don’t like it, wait 5 minutes – it’ll change.
That is the theme here, I couldn’t agree more. I stand to benefit though I understand others may not.
I think you make a fair point. Whether or not this benefits you depends heavily on the type of travel you do and the destinations you frequent.
Certainly redeeming for long haul first class beats short haul coach. But if the nature of your travel means that you can’t in fact take advantage of that long haul first opportunity then its of little value.
The essence I think is that the more options you have the better. Certainly losing Korean was a blow to the UR point holding crowd (like me). But adding Jetblue is better than not adding them. You never know how it will work out.
I think it’s worth emphasizing that Korean awards, while inexpensive were becoming increasingly rare and difficult to execute. Much like my issue with American’s eVIPs, it’s great that I have them but four of them expired last year because I couldn’t secure space in advance. If you can’t book it, it’s literally worthless – by definition. That being said, I have flown Korean once before in paid J and will do so again in February and I do love their product. It was just too hard to use in my experience.
It is becoming more and more common that the arbitrage value between cash and points rests on the value gained from side-stepping miscellaneous fees, taxes, and service charges. The travel blogosphere may be the primary cause of this “close of the spread.”
A very valid point however on the distinction of personal value, so kudos on positivity.
I appreciate that ADP.
I get what you’re saying, but as a bit of pushback:
One issue you have is “what good are points if you can’t use them?” True. But what good is a partner if you can’t get value out of transfers? I looked for transcontinental flights last weekend on Jet Blue’s site, and found no redemptions worth more than 1.5 cents each. I’m glad you found those 2 cent redemptions, but they are definitely not universal. And hoping to catch a sale to make your points useful isn’t much of an argument for an airline being a useful partner.
If you can barely find seats on Korean, and you can have to search pretty hard to find positive transfer redemptions with Jet Blue, what’s the difference from a “use” perspective?