A year ago, the world looked very different. As a first-generation college student, I was excited to graduate and embark on trips that I had planned for my gap year. Like many, I had to cancel my travel plans, including (but not limited to) a monthlong journey through Asia, a weeklong hike in Machu Picchu and a rainforest expedition in Costa Rica.
Since travel’s back and I’m fully vaccinated, I wanted to make up for lost time and rebook those canceled trips — all made possible with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. And right now, you can get the best-ever sign-up bonus that the card has offered: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 or more in the first three months of account opening.
Ultimate Rewards points have long been my favorite transferable currency, and with 100,000 points, there are endless options to hit the ground running. I turned these valuable points into a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, covering the price of a round-trip flight, two nights at the Los Altos Resort, a car rental through Avis and two excursions. Here’s how I did it.
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How to book travel with Ultimate Rewards points
First, let’s review the two ways you can book travel with your Ultimate Rewards points:
- Book travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal: The Ultimate Rewards portal is operated by Expedia, so this means you can book virtually any type of travel through this portal. You can search flights from any airline, hotels from any chain and more. Chase gives you a points bonus of 25% when you book this way, making your points worth 1.25 cents each. For example, a $100 flight would cost 8,000 in Chase points with your Sapphire Preferred.
- Transfer your points to 10 airline and three hotel loyalty programs: This is where the real value of your points starts to shine. Since Ultimate Rewards points are transferable points, this means that you can transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to 10 airline and three hotel programs, including popular options like United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards and World of Hyatt. You can transfer any amount in 1,000-point increments, so 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points could turn into 100,000 MileagePlus miles, 100,000 Rapid Rewards points or 100,000 Hyatt points. The list goes on.
While the second option can be much more lucrative in many scenarios, you’ll find that the first option can still be useful. For example, if you’re looking outside of Chase’s select airline and hotel partnerships, or if you’re looking to book flights on American Airlines or Delta Air Lines. This can also be a valuable option if you’re looking for a boutique hotel not part of a major hotel chain, or even a group tour.
Related: When to book travel through Chase and when to transfer points
Now that we’ve gone through the travel booking options, let’s delve deeper into how I booked my Costa Rica trip.
Flight: 36,938 points
I found a nonstop round-trip flight from New York (EWR) to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO), on United Airlines. Since Chase partners with United, you can use either the Ultimate Rewards portal or transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus to book your flight.
To determine the best option, you’ll want to input your desired flight into both the Ultimate Rewards portal and United’s website to see which flight requires fewer points or miles. Since I booked the flight at the last minute, I found that using Chase’s portal required fewer points (36,938 Ultimate Rewards points vs. over 50,000 MileagePlus miles).
Since I booked my flight through Chase, I secured a value of 1.25 cents per point. I started with 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points so after subtracting the flight, I had 63,062 points left to work with.
Hotel: 50,000 points
World of Hyatt is one of Chase’s best transfer partner options — if not the best hotel transfer program — since there are so many high-value properties you can book for a fraction of the cost with points. While Hyatt has a much more limited global portfolio compared to Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors, you can almost always get a better value with your points with Hyatt.
In my short trip to Costa Rica, I knew that I wanted to stay near Manuel Antonio National Park, a rainforest with rich biodiversity and several beaches you can hike to. I found a gorgeous four-star luxury resort — the Los Altos Resort — minutes from Manuel Antonio.
I booked the Rainforest Suite — essentially a three-bedroom apartment featuring a fully equipped kitchen with ocean views.
The cash price of my two-night reservation would have been $904 (including taxes and fees).
Instead, I transferred 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points over to my World of Hyatt account. That means I secured 1.81 cents of value with my points, above TPG’s most recent valuation of 1.7 cents per point.
After booking the hotel, I had just 13,062 points to work with. Still, I managed to book a rental car and two activities.
Rental car: 5,473 points
Since the Los Altos Resort is a 2.5-hour drive from the airport, I knew that I needed to book a rental car. Since Avis is my rental car company of choice, I could easily find a rental for my three-day trip.
While rental cars have been quite a challenge throughout the pandemic, I had no issues finding a rental — and for dirt cheap (just 5,473 points).
Tours and experiences: 7,450 points
My favorite part of the Ultimate Rewards portal is that you can even book tours and experiences with your points. For me, this is priceless, as it’s a great way to save some cash and make memories of a lifetime. Best of all, there’s so much to choose from.
I was able to book two tours with my leftover points after booking the flight and hotel. First, I booked a rainforest group tour through Manuel Antonio National Park with pickup and drop-off at my resort.
Then, I booked a zip line tour through Quepos, just 15 minutes from my hotel — also with hotel pickup and drop-off and a traditional Costa Rican lunch.
Both of these tours put me at 7,450 points, and of course, booking through the Ultimate Rewards portal got me 1.25 cents of value.
To wrap up, I used 99,861 points to book my Costa Rica trip of a lifetime.
Day 1: Arrival in San Jose, checking in to my hotel
It was time to put the trip all together. I was incredibly excited to see how my vacation, booked 100% with Ultimate Rewards points, would pan out.
After a relatively quick four-hour hop to San Jose, I arrived around 11 a.m. and waited an hour in the customs line before beginning my adventure. Currently, you do not need any proof of a negative COVID-19 test or even a vaccination card to enter the country. You’ll just have to purchase Costa Rica’s mandatory health insurance in case of an emergency, which cost under $30 for the short time I was there.
Because I booked my car rental beforehand, an Avis employee was waiting for me at the airport and took me on the shuttle to pick up my car.
I booked an economy car and received a Nissan Sentra. It was relatively easy to drive in Costa Rica, and I stopped by a street vendor for lunch, enjoying a delicious chicken kebab and mango smoothie.
I checked in to my hotel around 4 p.m., where the friendly receptionist greeted me and showed me around my three-bedroom suite. I was blown away by how spacious it was, and I could see the Los Altos Resort was a terrific choice for families and larger groups.
The Los Altos Resort offered the look and feel of an Airbnb (luxury apartment-style) but with the amenities of a four-star hotel. In total, the Rainforest Suite offered three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. Each bedroom even has its own balcony and plenty of closet space, complete with robes.
The property sits on top of a hill and has its own private beach — a 15-minute hike down. If you’re not keen on hiking, the hotel also offers a free shuttle service to the beach. You’ll find the hotel restaurant, pool, bar and multiple hiking trails just steps away from the main property.
After I had settled into my suite and explored the pool and beach, it was time for dinner. I ate at the hotel restaurant, Karolas, with their signature seafood soup (using local catch only) and a glass of pinot grigio to end the evening.
Day 2: Rainforest and zip line tours, empanada cooking class and more
I had to be up quite early the following day since my first tour left at 6:50 a.m. Although the complimentary hotel breakfast started at 7 a.m., the hotel concierge packed me a to-go breakfast box of fruit, a chocolate muffin and a juice to get my day started.
Once the tour guide picked me up from my hotel, it was just a quick 15-minute drive to Manuel Antonio National Park. There were only two other families as part of my group, and our guide would stop multiple times on the trail to point out animals with his monocular telescope.
It was an amazing tour, and I and all of the other guests were amazed that he could point out animals (from hummingbirds to sloths) with his naked eye. Without a guide, you might miss much of Costa Rica’s natural beauty.
As soon as my tour guide dropped me off back at the Los Altos, my next tour was waiting for me. After another quick drive, I enjoyed a four-hour zip line tour through the rainforest. The longest zip line I went on was 1,500 feet long!
The weather in Costa Rica is quite unpredictable (especially during the summer months), so while it was sunny throughout both of my tours, a huge storm came by later. For the rest of the day, I hung out at my resort, exploring everything on-site. I took a free empanada cooking class at the hotel restaurant and enjoyed dinner on my last full night in Costa Rica.
Day 3: Last sunrise and flying home
Since it was my last day in Costa Rica (and I had to leave quite early for my flight), I wanted to make the most of my experience. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to hike down to the beach for sunrise, swam at the pool and enjoyed the complimentary hotel breakfast.
On my way out, I ventured to a nearby cafe that I had passed earlier. It was an old cargo plane converted into a restaurant, bar and cafe called El Avion — a total must-visit for AvGeeks.
And that was the end of my very short (but totally incredible) trip! My flight departed on time, and I was quickly on my way back to New York.
There are many ways to slice and dice 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points. If you’re a luxury traveler, you can undoubtedly save your points for a business- or first-class flight. Or, if you’re like me, why not make one of your aspirational trips come true?
Costa Rica was a fantastic choice thanks to its relatively cheap flights and limitless activities. I only wish that I had a few more days to spend here (as a coffee snob, I wish that I had time to take a tour of a coffee farm). Regardless, I am incredibly thankful that I could experience this trip entirely on points, covering a ton of expenses that made my trip to Costa Rica a reality.
Application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred with 100,000 points after spending $4,000 within three months
Featured photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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