How we booked 7 FREE round trip tickets to the Philippines for the holidays

Philippines, El Nido, Palawan

Well, well, well. Whaddaya know? I started this year moping. At the time, I only had two trips planned:

How we booked 12 FREE tickets to Japan

How we booked six FREE tickets to Hawaii for the 4th of July (worth over $4000)

Then things started to pick up this summer. Before flying to Kauai, I had booked two other big trips:

How we booked a trip to Bali for free (using points)

We booked two ANA first class tickets to Japan ($35K value) using points!

Shortly after returning from Kauai, a new travel opportunity came around. Here’s the backstory.

I’ve been in this travel hobby where I earn miles and points from credit cards. I started back in mid-2014 and have lost count where in the world we’ve gone as a family for free, or nearly free. In 2018 alone, thanks to miles and points earned with credit cards, we booked 8 trips and used nearly two million points. Insane, but true! Here’s what I wrote summarizing our 2018 bookings.

How we traveled using nearly 2 million points in 2018

Elusive Philippines

If there was one place, one country that’s been quite elusive for me, it’s the Philippines. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to go, it was all about trying to find the right time. Since we don’t visit the Philippines that often, to stay just one week is not enough. You lose 2-3 days just on the flights. When we are in the Philippines, we end up visiting many family members and friends, get invited to many dinners and get-togethers, and that in itself consumes a lot of our time. So planning our schedule is quite paramount to make sure that we use every single minute in the best way possible.

How much is a ticket to the Philippines

We planned on going during the heart of holiday season in 2019, truly the most expensive time to go. The closer you get to Christmas, the more expensive the tickets. If you were paying in cash, you’d see that the tickets are in the $1000+ range. Ouch. So if you multiply that by six in my family, that’s easily $6000 in cash. And that’s flying coach/economy.

When do you see holiday pricing relief

If you want to be in the Philippines in December and don’t want to pay an arm and a leg, consider doing the following:

  • Get there end of November or earlier in December.  I’ve seen them as low as under $500.
  • Once you travel past the 15th of December, tickets go sky crazy, I’ve seen them start over $1,200.
  • Travel on the 24th or 25th – ticket prices begin to go down during those dates, and go lower even more as you get closer to the New Year
  • If you really want to avoid pricing, you’ll see ticket prices go down or somewhat normalize after the 15th of January.

From a travel points redemption perspective, I’ve seen the same trend. It’s really difficult to score a massive deal during the core holiday timeframe. I knew going in that traveling in the heart of Christmas and New Year would be super expensive even with using points. But, this is one of those times when we just had to bite the bullet. Why? 

  •  While all of us have been to the Philippines, we’ve never been back as one big family (this includes my mom, and my brother and his family)
  • Kids are off school
  • Slow time at work

Our travel conditions

If you know me well, you’d know that it takes an act of Congress to get all of us in one trip due to the kids and their very busy school schedule. We wanted to leave when the ticket prices start to go down, and spend at least two weeks in the Philippines. If the kids were to miss school, we don’t want them to miss more than a week. With that said, our window was quite limited so we had to find a way to make it work.

Ethan’s high school graduation – college bound!

We thought about going to the Philippines after the holidays, the ticket prices are cheaper but that means that Ethan won’t be able to come along with us due to his school. Again, it just defeats the purpose to have most of our family traveling to the Philippines with someone missing out on the action.

Websites I checked for tickets to the Philippines

As I mentioned before, I always start my search using Google Flights. It gives me an idea on the ticket “cash” prices during a certain period. My target dates were to fly around 12/24 or 12/25, and sure enough, if I were to fly prior to those dates, ticket prices started over $1,000 up to $2,000. But beginning 12/25, the ticket prices started to go down.

I also checked AwardHacker.com – a site that gives me an idea how many points are typically needed when booking with award travel. I wanted to use my points with Chase Ultimate Rewards and I looked at my options. Looking at the snapshot below, I would need at least 73.5K points if I found flights via British Airways program, or up to 110K miles via Singapore. The snapshot below shows you the different airline transfer partners linked with Chase where you get a 1:1 ratio when transferring your Chase points to their program. You also have to factor in that most of these travel partners charge fees when you use their program. Honestly, I didn’t want to pay any cash out of pocket, so I skipped the idea of transferring to travel partners.

Screen Shot 2019-07-20 at 7.38.24 PM.png

I knew that my best bet for my needs is the Chase Portal where I can use Chase Ultimate Rewards without having to transfer to another partner. I could basically shop within the Chase Portal and use my points for everything including fees. You have to have a Chase account in order to use the Chase Travel Portal.

When I checked the Chase Portal, I found the lowest ticket price via EVA Airways in the 60K neighborhood, and that’s roundtrip including all the fees. Remember the picture above? If I transferred to a travel partner such as British, I would at least need 73.5K Ultimate Rewards, PLUS, I have to pay their taxes, fees, and other surcharges. So going with a flight via the Chase Portal was a better for me since I’d pay lesser points without having to pay other out of pocket fees. 

Nearly $7,000 worth for FREE using points

Book up to six travelers – For this trip, my mom was included in our count so instead of a party of six, I needed to book for seven. I could only book six online. This is what I ended up doing. I had to split the booking in two. I booked five of us on the first booking, and then booked my mom and my eldest son on the second booking. I want to make sure that my mom will not fly alone in case we end up different flights.

Screen Shot 2019-07-20 at 7.47.08 PM
The first 5 tickets we purchased
Screen Shot 2019-07-20 at 7.51.03 PM
The second set of tickets we purchased.

If you can travel in the off-season

I’ve seen tickets to the Philippines in the 30K-40K range. Or if paying in cash, there are some deals under $500. I consider them a steal if you have the opportunity travel in the off-season. But as I had mentioned, there’s a price that you pay, a premium of some sort when you have specific dates in mind, or if you want travel in the heart of the holidays, a premium that we’re fortunate to be able to pay using points.

Just the six of us – Kauai July 2019

Make that a party of 10

That’s right. It’s going to be a party of ten. The entire Francisco clan are flying back to the Philippines. Coming along with my party of six are my Mom, my brother, Jojit, my sis-in-law, Susan, and their daughter, Hailey. The four of them went to the Philippines back in 2017, and with my help, I was able to get them all flying for nearly free (click here), thanks to points they earned with credit cards. This time around, my brother and his family paid for their flights and charged it on their points-earning credit card. My Mom had points and I helped her get to the needed 60K URs in order for her to fly for free.

How we travel for FREE or nearly FREE

The Grove in Los Angeles – 2018 Holidays

How again are we flying for nearly free

For our trip to Hawaii this summer (click here) where we only paid $11 per person, and our trip to Japan next year where we used points for us to fly first class (valued over $35,000) – click here we used our points with American Express. We took advantage of the transfer bonus which extended the value of our points.

How we booked six FREE tickets to Hawaii for the 4th of July (worth over $4000)

We booked two ANA first class tickets to Japan ($35K value) using points!

For this trip to the Philippines, it’s all about our good ol’ Chase Ultimate Rewards. We didn’t have to transfer to any airline partners, we were able to shop within the Chase Travel Portal, and we didn’t have to pay any other taxes and fees in cash – it was all included in the final price using points.

There are many credit cards out there. The points earned with Chase have been my favorite for many years. These Ultimate Rewards points could be used for airfare, hotel, car rentals. Here are the Chase Cards that I, myself, use on a regular basis which can earn you these Ultimate Rewards.

a. Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here)– earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards.  

The Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here) is a perfect starter card. With its current 60,000 bonus points, those points alone have gotten us two tickets to Hawaii, have gotten us to many countries and cities in Europe and Asia, just as an example. The sign up bonus alone can be worth as much as $1,000 or more in travel.

– 60,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after $4,000 in spend in the first three months
– Points are transferable to:

  • Hotel Partners
    • Hyatt
    • Marriott
    • IHG
    • Ritz-Carlton
  • Airline travel partners
    • JetBlue
    • United Airlines
    • British Airways
    • Southwest Airlines
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Flying Blue
    • Virgin Atlantic
    • Aer Lingus
    • Iberia

– Points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
– Primary rental car collision damage waiver
– Earn 2X points on all travel and dining
– $95 annual fee

If I were just starting out in earning miles and points, I suggest starting out with this card,  the Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here). 

b. Chase Sapphire Reserve – earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (I don’t have an active link at the time this was published, feel free to search on the net for a recent link, or check with me). Here’s a write up that I wrote on both Sapphire cards.

c. Chase Ink Business Preferred (click here) – earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards, perfect for those with small business.

I value my points earned with Chase. Here’s a write-up I wrote last year as to how we travel for nearly free (click here) with points earned with these credit cards.

For other cards that have helped us travel for nearly free, I recently I updated my favorite travel credit cards. I’ve also written this recently:

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Lastly, here Reader Success Tales that I featured on my site.

 

 

 

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