How We Booked Our Big Sur Trip With Miles and Points

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Our anniversary is on October 1, and we decided that walking down the aisle of a plane would be a great way to celebrate. Everything we booked is bookable with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and I’ll discuss how throughout this post.

I wanted to share how I put this trip together because there were a few plot twists. This is a good way to highlight some different ways to redeem transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

You can read more ways redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for hotels in Big Sur and Carmel here. There are several ways to redeem points for flights to this area and you can read more about that here.

The total value of our hotel stays and flights is just under $8,000, but we only paid $22.40. To be clear, we probably wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a 5 day trip to California, but it’s always fun when you can redeem points and miles for such a high-value trip.

When we booked this trip in August, we weren’t sure what the Covid situation would look like with flu season approaching, so we decided that staying in the US would probably be our safest bet. Although, we did consider Mexico at one point and we’ve since had a few friends go. The general consensus is that Mexico feels safe and several resorts are booking at limited capacity to prevent overcrowding. Just wanted to throw that out there in case anyone is considering.

We were all over the place trying to decide where to go. We considered several places including Hawaii (not opening to tourists until October 15) and even Puerto Rico (requires a neg Covid test no older than 72 hours and PCR tests with quick turnaround can be tough to find). We ultimately decided that we would do a national park such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, or National Arches Park/Moab. It came down to which place made the most sense and by most sense I mean which one had the best hotels and flights on points.

Our original plans included Yosemite

I found award space to Yosemite (Fresno), but we also wanted to spend a couple days in the Big Sur area, so I found return space from San Jose to DFW. The flights were operated by American Airlines, nonstop, and only about 3.5 hours each way. I booked those flights in a way that I could get my points back if plans changed.

How to book American Airlines flights with Chase Ultimate Rewards points
How we booked: we transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to an airline partner

You cannot transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to American Airlines AAdvantage, but you can use the programs of British Airways or Iberia to book American Airlines flights (subject to availability). I booked as two one-ways, and the total was 22,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per roundtrip ticket transferred to British Airways plus $11.20 per ticket.

Flights, check

  • DFW to Fresno nonstop operated by AA in economy: booked with British Airways Avios (11,000 Avios plus $5.60 per ticket)
  • San Jose to DFW nonstop operated by AA in economy: also booked with British Airways Avios (11,000 Avios plus $5.60 per ticket)

Now I needed to make sure that I could 1) get a Yosemite pass and 2) find hotels that I could either book on points or that didn’t cost a fortune.

Yosemite requires visitors to have a pass and due to Covid, passes are limited

Due to Covid, Yosemite is requiring reservations until November. Visitors are required to purchase a day pass ahead of time (valid for 7 days) and passes are limited. Passes for September went on sale August 1 and I was trying to get a September 30 pass. I was able to get one for that date, but several September dates had already sold out when I was booking in mid August. If you’re trying to go in October and passes are sold out (they would have gone on sale September 1), more will be released 2 days prior to the arrival date, but again, they’re limited so I suggest getting online at midnight. Passes are refundable if you cancel 24 hours prior to the start date of your pass. You can buy a pass at Beginning November 1, advance reservations are not required.

Next, I needed to figure out the hotel situation

How to book Ventana Big Sur on points

Full disclosure: when we’re on a family trip, we aren’t all that concerned about staying in a fancy hotel. For trips without kids, we tend to go more high end.

It’s always best to start looking as early as possible if you’re planning a trip for which you want to redeem points/miles. Normally, if we’re planning one of our bigger international trips, I start planning at least 6 months in advance. We started planning this one in August. I wouldn’t call that last minute, but for places like Big Sur and Yosemite that have become increasingly popular in recent months, I was expecting to struggle finding hotel options on points.

There aren’t many Yosemite options with our typical hotel programs such as Hyatt, Hilton, or Marriott, but I actually ended up finding a great deal on a Yosemite lodge through the Chase redemption portal.

How we booked: Chase Ultimate Rewards Redemption portal

Tenaya Lodge is two miles from the south entrance of Yosemite. Rates are anywhere from about $250-$500 per night. On our dates, the rates were around $290 after taxes. I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve which makes my Chase Ultimate Rewards points worth 1.50 cents per point when redeeming through Chase’s redemption portal. At those rates, each night required ~19,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

When you book a hotel stay through the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal, cancellation policies vary from hotel to hotel. For this particular property, we had until 2 days prior to scheduled arrival to cancel with no penalty (and receive our Chase Ultimate Rewards back).

Yosemite hotel, check

Tenaya Lodge total for 2 nights: 38,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points booked through the UR portal

Big Sur hotel search

Hyatt Highlands Carmel on points
View from one of our rooms

Next, I started my search for a hotel in the Big Sur/Carmel area. The hotel that we really wanted, Ventana Big Sur, had no availability for the dates we needed. But there were plenty of other options that I could book with Chase Ultimate Rewards points. To keep this post from turning into a novel, I made a separate post about hotels in the area and you can read it here.

I booked the Hyatt Carmel Highlands for 30,000 points per night.

Hyatt Highlands Carmel
How we booked: we transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to a hotel partner

Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. Once transferred, you can redeem the points for free stays through Hyatt’s loyalty program, World of Hyatt.

If you aren’t familiar with World of Hyatt’s system, 30,000 points per night is the higher end of the redemption chart. But I felt like it was still a good value considering cash prices were over $800/night after taxes and fees. When you book a Hyatt stay entirely on points, you do not have to pay taxes and fees! It’s always good to make flexible plans, and this reservation was cancellable until 24 hours prior to the arrival date. We could have gotten all of our WOH points back with no penalty.

This room was also available to book via the Chase redemption portal (as opposed to transferring the Chase points to Hyatt and booking via Hyatt). But with rates this high, I knew Hyatt would be the better way to book. If a standard room is available to book on World of Hyatt points at a category 7 property, the redemption rate is always 30,000 points per night. When you book via Chase’s redemption portal, the paid rate determines the amount of Chase Ultimate Rewards required. High rate=more points. This property would have been 40,743 points per night, and that’s before taxes and fees. Transfer partners are your friend!

Note: the rate of $611 shown here is for a garden view room. The rate for an ocean view room was $100 more, and then after taxes the rate is even more as you can see above in the ocean view room total. For some reason, Hyatt allows both types to be booked with the same amount of points at this property, so of course we wanted the ocean view! This is not always the case. The room types that are made available to book on points vary from property to property.

Click here for more info about booking World of Hyatt stays with Hyatt or Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Carmel hotel, check

Our flights and hotels for Yosemite and Big Sur/Carmel were set.

Then, the fires happened

I don’t want this to come across as a making lemonade out of lemons kind of thing because to thousands of Californians, this is their life and we don’t take any pleasure in making “lemonade” out of their “lemons”. The point of this post is to show that last minute plans can sometimes come together for the same result you would get with meticulous planning. I struggled writing this post because we are very sensitive to the fact that there are devastating fires and I do not want to give any impression to suggest otherwise.

Our thoughts are with those affected by the Creek Fire and all of the other devastating fires in California, Oregon, and Washington. We’d also like to acknowledge the heroes that have been working nonstop to battle these fires and to protect life and property.

In early September we started to consider moving our trip. Big Sur and Yosemite were both questionable. We thought about going to Napa or Sonoma instead, but that area was also concerning, plus we’ve been there and we wanted to go somewhere new. So I booked a backup trip to Yellowstone (that was cancellable, of course), but held out hope for California. Do y’all have whiplash yet? I promise there’s a happy ending.

By September 17, Big Sur was looking more promising but Yosemite closed that evening. While there was a chance it would reopen, we decided we needed to just go ahead and assume it’s a no go. We decided to spend the whole trip in the Big Sur area, so back to the drawing board on hotels.

Big Sur hotel search: Round 2

We were able to book a round of golf at Carmel Valley Ranch through our home club. Carmel Valley Ranch happens to be a Hyatt property, so we thought about maybe trying to book 2 nights there. If not, I would see if booking the entire stay at Hyatt Carmel Highlands is an option. To check for availability, I went to Hyatt and typed in our dates, but instead of choosing a specific Carmel property, I searched Big Sur. I was presented with options for 4 properties in the area.

Note that when you search on Hyatt and you get a list of properties with the points per night required, that number is the amount of points required for a standard room, however, it does not necessarily mean a room is available to book with points. To confirm availability, you need to click “view rates”and check with the individual property. Click here for more info about booking World of Hyatt stays with Hyatt or Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Carmel Valley Ranch and Hyatt Carmel Highlands, our hotel for the other 2 nights, were available on points. But I also wanted to check Ventana since that’s what we originally wanted.

I found availability at Ventana, but I wasn’t exactly feeling an urge to book it…

UPDATE March 2022: Ventana is now a WOH category 8 property which requires 35k/40k/45k (off peak/standard/peak) WOH points per night for a standard room.

Here’s the thing: this property is a World of Hyatt category 7 property. As such, a standard room would be 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night (the same as Hyatt Highlands Carmel). That is an excellent deal considering rates are $1700+ per night for that room type. I wouldn’t think twice about booking this. If you do the math, after factoring in the taxes and fees of a paid rate, this redemption would be a value of over 6 cents per point. We generally consider anything over 2 a great value. It’s also worth mentioning that this property is semi all inclusive. Meals, chauffer service, and some activities are included.

World of Hyatt also allows you to redeem points for suites, but this requires more points. For category 7, a suite is 48,000 per night and a premium suite is 60,000 per night. We almost never splurge on suites, but the only room available for our dates was… you guessed it… the premium suite for 60k.

How to book Ventana Big Sur with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

I know that seems insane, but considering a premium suite is $2250 per night (Over $2500 after taxes and fees), it’s actually a good cents per point value. 60k points for $2500 would be a cents per point value of over 4. While high cents per point values are exciting, I would never actually pay $2500 per night for a hotel room, so that gives the cpp almost no weight in my decision making here.

How to book Ventana Big Sur with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

To get the 60,000 points per night, I needed to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are my favorite, and even though the cents per point value here is good, I wasn’t sure I wanted to part with 60k points per night. After all, there were other hotel options in the area that seemed nice and were more reasonable on points.

But then I remembered that Hyatt is currently running a promotion!

World of Hyatt members receive 15% of points back and World of Hyatt credit card holders receive 25% back when you stay at a Hyatt on points before February 28, 2021. You must register by January 15, 2021. Anyway, this essentially makes each night 45,000 points! To clarify, the 25% points we get back are Hyatt points, not Chase points. But I can always use Hyatt points, so this is still a great deal.

So I ran my dilemma by Ryan. After looking at the website together, we talked ourselves into it. This is our first trip without kids in 2020 and we’re going to splurge, dammit!

So we booked our suite at Ventana for 2 nights, and kept the original Carmel hotel plan for the other 2 nights.

How to book Ventana Big Sur with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Just for fun, I wanted to show the difference between booking this property in the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal and booking by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt:

Transferring points to Hyatt was definitely the way to go here!

Ventana rates start at 115,000 points when you redeem via the Chase booking portal (suites would be more because rates are higher). Hyatt Carmel Highlands was over 40,000 per night for our dates.

Remember, we redeemed 60k per night at Ventana and 30k per night at Hyatt Carmel Highlands, but we’re also getting 25% back with the ongoing promotion. So it was a significantly better value to transfer our Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt.

See also: How to Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards Points in the Redemption Portal

Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points

The card_name card has a welcome bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Chase Sapphire Preferred 2023

Current offer: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.

Check out our list of 36 redemption ideas!

As of August 16, bonus categories have been added and/or improved!

  • Earn 5 points per dollar on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases
  • Instead of the old earn rate of 2, you can now earn 3 points per dollar on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout)
  • 3 points per dollar on online grocery purchases (this excludes Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
  • 3 points per dollar on select streaming services
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases

Also, receive credit of up to $50 annually on hotel stays purchased through Ultimate Rewards. New cardmembers will receive this credit immediately and existing cardmembers will start earning after the next anniversary.

Each anniversary, you’ll receive bonus points equal to 10% of total purchases made the previous year. This excludes any sign up bonus points, so it’s only on points earned from spending.

The annual fee is $95, but the welcome offer alone is worth a lot more than that.

Big Sur hotel, check

2 nights at Ventana: 120,000 World of Hyatt points, but we get 25% (30,000 points) back. We had some Hyatt points, but we transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt to get the rest.

How to book Ventana Big Sur with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

We shortened that walk down the aisle

Speaking of splurge, we still needed to try to get a flight to San Jose, Monterey, or San Francisco instead of Fresno and we decided we might as well go big on our flight too. We already had the return flight from San Jose.

How we booked: transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways

We got lucky because there were still AA flights available to book via British Airways to San Jose. Even first class was available. We normally do not book first class on domestic flights because it’s just not worth it. But again, we’re living in weird times, we haven’t been on a trip without kids all year, why not?

I booked the original Fresno flight via British Airways. It’s easy to cancel and we only lost $5.60 per ticket. We were able to get all of our points refunded (to British Airways, not Chase Ultimate Rewards).

2 tickets to San Jose in First class, check.

DFW to SJC in first class on a nonstop flight operated by AA: 44,000 British Airways Avios plus $11.20 (22k plus $5.60 per person)

As for the Yellowstone trip…

Even after the Big Sur plans came together, we had to make a decision.

I did put some time and research into booking the backup plan to Yellowstone, and we were excited about it. We went back and forth and then we decided to let our readers and friends make the decision for us.

I did an Instagram poll and a Facebook poll on my personal Facebook account and the majority on both platforms voted for Big Sur/Carmel. We look forward to planning a future trip to Yellowstone (maybe with the kids) and Yosemite.

I do want to point out that I booked those flights through a different airline (Delta). If you book two different flights on the same day with the same airline, you run the risk of the airline cancelling both flights. So we had to book flights operated by anyone but American Airlines. Delta currently allows you to cancel bookings with Skymiles with no penalty, so we had booked our flights with Delta Skymiles.

I had used the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal to book the hotel stay and I was able to cancel with no penalties.

Trip Summary:

How to book Ventana Big Sur on points
  • 2 one way tickets from DFW to SJC in first class on a nonstop flight operated by AA: 44,000 British Airways Avios plus $11.20 (22k per person)
  • 2 nights at Ventana Big Sur: 90,000 World of Hyatt points (after 25% of 120,000 World of Hyatt points redeposited to my Hyatt account with ongoing promotion)
  • 2 nights at Hyatt Carmel Highlands: 45,000 World of Hyatt points (after 25% of 60,000 World of Hyatt points redeposited to my Hyatt account with ongoing promotion)
  • 2 one way tickets from SJC to DFW in economy on a nonstop flight operated by AA: 22,000 British Airways Avios plus $11.20 (11k per person)

Flights Value: $1192 ($596 each)

Hotels Value: $6792

Total: $7984

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