In addition to the usual suspects like free flights, free hotel rooms and cash back, loyalty programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy now let you buy “experiences” with points, everything from basic tours to celebrity access. Experiences can be an exciting and smart way to use points—if you choose wisely.
What to Know About Buying Experiences With Points
Many of the major credit-card rewards programs now have an experiences component. And just like with other redemption options, each program handles experiences differently. Some charge a flat number of points, others use an auction format, and still others rely on a combination of the two. Some make it easy to compare points and dollar prices, while others are more opaque. You’ll find ho-hum tourist activities in one program, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities in another.
Considering buying experiences with your points? It’s wise to:
- Stay up to date. Reward programs offer anywhere from a handful to hundreds of experiences, and they are constantly changing. If you don’t see something you like now, check back in a week or two.
- Act fast. On the flip side, appealing experiences can sell out. If you have your heart set on something, don’t sit on it.
- Do the math. Some experiences offer exceptional value, while others are wildly overpriced. If there isn’t a dollar price tag on an experience, do a quick online search. (You may even find it cheaper elsewhere.) And factor in any costs you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket, like transportation or lodging.
- Read the fine print. Make sure you understand the entire experience and any restrictions before buying or bidding.
- Avoid auction fever. Before you start bidding on an experience, figure out the maximum you’re willing to pay for it—and stick to that number. It’s easy to get carried away and overpay.
Read on to learn about the pros, cons and quirks of the major experiences programs.
Booking Experiences Through Credit Card Reward Programs
Chase Ultimate Rewards Experiences
Chase offers sports, dining, and entertainment experiences in the US. Some are fairly straightforward and easy to find elsewhere, like ski lift tickets; others are more exclusive, like dinner for two at world-famous restaurants or meet-and-greets with famous athletes.
There are two ways to book experiences using your Chase Ultimate Rewards. The first to use the Experiences section of Ultimate Rewards website. Chase offers three tiers of experiences:
- Select experiences, available to all credit and debit cardholders
- Preferred experiences, available to Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Preferred cardholders
- Reserve experiences, available to Chase Sapphire Reserve and J.P. Morgan Reserve cardholders.
You can pay for experiences using your card, points or a combination of both. Points are worth a flat 1 cent each when redeeming for experiences. For example, you can get PGA Championship Grounds Tickets by paying $30 with your Chase card or redeeming 3,000 Ultimate Rewards points; a weekend hotel package plus grounds tickets would cost you $1,600 or 160,000 points.
While the straight redemption value of 1 cent per point isn’t great, many of the Ultimate Reward experiences have a “priceless” factor. You can get on the floor of Madison Square Garden and shoot around before a Knicks game, learn recipes from celebrity chefs, or hit the slopes with ski legends. Many of these events are offered exclusively to Chase cardholders.
Chase also offers a much wider variety of activities for booking through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, which gets you more value (generally 1.25 to 1.5 cents per point, depending on which credit card you have). Login to your Chase Ultimate Rewards account, click “Redeem for travel,” then “Things to Do.” Enter your dates and location and you’ll see the available options, ranging from museum tickets to food tours to day trips. For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders can get tickets to the Empire State Building for $42.53 or 3,402 points, making each point worth 1.25 cents.
Many of the activities are also discounted, so there’s a potential upside even if you buy them with cash. However, always be sure to compare with other sources—including the official website for the activity you’re booking—to make sure you’re getting a good deal.
American Express Experiences
American Express offers exclusive “By Invitation Only” events for its Platinum and Centurion cardmembers, as well as presales and VIP packages for concerts, music festivals, and Broadway shows for other American Express cardmembers. By Invitation Only events are offered around the world; most of the other events are in New York and Los Angeles.
By Invitation Only experiences are designed to reinforce the exclusive nature of American Express’ premium cards: current offers include VIP access to Fashion Week, Wimbledon, or Coachella, a meal and meet-and-greet at the World’s Best Restaurant of 2019, and a four-day ski and wine tasting package. Prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, American Express Experiences have to be purchased with your American Express card; there’s no option to redeem Membership Rewards points. However, if you want to redeem your points for experiences, you can transfer them to a partner program like Delta SkyMiles or Marriott Bonvoy.
Citi ThankYou Points
You can use Citi ThankYou points to book museum tickets, tours, and other activities through the Citi travel portal. Citi only offers a fixed 1 cent per point redemption value, so it’s not a great use of your points—a $10 museum ticket would cost you 1,000 ThankYou points. You also won’t find anything available through Citi that you couldn’t buy elsewhere.
To see what activities you can book with Citi ThankYou points, simply log in to thankyou.com using your Citi account. Navigate to Travel > Activities and enter your location and dates. You can sort by activity type, and each search result will show you pricing in both dollars and points.
Booking Experiences Through Hotel Loyalty Programs
Marriott Bonvoy Moments
Marriott Bonvoy offers a broad and frequently-updated selection of exclusive experiences that can only be booked with points, from private dinners at famous restaurants like Per Se or The French Laundry to box seats for events at The O2 in London, Madison Square Garden in New York, or Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin. Some events are bundled with stays at Marriott hotels, while others are standalone.
The value you can get for your points varies widely, from fractions of a cent per point (bad) to 2 or 3 cents per point (great).
Some Marriott Moments are offered for a flat rate. For example, you can redeem 20,000 Bonvoy points for two tickets to see the Chicago Cubs play the San Francisco Giants at Spring Training in Arizona—a poor value of .3 to .6 cents per point, since tickets retail for $38 to $63. Others are sold by auction to the highest bidder; this is often the case for the most rarefied events, with bids reaching into the hundreds of thousands of points.
Marriott Bonvoy Moments don’t have cash prices listed, and some of them are indeed “priceless” experiences, like a private dinner with a world-renowned chef. For others, like concert or sports tickets, you can get at least an idea of the value you’re getting for your points by looking up prices if you were to buy the tickets outright. We checked out premium tickets to see the Jonas Brothers play at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin. They retailed for upwards of $130 each or two spots in Marriott’s luxury suite for 10,000 Bonvoy points—a value of about 2.6 cents per point, before you factor in free food, drinks, and parking.
You can’t use Marriott Bonvoy points to redeem for activities like tours or museum tickets, but you can earn 10 points per dollar spent on activities purchased through Marriott Bonvoy Tours & Activities.
World of Hyatt FIND Experiences
Hyatt offers a collection of wellness-focused experiences for World of Hyatt members, ranging from yoga or parkour sessions to spa treatments. Members can choose from over 170 experiences in 50+ destinations around the world.
Some experiences are restricted to guests at particular hotels, like a premium tequila tasting at the Hyatt Ziva Cancun or horseback riding in the desert at Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi. Others are hosted at Hyatt properties but don’t require you to be staying there, like a spa treatment and afternoon tea at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong or a cooking class at Park Hyatt Saigon. There are also activities that have nothing to do with Hyatt hotels, like goat yoga in Las Vegas or a vegan cheese tasting in New York.
Some experiences can be booked with points only, others with cash or points. The experiences that can be booked either way offer a value of about 1.4 cents per point. Some of the experiences that don’t have retail prices listed offer less value—like a carriage ride in Vienna, which comes out to about 1 cent per point.
For activities in the U.S. and Mexico, you can pay with cash and earn 10 World of Hyatt points per dollar spent (plus 3 to 4 bonus points per dollar if you pay with a Hyatt credit card), or redeem your points at a rate of 1.4 cents per point. For activities in other countries, you can only pay with points.
Booking Experiences through Airline Loyalty Programs
Delta SkyMiles Experiences
Delta is known for having a complex loyalty program with sometimes questionable value. SkyMiles Experiences are no different. There’s no fixed prices for SkyMiles Experiences—everything is offered to the highest bidder through an auction.
Delta offers some exclusive experiences, like a NASCAR race day package with a pace car ride, a private dinner for four at one of New York City’s most exclusive restaurants, or a custom package of VIP tickets to the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. Most, however, are relatively easy to secure with cash, like tickets to sporting events with club access, or VIP tickets to a music festival.
Since pricing is auction based, it varies wildly. A quick review of closed auctions on the SkyMiles Experiences website shows weekend passes to the Seattle Wine and Food Experience went for around 60,000 SkyMiles per pair; pairs of tickets to the Academy of Country Music Awards sold for 200,000 to 260,000 SkyMiles; and an 8-night elephants and islands tour in Thailand for two people went for a whopping 521,000 SkyMiles—airfare not included.
United MileagePlus Exclusives
United MileagePlus allows you to redeem miles for experiences with partners such as the PGA TOUR, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, and the Broadway League. You can also periodically find exclusive redemption opportunities like a champagne and caviar tasting in the United Polaris Lounge in San Francisco (sold for 51,000 miles), a behind-the-scenes opportunity to use a United flight simulator, or even an trip to the Olympic Summer Games, including business class airfare to Tokyo (currently going for over 900,000 MileagePlus miles, with three months left to bid).
Most MileagePlus experiences are auction-style, but some sporting events offer fixed redemptions (e.g. 50,000 miles for two suite club level tickets, including food, beverages, and parking). There are also some offerings exclusively available to United credit card holders and MileagePlus Premier members, like tickets to the Donna Summer musical for 10,000 miles or a cardmember-exclusive Olympics package, currently going for over 600,000 miles.
While United has a relatively limited number of offerings, if you’re interested in redeeming MileagePlus miles (or Chase Ultimate Rewards points) for experiences, it’s worth signing up for their email list to keep an eye on the latest offerings.
Booking experiences can be an excellent way to get a different type of value out of your points and miles. Currently Marriott, Chase, and Delta have the most exclusive and valuable experiences to book with points; American Express also offers some priceless opportunities for Platinum and Centurion cardmembers looking to pay cash, and Marriott and Hyatt have attractive options to earn miles when paying for activities and experiences. Many other loyalty programs are working hard to give their members unforgettable moments—we’re sure to see new opportunities popping up soon.