Bet You Didn’t Know: Is Chase Using Bulk Fares for Sapphire Reserve Tickets? Does It Matter? (Hint: Yes!)

By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate

 

There have been a lot of confusing data points about bulk fares and redeemable miles over the last two months. Of course, this is not surprising. We’re talking about the airline industry here. Their rules are built on the bedrock principle of ensuring customers always remain in a state of confusion.

bulk fares

Undoubtedly the interest in redeemable miles is due to American’s recent switch to a revenue-based earning system, making them the last of the Big 3 airlines to do so. Now that everyone is awarding miles based on airfares, folks are searching for ways to pick up more redeemables wherever possible.

Obviously, a mileage earning system that’s tied to price requires the airline to know how much you paid for your ticket. Normally that’s not an issue. When you book a ticket directly with the airline via their website or by phone, or if you use one of the major online travel agencies such as Expedia or Orbitz, the airline knows the sale price and can easily figure the number of miles to award.

But there are a few instances where the airline doesn’t know the airfare, and that’s where we can find a few redeemable mileage workarounds.

How can airlines not know their own airfares?

One trick to getting miles based on flight distance instead of airfare is to fly on partner airlines while crediting your flight back to a Big 3 airline. Since in most cases the partner airline doesn’t pass along fare info, the legacy airlines have instituted separate partner earning charts that are based on the old system of mileage flown. You still won’t get full mileage for many fares, but rather some percentage of it (50% for the cheapest flights, higher for more expensive fares). Still, in many cases you’ll earn more than you would if you got miles based on the price.

You can also do it the other way around and credit to a partner program when flying a legacy airline, such as crediting your American flights to Alaska Airlines.

Another instance when your miles are tied to how far you’ve flown is when you’ve purchased a bulk fare. Bulk fares (which are also sometimes referred to as consolidator fares) are discounted fares that are often sold as part of vacation packages or sometimes directly to the public by smaller or boutique travel agencies. These are “unpublished” fares, as opposed to the prices you find when searching Google Flights or ITA Matrix.

Again, airlines often can’t tell exactly how much the consumer ended up paying for a bulk fare flight, especially if it was part of a package, so they’ve instituted separate earning structures for bulk fares.

This is American’s “Special Fare” chart, which includes bulk fares…

bulk fares

Here is Delta’s “Exception Fares” chart, which covers bulk fares…

bulk fares

And United’s “Specialty Tickets” chart with bulk fares looks like this…

bulk fares

The pros and cons of bulk fares.

As you can see, even the cheapest bulk fare earns 50% of the actual flown mileage. So if you’ve purchased a roundtrip flight from New York to Los Angeles that costs $295, you’d earn just under 2,500 miles with a bulk ticket. Contrast that to the 5 points per dollar you’d earn under the standard revenue-based system, which equates to only 1,475 miles.

Now, keep in mind there are some significant downsides to bulk tickets. In almost all cases, bulk fares are not upgradable. You also may not have access to all the usual ticket options. For example, several months ago American would not allow me to do a Same Day Change to a bulk fare ticket I had purchased. And since the consolidator is technically your travel agent, you may have to deal with them instead of the airline if there are any issues.

Also, while bulk fares generally earn the typical elite qualification mileage based on miles flown, you might note from the charts above that while both Delta and American award elite qualifying dollars based on a percentage of the flown miles, United doesn’t mention Premier Qualifying Dollars on their chart at all. That’s because United awards zero qualifying dollars on all bulk fares, which is an enormous drawback.

How do you buy (or avoid) a bulk fare?

It’s harder than you’d think. Bulk fares are not usually marked as such, and you can’t tell if it’s a bulk fare from the booking class. The only way to know for certain if you’re buying a bulk fare is if your travel agent says it’s a bulk fare.

There are a few hints that might indicate if a ticket is a bulk fare. When an airline flight is part of a vacation package, it’s often a bulk fare. Sometimes you might see an online airfare labeled as “Exclusive!” which may be a bulk fare. You can also book a ticket directly from a consolidator, but you have to be careful on this one because some consolidators sell both bulk fares and regular fares. So you’re not guaranteed to get a bulk fare even from a consolidator.

It’s easier to tell if you have a bulk fare after you’ve already booked a ticket. You can find out via the fare calculation on the ticket receipt. A published fare will have dollar amounts in it, while a bulk fare ticket will have letters such as “BT” or “IT” in lieu of dollar amounts.

But the best indication that you’ve purchased a bulk fare is that it’s significantly cheaper than the published price. If the price for your ticket doesn’t match what you’re seeing on Google Flights or ITA Matrix, it’s very likely a bulk fare. Or a scam.

bulk fares

If the airfare deal supposedly includes buying this bridge… ask for references.

So what about Chase Sapphire Reserve tickets?

This brings us to the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, where those of you with brand new Chase Sapphire Reserve cards can book travel for 1.5 cents per point.

Are these bulk tickets too?

To answer that question, we need to look at some recent reports about the Citibank ThankYou Rewards travel portal, which operates in a similar fashion. Last month our friend Stefan at Rapid Travel Chai noted that an FTU attendee had recently booked a ticket using ThankYou points and the ticket had ended up crediting to his AAdvantage account under the American Special Fare chart.

Then earlier this week, a post at Point Me To The Plane illustrated the same thing happening with a ThankYou ticket booked with a combination of cash and points.

Between these two data points, one might think it’s safe to conclude that tickets purchased with ThankYou points are bulk tickets.

However, two data points do not a conclusion make. Remember, it’s the airline industry. Nothing is ever simple.

A quick review of Flyertalk finds that while some ThankYou tickets are indeed posting as bulk tickets, others are not. There also does not seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which tickets are published fares and which are unpublished. It is not even clear how one can determine exactly when you’ve received a bulk fare from the ThankYou portal, though AA showing the fare after booking may indicate a non-bulk revenue ticket.

I can also offer my own personal data points on this issue. On a recent pair of flights from JFK to LAX to HNL, I booked a cash and points ticket on American with ThankYou points and it credited as a revenue ticket using the normal mileage earning formula.

bulk fares

This is the booking on the Citi ThankYou portal.

bulk fares

This is how the flights were credited on American

On the other hand, a roundtrip that was booked a few weeks later via the ThankYou portal from Dallas to New York and back credited as a bulk fare.

bulk fares

Again, the booking via the ThankYou portal.

bulk fares

And the flights credited on American, using distance this time.

Which brings us back to the original question — yes, there are reports from as far back as 2014 that tickets booked on the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal may also code as bulk tickets. Again, sometimes, but not always. Unfortunately there’s no way to know for sure until after the ticket is booked.

What have we learned from all this?

Oh, the same thing we always learn – the airline industry is terrible. Having 18,000 different fares and charts needlessly causes massive confusion amongst even educated customers. If the folks in this community have to spend hours trying to figure out the system, can you imagine what a normal person thinks?  Is it any wonder why the airline industry routinely ranks near the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys?

But as far as bulk fares go, depending on what your priorities are, they can be useful or harmful. Unfortunately, they’re mostly also unpredictable. Theoretically you can book a ticket, check if it’s a bulk fare, then cancel within the 24 hour window and try again if you don’t like the result. But that could get annoying very quickly.

Short of that, the best you can do for now is to simply know the risks when booking through credit card rewards websites, so you won’t be surprised if you get more or less than you bargained.

Did you know the Ultimate Rewards and ThankYou Rewards portals sometimes use bulk fares?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Bet you didnt know

Other Recent Posts From The “Bet You Didn’t Know” Series:

•  Sears Shutdown, RadPad Issues, and Southwest Standby
•  Left an Item on the Plane? Use the Online Automated Lost and Found
•  JetBlue Blue Flex Fares Are Cancelable, But NOT Refundable

Find all the “Bet You Didn’t Know” posts here.

About Devils Advocate

The Devil's Advocate learned the ins and outs of travel loyalty programs while flying more than 200,000 miles a year as a TV producer and director for World Wrestling Entertainment (and yes, of course it’s all real). He now splits his time between New York and Los Angeles and loathes New York winters only slightly less than Los Angeles traffic.

More articles by Devils Advocate »

30
Leave a Reply

avatar
23 Comment threads
7 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
17 Comment authors
These 5 Best Credit Cards Are The Only Ones You Need - Travel CodexCould the New Amex Platinum 50% Rebate Mean the End of Miles?Devils AdvocateCracking the Bulk Fare Code! How to Tell When a Flight is a Bulk Fare - The Frequent MilerTwo Quirks in the New Hyatt Program That Might Be Mattress Run Worthy - The Frequent Miler Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
Notify of
Sergey
Guest
Sergey

I redeemed ThankYou points in October 2015 for travel in August 2016 on AA. The miles were credited based on Distance. So, I assume that AA didn’t know how much I ‘paid’ for the tickets and considered them as bulk fare.

René
Guest

The only thing you missed is what I found is that UR can book with Delta as a E BASIC fare class and that is really evil. No upgrades for elites and more. In my tests they were the only one who did not warn you that you were booking E fare class: http://renespoints.boardingarea.com/2015/09/08/risk-of-unknowingly-booking-into-delta-basic-economy-with-otas-can-it-happen/

Greg The Frequent Miler
Admin

I had the same issue when booking online through Amex Travel. Luckily I noticed while the non-refundable fare was still refundable.

René
Guest

Interesting. That would be a downgrade from the way they did it before. Man we have to pay attention to the details (like always).

James
Guest
James

Wow- guess I won’t be the only one learning something new today…thanks for this.

Robin
Guest
Robin

I have another observation. I noticed lately on the Ink card that Ultimate Rewards would not provide the lowest fare available. For instance, on jetblue.com if there was a fare available for $198, ultimate rewards would show the lowest fare as $240, meaning with the discount the Ultimate Rewards fare would be $192 (with Ink). This way you are not saving the amount they claim, 25% in the case of Ink and 50% in the case of CSR. This never used to happen in the past, and I am wondering if because of CSR, they are now not showing the lowest fare.

Baqa
Guest
Baqa

I posted the same thing a week or two ago, with specific examples, and Greg said he was going to look into it. Yet, the claim is still being made (here and on all the other blogs) that the CSR is great because you get 1.5cpp via the portal.

I truly have no doubt that Greg is an upstanding guy and will actually bring this thing to light beyond the comments section, but it seems more honest in the meantime to say “up to” 1.5cpp…

dg
Guest
dg

This!! i booked a roundtrip economy fare to India few months back for a family of 4 on Emirates and found the same thing – fare on UR portal was 1.25x the fare i got through usual consolidators (expedia, orbitz, kayak) and so i didn’t really get any savings on the airfare…i still went ahead and did it since i wanted to use my UR points…the reason i had them in first place.

cgo93
Guest
cgo93

same-day changes are not an option, and even during IRROPS (mechanical), i’ve had American refuse to help and tell me to call Citi (and the credit card companies want to help you, but they’re simply not as good at it). BEWARE tickets booked through these portals if your travel is time sensitive. I only use them when I know that getting to my destination a day late is something I can stomach.

Andy
Guest
Andy

Anyone know how that might for Southwest flights through Chase with the CSR?

Rose
Guest
Rose

Do you guys think the bonus of 100K UR for CSR will be extended into October?

Greg The Frequent Miler
Admin

Yes, I expect so. We don’t know how long the 100K offer will be available, but my guess is that it will last at least through the end of the year.

Lela
Guest
Lela

Disappointing.

Brad
Guest
Brad

In what cases are you not able to get upgraded? Is it airline specific?

trackback

[…] Bet You Didn’t Know: Is Chase Using Bulk Fares for Sapphire Reserve Tickets? Does It Matter? (Hint… […]

trackback

[…] over at FrequentMiler expanded on this information in the blog’s Devil’s Advocate column. You can see charts for the fares discussed on each airline’s website. These charts are also […]

ORD-TGU
Guest
ORD-TGU

I have to book a business trip ORD-LAX coach. As Plat, I always booked AA and was happy with the RDM earned. This is the first trip to LAX post AUG Devaluation, so I am searching for best mileage deal.

I wonder if I book my AA trip through UR Mall, maybe paying for 1 UR point and the rest cash with corporate card, (if that can be done?), can I book this in Bulk fare and get distance based miles vs the $200 fare miles based on spend?

I could also book through Citi TY?

Just asking some questions for the lab.

Lela
Guest
Lela

I’ve booked through Chase UR using only 1 UR and the rest in cash. It was a hotel though, so I don’t know anything about how the miles will turn out. Good luck. Let us all know how it turns out after you try something out!

UAPhil
Guest
UAPhil

Andy – I’m not sure whether Southwest even sells bulk fares. I have not booked WN with UR points, but I have booked WN fares twice with City TYP. In both cases, the fares were standard published fares (one Wanna Get Away; one Anytime). In both cases, I exchanged or cancelled/rebooked the tickets. The only glitch I encountered was that, in one reservation, my first and middle names got “smushed” together under my first name in WN’s reservation system, which meant I couldn’t apply travel credits to new flights online. A res agent was able to help me book new flights and pay for them using the travel credits.

trackback

[…] Julian dude bets we didn’t know about Chase sometimes using bulk fares in its own travel portal. Well, what if we had a hint about it or two? Anyways, this could be a pain, so […]

Ricky
Guest
Ricky

any ideas how PQMs are awarded for UA bulk fares? same as regular tickets?

Julien
Guest
Julien

Some of the economy tickets I booked through Chase UR are in class B. But others in class R and T also, which are not even on your chart. This was with China Eastern .

trackback

[…] many travel portals (such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and the Citi ThankYou Travel Center) are selling “bulk tickets” instead of regular revenue tickets, and the rules on bulk tickets can be significantly […]

trackback

[…] and Citi may book you into bulk (consolidator) fares without notice. This can help or hurt. Good luck on finding out before it is too […]

trackback

[…] Is Chase Using Bulk Fares for Sapphire Reserve Tickets? •  Sears Shutdown, RadPad Issues, and Southwest Standby •  Left an Item on the Plane? Use the […]

trackback

[…] A Quicker Way to Finish Draining Prepaid Gift Cards at Amazon •  Is Chase Using Bulk Fares for Sapphire Reserve Tickets? •  Sears Shutdown, RadPad Issues, and Southwest […]

trackback

[…] few weeks ago I shared how the bank rewards programs, such as Chase’s Ultimate Rewards and Amex’s Membership Reward… via their travel […]

trackback

[…] many travel portals (such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and the Citi ThankYou Travel Center) are selling “bulk tickets” instead of regular revenue tickets, and the rules on bulk tickets can be significantly […]

trackback

[…] And when you buy tickets directly with the points, you’ll earn miles and elite status (though you have to be careful of bulk tickets). So there’s really nothing more you […]