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Updated on Wednesday, June 13, 2018
You’ve used your credit card points or airline miles for trips and hotel stays, but have you considered using them for major sporting events? This summer’s hottest seats can be expensive, so if you’re sitting on a pile of points or miles, they could unlock access to experiences like a view from the 18th hole or meet-and-greets with players.
But attention sports fans: Availability and programs vary widely. For example, Chase is a major sponsor at Madison Square Garden, where most of its sporting events are centered around New York Knicks basketball and New York Rangers hockey games, along with WWE wrestling and championship boxing. Delta Air Lines partners with sports teams around its Atlanta headquarters, along with hub and “focus” cities including New York, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Marriott Moments tends to pair unique sporting events with its top-of-the-line hotels.
Sussing out the best deals can be tricky — it might be cheaper to buy Major League Baseball seats this summer through your favorite team. But what if you could play catch on the field after the game? We found that points and miles are best used for these one-of-a-kind experiences.
The pros and cons of using points or miles for sporting events
The pros include access to unique experiences not generally available to the public. This includes access to luxury boxes — complete with food and beverages — prime seating and other benefits. You could score seats to big-ticket events like the Super Bowl or NBA Finals, especially if your credit card or preferred hotel or airline is a sponsor. Online auctions give cardholders the chance to set their own price for ball games or compete for once-in-a-lifetime experiences like playing in the BMW International Open in Germany.
The cons are that some events are easily available other ways — in that case, save your points or miles for premiere events and unique experiences, not to mention the multiple other ways you redeem them for rewards. Many of these one-of-a-kind experiences are available through online auctions, which will require you to check in frequently to see where you stand.
American Express Membership Rewards
How to redeem: Use your points through a special American Express Ticketmaster website here to buy tickets to sporting events.
Special requirements: You must have at least 2,000 points to redeem for an event.
American Express cardholders can use their points for one of the widest ranges of professional sports including basketball, football, hockey, baseball, mixed martial arts, tennis, NASCAR and golf, thanks to its partnership with Ticketmaster. The buying process is easy, but for things like general admission game seats, you may get a better value by paying for those with your card or cash. That way you can save your points to splurge on premier experiences.
Example: Tennis fans can score tickets to the men’s/women’s quarterfinals of this year’s U.S. Open tournament, which runs from Aug. 25 through Sept. 9. Tickets on Sept. 5 range from $80 to almost $4,000, or between 7,000 and 40,000 points. That’s also more than enough for a two-night stay this fall at the Harrah’s New Orleans Casino & Hotel.
Here’s how to redeem points for sporting events.
On the American Express page, click on Find Tickets.
Next, click on Go To Ticketmaster.
This takes you to the Amex Ticketmaster sports page. Click on the U.S. Open tickets.
On the booking page, choose your tickets, then hit Get Tickets.
Next, you can decide whether to get your tickets via email or mobile app.
At checkout, select the option of “Use all or some Membership Rewards points.” Choose the number of points you would like to redeem and select “Apply.” Then enter your credit card information — in this case, your American Express card — and pay for the tickets. Your American Express card will be charged for your purchase, but your points will be debited and a credit will appear on your account to cover the cost of the tickets.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
How to redeem: Start at the Ultimate Rewards portal here, where you can redeem points for all kind of rewards, including sports events.
Special requirements: None, points don’t expire as long as your account is open.
Most Chase members have access to the Ultimate Rewards program, but the number of sporting events are limited. Some of the best rewards are available to those who have a Chase Sapphire Reserve® in their wallets. If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve®, use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points at Chase Reserve Experiences, which is offering opportunities to buy special packages to the PGA Championship in August in St. Louis.
Or, of you’ve dreamed of attending the Ryder Cup, use your points to see the 2018 tournament at Le Golf National in Paris from Sept. 25-30. Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardmembers can buy daily grounds passes at the event for 7,000 points. If you want to go big, spend 475,000 points for a grounds tickets and hotel package, which includes four days’ access to the tournament’s championship grounds and five nights’ hotel accommodations. Sapphire members can sometimes flash their card to gain access to the Sapphire cardmember club — at the PGA championship, for example, the club features better views and seating, snacks and, perhaps most important in steamy St. Louis, air conditioning.
Not a Sapphire cardholder? You may be better off redeeming your points for trips or gift cards available through the Ultimate Rewards portal, where each point is worth a penny. A perk for all Chase cardholders who live near one of Madison Square Company’s seven venues is preferred seating at everything from concerts to boxing matches. Cardholders may also be invited to pre-event receptions there and receive discounts on merchandise and food.
Here’s how to redeem points for tickets
Example: MMA fans who want to check out the burgeoning Professional Fighters League can attend PFL2 in Chicago where fighters in the lightweight and heavyweight divisions will compete to be their weight class champion, bringing home $1 million prizes. Chase members get preferred seating — in this case, main floor seats for $75. Make sure “Chase Cardmember Preferred Seating” is checked under “Type” and check out using your Chase card.
How to redeem: Use your miles at Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles Experiences.
Special requirements: Auction items have minimum miles bids; must bid in 1,000-mile increments.
Exchanging Delta miles for tickets could be a great option for baseball fans — Delta lets members use their miles mainly for baseball tickets in cities the carrier serves. Games up for auction or “buy-it-now” — you can search by either option — include seats ranging from Atlanta Braves baseball to Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer, although there are also tickets to the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR race in Daytona Beach, Fla., up for grabs, too.
Games versus flights, what’s better? Buy-it-now options range from 20,000 SkyMiles for a pair of lower level tickets to a baseball game to 90,000 miles for four tickets to an Atlanta Braves-Arizona Diamondbacks game, a package that includes four Delta Sky360°Club seats, all-inclusive food and beverage, in-seat food and beverage service and access to a climate-controlled indoor club. By comparison, one round-trip economy class flight from Baltimore to San Francisco in September costs 23,000 miles, while a Delta Comfort seat costs 36,000 miles.
Our recommendation: Save the miles for a unique experience like the NASCAR Quaker State 400 package for two that includes seats in the Kentucky Club on July 13 and 14, a “hot lap” ride around the Kentucky Speedway, VIP parking, Victory Lane passes and passes to the garages and to meet the drivers. This auction ends June 22. (Keep reading for more information on how bidding works.)
Here’s how to use your miles
After logging into your SkyMiles account, go to the top right side of the screen for the “Get To Know SkyMiles” tab.
After touching that tab, move to “SkyMiles Experiences.”
Once you’re on the SkyMiles Experiences page, click on “Bid on once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” then click on ‘Start Bidding.”
You can target your search by category — sports — along with buy-it-now or bid, by a range of miles, location or keywords.
The advantages of bidding. Some bargains may come about by bidding on sports events. Four private suite tickets to the Washington Nationals-Atlanta Braves game on July 21 in Washington are up for auction at 40,000 miles. The package includes four Delta private corporate suite tickets, free catering of food and alcoholic beverages, access to a SkyMiles host and Delta representative and a VIP parking pass. Bidding is open until July 2.
Compare these auctions with booking award travel on Delta between New York and Atlanta. A four-day trip in July booked in coach class on Delta.com runs between 21,000 miles and 71,500 miles.
How to redeem:Hilton HHonors Sports Experiences and, for members who have a Hilton-branded American Express card, here.
Special requirements: Bidding increments depend on the experience, ranging from 5,000 points to 50,000.
Two different sporting experiences — one for HHonors members and one for members who also have a Hilton-branded American Express card — offer a mix of sports events where members may redeem hotel points or use them to bid.
Redeem versus bid. At press time, items available for redemption included a chance to attend the British Touring Car Championship, the country’s premier motorsport series, on Aug. 26. Four packages for two attendees are available, and they include: VIP admission to rounds 22, 23 and 24 of the BTCC; five-star catering in a private hospitality tent that includes lunch and refreshments; a BTC Norlin Racing garage tour; a guided pit lane and grid walk; a Q&A with James Nash and Chris Smiley of BTC Norlin Racing; autograph session with the drivers; and access to watch the support races: Porsche Carrera Cup, F4 British Championship, Ginetta GT5 Championship. A package can be redeemed for 100,000 Honors points. On your own, a pair of VIP tickets for this event — which includes access to a hospitality suite, seated grandstand and bar areas and an exclusive table/seat all day — will set you back about $600.
Redeem or bid? Though point redemption was the only way to buy at press time, it pays to check on “experiences” up for auction as well. A recent auction gave members the chance to play in the pro-am section of the BMW International Open with a star of the European Tour. With an ending bid of 200,000, the winning bidder scored VIP hospitality tickets to the Open, transportation and a three-night stay at the Hilton Cologne, (but not the flight to Germany). On your own, a pair of VIP tickets to the June tournament cost $844 with a three-day hotel stay around $462 for a total of about $1,306. But fans might say there’s no price for playing in the tournament or going home with signed merchandise from Hilton golf ambassadors Chris Wood, Jamie Donaldson and Matteo Manassero.
Maximize your points. If you don’t have enough points for an experience, Hilton allows members to buy up to 80,000 points a year to top off your account.
Unique experiences available through Hilton Honors seem like a good deal, but with so few sports experiences available for bid, it’s hard to say overall if using points is a good way to spend them. When the pickings are slim, you may be better off using your points for hotel stays or even transferring them to one of Hilton’s 40+ global airline partners.
Here’s how you pay or bid with Hilton points
Below is how you can check which experiences are available to pay or bid for with points.
Once on the experiences site, you can filter activities by category, date, points and location.
For Hilton Amex cardholders: Honors members with a Hilton-branded American Express card have access to their own special sporting events. While there weren’t any available at press time, a past item up for bid was attending the final round of the 118th U.S. Open Championship for 200,000 points. The package included access for two to a private American Express hospitality suite complete with complimentary food and beverages, reserved seating and views of the 13th hole at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., on June 17.
How to redeem: Use your points at Marriott Rewards.
Special requirements: Auction items have minimum bids
Two years after Marriott International acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts, their two rewards programs will be merged into a new loyalty program starting Aug. 1. But until then, Marriott Rewards members can use points to buy or bid on tickets to sporting events through the Moments program. Redeem 30,000 points for two tickets to Qualifying Day at the Formula 1 Grosser Preis von Deutschland in Germany on July 21 or 90,000 points for a pair of tickets for the San Francisco Giants-Chicago Cubs game at AT&T Park in San Francisco on July 10. Those same 30,000 points can buy you two nights at Courtyard Santa Fe.
Like some of the other programs, Giants fans might be better off saving their points and buying tickets directly through the team’s website where ticket prices range from $165 for field club seats to left field seats at $26.
Bidding may be your best bet. As with other programs, unique experiences available through online auctions may be worth cashing out your points. One experience up for auction, at 155,000 points, is watching the Tour de France from the finish line with professional sports photographer Erin Hogue. Hogue will lead participants in a photography workshop before the race — attendees also are invited to such events as a VIP champagne “moment.”
Such packages may sound pricey, but consider the value: Auctions offer one-of-a-kind experiences such as private dinners with players or a photo with a winning NASCAR driver.
Here’s how to use your points
After logging in, you’ll go to the “Use Points” tab, then scroll down to “Explore Moments.”
That will take you to the Marriott Moments page. On that main page, click on the “Sports” tab.
After clicking on the “Sports” tab, the page shows a list of upcoming sporting events, with the option of searching by points, location, date or bid versus purchase.
Example: Use your points to bid on unique events including the 2018 Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 16-18.
You can also buy suite seats to see the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field for 75,000 points. But again, baseball fans may be better off just buying their tickets directly from their favorite teams.
How to redeem: Redeem your Starpoints at SPG Moments
Special requirements: Bids are done in 500-point increments.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ SPG Moments and Marriott Rewards will be merged into a new loyalty program on Aug. 1, and while the two programs have always had a lot in common, SPG has a more international focus on sports events and experiences. And like some other rewards programs, bidding on unique experiences — seats in fully-stocked luxury boxes, watching batting practice on the field and attending pre and postgame press conferences — may offer the most bang for your buck. Baseball games, for example, include VIP access and experiences like playing catch in the outfield.
Example: Racing fans recently bid on two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 packages. For 36,000 or 39,000 points, the winner came away with access to the Kentucky Club, with a free buffet, premium views and climate control, along with passes to the Cold Garage and the pit, a “hot lap” ride before the race and the chance to go to Victory Lane to watch the trophy presentation.
Here’s how to use your points
Starwood Preferred Guest® members sign into the SPG Moments portal.
Once inside, you can scroll down and click on sports, where you see a list of events and experiences. After choosing between all events or available events only, click on “View Events” where you’ll see all the sports activities available for points redemption or bidding.
Up for bid, currently at just over 30,000 Starpoints®, is VIP access to the Calgary Stampede in Canada July 13-14. The package includes a Friday evening show in the Lazy S premium seating section for the GMC Rangeland Derby, the Grandstand Show and fireworks. On Saturday, sit in your exclusive infield seating for a close-up view of the Stampede Rodeo. Then see country superstar Luke Bryan perform at the Scotiabank Saddledome plus pick up $500 of western merchandise, $100 in food tickets, WestJet Skyride tickets and more.
Or, for 25,000 Starpoints®, you can watch a Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game in the SPG® Luxury Suite at Wrigley Field behind home plate. The suite includes complimentary food and beverages during the game.
United MileagePlus Exclusives
How to redeem: Redeem your miles at United’s MileagePlus Exclusives.
Special requirements: Miles expire if you go 18 months without earning or redeeming miles on United or a partner.
Like other programs we’ve mentioned, you’re better off spending your points on more unique experiences or games that come with extra benefits. And like rival Delta, benefits are centered around United hub cities including Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Those include the chance to walk inside the ropes at the 2018 John Deere Classic at the TPC Deere Run course in Silvis, Ill., at a current bid of 34,000 miles.
Games versus trips. If you were to use your miles to book roundtrip reward travel on United in coach for a trip between Newark and Atlanta in June, it would range from between 30,000 and 65,000 miles. If you wanted to upgrade to business class, that would range from 70,000 to 100,000 miles.
Here’s how to use your miles
After logging into the MileagePlus page, click on the airline’s MileagePlus Exclusives, which allows you to refine your search by listing type, category or location.
Once there, you’ll see a robust list of sporting events with a mix of redeem or auction bid options, including The National golf tournament or a Chicago White Sox-Minnesota Twins baseball game.