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Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr looks at the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal to see what value it offers, and how prices compare to airline, hotel, and third-party booking sites.
Last November, I experimented with the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal and ended up with 2 Etihad Airways Diamond First Class round-trip tickets from Tokyo to Abu Dhabi and the Maldives for $1,200 total. This certainly piqued my interest, and the Ultimate Rewards travel portal is now bookmarked squarely at the top of my favorites list.
A couple weeks ago I looked at the value presented by American Express Membership Rewards travel and all its ancillary services. In this post, I’ll similarly investigate the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to see if it’s worthy of some, all, or none of your business.
In order to access the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, you must have one of the credit cards that can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards:
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — This card offers 2x points on all travel and dining purchases, and has no foreign transaction fees. You get a multitude of travel perks like delayed baggage insurance, trip interruption/cancellation insurance, primary CDW car rental insurance, and Chip and Signature technology. To top it all off, I love Chase’s customer service; it’s very easy to reach an agent (instead of going through a long phone menu) when I call the number on the back of my card. I use this card for my everyday spending. There’s currently a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.
Ink Plus Business Card — This card earns 5x points on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular, landline, internet and cable TV services each year. You also earn 2x points on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel stays booked directly with the hotel. The current sign-up bonus is 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.
Chase Freedom — The Freedom card is advertised as a cash back card, but it earns Ultimate Rewards points. You can redeem points for cash back at 1 cent apiece, or you can use them like other Ultimate Rewards points if you also have the Ink Plus or Sapphire Preferred.
Compared to American Express Travel, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal is much more basic without all the frills. You can book plane tickets, hotels, car rentals (round-trip only), and activities like tours or attraction tickets. Booking travel through the portal will earn you an extra point per dollar spent, giving you an earning rate of 3x points per dollar if you use the Sapphire Preferred.
You can use your points to pay for any travel or activity that’s available through the portal with a nice 20% discount. While it’s maybe not the best use of Ultimate Rewards points, 100,000 points does earn you $1,200 in travel to spend at your leisure. At checkout, there’s an option to use a combination of points and cash if you’re short on points or want to save some cash.
When using points to book airline tickets, your ticket will be treated as a revenue fare, and you’ll earn frequent flyer miles. On the other hand, you most likely will not earn hotel loyalty points whether you book with points or cash, and you might not even get your status benefits.
I have booked 3 separate trips or activities through Ultimate Rewards because the search engine offered me the best prices. However, my experiences with calling the Travel Customer Support line and with the trips I’ve booked through Chase have been a very mixed bag:
1. Singapore City Tour – I found a great deal last April for a guided bus tour that hit Singapore’s main sites and included a Singaporean dinner before departing. The reality was a fixed menu of three options at a Boston Pub in the Singapore Flyer complex, and a tour that we ditched after the second stop. The Gardens By the Bay stop on the tour was a walk as quickly as possible from the parking lot to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. I rarely book tours, as I tend to fear this kind of inaccurate description. I called Chase after the trip, and after some investigation, I was given 5,000 points. I was content with that, but the crappy tour is still offered on the search engine. Perhaps it’s not Chase’s fault, but what’s advertised is a misrepresentation.
2. Schedule Change? – I booked an amazing deal on a Business Class ticket on Malaysian Airlines from Bangkok to Singapore with a stopover in Kuala Lumpur for something like $300. The only problem was that neither Chase nor Malaysian Airlines notified me of a scheduled change that caused my flight to leave 30 minutes early. I always check Flightaware.com the day before I fly, and the listed departure time caught my attention. I called Chase and they were apologetic, but didn’t offer any solutions.
3. AMAZING deal – I alluded earlier to scoring 2 Etihad First Class tickets for $1200. I was searching business class flights to Abu Dhabi, and a price of $600 showed on the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. At check-out, however, the confirmation said “business unavailable – First.” I booked the tickets and checked Etihad’s website for my itinerary, which had us listed in Business. I then emailed Chase a screen shot and my confirmation email indicating First Class. Two days later I had an email from Etihad with a receipt showing that Chase had actually paid the fare difference to keep my wife and I in First class. It took many phone calls, but needless to say I’ll be doing business with Chase one way or another for a long time to come.
For travel search engines, the rule is usually that the lowest price wins. The first three tables below compare the cost of plane tickets from the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, the three domestic legacy airlines, and two third-party booking websites for three different itineraries. The next three tables compare hotel prices between Chase Ultimate Rewards, hotel websites, and two third-party booking sites. Where does Chase Ultimate Rewards fall in the price range?
Flight 1 — Round trip, NYC (All Airports) to Los Angeles, economy, June 1-8
|Chase UR||$359.70||US Airways, 1 stop|
|Kayak||$360.00||American, LGA-LAX, 1 stop|
|American||$362.00||American, LGA-LAX, 1 stop|
|Orbitz||$382.20||Virgin America, EWR-LAX, non-stop|
Flight 2 — Round-trip, Seattle to Zurich, business, June 1-8
|Kayak||$3,199.00||1 stop, (Lufthansa, Swiss Air)|
|Orbitz||$3,597.89||1 stop (Condor, Lufthansa)|
|Chase||$4,395.20||1 stop, (Iceland Air)|
|Delta||$4,962.90||2 stops, YVR, CDG (Air France)|
|United||$5,208.00||2 stops, DEN, YYZ, (Air Canada)|
|American||$7,106.00||1 stop, PHL|
Flight 3 — Round-trip, Miami to Denver, economy, June 1-8
|American||$295.00||1 stop, DFW|
|United||$351.00||1 stop, ORD|
|Delta||$366.20||1 stop, ATL|
In all three searches, Chase does well by always beating the legacy carriers, and is the cheapest in 2 of 3 searches. Let’s look at hotel search results:
Hotel 1 — 3 nights, Park Hyatt Chicago, 2 adults, June 4-7
Hotel 2 — 2 nights, St. Regis Rome, 2 adults, June 5-7
Hotel 3 — 5 nights, Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, 2 adults, June 1-6
I have noticed over the last 6 months that the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal produces expensive hotels, but I didn’t realize how high the prices were until looking at this data. I went back twice to confirm I had input the right properties and dates, since Chase is so much more expensive than the other booking methods. Add in that you won’t earn hotel points and may not get elite status perks, and there’s little reason to use Ultimate Rewards Travel for booking hotels.
Earning 3x points with my Chase Sapphire Preferred on top of competitive prices for airline tickets makes the Ultimate Rewards travel portal a viable option for booking airfare. The inconsistent product descriptions, customer service agents who (in my experience) readily contradict each other, and the lack of basic schedule notifications make me wary of using Chase as my go to booking method. However, Chase stepping up to the plate and putting my wife and I into First Class tells me that the company is invested in its customer’s interests.
What experiences have you had with the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal?