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Update (5/23/16): Following yesterday’s addition of Air France/KLM Flying Blue as a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, we’ve confirmed that points transfer instantly.

Ultimate Rewards points make a great foundation for an award traveler’s portfolio. Like other transferable loyalty currencies, these points can be redeemed for highly valuable awards through airline and hotel transfer partners. I currently hold several different credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, and I put all of my daily spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Cardwhich earns 2x points on travel and dining, and offers an assortment of travel and purchase protections.

Like any of the transferable points programs, an important aspect of using Ultimate Rewards is knowing how long it takes to transfer them from your Ultimate Rewards account to whichever partner you want to utilize. Long transfer times make it more difficult to plan and book awards, especially when availability is limited.  Amex Membership Rewards offers some instant transfers, while Citi ThankYou Rewards can take up to a week. Meanwhile, transfers from Starwood Preferred Guest tend to be lengthy and less predictable.

To see how Chase Ultimate Rewards stacks up against the competition, TPG Marketing Director Kate O’Brien and I did some research for each of the program’s transfer partners. Last week we transferred points to my corresponding partner accounts, and tracked how long it took for them to show up. Here’s what we found:

Program Transfer Time
British Airways Instantaneous
Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) Instantaneous
Hyatt Instantaneous
IHG 1 day
Korean Air Instantaneous
Marriott 2 days
Ritz-Carlton 2 days
Singapore Airlines Same Day
Southwest Instantaneous
United Instantaneous
Virgin Atlantic Instantaneous

7 out of 11 programs transferred instantly, and we never waited more than 2 days for points to show up in any program. These transfer times represent our own experiences, and shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. However, others have reported a similar timeline when transferring points from Ultimate Rewards. Your own transfers may be faster or slower, but you can use these times as guidelines when planning your trips.

Over the last four years, I have counted on UR transfers to United being instantaneous.

While these results set a high bar for any transferable points program, there’s still some risk that award availability can change while you’re waiting for points to show up in your account. Transfers are irreversible, so you could be stuck with thousands of points in a program you have little use for if the flight or hotel room you were banking on disappears. Even though Ultimate Rewards offers mostly excellent transfer times, here are a few tips to help you avoid that situation:

  1. Put your award reservation on hold prior to transferring. Not all programs allow you to do this, but those that do make things much easier. For example, you can place Korean Skypass awards on hold (for several months!), but you must call the airline, and this only applies to flights on Korean metal, not SkyTeam partners. Marriott also allows you to book awards with an insufficient balance, so long as you earn the additional points by 7 days prior to check-in.
  2. Choose flights that have more than 1 available award seat. This is helpful in case someone else books before your miles show up. You can use tools like ExpertFlyer or KVS to determine how many award seats are available on a flight, or you can just do a single search for three or four passengers, which should give you an idea of how many seats are open.
  3. Select uncommon routes. You can improve your chances by flying along routes that are less popular or originate from non-hubs, since those often have better award availability. For a transpacific flight, check out ANA’s flight from San Jose to Tokyo-Narita using United miles.
  4. Have a back-up plan. If your original itinerary is kaput because availability has dried up, have another option (or multiple options) in mind so you can still book when your points arrive.

If your original flights have disappeared, don’t panic. Keep in mind that award availability changes frequently, and can increase dramatically as your departure date approaches. Check regularly, and be ready to act quickly when seats do open up.

Set up Expert Flyer seat alerts to help you know when to transfer your points.
Set up ExpertFlyer seat alerts so you know when to transfer your points.

Lately, there has been some discontent with Ultimate Rewards in the award travel community. Since transfer partners like United, Southwest, and British Airways have devalued recently, some people wonder whether Ultimate Rewards remains one of the most valuable loyalty currencies.

In my opinion, Ultimate Rewards hasn’t lost its shine. Each of those transfer partners still offers great value on a wide array of airlines and routings. While the recent changes to Amtrak Guest Rewards are negative overall, points may actually be more valuable in some situations. Other transfer partners like Hyatt (my favorite hotel chain) and Singapore KrisFlyer offer great opportunities for luxury and bargain redemptions alike.

Finally, the Ink Plus Business Card and Chase Freedom card give me the ability to earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, so I can grow my account balance quickly. While I’m not happy about some of the recent changes, I’ll continue to collect Ultimate Rewards as fast as I can.

My first Ultimate Rewards transfer was to Hyatt for two nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme.

While transfer times may vary from one person to another, Ultimate Rewards is pretty consistent compared to ThankYou Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and some American Express partners. I’m confident in the award space and hotel nights I find still being available by the time my Ultimate Rewards transfers are complete.

What experiences have you had with transferring Ultimate Rewards points?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.