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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 Card, which 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:
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||Instantaneous|
|Singapore Airlines||Same Day|
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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? 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.
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.