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Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program can offer tremendous value — if you know how to maximize your points. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr takes a look at the most valuable ways to use your UR points, including transferring to the program’s various travel partners.
Chase Ultimate Rewards is a bit like a purple dinosaur when compared to other loyalty programs. With airlines and hotels executing never-ending devaluations — including some Chase transfer partners — Ultimate Rewards still continue to maintain their place as the second-most valuable transferable currency (and third loyalty currency overall). While Chase has tweaked the program in the last year, little has been done to affect their overall value. Given all the adjustments to loyalty programs over the last year, today I want to revisit my post from over a year ago and show the best current strategies you can utilize to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards for maximum value.
EARNING ULTIMATE REWARDS
You can Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points with the following credit cards:
Current Bonus: 100,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: With this recently launched card, you’ll earn 3x points on all travel and dining purchases, and you can redeem points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece (compared to 1.25 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card). Other perks include a $300 annual travel credit, a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and Priority Pass Select lounge access. Cardholders also get primary car rental insurance, trip interruption/cancellation insurance and other coverage.
Annual fee: $450
Current Bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months, plus another 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months.
Benefits: This card offers 2x points on all travel and dining purchases, and has no foreign transaction fees. You also 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, Chase offers great customer service; it’s very easy to reach an agent (instead of going through a long phone menu) when you call the number on the back of the card.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Current Bonus: 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Benefits: This card earns 3x points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising made with social media sites, and search engines each year. You also earn unlimited 1x point points on all other purchases and points don’t expire as long as account is open.
Annual Fee: $95
Current Bonus: $150 (15,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 in the first three months
Benefits: 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 Business Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The card earns 5x points on select bonus categories which rotate on a quarterly basis.
Annual Fee: $0
Chase announced this no-fee cash-back card in March and it’s gained plenty of attention for good reason.
Current Bonus: $150 (15,000 points) back after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening.
Benefits: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (after that, 15.49% to 24.24% variable APR applies). The ability to get 1.5 cents for every dollar spent is nothing to sneeze at. If you also have the Ink Plus Business Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can redeem your cash back as Ultimate Rewards points, which get you a better return than 1.5 cents per dollar spent since TPG values them at 2.1 cents apiece. That means 1.5x points on all purchases gives you a return of 3.15%.
Annual fee: $0
You have three options for redeeming Ultimate Rewards:
1. Cash Back — Earn credit on your statement at a flat rate of 1 cent per point.
2. Ultimate Rewards Travel Redemptions — Book travel through the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center and redeem points to pay for your plane tickets, hotel stays, rental cars or experiences. As a holder of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Ink Plus Business Card, you’ll get a 20% discount when paying with points, so each point is worth 1.25 cents (e.g., a $100 hotel room would only cost 8,000 points).
3. Transfer to Travel Partners — If you hold the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Ink Pus Business Card, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards to seven airline programs (British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United,Virgin Atlantic and the very recently added Flying Blue program used by Air France and KLM) and four hotel programs (Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton). All transfer ratios are 1:1, and you must transfer in 1,000-point increments. Note that late last year, Chase removed Amtrak as a transfer partner.
The first two redemption options are pretty straightforward. It’s almost never a good deal to redeem for cash back, since you can get significantly more value than 1 cent per point by using the other redemption options. The Ultimate Rewards Travel Center can be worthwhile if you’re booking a very cheap flight or hotel room where the loyalty program you could transfer to would cost more miles than redeeming points through the travel portal. You might also consider the travel portal option if you only have only a handful of Ultimate Rewards points left, since Chase lets you redeem partially (with the 20% bonus) and cover the balance with cash.
TOP WAYS TO MAXIMIZE ULTIMATE REWARDS TRANSFER PARTNERS
Transferring to one of the 11 Ultimate Rewards program’s travel partners is your best bet if you want to get the most value out of your points. Here are some of the best ways to redeem them with the above-mentioned airlines and hotels:
1. United Airlines — With United still allowing a stopover and two open-jaws on round-trip international awards, you can score some amazing itineraries for relatively few points. Visit Panama City and two Caribbean islands from the US for 35,000 miles round-trip, for example.
2. British Airways — British Airways may have eliminated 4,500-Avios short-haul flights in the US, but they’re still available for flights anywhere else in the world. It could be worth transferring Ultimate Rewards points to fly Oneworld partner Qantas around Australia; Air Berlin and Iberia around Europe; and specifically Japan Airlines domestic routes, which can be absurdly expensive for 45-minute flights. Plus, you can book American and Alaska short-haul flights for just 15,000 Avios round-trip.
You can also still book round-trip transatlantic awards on Aer Lingus for 25,000 Avios round-trip from Boston to Shannon or Dublin. A final option worth mentioning is 25,000 Avios to fly Alaska Airlines from the West Coast to Hawaii.
3. Korean Air — Don’t overlook Korean Air’s SkyPass program when considering where to transfer your Ultimate Rewards. You can fly the carrier’s new 747-8i or A380 to Asia in business for 62,500 miles or first for 80,000 miles one-way. Did I mention that availability in the airline’s own program is fantastic? It’s not unusual to see eight seats in business class for transpacific flights — which is much better than what you’ll find when you try to book these awards with partners like Delta.
Korean Air is also a great option for flying transatlantic routes on Sky Team partners, where a round-trip business award will only cost you 80,000 miles and first class is just 100,000 miles. You do need to call the Korean Air SkyTeam travel desk in Los Angeles to redeem these tickets, and the process is usually a little frustrating and labor-intensive, but it’s worth it for these low prices. To expedite things as much as possible, use the Air France/KLM Flying Blue website to search for availability before calling.
4. Hyatt — Given the recent
handouts matches to Diamond status, there should be plenty of you with Diamond Suite Upgrades to burn. Transferring your points to Hyatt and making Points + Cash bookings and adding in a suite upgrade can be a great use of your Ultimate Rewards points. I redeemed 30,000 Hyatt points and $375 for three nights at the Park Hyatt Dubai, which would have cost me $1,580 with taxes and fees. Subtracting the $375 I spent for Points + Cash, I got a strong redemption value of just over 4 cents per point.
If you’re looking at standard award nights, Category 1 and Category 4 properties tend to be the sweet spots. Several category 1 properties sell for over $100 a night without adding taxes in, so redeeming 5,000 points for these is usually a simple decision. Likewise, at the Category 4 level, 15,000 points for a free night at properties that charge $350 plus before taxes and fees is a no-brainer.
5. Singapore Airlines — To fly Singapore Suites, arguably the best product in the sky, all you need is 51,000 Ultimate Rewards transferred to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. This will score you a suite on the Singapore (SIN)-Tokyo (NRT) route. Fly New York-JFK to Franfkurt (FRA) for 57,375 KrisFlyer miles, or LAX-NRT for 74,375 KrisFlyer miles after the 15% online booking discount available on Singaporeair.com. These flights cost five figures round-trip when you book with cash, so using Ultimate Rewards is a great way to experience onboard luxury at a more affordable price.
You can also use KrisFlyer program to book Star Alliance partners. Redeem just 35,000 miles to fly round-trip on United from the mainland US to Hawaii — the same trip would cost 45,000 United miles. KrisFlyer considers Hawaii and Bermuda to be in the same zone along with Central America and the Caribbean. All flights within this region cost 35,000 miles round-trip, and you’re permitted one stopover and an open jaw. There are plenty of itineraries you can plan to take advantage of this rate, so it’s definitely worth considering when you think about how to use your Ultimate Rewards.
6. Virgin Atlantic — This transfer partner is often overlooked, but I wouldn’t write the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program off, as it offers some good partner redemptions. The best — if you’re willing to subsidize your award ticket with fuel surcharges — is London to Beijing round-trip in Air China first class for 75,000 Flying Club miles and about $700 in taxes and fees. You can also fly ANA on several routes to the US; NRT-LAX round-trip in ANA first costs 110,000 miles and about $400 in taxes and fees. That’s the same mileage you’ll need for a one-way United award on the same product.
I also found NRT-AKL on Air New Zealand in business on the new 787-9 for only 80,000 miles round-trip. Call the US Flying Club desk at 1-800-365-9500 for info on the costs of most partner redemptions, since they’re not available online. I found the agents to be very helpful and quick to answer my queries.
The above strategies are just a sampling of the many redemptions available through the Ultimate Rewards program. For example, you could also use Ultimate Rewards to top up a Marriott Rewards account to get you to 235,000 points, which is the amount required for a package including 120,000 United miles and five nights in a Category 1-5 Marriott property. In any case, the Ultimate Rewards program provides a wide range of options for maximizing your points, and it’s on you to decide which redemptions are the most worthwhile. For help with that, check out these posts:
- Ranking the Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners
- Top 10 Ways to Maximize Each Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partner
- Why I Love Chase Ultimate Rewards
What are some of your favorite Ultimate Rewards redemptions?
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.
- 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