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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Chase Sapphire Reserve
Traditionally, the most valuable way to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points has been to transfer them to travel partners for expensive premium-cabin flights, last-minute reservations and hotel stays at Hyatt, Marriott and other chains. You can also use your points to book travel directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, but historically points have only been worth a maximum of 1.25 cents apiece.
Now, however, if you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel reservations booked through Chase. (You also get this benefit if you have the J.P. Morgan Reserve Card). While this might not seem like a huge deal, it actually changes the value proposition of going through the UR travel center significantly. In many cases, it’s now worth exploring your options for booking through Chase rather than transferring points to one of the program’s 11 travel partners.
9 REASONS TO BOOK DIRECTLY WITH CHASE
1. Increased Earning Opportunities
The Sapphire Reserve allows you to earn 3x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining expenses, up from 2x with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. And if you opened your Sapphire Reserve through a new application (not a product change), then you’ll also have at least 104,000 Ultimate Rewards points by the time you earn the 100,000-point sign-up bonus (by spending $4,000 within three months of account opening). With this nice stash of rewards, you might not need to save them all for an award such as an international business-class flight; you could use smaller amounts for travel booked directly through Chase.
Rather than pay cash for some of your domestic flights and hotel reservations, consider booking travel directly with Chase, knowing that you’ll always get a fantastic return of 4.5% for each dollar spent on travel and dining. And if you earned 5x points from your Chase Freedom‘s bonus categories or from the Ink Plus Business Card at office supply stores and for telecommunications services, you’d receive an outstanding 7.5% return when you use your points to book travel directly through Chase. Even if you’re earning just 1.5 points per dollar with the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you still be earning a solid 2.25 cents’ worth of travel reservations for each dollar you spend.
2. Low Fuel Prices Equal Low Airfare for Direct Bookings
When oil costs are low — as they are now — plane tickets tend to be cheaper. In fact, I frequently find one-way, domestic flights for less than $100, often with little advance notice. And when a $100 ticket costs just 6,666 Ultimate Rewards points, you’ll be using fewer points than you could with any Ultimate Rewards transfer partner.
3. The Rise of Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers
Frontier and Spirit are rapidly expanding, and these airline will frequently offer the lowest-priced flights on the Ultimate Rewards travel website. But even if you’d rather not fly these carriers and face fees for extras such as your carry-on bags, you can often take advantage of matched pricing from the legacy airlines.
Just note that many of these fares will be in discounted or “basic economy” class, which doesn’t offer advance seat selection and makes you ineligible for upgrades. Nevertheless, these ultra-low fares can fit the bill for many award travelers — especially when they only require a few thousand miles to book.
4. The Decline of Award Space
As someone who books the vast majority of travel as award flights, I’m used to being extremely flexible when it comes to making reservations. But in the last few years, all of the flexibility in the world sometimes hasn’t been enough to get me to my destination — as carriers have reined in award availability, especially at the saver level.
By redeeming your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, you’ll have access to a far greater number of flights you can use your points for. This includes options with all the carriers you have miles with, and even some with which you don’t have any rewards banked.
5. The Ability to Earn Miles & Credit Toward Elite Status
Another reason to favor the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel site over transfers to the program’s airline partners is that fights booked directly through the portal with points will count as revenue bookings. This means that your award flights will earn redeemable mileage, count toward elite status and may be eligible for upgrades.
Just be aware that some tickets sold through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center are bulk fares that may offer fewer miles than you expected. So consider this a “nice-to-have” benefit, rather than one that you can count on.
6. Reservations Include Most Taxes and Fees
Having to pay extra cash for taxes and fees is one of the disappointing realities that confronts all award travelers. Sometimes, it’s just a trivial $5.60 TSA fee for domestic flights, but when traveling internationally, you could be socked with hundreds of dollars in taxes, government fees and airline-imposed fuel surcharges. And although you generally aren’t taxed on hotel awards, you may have to pay for resort fees out of pocket.
The beauty of booking awards through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is that all of these taxes and fees are included in the price, and payable with your Ultimate Rewards points.
7. A Wider Selection of Hotels
If you’re spending Ultimate Rewards points for hotel accommodations, you’re probably used to looking for awards from Hyatt, as its points are worth the most among all of Chase’s hotel transfer partners. According to TPG’s latest valuations, Hyatt points are worth 1.8 cents each, while IHG points are worth just 0.7 cents apiece and Marriott/Ritz-Carlton points are worth 0.9 cents each.
However, there are only 679 Hyatt properties, and there often isn’t one where you need to stay. Other times, the hotel chain might restrict award space to a narrowly defined selection of “standard rooms.” But when you book a stay through Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel, your choice of hotels is very similar to what you’d find through an online travel agency like Expedia. Instead of choosing between one or two Hyatt properties in an area, you could have your pick of dozens of hotels across all price points.
8. The Ability to Partially Pay With Points
Sometimes you want to book an award trip, but you don’t have the points or miles necessary. When using traditional airline miles or hotel points, you have few options other than to buy rewards at a vastly inflated cost, or to just pay cash for the entire reservation. But one of the valuable features of the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel website is that it can apply all of your available Ultimate Rewards points toward your reservation, letting you pay cash for the remaining balance.
9. You Can Rebook Existing Hotel Reservations
If you recently opened the Sapphire Reserve Card and have already booked stays with Hyatt or another hotel partner, take a moment to search for properties through the Ultimate Rewards site. You might find a hotel for fewer points, and it might even be at the same property where you already booked an award. Thankfully, Hyatt and other hotel programs generally offer full refunds of your points when you cancel an award stay according to their specific policies.
4 CASES WHERE YOU SHOULD STILL TRANSFER POINTS
Despite the new value offered by the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center when you have a Sapphire Reserve card, there are still some cases where transferring points to a partner makes more sense. Here are four examples:
1. Award Flights in Business or First Class
When you can transfer your points to partners like Korean Air, Singapore Airlines and United and use your miles for premium-class awards at the lowest mileage levels, you’ll almost always do better than you would by redeeming Ultimate Rewards directly for travel.
For examples, see Nick Ewen’s post on the 10 Best Ways to Use 100,000 Ultimate Rewards Points and see how I booked four first-class tickets to Maui for just 180,000 Korean Air miles. To get better value through Chase, I would have needed to find round-trip, first-class tickets to Hawaii for just $675, which isn’t likely.
2. Last-Minute Flights on Routes With Little Competition
Airlines love to charge extortionate prices for flights booked close to the travel date. If you need to be on one of these flights and you can find an award using points or miles with an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, you’ll generally redeem fewer rewards this way than you would booking directly through Chase.
3. Reservations at Luxury Hyatt Hotels
When you’re booking a Park Hyatt, Hyatt Regency or Andaz stay with your Gold Passport (soon to be World of Hyatt) points, you’ll usually get more than 1.5 cents in value per point. The exception is when there are highly discounted rooms during off-peak times.
4. Hotel Bookings During Peak Periods
During a convention, holiday or other major event that produces high occupancy rates, hotels might raise their prices all the way to the so-called “rack rate.” But if there’s a standard room available, then you’ll get far more than 1.5 cents per point in value when you transfer your rewards.
Most of the attention paid to the recently launched Sapphire Reserve Card has focused on its outstanding benefits and rewards for spending, but the option to redeem points for 1.5 cents apiece through the travel portal has been relatively under-appreciated. By knowing when to book your travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center and when to transfer to partners, you can ensure that you’ll get as much value as possible from this premium card.
When do you book travel directly with Chase vs. transferring points to partners?