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Sapphire Reserve math: When to book travel through Chase and when to transfer points

Nov. 29, 2019
10 min read
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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. You can also use your points to book travel directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, but with most Chase credit cards those points are only worth 1.25 cents each toward travel reservations.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is different. When you use points from that card, or combine your Ultimate Rewards points from any other Chase card, they 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).

This might not seem like a huge deal, but the additional 20% in value could significantly change your decision-making when it comes time to redeem your points. It’s worth exploring your options for booking through the Chase portal rather than transferring points to one of the program’s 10 airline and three hotel partners.

Nine reasons to book directly with Chase

There are several advantages to booking directly through Chase’s travel site.

1. Booking reservations that transfer partners don't offer.

Would you like a free airport transfer? How about taking a tour or seeing a show? These are all ways that you can spend your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through their travel portal. And since the Chase travel portal is now powered by Expedia, you can choose from nearly all of the options that you'd find at In the past I've used this option to see Cirque du Soleil, shows, take a hot-air balloon ride and take a tour. More mundane but cost-saving options can include car rentals, airport transfers and theme park tickets. This is how I once used my Sapphire Reserve to bring my vacation cost down to zero.

2. Low fuel prices equal low airfare for direct bookings

When oil costs are relatively 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 booking the flight with fewer points than you could with any Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. So the next time TPG issues a Deal Alert, consider booking it through Chase and using your Ultimate Rewards points to pay for it.

3. The decline of saver award space and the growth of "dynamic pricing"

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As someone who books the vast majority of my travel as award flights, I’m used to being extremely flexible when it comes to making reservations. But every year it seems like I need more and more flexibility to book saver awards to my destination, and sometimes that's not even enough. Now that several airlines have so-called dynamic pricing, it can be even harder to find a reasonably priced award using your miles.

But by redeeming your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, you’ll have access to flights on most airlines and pay the going rate. When traveling internationally, this could even include carriers that don't participate in frequent flyer programs and even some that you may have never heard of.

4. The ability to earn miles and credit toward elite status

Booking through the Chase travel portal will earn you redeemable miles and credit toward elite status on airlines such as United.

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. In fact, I earn Southwest status each year by booking my flights through Chase.

Just watch out for basic economy fares that don't offer all the benefits you need. Thankfully, the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is pretty good at alerting you to these fares before checkout.

5. Airline reservations include all mandatory taxes and fees

Having to pay extra cash for taxes and fees is one of the disappointing realities of awards travel. Sometimes it’s just a trivial $5.60 TSA fee for a one-way domestic flights, but a family of five will have to pay that fee 10 times for each round-trip ticket.

When using your miles to book an international trip, you could be stuck with hundreds of dollars in taxes, government fees and airline-imposed fuel surcharges. Yet one of the beauties of booking flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is that all of the mandatory taxes and fees are included in the price, and payable with your Ultimate Rewards points, leaving your total out-of-pocket costs at zero in most cases.

6. Use your rewards at a wider selection of hotels

You’ll generally have more hotel options when you book through the Chase travel portal rather than by transferring points.

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 1.7 cents each, while IHG points are worth just 0.6 cents apiece and Marriott Bonvoy points are worth 0.9 cents each.

Hyatt is quickly adding properties to its portfolio, but sometimes there isn’t one where you need to stay. Other times, a 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 essentially the same as what you’d find through Expedia. So 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. As with any online travel agency, however, you will need to play amateur detective to try to find any hidden resort fees.

7. 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.

8. You can rebook existing hotel reservations for fewer points

If you find a cheaper rate through Chase, you could cancel your award stay and rebook through the portal.( Image courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.)

If you recently opened the Sapphire Reserve 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.

Four cases where you should still transfer points

Despite the 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

You’ll generally come out ahead by transferring points when you’re looking to book premium-cabin flights on carriers like Singapore Airlines.

When you can transfer your points to partners like Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines and United and use your miles for premium-class awards at the lowest mileage levels, then you’ll almost always do better than you would by redeeming Ultimate Rewards directly for travel.

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. The same is often true when an airline has a monopoly on a particular route. If you're lucky enough to find award seats, then you'll probably realize well over 1.5 cents per point in value.

3. Reservations at luxury Hyatt hotels

You’ll usually come out ahead by transferring points when you’re booking high-end hotels like the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

When you’re booking a Park Hyatt, Hyatt Regency or Andaz, stay with your 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, a holiday or another major event that produces high occupancy rates, hotels may raise their prices all the way to the so-called “rack rate.” But if there’s a standard room available, you’ll get far more than 1.5 cents per point in value when you transfer your rewards to Hyatt and sometimes even Marriott or IHG.

Bottom line

Most of the attention paid to the Sapphire Reserve 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 underappreciated. 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.

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