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“Reader Questions” are now answered twice a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays — by TPG Assistant Editor Brendan Dorsey. Brendan has been with TPG for a year and a half and hails from Northern California.

Many banks now allow you to use your points to book through their travel portal instead of transferring them to airline or hotel partners. TPG reader Kelsey recently wrote in asking if she’d also earn miles for a flight when booking directly with Chase points:

If I use my Chase Ultimate Rewards points to buy an American ticket through the Ultimate Rewards Portal, do I still earn AAdvantage miles?

TPG Reader Kelsey

There’s a relatively simple formula on how to accumulate points and miles — sign up for a credit card, hit the minimum spend and receive the sign-up bonus. It’s a bit different on the redemption side though, which is usually defined by a complex series of transfers, award charts, taxes and fees.

But there’s an easy way to answer this question. Quite simply, yes, Kelsey should earn miles when booking a ticket through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. However, there are some key differences to understand, because there are generally three ways to book an airline ticket with points or miles.

The first is booking travel directly with bank points through a bank’s travel portal like the Ultimate Rewards portal or Citi’s ThankYou travel portal. Secondly, you can transfer points to a bank’s travel partner — for instance, from Chase to United or Hyatt — and then book with the partner itself. And the final option is when you already have miles banked with an airline program and you don’t need to transfer points in from anywhere.

When booking through a travel portal, you’re essentially booking with cash and each of your points has a fixed value. Let’s use the Ultimate Rewards portal as an example. If you’re a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, your points are worth 1.5 cents apiece when booked via Chase’s portal. So if Kelsey has a CSR and wanted to book a $198.60 flight on American Airlines, it would cost her 13,240 Ultimate Rewards points.

The main distinction when booking through Ultimate Rewards is that Kelsey would be eligible to earn redeemable and elite qualifying miles, since the ticket is treated like a normal revenue ticket. The sample ticket above books into the Q fare class, so according to AA, Kelsey would earn EQMs, EQDs, EQSs and redeemable miles, which would break down like this:
The second option is that Kelsey could transfer points into an airline’s program and book directly with the carrier. For this sample New York to Miami round-trip, assuming there was award availability, Kelsey could transfer her Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways Avios since BA is a Oneworld partner with American, although it would cost her 15,000 Avios and $11.20 in taxes. But Kelsey also wouldn’t receive any sort of miles or elite qualifying credits since she’d be booking an award flight with points transferred to an airline. You won’t find any airline that will award miles when booking with airline miles.

The final option would be for Kelsey to book with miles she already has banked in an airline’s program. In this case, if she has American AAdvantage miles, it would run her 25,000 miles plus $11.20 in taxes. This method would also not earn Kelsey any miles.

So in this example, the option that requires the least amount of points is to book through the Ultimate Rewards portal. It’s also the easiest and Kelsey would still earn AAdvantage miles and elite credit for the flights, which could be valuable to her if she’s chasing elite status with American.

Kelsey should earn miles when booking through other portals too, including Amex’s Pay with Points optionCiti’s portal for ThankYou cardholders and through Bank of America if you have the Premium Rewards card.

Card POint Value When booking through Bank Portal Point Value (via TPG Valuations) American redeemable and elite Miles earned
Chase Sapphire Reserve 1.5 cents 2.1 cents 800 miles, 2194 EQMs, 160 EQDs, 2 EQSs
Sapphire Preferred 1.25 cents 2.1 cents 800 miles, 2194 EQMs, 160 EQDs, 2 EQSs
Citi Prestige 1.25 cents 1.7 cents 800 miles, 2194 EQMs, 160 EQDs, 2 EQSs
Amex Platinum 1.0 cents 1.9 cents 800 miles, 2194 EQMs, 160 EQDs, 2 EQSs
Bank of America Premium Rewards 1.0 cents 1.0 cents 800 miles, 2194 EQMs, 160 EQDs, 2 EQSs

Keep in mind that booking through a portal may not always get the most value out of your points. If Kelsey transferred points to an airline to redeem for a business class award ticket, she could get way more value than 1.5 cents a point. TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents each because of these valuable transfer partners and premium redemptions. But for many, it can make sense to just book through a bank portal, if anything for the ease alone.

Be aware that there are exceptions when booking through a travel portal, and sometimes airfares can fall into the “bulk fare” category, so you might not get as many miles as you’d expect. Make sure you check the ticket’s fare class, fare rules and the terms and conditions when booking through a portal before you make a purchase.

So Kelsey, yes, you’ll earn miles on your Ultimate Rewards ticket, but make sure you weigh your options in regards to transferring your points or booking directly through your bank’s portal to make sure you get the best bang for your point. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by JT Genter / The Points Guy.

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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.