Amex Membership Rewards vs Chase Ultimate Rewards: Which is the best?

Mar 23, 2020

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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information you need to make educated decisions about travel and your rewards-earnings strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route network. But we are sharing this information to provide value to cardholders for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.

This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards are two of the most popular transferable points currencies with travel enthusiasts. When you have these points in your arsenal, you can redeem them for breathtaking redemptions in places like the Maldives and family vacations in Bora Bora. Both programs offer numerous travel rewards credit cards and redemption options that include transferring to airline and hotel partners and booking travel directly through the bank’s portal.

But not all points are created equal. While TPG valuations peg both Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards as worth 2 cents apiece, the currency that’s best for you depends highly on your spending habits and travel goals.

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Let’s dig in to see how the two stack up against each other.

In This Post

Transfer partners

American Express Membership Rewards

Amex partners with 19 different airline programs and three hotel chains. Here’s the current list of Amex airline partners:

And these are the Amex hotel transfer partners:

You can book flights or hotels directly through Amex Travel, but transferring them to a partner and then redeeming them (more on that a little later) typically results in the best redemption value.

Related: Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value

Chase Ultimate Rewards

With Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer points to 10 airline programs and three hotel programs:

All transfer ratios are 1:1, and you must transfer in 1,000-point increments. We’ve only ever seen one transfer bonus, which came in 2019 in the form of a 30% bonus on transfers to British Airways Avios. This is unlike Amex, which frequently offers transfer bonuses for Marriott and Aeroplan, among other programs.

Related: Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points for maximum value

To decide which program is better for you, you’ll want to consider the transfer partners you’ll use most for your travel goals. Keep in mind that it’s possible to use one airline’s miles to book award flights on another if they’re partners or part of the same alliance. For example, even though United Airlines isn’t an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner, you can book United award flights by transferring Amex points to Aeroplan or Singapore Airlines (all are Star Alliance partners).

Earning points

American Express Membership Rewards

Amex points have become a bit easier to acquire with refreshed card options like the American Express® Green Card and American Express® Gold Card. Even with a once-in-a-lifetime welcome bonus policy lingering in the background, the numerous cards that earn Membership Rewards mean accumulating a large balance isn’t a difficult task.

If you think about where you’re spending the bulk of your funds — such as dining out — it shouldn’t be hard to rack up a ton of points. The Amex Gold card is my day-to-day card and because it earns 4x points on dining and 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (capped at $25,000 per year; then 1x points), I’m able to bring in at least 2,000 points a month on that card alone.

Here are some of the cards that earn Amex Membership Rewards points:

The information for the Amex EveryDay and Amex EveryDay Preferred has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Some of these cards come with sizeable welcome bonuses. For example, the Amex Platinum offers 60,000 Amex points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, though you can be targeted for a 100k points bonus offer through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at any time).

Related: How to choose the best Amex card for you

Another way to earn Amex points is through targeted Amex Offers. You’ll see all the Amex Offers you have available on a given card if you scroll down on your online account page, or by clicking the “Offers” tab on the Amex app.

These offers come from a wide variety of merchants, including travel providers, restaurants, clothing and jewelry stores and much more. Generally speaking, Amex Offers come in one of three forms:

  • Spend $X, get Y number of bonus points
  • Spend $X, get $Y back
  • Get additional points for each dollar you spend at a select merchant

While some of these offers offer cash back for meeting a specific spending requirement, here are a couple that offer points. On my own Amex Offers portal, I’m frequently presented with offers for points after meeting a spending requirement. This offer, which I found on my Amex Business Platinum card, offers 8,000 points (worth $160, according to our valuations) after spending $325 at Ticket Galaxy.

Some offers don’t have a specific spending requirement but do cap the number of points you can earn. For instance, this Coach offer on my Amex Gold card offers 7x points for every dollar spent. I’m not a regular at Coach, but this $395 backpack caught my eye. If I were to purchase it, I’d earn nearly 2,800 points alone. Note that you’re often limited in how many points you can earn, in this case, up to 10,000.

If you have multiple Amex cards like I do, make sure to check across all cards to make sure you’re getting the best offer. I frequently notice offers for cash back on my Amex Platinum or Business Platinum, but points offers on my Amex Green. Lastly, make sure to check the terms on each Amex Offer you add to your cards, as some won’t count gift cards as eligible purchases.

Related: Rakuten (formerly Ebates) adds Amex Membership Rewards earning to all accounts

If you find yourself using online shopping portals often, you can also use Rakuten to earn MR points. Last October, Rakuten and American Express expanded its partnership to allow accounts to opt into earning Amex points instead of cash back.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase offers three cards that earn transferable Ultimate Rewards points, all of which have substantial welcome bonuses:

The information for the Ink Business Preferred has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

In addition, each card offers bonus categories for popular categories that include travel and dining.

Related: A great all-around business card: Ink Business Preferred Credit Card review

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.)

The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card is a great card for small business owners to have in your wallet if you can meet the minimum spending requirement. You’ll earn a whopping 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. We value Chase points at 2 cents each, making the welcome bonus worth $2,000. The welcome bonus is currently one of the best out there. You’ll also get a myriad of benefits on the Ink Business Preferred, including:

  • Cellphone protection: As mentioned above, if you’re prone to damaging your cellphone, the Ink Business Preferred could be a great card to have. When you charge your monthly cellphone bill to the card, you and eligible employees on the plan receive up to $600 per claim for damage or theft of cellphones. You’re limited to three claims in a 12-month period and must pay a $100 deductible per claim. Nevertheless, this is a terrific benefit that is rare among credit cards.
  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance: If you must cancel or cut a trip short because of a covered issue (such as illness or severe weather), you’re eligible for up to $5,000 of coverage for prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses, which provides great peace of mind when unexpected problems arise.
  • Trip delay reimbursement: If a covered trip is delayed by a covered hazard for 12 or more hours — or long enough to require an overnight stay — you’ll be eligible for reimbursement of up to $500 per ticket in reasonable expenses. This can really save you in situations like poor weather where the airline generally won’t provide any compensation. Note that you only need to charge part of your common-carrier fare to the card to use this benefit, so you’ll be covered on award tickets if you put the taxes and fees on the card.
  • Primary car rental coverage: Renting a car can be a risky (and expensive) proposition, but if you use the Ink Business Preferred card for the entire rental cost and are traveling for business purposes, you’re covered for theft and damage in the U.S. and in most countries around the world. Bear in mind that this doesn’t offer any liability coverage, but you are covered up to the actual cash value of the vehicle you’re renting.
  • Purchase protection: In addition to the cellphone protection, you’re covered for other purchases. If an eligible item is damaged or stolen within the first 120 days after purchase, you’re covered up to $10,000 per claim ($50,000 per account). I’ve fortunately never had to use this type of perk, but it can be a lifesaver if something goes wrong with that new purchase.
  • Extended warranty protection: Purchases with a U.S. manufacturer’s warranty of three years or less will get coverage for an extra year. This can be extremely helpful when an item stops working shortly after the scheduled end of its warranty.

There are also four cards offered by Chase that, on their own, don’t allow you to transfer points to travel partners. However, if you have one of the cards mentioned above, you can transfer points to that account then move them to airline and hotel partners.

The information for the Ink Business Cash, Ink Business Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The information for the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Keep in mind that the Chase 5/24 rule may limit your ability to get approved for these cards. If you’re new to points and miles, your best bet is to apply for the Chase cards you want first.

Bonus points earning opportunities and categories

American Express Membership Rewards

I mentioned earlier how I maximize everyday spending on several Amex cards by taking advantage of bonus categories. For example, the Amex Green card offers 3x points on dining, travel and transit, and 1x points on all other purchases — which is why it’s my go-to for New York subway Metrocard purchases.

The Amex Gold offers 4x points on dining worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1x). And finally, the Amex Platinum offers 5x points on flights booked either through the airline or on the Amex Travel portal, and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel.

You can even stack bonus category spending with Amex Offers. For instance, I get targeted for Amex Offers for flights (most recently Delta, Cathay Pacific and ANA) on my Amex Platinum. You can get both a statement credit and the 5x points you get for flights.

Related: The ultimate guide to the best cards in each bonus category

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy.)

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase offers several cards where you can earn a ton of points through bonus categories. For instance, you’ll earn 2x points on travel and dining, and 1x on everything else with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. With the Ink Business Preferred, there are even more bonus categories — you’ll earn 3x on travel, shipping, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines on the first $150,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year (then 1x) and 1x on everything else.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 3x points on all travel (excluding the $300 travel credit) and dining purchases worldwide and 1x points on everything else. The bonus categories include ride-sharing services, food delivery and more. And if you’re a Lyft rider, Sapphire Reserve cardmembers will now automatically earn 10X total points every time you use your card for a Lyft ride through March 2022.

Related: 6 little-known Chase Sapphire Reserve perks

Again, you’ll want to evaluate your spending habits to decide which program is the best fit for you. Those who spend a lot of general travel might lean more toward the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred. And if you spend a lot on airfare, the 5x from a card like the Amex Platinum is hard to beat.

Redemption options

As easy as it is to earn transferable points, you don’t want to keep them just sitting in your account — you want to burn them. Just like earning, all redemption options aren’t created equal, either.

American Express Membership Rewards

With Amex, you have a ton of choice to score your dream redemption. Some of these are more valuable than others.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.)

For instance, you could use Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart to fly ANA’s The Room business class for only 90,000 miles round-trip from the West Coast (or 110,000 from the East Coast). That’s a real steal as ANA first-class tickets can often cost $16,000 or more.

You can also use Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to fly Hawaiian Airlines between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. Business-class awards cost 40,000 miles each way between Hawaii and the West Coast or 65,000 miles each way between Hawaii and the East Coast.

You can also use the Amex Travel portal to find a preferred room and then either pay with points — valued at 0.7 cents — or cash. You can book a wide variety of hotels, including those in Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program. Just note that by doing this, it’ll be considered a third-party booking so you won’t usually earn hotel points or elite credits for your stay.

Related: The best ways to use American Express Membership Rewards points

Chase Ultimate Rewards

With Chase, you can book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal and redeem points to pay for your plane tickets, hotel stays, rental cars or experiences. If you’re a holder of the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Preferred, each point is worth 1.25 cents. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents apiece toward redemptions through the portal.

While you can use your Chase points through the Ultimate Rewards portal (and there are some instances where it would make sense), you’ll usually get better value by transferring to a travel partner. My favorite way to redeem Chase points is to transfer them to World of Hyatt and redeem them at low-category or high-end properties. Just a few months ago, I redeemed 36,000 points for a three-night stay at the Hyatt Regency Coco Beach in Puerto Rico.

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

The Resort at Coco Beach features a beautiful beach-front pool area. (Image via Hyatt Hotels)
The Resort at Coco Beach features a beautiful beach-front pool area. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt Hotels.)

As with Amex, some transfer partners are more valuable than others. For example, we don’t usually recommend transferring Chase points to hotels (except Hyatt) as you’ll typically get more value moving your points to airline partners. And you’ll usually get more bang for your points when you redeem them for high-value first- and business-class international award flights.

Related: Sweet spots: The best ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Bottom line

Deciding between these two programs really depends on your personal situation. And there’s no reason you can’t collect both types of points.

With our valuations for both Chase and Amex points at 2 cents each, you can’t go wrong with either transferable currency. Ultimate Rewards are a good option if you’re looking to redeem Hyatt points for an incredible redemption in the Maldives or a Star Alliance business-class award ticket to Europe or Asia. And with the Ink Business’ 100,000 sign up bonus, it’s easy to earn a ton of points in no time.

If you’re looking for cheap award redemptions using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, you can’t go wrong with Amex Membership Rewards. Virgin Atlantic is a Chase transfer partner as well, but Amex frequently offers targeted transfer bonuses which can get you cheap premium-cabin awards to Japan.

Regardless of which currency is your favorite, keeping your points and miles balances as flexible and diverse as possible will open up the most award options when it comes time to redeem your points.

Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the 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.