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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Chase Freedom Unlimited
We’re huge proponents of transferable points programs here at TPG. These currencies give you tons of flexibility to redeem across different airlines, so you aren’t locked into a single carrier when you’re ready to book. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is a perfect example of this flexibility, with nine airline transfer partners (along with additional hotel transfer partners) from which to choose. These programs make Ultimate Rewards points one of the most valuable currencies currently available to travelers, giving you access to award flights across all three major alliances.
After first looking at using Chase points for Oneworld flights, today we’ll take a deeper dive into redeeming Ultimate Rewards points with SkyTeam carriers.
Earning Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
Of course, before you can redeem Chase points, you have to earn them. The easiest way to rack up a large balance of Ultimate Rewards points is through credit card welcome bonuses and everyday spending. Here are the best offers on a few of Chase’s popular cards:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. It does carry a $450 annual fee, but it’s largely offset by a $300 travel credit, Priority Pass lounge access and improved redemption rates on flights on flights booked via the Chase portal.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The card does have a $95 annual fee but carries a number of great perks and could even be a better option than the Sapphire Reserve.
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. While technically a cash-back card, if you have a premium card like either Sapphire, you can combine points in a single account and essentially “convert” these earnings to fully transferable points. This card has no annual fee.
Holding the Sapphire Reserve and Freedom Unlimited will give you a powerful combination for earning a solid return on all of your purchases. The Reserve will give you 3x points per $1 spent on travel and dining, and the Freedom Unlimited will provide 1.5x points per $1 spent on everything else.
Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
Even though Chase Ultimate Rewards has 9 airline transfer partners, only one of them is formally a member of the SkyTeam alliance: Air France and KLM’s joint loyalty program, Flying Blue (Korean was eliminated in August 2018). If you transfer your Chase points to this program, you can redeem across all of the SkyTeam member airlines as well as some of the two carriers’ other partners. It’s also worth noting that it’s very easy to earn Flying Blue miles, as all transferable points programs transfer into the program.
That being said, Flying Blue is far from perfect. Like Delta from a few years ago, the award program recently did away with its award chart in favor of dynamic award pricing. This means that you have to search for the award on Flying Blue to price it out, and the number of miles you need for an award may change at any time. These rates depend on a number of factors, like the date of travel, origin and destination; we’ve seen the new scheme create some illogical pricing.
Despite these limitations, the program does publish a minimum number of miles required for each ticket between two destinations, and you can use the Flying Blue calculator to find those rates. Many of these are actually pretty reasonable, but the lowest prices may be hard to find, especially during holidays and popular travel periods. Try booking in advance during off-peak times to find some of the best deals.
However, there is one aspect of the program that can consistently offer value for your Ultimate Rewards points:
Every few months, the Flying Blue program releases a set of Promo Awards. Like standard Flying Blue awards, these awards used to have a set price, but the switch to dynamic award pricing means that they’re now marketed as having a percentage discount off the minimum amount of miles between two destinations. These deals change every few months and often bring discounts on both business and economy class tickets from cities around North America.
Here’s the current set of promo awards, which are valid for travel between December 31, 2018 and February 27, 2019 and must be booked by November 29, 2018:
- Seattle (SEA) to Europe: 50% off economy awards
- New York-JFK to Nairobi (NBO): 25% off economy and business awards
- Boston (BOS) to Europe: 25% off economy awards
- Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Europe: 25% off economy awards
- Houston (IAH) to Europe: 25% off economy awards
- Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Europe: 25% off economy awards
This can offer some incredible prices, like 21,600 miles from Seattle to Europe round-trip:
These Promo Awards do tend to book up quickly, and you should definitely check the price for a paid ticket before jumping to book an award flight. In addition, most award tickets booked through Flying Blue do incur a few hundred dollars in taxes and fees, even for economy class. However, if you want to avoid these additional out-of-pocket costs and you’re looking to get to Europe, consider Spain-based Air Europa. The Flying Blue program dropped surcharges on this carrier earlier in 2018, and a round-trip award ticket will now only have ~$55 in taxes and fees. A nonstop, round-trip Air Europa flight from the US to Madrid (MAD) will still set you back 58,000 miles in economy and 144,000 miles in business class, but keeping cash in your pocket could be preferable if there’s award inventory on your desired date(s).
TIP: When searching for award flights with Flying Blue, I’d strongly encourage you to check the “You are looking for a flight around these dates” box, as this will open up the award calendar and help you see alternate dates with award availability.
Bonus: Book Delta Flights With Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
While Flying Blue is the only SkyTeam program that partners with Ultimate Rewards, you do have another option if you want to book a Delta flight with your Chase points: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. The London-based carrier is partially owned by Delta, and the airlines have had a long-standing partnership that allows Virgin Atlantic travelers to earn miles on Delta flights and redeem their hard-earned Flying Club points to book Delta flights.
What makes this even better is that booking through Virgin Atlantic can often be cheaper than booking through Delta.
For example, here’s a one-way flight from Seattle to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) booked through Delta SkyMiles:
Here’s that exact same flight if booked through Flying Club:
Virgin Atlantic’s award search can be pretty clunky at times, but there are some workarounds. For example, if your desired airport doesn’t populate, click the location pin icon and find it by country or state. In some cases, your city may not appear at all, so you’ll need to call in and have a phone representative price out the award for you.
TIP: When you’re looking to book a Delta-operated flight, I’d strongly encourage you to compare award prices through both Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic. The above flight on February 19 is not bookable on Flying Blue’s website, but the Seattle to Tokyo-Narita flight is available the next day for just 36,000 miles (it’s the same 40,000 miles through Flying Club and 43,000 miles through Delta).
Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the most valuable credit card programs out there, largely due to its nine powerful airline transfer partners. If you play your cards right (pun intended), you can book some solid SkyTeam flights through the Flying Blue program or Delta flights through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program. That being said, the power of transferable points is the flexibility to utilize your points with different carriers across all three major alliances, so be sure to investigate other award booking options — you may find an even better deal for the same route.
Featured image by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.
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