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There’s no such thing as having too many Chase Ultimate Rewards points. While airlines and hotels — including Chase transfer partners — continue to make negative changes to their award charts, Ultimate Rewards maintain their place as the second-most valuable transferable currency (and the third-most valuable loyalty currency overall). Though Chase has tweaked the program slightly over the last few years, little has been done to affect the overall value. Today I’ll share the best current strategies you can utilize to get the most value out of your Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Earning Ultimate Rewards
You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points with the following credit cards:
Current Bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: With this premium card, you’ll earn 3x points on all travel and dining purchases, and you can redeem points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece (compared to 1.25 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card). Other perks include a $300 annual travel credit, a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and Priority Pass Select lounge access. Cardholders also get primary car rental insurance, trip interruption/cancellation insurance and other coverage.
Annual fee: $450
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Plus, earn another 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months.
Benefits: This card offers 2x points on all travel and dining purchases, and has no foreign transaction fees. You also get a multitude of travel perks like delayed baggage insurance, trip interruption/cancellation insurance and primary car rental insurance. To top it all off, Chase offers great customer service; it’s very easy to reach an agent (instead of going through a long phone menu) when you call the number on the back of the card.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Current Bonus: 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: This card earns 3x points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, advertising made with social media sites and search engines each year. You earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, and points don’t expire as long as your account is open.
Annual Fee: $95
Current Bonus: $150 (15,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 in the first three months.
Benefits: You can redeem points for cash back at 1 cent apiece, or you can use them like other Ultimate Rewards points if you also have an Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The card earns 5% back/5x points on select bonus categories which rotate on a quarterly basis.
Annual Fee: $0
Current Bonus: $150 (15,000 points) back after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening.
Benefits: Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (after that, 16.49% to 25.24% variable APR applies). The ability to get 1.5 cents for every dollar spent is nothing to sneeze at. If you also have a UR-earning card like the Ink Business Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem your cash back as Ultimate Rewards points, which get you a better return than 1.5 cents per dollar spent since TPG values them at 2.1 cents apiece. That means 1.5x points on all purchases gives you a return of 3.15%.
Annual fee: $0
You have three basic options for redeeming Ultimate Rewards:
1. Cash Back — Earn credit on your statement at a flat rate of 1 cent per point. You can also redeem toward third-party gift cards at a rate of 1 cent per point.
2. Ultimate Rewards Travel Redemptions — Book travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel center and redeem points to pay for your plane tickets, hotel stays, rental cars or experiences. As a holder of the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Preferred, you’ll get a 20% discount when paying with points, so each point is worth 1.25 cents (e.g., a $100 hotel room would only cost 8,000 points). And if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents apiece toward redemptions through the portal.
3. Transfer to Travel Partners — You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to 9 airline programs (British Airways, Flying Blue, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic and the more recent additions of Aer Lingus and Iberia) and four hotel programs (Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton). All transfer ratios are 1:1, and you must transfer in 1,000-point increments.
The first two redemption options are pretty straightforward. It’s almost never a good deal to redeem for cash back, since you can get significantly more value than 1 cent per point by using the other redemption options. The Ultimate Rewards travel center can be worthwhile if you’re booking a very cheap flight or hotel room or if the loyalty program you could transfer to would charge you more miles than the cost of redeeming points directly through Chase. You might also consider the travel portal option if you only have only a handful of Ultimate Rewards points left, since Chase lets you redeem partially (with the 20% bonus) and cover the balance with cash.
As a reminder, you won’t earn any hotel points or elite stay credits when paying for hotel rooms through the Chase travel portal. However, for the majority of flights booked through the portal, you will earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles. Just note there’s the risk that you could be booked into a bulk fare, at which point you wouldn’t earn anything for the flight. It may not always be easy to tell, but you should read all the rules and policies for your ticket by clicking the small icon on the Chase travel portal search results, such as those shown here:
Top Ways to Maximize Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners
Transferring to one of the 13 Ultimate Rewards program’s travel partners is your best bet if you want to get the most value out of your points. Here are some of the best ways to redeem them with the above-mentioned airlines and hotels:
1. United Airlines — United changed things considerably in late 2016 and 2017 in regards to award bookings. There’s a new web interface; the Excursionist perk replaced previous open jaw and stopover routing rules; and “Everyday awards” have replaced standard awards and now contain variable pricing. While many have become more frustrated with the program and written off the Excursionist perk as a low-value benefit, I’ve found significant value.
It takes a bit of time to comprehend what is allowed in order to maximize this benefit. Here’s the simplest definition of the Excursionist perk: The first flight wholly within a different region than the region you depart and return from is free. When you begin to explore what that actually means, you can piece together fantastic itineraries for hardly any miles. Here’s an itinerary consisting of Mexico to Northern South America round-trip, with an intra-northern South America leg for free thanks to the Excursionist perk:
In the itinerary, you start in Mexico City via a ticket booked through any carrier, such as Southwest Airlines. You can see Mexico City as long as you like and then Quito (UIO) as long as you like, then have an open jaw to Bogata (BOG) and stay as long as you like, fly to the Galapagos Islands and stay as long as you like, then fly back to Puerto Vallarta (in the Mexico region, making this a round-trip itinerary and thus qualifying for the Excursionist perk) and staying in the Pacific Coast resort city as long as you like. Here’s the itinerary from United.com:
The total price for seeing all of these destinations is an astounding 30,000 miles and ~$200:
This is an itinerary between Mexico and Northern South America, costing 15,000 miles each way, with the intra-Northern South American leg of BOG-GPS for free, making it 30,000 miles round-trip. This is just the tip of the iceberg for what’s possible with this tremendous benefit.
2. British Airways — British Airways may have eliminated 4,500-Avios short-haul flights in the US, but they’re still available for flights anywhere else in the world. It could be worth transferring Ultimate Rewards points to fly Oneworld partner Qantas around Australia; Iberia around Europe; and specifically Japan Airlines domestic routes, which can be absurdly expensive if you decide to pay cash. Plus, you can book American and Alaska short-haul flights for just 15,000 Avios round-trip if you find the ever-elusive saver availability.
You can also still book round-trip transatlantic awards on Aer Lingus for 26,000 Avios on off-peak dates round-trip from Boston to Shannon or Dublin. A final option worth mentioning is 25,000 Avios to fly Alaska Airlines round-trip from the West Coast to Hawaii.
3. Korean Air — Don’t overlook Korean Air’s SkyPass program when considering where to transfer your Ultimate Rewards. You can fly the carrier’s 747-8i or A380 to Korea in business for 62,500 miles or first for 80,000 miles one-way. Did I mention that availability in the airline’s own program is fantastic? It’s not unusual to see eight seats in business class for transpacific flights — which is much better than what you’ll find when you try to book these awards with partners like Delta.
Korean SkyPass also has a very attractive around-the-world award, where you can stop nine times flying all business class for 220,000 miles or in economy for 140,000 miles.
4. Hyatt — Transferring your points to Hyatt, making Points + Cash bookings and adding in a Globalist suite upgrade can be a great use of your Ultimate Rewards points. I redeemed a total of 30,000 Hyatt points and $375 for three nights at the Park Hyatt Dubai, which would have cost me $1,580 with taxes and fees. Subtracting the $375 I spent for Points + Cash, I got a strong redemption value of just over 4 cents per point.
5. Singapore Airlines — Singapore Airlines continues to offer one of the best products in the sky, only continuing to solidify its place with an updated Singapore Suites product. The new suites are now flying between Singapore and Sydney, and if you can find saver availability, the flight will cost 80,000 miles in the suite and 58,000 miles in business class.
You can also use the KrisFlyer program to book Star Alliance partners online. Redeem just 35,000 miles to fly round-trip on United from the mainland US to Hawaii — the same trip would cost 45,000 United miles. KrisFlyer considers Hawaii and Bermuda to be in the same zone along with Central America and the Caribbean. All flights within this region cost 35,000 miles round-trip, and you’re permitted one stopover. There are plenty of itineraries you can plan to take advantage of at this redemption price, so it’s definitely worth considering when you think about how to use your Ultimate Rewards.
6. Virgin Atlantic — This transfer partner is often overlooked, but I wouldn’t write off the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program, as it offers some good partner redemptions. The best — if you’re willing to subsidize your award ticket by paying fuel surcharges — is London to Beijing round-trip in Air China first class for 75,000 Flying Club miles and about $700 in taxes and fees. You can also fly ANA on several routes to the US; NRT-LAX round-trip in ANA first costs 110,000 miles and about $400 in taxes and fees. That’s the same mileage you’ll need for a one-way United award on the same product.
A few other partner redemption gems include Tokyo to Auckland on Air New Zealand in business on the new 787-9 for only 80,000 miles round-trip. Flying South African Airways on the fifth-freedom route from Washington Dulles to Senegal in business is a mind-blowing 50,000 miles round-trip. As for Virgin Atlantic’s own flights, premium economy redemptions from the East Coast to Europe for as little as 17,500 miles and $200 in taxes and fees (one-way) is a great way to get across the Atlantic in a bit of comfort.
Call the US Flying Club desk at 1-800-365-9500 for info on the costs of most partner redemptions for your dates of travel, since they’re not available online. I found the agents to be very helpful and quick to answer my queries.
7. Southwest Airlines — If you have the Companion Pass, Southwest should be a transfer destination for your Ultimate Rewards. Redeeming for a single ticket will give you between 1.6-1.9 cents in value per point, so doubling that for your companion to 3.2-3.8 cents per point is wonderful. Add in the ability to cancel for free and re-price award tickets if the price lowers, not to mention no checked bag fees, and Southwest can yield wonderful value for your Ultimate Rewards.
8. Iberia Avios — There are a few scenarios where utilizing Iberia over British Airways can be helpful. First, British Airways charges Avios on a per-segment flown basis, whereas Iberia charges based on total distance of the itinerary. This means instead of paying for multiple short-haul segments with British Airways, you can usually pay one lower price for the total distance with Iberia. The second reason to use Iberia Avios is that yu can redeem for award flights on non-Oneworld partner Royal Air Maroc. For just 46,000 Iberia Avios, you can fly business nonstop from JFK to Casablanca (CMN) on Royal Air Maroc’s new Dreamliner.
The above strategies are just a sampling of the many redemptions available through the Ultimate Rewards program. For example, you could also use Ultimate Rewards to top up a Marriott Rewards account to get you to 270,000 points, which is the amount required for a package including 132,000 United miles and seven nights in a Category 1-5 Marriott property. In any case, the Ultimate Rewards program provides a wide range of options for maximizing your points — you just have to decide which redemptions are the most worthwhile.
Featured image courtesy of the Park Hyatt Sydney.
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- Limited Time Offer: Earn up to 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points.
- Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 & an extra 50,000 points after you spend an additional $15,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 8/8/18.†
- Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
- Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points. That's 1.5 points per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. You can get up to 1 million additional points per year.
- 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year.
- You can also receive 35% points back on all First and Business class flights, with all airlines available through American Express Travel.
- You can enjoy access to The American Express Global Lounge Collection℠ offering access to the most lounges across the globe, when compared with other U.S. credit card offerings. As of 11/2017
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