Sweet spots: The best ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points
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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-earning 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 because it could provide value to cardholders for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.
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The Chase Ultimate Rewards program can be one of the most valuable transferable points currencies, but only if you know the best ways to use them. While Chase doesn’t have quite as many transfer partners as other programs like Amex Membership Rewards, many people start with an Ultimate Rewards earning card when they first get into the world of points and miles. That’s mainly due to Chase’s 5/24 rule and its restrictions on credit card applications. With valuable cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, many readers are more likely to have Ultimate Rewards points than any other currency.
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Chase also has one of the best lineups of small-business credit cards, including the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, which offers a welcome bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Several Chase cards offer bonuses when you redeem your points directly through the Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal. Still, the highest value and most aspirational redemptions tend to come by leveraging one of the program’s various airline and hotel transfer partners.
Today we’ll take a look at some of the best sweet spots in the program to help you maximize your next redemption.
Top-tier Hyatt hotels
Chase’s close relationship with World of Hyatt is great news for anyone collecting Ultimate Rewards points. The World of Hyatt award chart is incredibly cheap relative to some of its competitors, and with Ultimate Rewards points transferring at a 1:1 ratio, it’s easy to book Hyatt’s top-tier properties at very cheap rates. While Hyatt has added an eighth award category to accommodate some of the new properties it now partners with through Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Hyatt’s core properties only go up to Category 7.
Note that Hyatt had planned to add peak and off-peak pricing to its award chart this spring, but has temporarily shelved those plans due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
This means that the fanciest Park Hyatt properties in the entire portfolio, including the Park Hyatt New York and Park Hyatt Sydney, can be booked for only 30,000 points a night. TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, so 30,000 points would be worth $600. That’s a great deal for hotels that routinely sell for close to $1,000 but can climb even higher during peak season.
There’s also great value at the lower end of the Hyatt award chart, with Category 1 hotels starting at only 5,000 points per night. Still, you’ll generally get the most outsized returns from Category 6 and 7 properties.
Iberia flights to Madrid
While most people associate the Avios currency with British Airways, sister airline Iberia’s loyalty program also uses Avios and can represent a much better value for some flights to Europe. Since Iberia’s award chart is also distance-based, you may be punished for taking longer routings or connecting flights. Still, you can score a great deal on nonstop flights operated by Iberia.
The following chart shows Iberia’s award rates for one-way, nonstop flights from the U.S. to Madrid (MAD):
|Origin||Blue Class/ Economy Off-Peak||Blue Class/ Economy Peak||Premium Economy Off-Peak||Premium Economy Peak||Business Off-Peak||Business Peak|
|New York-JFK||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,500||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,500||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Boston (BOS)||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,500||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Miami (MIA)||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
|Los Angeles LAX)||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
|San Francisco (SFO)||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
Round-trip flights from the East Coast or Chicago O’Hare (ORD) will only set you back 34,000 Avios in economy, 50,000 in premium economy or 68,000 in business. When you consider that most airlines charge about 60,000 miles for a one-way business class award to Europe, you’re essentially getting a 50% discount. This deal is so good that it might be worth paying for a positioning flight to one of these cities to start your award ticket.
- Economy: 42,500 Avios
- Premium economy: 63,500 Avios
- Business: 84,000 Avios
Of course, you’ll need to fly during off-peak dates to get the lowest prices for each individual route. Iberia’s peak and off-peak calendar is a little more complicated than other airlines, so rather than trying to list all the off-peak dates, just take a look for yourself. Dates in red are peak, and all others are off-peak:
In addition to saving you tens of thousands of miles, booking through Iberia can also help you save hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees on your award ticket. For a round-trip business-class award from New York-JFK to Madrid, Iberia will charge you a manageable ~$200 in taxes. If you booked the same award using British Airways Avios instead, you’d pay the same 68,000 Avios, but you’d also owe over $1,000 in taxes and fees.
Flights to Hawaii with Alaska and American Airlines
It takes a minute to wrap your head around the fact that flights to Europe (especially London) rank among the worst uses of British Airways Avios. Still, if you set your sights westward on the Aloha state, you can find an incredible deal for flights to Hawaii.
You can choose to book awards with Oneworld partner American Airlines, but BA also partners with future Oneworld member Alaska Airlines to give you a more extensive route network. As long as your nonstop flight distance is under 3,000 miles each way, you can leverage British Airways’ distance-based award chart to fly from any of the following West Coast gateways to Hawaii for only 26,000 Avios round-trip:
- Seattle (SEA)
- Portland (PDX)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- Oakland (OAK)
- San Jose (SJC)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- San Diego (SAN)
- Phoenix (PHX)
From these airports, you’ll be able to fly to all of Hawaii’s most popular destinations, including Honolulu (HNL), Maui (OGG), Kauai (LIH) and more. You can book American-operated flights directly on the British Airways website, but for flights on Alaska metal, you’ll need to search for award space on the Alaska app or website and call BA to book.
Between these two airlines, you have well over 30 daily nonstop flights from the West Coast to Hawaii from which to pick. Just keep in mind that due to the pandemic, operations may be limited.
Which Star Alliance program to use?
Have you ever wondered why transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards are worth more than any individual airline or hotel they partner with? They get their immense value from the flexibility they offer. This doesn’t just include the flexibility to book flights on different airlines in different alliances; it also gives you the option to pick which program in a single alliance will get you the best value. With Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you have access to two great Star Alliance loyalty programs: United MileagePlus and Singapore KrisFlyer.
You can check out our guide for a walk-through of which Star Alliance program to use to book different types of awards, but here are a few examples of how you can pit these two programs against each other to save points on your next Star Alliance vacation:
Flights to Hawaii
While United’s dynamic award pricing makes it hard to predict just how much an award ticket will cost, we know from the old award chart that a round-trip economy saver award from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii should start at about 45,000 miles, though it can climb much higher. By comparison, Singapore charges just 35,000 miles for the same ticket.
Star Alliance premium cabins
United typically charges higher award rates for Star Alliance premium-cabin flights, such as first-class tickets to Europe (110,000 miles one-way vs. 95,000 with Singapore). However, for United-operated flights to Europe, you’d be better off using United miles (60,000 each way compared to 65,000 miles through Singapore). The one caveat is that United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges on partner awards, while Singapore does for many airlines.
Which Star Alliance program is better for you will depend on the specific route you plan to fly, but check both options before transferring your points.
ANA and Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic
If you’re looking to fly on one specific Star Alliance airline (ANA), you’re best ignoring both United and Singapore and focusing your efforts on Virgin Atlantic. It’s not a member of one of the major alliances, but it has formed individual partnerships with many airlines. The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club award chart for ANA, shown below, might just be the single best sweet spot in the entire world of points and miles.
For just 110,000 miles, you can fly round-trip first classfrom the West Coast of the U.S. (L.A. or San Francisco) to Tokyo. Flights from other U.S. gateways only cost an extra 10,000 miles (120,000 miles round-trip). As a point of comparison, Singapore would charge you 125,000 miles for a one-way ticket, and United would charge you 110,000 miles. You’re thus getting essentially two tickets for the price of one while simultaneously scoring a seat in one of the most luxurious first-class products in the process.
Even flights in business class are a steal, costing 90,000-95,000 miles round-trip depending on your U.S. departure airport. If at all possible, you’ll want to route through New York (JFK) and fly ANA’s new industry-leading “The Room” business class, which is only available on select routes. ANA isn’t the most generous with award space, but if you’re flexible with your dates, it’s relatively easy to find space. You have to book these tickets as a round-trip award and book at least 48 hours before departure, but that’s a small price to pay to get a five-star flight for such a low price.
You can also score amazing deals using Virgin Atlantic miles to fly Delta One suites from the U.S. to Europe or Asia. At just 50,000 miles each way to Europe or 60,000 to Asia, this is one of the cheapest ways to fly up front with Delta, especially since the carrier’s own SkyMiles program often charges several hundred thousand miles for these very same tickets.
Unique activities with the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
While you’re not going to find insane value here, as points redeemed via the portal are worth a flat 1.5 cents each if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (1.25 cents each if you only have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred), this can still be an excellent use of your rewards. There are many options available, like dolphin watching in Gran Canaria, horseback riding in Argentina, or Ghost Touring in Savannah.
You can even use points to book a flight in an actual fighter jet.
Redeeming your Chase points through the Ultimate Rewards portal can unlock incredible experiences for your vacations and help you conserve cash if that’s your goal. To book an activity using your Ultimate Rewards points, go to your Chase Ultimate Rewards account, which will be listed alongside your other Chase accounts. From the Ultimate Rewards home page, select “Travel,” and then “Things to Do.”
Note that activities are not the same as the “experiences” listed on the Ultimate Rewards site. Those are the more exclusive experiences in selected cities made available to cardmembers, like the Sundance Film Festival.
Expedia now operates the Chase Travel activities portal, so, technically, if an activity is available on Expedia, you’d think it would be bookable through Chase. But, that’s not always the case. It’s worth noting that the ability to book Disney tickets returned to the Chase portal, but the prices are far higher than what the theme parks charge directly, so it’s not a good deal.
Once you book your activity, you’ll receive a voucher, just like the one you’d get if you booked through Expedia. The voucher will contain details about the local contact for your tour or experience. You should follow up close to the departure date via email or phone call. If for any reason, the tour gets canceled or you change your mind, most Chase Ultimate Rewards activity bookings can be canceled. Each experience will list its cancellation policy.
The myriad ways you can redeem your Ultimate Rewards makes them one of the most valuable and versatile transferable points currencies. Whether you’re looking to travel domestically around the U.S. or indulge in international luxury, there’s a transfer partner to help you get and (possibly) stay there. And if you’re looking for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Chase has your back with a multitude of unique activities available on its travel portal.
While these redemptions are some of the best options available, they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. If you play your cards right (pun intended), there are plenty of other ways to get great value out of your Ultimate Rewards points.
Additional reporting by Dia Adams and Carissa Rawson.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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