10 Tips for Using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center
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Among the numerous benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, one of the least appreciated is the ability to receive 1.5 cents in value per point redeemed at the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center. In fact, this benefit should change how you redeem your Ultimate Rewards points, when you want to earn redeemable miles and elite status credit on flights or when the hotel you want can't be booked through a Chase transfer partner, among other situations.
The problem is that the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center is not exactly the best designed website, but there are many tips and tricks that can help you use it and get more value from your points.
Here are 10 things that you might not know about the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center:
1. Save time by creating traveler profiles.
If you're going to be using the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center regularly, you might as well spend a few minutes creating traveler profiles for yourself and anyone else who you'll be booking travel for.
These profiles contain the basic information needed to book reservations, such as your name, address, birth date and contact information. You can also add your preferred departure airport, your passport information and even special meal requests. There are even fields to add in your frequent flyer numbers and your account numbers for hotel and rental car programs. This can save you lots of time when you book reservations.
2. Earn points and miles from your award bookings.
With your loyalty program information on file, you're free to earn the points and miles from many of your award reservations, the same way you would if you booked directly. You can earn rewards from all of your flights and rental car reservations, although most hotel programs won't offer rewards unless you book directly with them. For example, I often use the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center to book rental cars with National, and by supplying my Emerald number I still receive access to the Executive Aisle due to the elite status I received as a Sapphire Reserve cardholder.
3. Book rental cars one-way.
For several years, you were unable to book a rental car at the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center unless you were dropping it off at the same location you picked it up. But recently, a new field appeared that allows you to specify a different drop-off city or airport. Having more options is always a good thing.
4. Be very careful when booking hotels.
I often book hotels using the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center, especially when my hotel points fail to offer 1.5 cents in value or when I need to stay somewhere that isn't part of one of the hotel programs I have rewards with. But one of the real problems with the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center is that it fails to include taxes and fees in its initial quote, and you'll only see the total price after you click "book" and add it to your card.
What's worse is that even this price may not include "resort fees," "urban destination" fees or any other of the new bogus fees that are rapidly infecting the hospitality industry. This means that the total price you must pay will not be disclosed by the first, or even the last, price you see, and the hotel can hit you up in person for undisclosed fees when you check out. For more information on this problem, see my post on Comparing Hotel Price Transparency Across Booking Sites.
5. You probably won't get points on hotel bookings.
I know that the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center is operated by a company called Connexions Loyalty, but I'm not aware of any connection it has to Expedia and it's group of online travel agencies including Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Orbitz and Travelocity. What I do know is that on several different occasions hotel staff has told me that they thought my room was booked through Expedia.
Whether or not Expedia has anything to do with Chase or Connexions Loyalty doesn't matter. What you need to know is that the hotels you book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center will be treated as third-party travel agency bookings. This means that you're unlikely to receive hotel points from your stay, and you may not even receive some of the benefits of any elite status you hold.
6. You can filter out basic economy fares.
When so-called basic economy fares began proliferating through the travel world, online travel agencies like the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center were slow to inform customers of the numerous restrictions imposed on these fares. Thankfully, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center now displays basic economy fares somewhat clearly. You even have the option to exclude basic economy fares, but only after you see the initial search results. Unfortunately, I've frequently found this option to be less than functional, returning no results on occasion.
7. The baggage and hotel cancellation policies are as clear as mud.
When you book a ticket directly with an airline, it will tell you exactly what your carry-on and checked baggage allowance is, the cost of purchasing additional bags. But when you book a ticket using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center, you simply get a link titled "baggage fees." This link takes you to Airlinebaggagecosts.com, which simply offers links to each airline's web page that discusses baggage fees. This multi-step process is no better than Googling it yourself, and it offers no clarity on the baggage allowance that applies to your particular fare and routing.
Likewise, if you want to know what the hotel cancellation rules are, the Chase Travel Center will just reference the hotel's "cancellation window," and it's up to figure out what that is.
8. You can book Southwest and Allegiant flights, but only by calling.
Southwest and Allegiant flights don't ever appear in the online results when searching the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center. But after you perform a search, you'll see this note buried in the disclaimers; "Some airlines don't offer advance seat selection. Southwest and Allegiant tickets can only be purchased by calling us at 1-855-234-2542."
But that's not all — you can also book Norweigian and Gol (a Brazilian low-cost carrier) flights by calling the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center.
9. The call center can be frustrating, but the representatives do a decent job.
There are few things more annoying in travel than having to listen to long, irrelevant messages before reaching a human. You mean I have to know the names and birth dates of the travelers before I can book an airline ticket? I had no idea! And I certainly don't care when I'm calling for help with a hotel or rental car issue. Yet you have to listen to this message each and every time you call.
Thankfully, I've had pretty good experiences with the representatives once I got through to them. For example, one reached out directly to a small hotel in Mexico, and got them to waive the cancellation fee after I became sick and couldn't travel.
10. Don't forget "activities."
When you book something online at the Ultimate Rewards Travel Center, you have four options: flights, hotels, car rentals and something called "activities." This last one can be a great opportunity to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points rather than spend cash on tours and attractions on your next trip.