When to transfer Ultimate Rewards and when to book directly

Jun 28, 2021

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Traditionally, the most valuable way to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points has been to transfer them to travel partners for expensive premium-cabin flights, last-minute reservations and hotel stays at Hyatt. You can also use your points to book travel directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, but with most Chase credit cards those points are only worth 1.25 cents each toward travel reservations.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is different. When you use points from that card, or combine your Ultimate Rewards points from any other Chase card, they are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel reservations booked through Chase. (You also get this benefit if you have the J.P. Morgan Reserve Card).

This might not seem like a huge deal, but the additional 20% in value could significantly change your decision-making when it comes time to redeem your points. It’s worth exploring your options for booking through the Chase portal rather than transferring points to one of the program’s 10 airline and three hotel partners.

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In This Post

When to book directly with Chase

1. Booking reservations that transfer partners don’t offer

Backpackers wait for their tour bus to depart.
(Photo by Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images)

Would you like a free airport transfer? How about a tour or tickets to a show? These are all options for spending your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through their travel portal. And since the Chase travel portal i powered by Expedia, you can choose from nearly all of the options that you’d find at Expedia.com.

In the past I’ve used this option to see Cirque du Soleil, book a hot-air balloon ride and take a tour. More mundane but cost-saving options can include car rentals, airport transfers and theme park tickets. This is how I once used my Sapphire Reserve to bring my vacation cost down to zero.

2. Low fuel prices equal low airfare for direct bookings

When gas prices are low, plane tickets tend to be cheaper. I’ve often found one-way, domestic flights for less than $100, with little advance notice. When a $100 ticket costs just 6,666 Ultimate Rewards points (for Sapphire Reserve cardholders), you’ll be booking the flight with fewer points than you could with any Ultimate Rewards transfer partner.

So the next time TPG issues a Deal Alert, consider booking it through Chase and using your Ultimate Rewards points to pay for it.

Travel scene, passengers seated in airplane
(Photo by Ricardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Related: Should I book through the Chase Portal if I’m not redeeming points?

3. The decline of saver award space and the growth of “dynamic pricing”

As someone who books the vast majority of my travel as award flights, I’m used to being extremely flexible when it comes to making reservations. But every year it seems like I need more and more flexibility to book saver awards to my destination, and sometimes that’s not even enough. Now that several airlines have dynamic pricing, it can be even harder to find a reasonably priced award using your miles.

But by redeeming your points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center, you’ll have access to flights on most airlines and pay the going rate. When traveling internationally, this could even include carriers that don’t participate in frequent flyer programs and even some that you may have never heard of.

4. The ability to earn miles and credit toward elite status

United Airlines Boeing 767-300 High J LAX JFK Zach Griff - 49Polaris
(Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)

Another reason to favor the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel site over transfers to the program’s airline partners is that flights booked directly through the portal with points will count as revenue bookings. This means that your award flights will earn redeemable miles, count towards elite status and may be eligible for upgrades. In fact, I earn Southwest status each year by booking my flights through Chase. 

Just watch out for basic economy fares that don’t offer all the benefits you need. Thankfully, the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is pretty good at alerting you to these fares before checkout.

5. Airline reservations include all mandatory taxes and fees

Having to pay extra cash for taxes and fees is one of the disappointing realities of award travel. Sometimes it’s just a trivial $5.60 TSA fee for a one-way domestic flight, but a family of five will have to pay that fee 10 times for each round-trip ticket.

When using your miles to book an international trip, you could be stuck with hundreds of dollars in taxes, government fees and airline-imposed fuel surcharges. Yet one of the beauties of booking flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is that all of the mandatory taxes and fees are included in the price, and payable with your Ultimate Rewards points. That leaves your total out-of-pocket costs at zero in most cases.

Related: How to avoid fuel surcharges on award travel

6. Use your rewards at a wider selection of hotels

If you’re spending Ultimate Rewards points for hotel accommodations, you’re probably used to looking for awards from Hyatt, as its points are worth the most among all of Chase’s hotel transfer partners.

According to TPG’s latest valuations, Hyatt points are worth 1.7 cents each, while IHG points are worth just 0.5 cents apiece and Marriott Bonvoy points are worth 0.8 cents each.

(Screenshot courtesy of Chase.com)

Hyatt is quickly adding properties to its portfolio, but sometimes you might not find one where you’re traveling. Other times, a hotel chain might restrict award space to a narrowly defined selection of “standard rooms.”

But when you book a stay through Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel, your choice of hotels is essentially the same as what you’d find through Expedia. So instead of choosing between one or two Hyatt, IHG or Marriott properties in an area, you could have your pick of dozens of hotels across all price points. As with any online travel agency, you will need to play amateur detective to find any hidden resort fees.

7. The ability to partially pay with points

Sometimes you want to book an award trip, but you don’t have the necessary points and miles. When using traditional airline miles or hotel points, you have few options other than to buy points at a vastly inflated cost or to just pay cash for the entire reservation.

But one of the valuable features of the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel website is that it can apply all of your available Ultimate Rewards points toward your reservation, letting you pay cash for the remaining balance.

8. You can rebook existing hotel reservations for fewer points

If you recently opened the Sapphire Reserve and have already booked stays with Hyatt or another hotel partner, take a moment to search for properties through the Ultimate Rewards site. You might find a hotel for fewer points and it might even be at the same property where you already booked an award.

Thankfully, Hyatt and other hotel programs generally offer full refunds of your points when you cancel an award stay according to their specific policies.

When to transfer Ultimate Rewards

Despite the value offered by the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center when you have a Sapphire Reserve Card, there are still some cases where transferring points to a partner makes more sense. Here are four examples:

1. Award flights in business or first class

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class
(Photo by Agent Wolf/Shutterstock)

When you can transfer your points to partners like Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines and United and use your miles for premium-class awards at the lowest mileage levels, then you’ll almost always do better than you would by redeeming Ultimate Rewards directly for travel.

2. Last-minute flights on routes with little competition

Airlines love to charge extortionate prices for flights booked close to the travel date. If you need to be on one of these flights and you can find an award using miles with an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, you’ll generally redeem fewer rewards this way than booking directly through Chase.

The same is often true when an airline has a monopoly on a particular route. If you’re lucky enough to find award seats, then you’ll probably get well over 1.5 cents per point in value.

3. Reservations at luxury Hyatt hotels

Park Hyatt New York
(Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

When you’re booking a Park Hyatt, Alila, Andaz hotel with your World of Hyatt points, you’ll usually get more than 1.5 cents in value per point. The exception is when there are highly discounted rooms during off-peak times.

4. Hotel bookings during peak periods

During a convention, a holiday or another major event that produces high occupancy rates, hotels may raise their prices all the way to the so-called “rack rate.” But if there’s a standard room available, you’ll get far more than 1.5 cents per point in value when you transfer your points to Hyatt, Marriott or IHG.

Bottom line

Most of the attention paid to the Sapphire Reserve has focused on its outstanding benefits and rewards for spending, but the option to redeem points for 1.5 cents each through the travel portal has been underappreciated. By knowing when to book your travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center and when to transfer to partners, you can ensure that you’ll get as much value as possible from this premium card.

Featured photo by Yelizaveta Tomashevska/Getty Images

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