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Ultimate Rewards points make a great foundation for an award traveler’s portfolio. Like other transferable loyalty currencies, these points can be redeemed for highly valuable awards through airline and hotel transfer partners. I currently hold several different credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earns 3x points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining, and offers an assortment of travel and purchase protections.
Like any of the transferable points programs, an important aspect of using Ultimate Rewards is knowing how long it takes to transfer them from your Ultimate Rewards account to whichever partner you want to utilize. Long transfer times make it more difficult to plan and book awards, especially when availability is limited. American Express Membership Rewards offers some instant transfers, while Citi ThankYou Rewards can take up to a week.
To see how Chase Ultimate Rewards stacks up against the competition, TPG Marketing Director Kate O’Brien and I did some research for each of the program’s transfer partners. We transferred points to my corresponding individual airline and hotel partner accounts, and tracked how long it took for them to show up. Here’s what we found:
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||Instantaneous|
|Singapore Airlines||Same Day**|
|** While points transferred from Ultimate Rewards to Singapore Airlines processed on the same day for us, the confirmation email from Chase states that it can take up to 2 business days for Ultimate Rewards transfers to appear in your Singapore KrisFlyer account.|
9 out of 13 programs transferred instantly, and we never waited more than 2 days for points to show up in any program. These transfer times represent our own experiences, and shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. However, others have reported a similar timeline when transferring points from Ultimate Rewards. Your own transfers may be faster or slower, but you can use these times as guidelines when planning your trips.
While these results set a high bar for any transferable points program, there’s still some risk that award availability can change while you’re waiting for points to show up in your account. Transfers are irreversible, so you could be stuck with thousands of points in a program you have little use for if the flight or hotel room you were banking on disappears. Even though Ultimate Rewards offers mostly excellent transfer times, here are a few tips to help you avoid that situation:
- Put your award reservation on hold prior to transferring. Not all programs allow you to do this, but those that do make things much easier. For example, Marriott allows you to book awards with an insufficient balance, so long as you earn the additional points by 7 days prior to check-in.
- Choose flights that have more than 1 available award seat. This is helpful in case someone else books before your miles show up. You can use tools like ExpertFlyer or KVS to determine how many award seats are available on a flight, or you can just do a single search for three or four passengers, which should give you an idea of how many seats are open.
- Select uncommon routes. You can improve your chances by flying along routes that are less popular or originate from non-hubs, since those often have better award availability. For a transpacific flight, check out ANA’s flight from San Jose to Tokyo-Narita using United miles.
- Have a back-up plan. If your original itinerary is kaput because availability has dried up, have another option (or multiple options) in mind so you can still book when your points arrive.
If your original flights have disappeared, don’t panic. Keep in mind that award availability changes frequently, and can increase dramatically as your departure date approaches. Check regularly, and be ready to act quickly when seats do open up.
While transfer times may vary from one person to another, Ultimate Rewards is pretty consistent compared to ThankYou Rewards and some American Express partners. I’m confident in the award space and hotel nights I find still being available by the time my Ultimate Rewards transfers are complete.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards