Why I’m no longer chasing Ultimate Rewards
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Over the past nine years, Chase Ultimate Rewards points have gone from being my most valued transferable currency to my least. Don’t get me wrong – the program offers terrific value and ties to some incredibly rewarding credit cards. It's still my go-to recommendation to newbies looking for the most bang for their buck. But over the years, I've diversified my points portfolio, familiarized myself with less ubiquitous airline programs...and moved away from the Ultimate Rewards universe. That and the increasing competition in the rewards credit card market has made me shift towards currencies like Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou points.
In fact, for 2021, I'll be shifting most of my credit card spending on cards that don't earn Ultimate Rewards. Here's why:
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Chase partnerships overlap with other currencies
These days I’m not getting a ton of value out of Chase's transfer partnerships. United isn’t the behemoth it was in 2011 when I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and MileagePlus had a reasonable award chart. Over the years, a series of negative changes have made MileagePlus less desirable for award redemptions. Why redeem 63,000 United miles each way for a business class ticket to Europe if I can instead redeem 88,000 ANA miles round-trip by tapping into my Membership Rewards stash?
Ultimate Rewards partners like Flying Blue,and Singapore Krisflyer, aren’t that crucial, considering I can obtain these rewards through Citi, Amex, and Capital One transfers. The only Chase partner I've transferred points to has been World of Hyatt. I recently got the World of Hyatt Credit Card, so I don't really need Ultimate Rewards. The only scenario where they will come in handy is when I need points immediately for an award, and the points earned on my card haven't posted yet.
Related: Sweet spots: The best ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points
Other cards offer better rewards for my spending
Chase has gotten a lot of competition over the years from American Express and Citi. I used to get such a thrill from earning 3x Ultimate Rewards points on dining with my Chase Sapphire Preferred. But why do that when I can earn 5x ThankYou points with my Citi Prestige® Card? It doesn't make sense to earn less than half the points, especially with overlapping transfer partnerships.
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Meanwhile, grocery spending has become a big expense for me. The Citi Premier® Card offers 3x ThankYou points per dollar in this category permanently.
My previous go-to card for non-bonus spending
The Chase Freedom Unlimited has long been my go-to card for non-bonus spending. The card earns 1.5% cash back on all spending, which you can convert to 1.5 points if you have an Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card like the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The card recently introduced additional category bonuses to sweeten the deal:
- 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services
- 3% on drugstore purchases
This is definitely a positive development for Chase cardholders and I'll absolutely swipe my card at drugstores for the 3x bonus. But I can earn more than 3x on dining through my Citi cards. While the 5x bonus on Ultimate Rewards travel is also a nice addition, third party bookings often disqualify you from earning hotel points or status. So I will probably not take advantage of this bonus unless the rates are substantially lower.
Better options for my non-bonus spending
It's not just Chase vs. Citi cards here. My The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express earns 2x Membership Rewards on purchases (up to $50,000 per calendar year; then 1x). That's a 4% return, based on TPG's valuations. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2x miles on all spending. When you take the transfer ratio into consideration, it's equivalent to earning 1.5 airline miles per $1 spent. Based on my spending and redemption habits, these options work out better than charging purchases to my Ultimate Rewards-earning cards.
Related: How (and why) you should be earning lots of Capital One miles
A lack of transfer bonuses
Chase Ultimate Rewards has only ever offered three transfer bonuses – two of which occurred this year. On the other hand, Citi and Amex offer transfer bonuses fairly regularly, which is incredibly valuable.
Earning hundreds of thousands of points every year for premium travel isn't easy. There are only so many credit card sign-up bonuses you can get and so much spending you can maximize. It definitely helps when a reward program offers a transfer bonus that cuts your redemption cost down. Citi ThankYou and Amex Membership Rewards have been more reliable in offering that option.
Related: How I earned 491,257 points in quarantine
All of that being said, I'm not quite done with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. I’ve found that the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel portal offers some very competitive rates on hotels. For example, I once found a $285 nightly rate at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, which was going for $540 at the time. In January, Chase ran a 40% off sale on hotels in Mexico, Brazil, and Costa Rica. So Ultimate Rewards will definitely come into play next year – just not as prominently as other currencies.
I will keep using my Chase Freedom Unlimited, where it makes sense, to earn the most rewards possible. And I'll use my Ultimate Rewards to top off my Hyatt and Marriott accounts when I need to. I just won't go out of my way to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards since many of their transfer partners overlap with Citi and Amex's. Plus, Citi partners like Etihad Guest and Turkish Miles&Smiles offer sweet spots on both domestic and international awards that I plan to take advantage of. These two programs fit my credit card spending and award redemption habits better.
Folks who want just 1-2 credit cards and easy redemptions that they don't have to research extensively will be better served by Chase. Diversity is also key. This is why Chase Ultimate Rewards will continue to play a part -- albeit a small one -- in my 2021 points and miles strategy.