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Why I’m no longer chasing Ultimate Rewards

Dec. 29, 2020
7 min read
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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?

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

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.

(Photo by Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images)

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

Bottom line

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.

Featured image by (Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases