TPG reader question: When is it better to use the Chase portal instead of airline transfer partners?

Aug 16, 2021

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Editor’s note: This article is part of a weekly column to answer your toughest credit card questions. If you would like to ask us a question, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

There are loads of ways to redeem Chase Ultimate rewards to achieve just about any dream trip on your bucket list.

If you’re TPG fan, you probably know how ardently we promote transferring Chase points to valuable airline and hotel partners. It’s the best way to get truly outsized value for your rewards. But it’s not always the best option. Reader Richard wants to know how to know which method to use:

Is it better to purchase tickets through Chase Ultimate Rewards or to transfer to United MileagePlus to get tickets to Italy?

Richard Aird

Let’s take a simple quiz to help you decide whether you should book airfare through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or instead transfer your points to airlines.

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In This Post

What is the Chase Travel portal?

The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal is essentially an online travel agency similar to Priceline or Orbitz (it’s actually powered by Expedia). When you log into this platform with your Chase credentials, you can book airfare, hotels, rental cars and more, either by paying with your credit card, redeeming Chase points, or with a mix of both. You can redeem your points for travel at a rate between 1 and 1.5 cents each, depending on which specific Chase credit cards you have (more on this below).

Related: How to use the Chase Travel Portal

(Image courtesy of Chase Ultimate Rewards)

You’ll even earn bonus points when booking through the Chase Travel Portal and paying with the following cards:

While this method is unquestionably less complicated than transferring points to Chase travel partners, because you can only redeem your points at fixed rates, it caps the value proposition of your Chase points (versus all the options transferring to airline partners opens, up which we estimate raises the value of Ultimate Rewards points to 2 cents apiece). That’s why we rarely recommend using your points this way — but the portal can be a life-saver in some instances.

Below are a few questions to ask yourself before transferring points to an airline or booking flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal.

When to use the Chase Portal instead of transferring points

Question 1: Can you travel during your desired travel dates by transferring points?

One of the greatest aspects of booking through the Chase Travel Portal is its ability to vanquish blackout dates and award seat availability that many frequent-flyer programs impose.

When you transfer points to an airline, you’ll (usually) be subject to “award inventory.” Airlines tend to release a small pool of seats that are eligible to be booked with miles. If those seats are booked, you may not be able to use miles to reserve your flight — even if there are still empty seats on the plane.

But when you book through the Chase Travel Portal, you’re effectively using points to “pay” for a seat. Chase is taking your points, and they’re reserving your flight with money. That is to say, if a seat is available for sale, you can book it with points via the Chase Travel Portal just as if you were paying for it with your credit card. It’s a good option if you’re vacationing around the holidays or during a peak travel season.

Related: Best credit cards for airline purchases

If Chase airline partners offer no award seats for your desired dates, book through the Chase Portal. If there are available award seats, proceed to the next question.

Question 2: Does booking via the Chase Travel Portal cost fewer points?

When you book a flight through the Chase Travel Portal, you’ll receive a flat value for your points. This value depends on the credit card you hold:

In other words, if the flight you want costs $300, you can book it for 20,000 points if you’ve got the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But you’ll need 24,000 points if you’ve got the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Business Preferred due to those value differentials.

Compare the above Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal price to the price of an award flight using frequent-flyer miles, and choose the option that costs fewer points. It’s easy to do so since Chase points transfer to its airline partners on a 1:1 basis. If the prices in Chase points and airline miles are nearly identical, proceed to the next question.

Question 3: How many miles will you earn for your flight?

You earn airline frequent-flyer miles when you purchase a flight. You do not earn airline miles when booking an award flight using frequent-flyer miles from a Chase points transfer. Therefore, you’ll earn airline miles when booking through the Chase Travel Portal since it’s just like purchasing tickets, but not when you transfer your points to an airline program and book an award flight.

Depending on the airline, fare and your elite status, this could certainly move the needle in favor of the Chase portal. Below is a screenshot of a random one-way flight on United Airlines between Chicago and Seattle where the number of United miles (a Chase transfer partner) and Chase points redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards portal are roughly equivalent. While you wouldn’t earn any elite-qualifying activity or award miles by transferring Chase points to United and then redeeming for an award ticket, if you redeemed Chase points through the Ultimate Rewards portal instead,  you would earn between 670 and 2,000 miles for the flight along with Premier-qualifying credits, depending on the fare you purchased.

(Image courtesy of United Airlines)

If you’re chasing elite status, or simply want to keep earning airline miles on your flights, you’ll likely be better served by the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal rather than transferring.

Bottom line

There are a few scenarios when it makes sense to book your flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal instead of transferring points to airline partners:

  • There are no available award seats for your desired travel dates
  • It costs fewer points to book via the Chase portal than transferring to a partner airline
  • A paid fare would earn you a significant number of redeemable miles
  • You’re going for elite status and need the credit from your flights

Read our post on Chase Ultimate Rewards sweet spots to get a sense of just how valuable Chase points can be when transferred to airlines. When you see their potential value in comparison to the Chase Travel Portal, you’ll better understand why we don’t often recommend burning your points in this way. That said, use them in whatever way makes you the happiest. Free travel is all about fulfilling your personal goals.

Featured photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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