Published in: Credit Cards | Dec. 17, 2018
Definitive Guide to Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
By: Lyle Daly
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can unlock exciting travel opportunities. Before you start redeeming yours, learn how you can use them to their full effect.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is, without a doubt, one of the best credit card rewards programs in the business. You can build up a huge balance of points thanks to the generous sign-up bonuses and rewards rates on Chase’s credit cards, and you’ll have all kinds of options for how you can use those points.
While Ultimate Rewards points can be extremely valuable, earning them is only half the battle. After that, you’ll need to find the redemption method that gets you the most for your points and enables you to book the travel that you want.
In this guide, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the Ultimate Rewards program, covering everything you need to know about how it works and how you can put your points to use.
Why you can trust me
I’ve been a big fan of Chase’s credit cards and Ultimate Rewards program since I first started pursuing reward travel opportunities, and I have three cards in that program. Through sign-up bonuses and my regular spending, I’ve accumulated over 300,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
My goal has always been to cover my most expensive and exciting trips with my points, so maximizing Ultimate Rewards points is one of the areas I’ve studied the most. The information in this guide comes from my first-hand experience of analyzing point values with different types of redemptions and reviewing award booking options with all of Chase’s airline and hotel partners.
How the Ultimate Rewards program works
The Ultimate Rewards program allows you to earn points that you can then redeem towards rewards, with travel being the most popular and valuable reward option.
You’ll have access to the program as long as you have at least one active Ultimate Rewards credit card. Every time you earn a sign-up bonus with an Ultimate Rewards card or use one for a purchase, you’ll earn more points.
Which credit cards earn Ultimate Rewards points?
Chase currently has three credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards Points.
The cards above aren’t the only ones that you can use to earn Ultimate Rewards points. Chase also has several cash-back cards with high earning rates in certain spending categories.
Wondering what cash-back cards have to do with Ultimate Rewards points? What many people don’t realize is that there’s another way to redeem cash back with Chase.
If you only have a Chase cash-back card, then you need to redeem your rewards for cash back. But if you have an Ultimate Rewards card, you can transfer your cash back to that card at a rate of 100 points per $1 (see “Combining your points onto one credit card” below for more on this).
There are two popular choices for Chase companion cards.
Ultimate Rewards points redemption options
You have four popular redemption options for your Ultimate Rewards points. Here’s what they are and how they rank:
- Transfers to travel partners
- Travel purchases through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
- Cash back
- Gift cards
1. Transfers to travel partners
You can transfer your points to the loyalty program of any airline or hotel that is partnered with Chase. Transfers to most partners process instantaneously, and the transfer ratio is 1:1 with every partner. After you transfer your points, you can use them with the partner to book your airfare or hotel stay. These are the current loyalty programs where you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points:
Airlines: Aer Lingus AerClub, British Airways Executive Club, Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM, Iberia Plus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Pro Tip: Don’t forget about airline partnerships and alliances. When you have points with one airline, you can also use those points to book flights with any of that airline’s partners and fellow airline alliance members.
The biggest airline alliances are Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and Oneworld, and Chase has transfer partners in all three. So even though there are nine airlines in the Ultimate Rewards program, you could use points for flights with over 60 airlines thanks to partner bookings. Those partners include American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, the other two major domestic carriers that aren’t directly partnered with Chase.
2. Travel purchases through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
With this method, you search for travel on the Ultimate Rewards travel portal and redeem your points towards the cash price of the purchase. When you redeem your points this way, their value depends on which credit card you have. Here are the current point values by card:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® and Chase Ink Business Preferred® -- $0.0125 per point
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® -- $0.015 per point
An extra perk with this method is that it’s usually considered a cash purchase by the airline or hotel, and that means you can earn points in their own loyalty program from the booking. If you had transferred your points to make an award booking, you wouldn’t earn anything.
3. Cash back
Chase gives you $0.01 per point when you redeem them for cash back. Since you get less value this way, it’s a poor redemption method.
4. Gift cards
Chase typically gives you $0.01 per point when you redeem them for gift cards. Again, the lower value makes this something to avoid on most occasions.
5. Chase Experiences
There’s another redemption option called Chase Experiences, which is where you redeem your points towards events in the culinary, entertainment, or sports fields. I think Ultimate Rewards points are better spent elsewhere, but if you want to drop 25,000 points to deliver the lineup to an umpire at an MLB game, here’s your chance.
What Ultimate Rewards points are worth
An Ultimate Rewards point has a cash-back rate of $0.01, and you can also easily get either $0.0125 or $0.015 per point on redemptions through the program’s travel portal.
If you transfer your points, there are a wide range of redemption opportunities available. Some will earn you $0.01 or less. On the other end of the spectrum, you could find redemptions worth more than $0.05 and potentially more than $0.10 per point.
Earning $0.015 to $0.05 per point is a reasonable expected value range for Ultimate Rewards points. That’s a range that you can typically reach if you use your points wisely, but it won’t require you to spend weeks hunting down deals or book some ridiculous trip purely because of the awesome “CPP” (cents per point).
Combining your points onto one credit card
If you have multiple Chase credit cards, then you may eventually need to combine all your points onto one card. There are a few situations when it makes sense to do this:
- When you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and another Ultimate Rewards card -- Since the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has the highest travel redemption rate at $0.015 per point, it makes sense to pool all your points onto it.
- When you have a Chase companion card and an Ultimate Rewards card -- You’ll need to transfer your cash back to the Ultimate Rewards card to convert it to points.
Or, you could just want to simplify your points redemptions. If you need to redeem 75,000 points spread across three Chase cards, you’ll save time by combining them onto one card instead of doing three smaller redemptions.
Combining points with Chase is a quick process. In fact, I did it one afternoon in a couple of minutes. Here’s how:
1. Log in to Chase Ultimate Rewards.
You can go straight to the Ultimate Rewards site and log in there or go through your online Chase credit card account.
When you log in, you’ll need to select one of your credit cards. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, because the transfer screen will include all of them.
2. Select “Combine Points” from the home screen.
3. Choose the credit cards.
4. Enter the number of points you wish to transfer or select “All my points.”
5. Confirm and submit.
Using your points to book the travel you want
One of my biggest frustrations as I’ve researched ways to maximize Ultimate Rewards points is that there are so many lists with high-value redemption options, only they never explain how I can find the award travel that I want.
Sure, it’s nice to know I can book a Singapore Airlines first-class ticket or a Hyatt suite in Dubai, but if Singapore Airlines doesn’t go to the destination I have in mind and I’m not planning to visit Dubai, neither of those do me much good.
That’s why I’m going to explain my simple method for finding the right redemption opportunities.
1. Outline the trip.
- Where you want to go and for how long? -- For example, “London for seven days” or “Madrid for five days, then Barcelona for four.”
- What do you want to book with your points? -- You can use points for your flight, your hotel, or both. It all depends on your travel preferences and the trip you’re taking. I usually put my points towards flights because I prefer staying in vacation rentals over hotels. But everyone’s preferences are different, and what you need will depend on the trip you’re taking.
- Do you have any additional requirements? -- Maybe you only want nonstop flights, hotels in Category 3 and above, or seats in business class or first class. Determining this upfront will help you trim down your options later.
2. Look up airline/hotel transfer partners.
I use different methods for airlines and hotels.
Airlines -- First, I search for all the airlines offering flights from where I am to my destination. Since there are so many airlines you can book with Ultimate Rewards points, it would take forever to plug your trip into every one of them.
Once I know which airlines fly that route, I can note which Chase transfer partners are on the list. I also note airlines that are in the same alliance as a Chase transfer partner, because I could book those with my points as well.
Hotels -- While Chase has a great lineup of hotel partners, it’s still only four hotels, so checking them individually won’t take much time. I plug in my destination in each hotel’s site to see what they have available in the area.
3. Narrow it down.
Once I know what transfer partners are an option, I check that they offer what I want for my flight or hotel. Specifically, I’m looking at:
- Do they offer the travel class I want, such as business-class and above for international flights or hotels in the right categories?
- Do they have award availability on my travel dates?
4. Compare rates and value for award bookings.
Once I have some options, I see how much each one will cost me in points and how much value I’ll get per point. This is what takes the most time starting out, and then you’ll get through it much more quickly when you have a feel for award bookings with certain travel partners.
5. Transfer and book it.
When I know what I want, I transfer my Ultimate Rewards points to the travel partner and go through the award booking process.
Always do this part last since transfers are final.
Best ways to use Ultimate Rewards points
There are a few redemption options that tend to get you an excellent value for your points.
1. Business-class and first-class international airfare
If you’re aiming for peak value, expensive international flights are where it’s at. Economy international tickets aren’t a bad deal, either, but business-class and first-class seats are where you can hit $0.05 per point and beyond. Here are a couple examples from recent flight searches:
- First class, New York City (JFK) to Frankfurt on Singapore Airlines -- Tickets can cost $11,562 roundtrip or 152,000 KrisFlyer miles (76,000 each way) for a value of $0.076 per point
- Business class, Los Angeles to Madrid on Iberia -- Tickets can cost $7,766 roundtrip or 125,000 miles (62,500 each way) for a value of $0.062 per point
- Business class, Los Angeles to Bogota on United -- Tickets can cost $4,004 roundtrip or 70,000 miles (35,000 each way) for a value of $0.057 per point
2. Short-haul flights on British Airways
Even though British Airways has some ghastly surcharges on many of its award tickets, Avios (the airline’s rewards currency) still have their uses. Since British Airways uses a distance-based pricing chart for award tickets, short-haul flights on both that airline and its partners can be a bargain. They start at 4,000 Avios for off-peak flights going under 650 miles, or 4,500 if it’s a peak or partner flight.
3. Saver airfare and Excursionist flights on United
I already mentioned one of United’s deals above, and the airline is a favorite of mine for booking award flights internationally. I recommend using the airline’s low-fare calendar to look for dates with Saver availability, because you’ll save a lot of points that way.
Another way to maximize points with United is through its Excursionist perk. When you’re booking an award flight on United that goes to a different region of the world, you can also book one free flight within that region. Let’s say you’re flying from North America to Europe. You could book:
- North America to France
- France to Italy
- Italy back to North America
Using the Excursionist perk, you’d only pay for two award flights instead of three. You can book these flights with the “Multi-city” option on the United site.
4. Hyatt hotel stays
While value isn’t good on most transfers to Chase hotel partners, Hyatt is the notable exception. Its awards chart has lower prices than most of the competition, and in some cases, you could get $0.02 per point on your stay.
5. Redemptions through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
The Ultimate Rewards travel portal offers a useful alternative to transferring your points. If award bookings are too expensive or unavailable, you can still book what you want through the travel portal. It’s a good idea to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve® if you think you’ll use this method often so that you can take advantage of its $0.015 per point rate on these redemptions.
Worst ways to use Ultimate Rewards points
Although there are some spectacular redemption options available in the Ultimate Rewards program, there are also those that get you very little per point. Without further ado, here’s the Hall of Shame:
1. Award flights with high fees
I’m looking at you, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Those are the worst offenders, tacking on enormous surcharges on award tickets that make it so you’re practically paying in points plus cash. After you take surcharges into account, you typically won’t even crack $0.01 per point on your award ticket.
With both the airlines above, you’re almost always better off using their points to book flights on their partner airlines. British Airways does have those solid short-haul flight deals, though, which are its saving grace.
2. Award stays with hotels other than Hyatt
IHG, Marriott, and The Ritz-Carlton are lackluster choices for award stays, as you’ll usually get around $0.01 per point or possibly break $0.0125 per point.
Instead, go through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal to apply the cash value of your points towards bookings with these hotels. You’ll get an equal or better value this way, and you’ll earn points with the hotel on the booking.
3. Cash back and gift cards
The only time you should get cash back from Ultimate Rewards points is if it’s an emergency. Otherwise, stick to using your travel card for travel rewards.
Gift cards are typically a waste of time and points. You’re typically getting $0.01 per point for a card you can only use with one retailer.
Seeing the world and paying with points
Ultimate Rewards points can literally take you anywhere in the world if you have enough and you use them wisely.
There’s clearly a lot you can learn to make the most out of your points, but these have been my keys to success:
- Experiment with different award travel searches -- The more you search, the more you’ll develop that feel for where the best redemption opportunities lie.
- Be flexible -- Award availability can be scarce, so it helps when you’re open about your travel dates and the airlines and hotels you book.
And of course, remember that what’s most important is getting wherever you want to go without having to pay for it. If you can do that, it’s not so important whether you got $0.02 per point, $0.05 per point, or $0.10 per point.
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