Who Is Chase Ultimate Rewards Good For?
Unlike many airline programs that have been around for decades, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is very new on the scene just five years old this month which may explain part of why it is such an attractive offering.
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The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is ideal for people looking to get into the mileage game fast and strong, or as a supplement to airline programs for serious travel hackers juggling multiple-miles credit cards and multiple awards programs. It allows you to book travel with points directly through the Ultimate Rewards mall where you can also find great bonuses (up to 15x sometimes!) on many shopping partners like Expedia and Amazon as well as transferring points to partner airline frequent flyer programs.
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One of the best parts of the Ultimate Rewards program is that because it’s a credit card company program rather than an airline program, Chase is very generous with sign-on bonuses, so after you get your first card and meet the minimum spend, you can book a round-trip for two right away. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card to use as a base for building up points and miles.
How Can You Use Chase Ultimate Rewards?
Ultimate Reward points are valuable whether you transfer them to an airline mileage program or if you book directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, which gives you a 20 percent discount on the price of any flight when you pay with a mix of points and cash.
Points transfer to airline and hotel programs on a 1:1 ratio, and you have access to all three airline alliances, as well as important independent airline programs Southwest for domestic travel and Virgin Atlantic for foreign through the programs partnerships.
- 20 percent discount when redeeming points directly for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
- Opportunities to earn big by making purchases through the Ultimate Rewards mall
- Redeeming points for travel through Korean Air gives you access to SkyTeam first class award space, which isn’t possible using Delta miles
- Points transfer to airlines almost instantaneously in most cases
- You can call Ultimate Rewards and get them to give you an advance on points, or sometimes they’ll just top you off as a courtesy if you need to get to the next thousand
- No bonus on point transfers to airline partners, such as Starwood, which offers a 25 percent bump on point transfers to miles
Best Value Awards
The best uses of Ultimate Rewards are polar opposites: cheap, short, economy flights on British Airways and ultra-lux long-haul flights on Singapore Airlines and Korean Air.
Distance-based British Airways redemptions for short domestic U.S. flights start as low as 15,000 miles round-trip. A huge savings on the lowest fare you’ll find with United: 25,000 regardless of how far you fly.
Singapore, the newest addition to the Ultimate Rewards family, has one of the absolute best first class cabins out there, and you can only get it with Singapore miles not through partner airlines. Its pricey: 175,000 to Japan and more to other Asian destinations, but worth the splurge.
Korean Air, meanwhile, has a very sleek, though often under appreciated first class cabin to Asia that you can snag for significantly less 160,000 miles to many destinations.
Worst Value Awards:
Redeeming for cash, followed by redeeming for 20 percent off travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
When you’ve got a big stock of Ultimate Rewards say, 50,000 or 60,000 sitting around its easy to say to yourself, “Wow! That’s $500-$600 just sitting there that I could cash out right now. But thinking that you can just use it to pay for a cash fare is, in almost all cases, not the best way to go (you can read more on that here). The value of the points is so much more than that.
As we covered in the British Airways program review, 50,000 miles can get you an inordinate amount of round-trip short domestic flights. Okay, not inordinate: seven. But still, that’s a lot, when you look at Kayak and see that those short hops are easily costing $200 round-trip these days on the main domestic airlines.
Associated Credit Cards
Three Chase cards allow users to earn Ultimate Reward points that can be redeemed with airline and hotel transfer partners: the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Ink Plus. The Ink cards are business cards.
If you have a Chase card that earns Ultimate Rewards besides these three, such as the popular Chase Freedom card that earns 5x points on select categories each quarter, you cannot transfer those points into miles. But if you have one of those cards and one of the travel cards above, you can transfer the points to the travel card and then use the points for flights.
- Chase Ink Plus earns 5x on business expenses, including phone and Internet bills and office supply stores
- Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2x on dining and travel expenses
- Chase Ink Plus earns 2x on gas and hotels
- All three have no foreign transaction fees
The Ink Plus card usually features a 50,000-point sign-on bonus after spending $5,000 in the first three months. It occasionally goes as high as 60,000 points. For the Sapphire Preferred card, the bonus is typically 40,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, though it occasionally rises to 50,000 points or offers a bonus of 5,000 points for adding an authorized user. The premium Sapphire Reserve card, with its hefty $450 annual fee, has a bonus that can go as high as 100,000 points after spending $4,000 in three months.