Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth an average of two cents each. That takes into account three very different redemption options, including exchanging them for gift cards or travel credit or transferring them directly to an airline or hotel partner. At a minimum you should receive one cent per point.
However, the maximum value is going to be obtained by transferring points to an external loyalty program, and that means you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the most valuable programs to put those points to good use. There are ways to get two cents per point (or even much more).
Earning Ultimate Rewards Points
Briefly, there are five different cards you can use to accumulate Ultimate Rewards points, including both personal and business cards:
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Ink Cash Business Card
- Ink Plus Business Card
The only cards with an annual fee are the Sapphire Preferred personal card and Ink Plus business card, but these are also the two more useful cards because they provide the option to transfer points to external airline and hotel loyalty programs. Other cards still earn Ultimate Rewards points but cannot make these transfers.
You can get around this limitation by transferring points between accounts. For example, you can earn Ultimate Rewards points with both Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred, which are tracked separately. Then transfer the points from the Freedom card to the Sapphire Preferred card. Spouses may also transfer points to each other’s accounts.
Book with Ultimate Rewards as a Backup
Anyone can redeem points for cash back (either a statement credit or a gift card to a participating retailer), getting one cent per point. This is a simple way to maximize flexibility but offers poor value. For example, a $500 statement credit would require 50,000 points.
A better choice is to use your points to book travel directly through Chase’s online portal. It functions like a traditional online travel agency, offering a variety of flights and hotels.
Most people still receive just one cent per point, but those who have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card receive a small bonus when then use Ultimate Rewards points to book travel. (These are the same cards that offer external transfers.) Expect to get 1.25 cents per point if you have one of these premium cards, so a $500 flight would require 40,000 points. There are no capacity limitations other than a full flight because these aren’t award redemptions.
Transfer to Other Programs for More Value
The best option is usually to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to an external loyalty program. Chase is a partner with 11 airline and hotel loyalty programs, all of which accept transfers at a 1:1 ratio. That means you can turn 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points into 25,000 United MileagePlus miles (and book a free domestic flight) or 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points (and book a free night) or a number of other options.
It is very important to emphasize that all of these programs have the same transfer rate. That means your Ultimate Rewards points will go further if you move them to a program with cheaper awards, lower fees, and more availability than another.
Maximizing Airline Transfer Partners
Chase has seven different airline transfer partners:
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- British Airways Executive Club (Avios)
- Korean Air SKYPASS
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Programs like United MileagePlus, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and British Airways Executive Club tend to offer the best value. United Airlines and Singapore Airlines are both partners with Star Alliance, giving them access to the award space of many other airlines. They also have similar award charts, although for certain routes one may be cheaper than another. If it’s close, know that United doesn’t collect carrier surcharges.
You can usually expect to get between 1.5 and two cents per mile in value from redemptions with United and Singapore Airlines. It is fairly easy, for example, to find a $500 domestic ticket in economy class that would cost only 25,000 miles — a value of two cents per point.
Redemptions on the other airline partners are not necessarily bad deals; good opportunities are just fewer and far between. British Airways, for example, allows redemptions on short-haul flights in economy class for as few as 4,500 points one-way. One-way between Hawaii and the West Coast is just 12,500 points for what would otherwise be a $309 ticket (2.5 cents per point).
But if you tried to book an international first class award, expect to redeem a couple hundred thousand points and over $1,000 in fees depending on the carrier. At that rate you’re better off just buying a discounted business class ticket.
Southwest Airlines is also worth considering because it doesn’t have capacity limitations for award tickets. Instead it links the cost of the ticket in both points and dollars. The best possible value is about 1.5 to 1.7 cents per point. (By contrast, most other airlines charge the same number of miles for a domestic ticket regardless of the cash price, so some awards are a better value than others.)
As another example, SKYPASS offers one of the best opportunities to book travel on Hawaiian Airlines, but it has a very tricky system for issuing tickets to anyone other than the primary traveler. Just authorizing family members can require some paperwork. Both price and convenience can be important when determining value.
As you can see, most airline partners can deliver good value if the price of a ticket is relatively high. Korean Air, Air France, and others will also provide good value although perhaps other aspects of the loyalty program aren’t as flexible. The greatest thing about holding Ultimate Rewards points is you don’t have to dedicate yourself to a single airline.
Fortunately, most transfers occur instantly or within a day, so look for award space first and then transfer your points.
Maximizing Hotel Transfer Partners
Chase has four different hotel transfer partners:
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Marriott Rewards
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards
- IHG Rewards Club
Just like for airlines there are different award charts and different award availability for each program. Measuring relative value of points redeemed for hotel stays is much easier, however, as the differences between each partner are more obvious.
Not every chain will have a property in the city you want to visit. Marriott and IHG are two of the world’s largest chains, so you are most likely to find award space with either of them. (The Ritz-Carlton is a small chain, but common ownership with Marriott enables you to book travel with either chain.) Hyatt has fewer than 1,000 properties, but they tend to have good luxury hotels in major destinations as well as a significant partnership with MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.
The bigger issue for the purpose of valuing Ultimate Rewards points is that all four of these loyalty programs have very different systems for earning and redeeming points. Hyatt issues relatively few points and compensates with relatively inexpensive awards. Marriott and IHG issue lots of points and charge more for free nights. Sounds fair, right?
Problems arise when you transfer points from Ultimate Rewards. No matter which partner you choose, 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points will get you just 1,000 hotel points. That means your Ultimate Rewards points will often go much further with Hyatt Gold Passport because their awards are less expensive.
For example, a free night at a Category 6 hotel like the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong for $248 will cost 25,000 Gold Passport points — equivalent to 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points and resulting in a value just under one cent per point. (This is not the best Hyatt redemption. Look for something closer to 1.4 cents to maximize value.)
A similar stay at an IHG property like the InterContinental Hong Kong for $242 will require 60,000 IHG Rewards points, equivalent to 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points and resulting in a value of just over 0.4 cents per point. You’re getting more than twice as much value with Hyatt relative to IHG, so why transfer your points to IHG if both hotels have award space?
These comparisons can vary as room rates change, particularly if you compare hotels in completely different award categories. Maybe a luxury hotel isn’t necessary. But in general, you’ll see more value when you transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt than if you transfer to IHG, Marriott or The Ritz-Carlton.
This article makes several broad claims. To recap:
- Transferring points to external loyalty programs is often the best deal. You can transfer points between different cards if necessary.
- Different transfer partners offer more value than others, usually because they have cheaper awards, lower fees, or better award availability.
- United Airlines is one of the best airline transfer partners with a valuation between 1.7 and two cents per point. These are average valuations that depend on your itinerary.
- Southwest Airlines offers a more objective valuation of about 1.4 cents per point, but it doesn’t offer a premium cabin or access to other airline partners.
- Hyatt is one of the best hotel transfer partners with a valuation of about 1.4 cents per point, but they have relatively few properties.
From these points, we can establish a value for Ultimate Rewards points somewhere between 1.7 and two cents per point. That’s assuming you take the best transfer option via United MileagePlus. However, if United doesn’t work for your situation, there are many other transfer options with a value of about 1.4 cents per point. Only in difficult situations, when there is no award availability, should you rely on Chase’s online travel portal to book flights or hotels. Even so, this sets a lower limit of one or 1.25 cents per point, depending on which cards you carry.