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How to book travel with Chase Ultimate Rewards points

You have two options, and each has benefits and drawbacks

Summary

When redeeming your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel, you can either book directly through the Chase travel portal or transfer your points to a partner airline or hotel program and book your travel there. Each option has pluses and minuses.

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It’s one thing to earn credit card rewards points, and a whole other thing to know how to use them to book the travel you want.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are one of my favorite credit card reward currencies. Not only do Chase Ultimate Rewards points add up fast because the earning bonuses align to how I spend money, their flexibility in redemption makes them very easy to use.

There are only two basic things you need to understand to redeem your Chase points like a pro.

Two options for Ultimate Rewards Points redemption

Chase offers cardholders two very distinct options for spending points on travel.

First, you can use your points to book travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Second, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to one of Chase’s 13 travel partners and book your hotel or airline award directly through that partner’s own program.

The biggest difference between these two options is that the number of points your travel will cost is based on the price of the ticket or hotel room in the first option, while the cost of your “free travel” in the second option is based on the redemption system set by an external hotel group or airline program’s rules.

Here’s an overview of both options, some tips on how to decide which booking option is the best deal for you, and a brief note on the logistics detailing how to make each type of redemption.  

How to book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal 

The most straightforward way to redeem Ultimate Rewards points is through Chase’s travel portal – where you can shop for flights, hotels, cars, cruises and travel activities – and pay for these items with your points. Point amounts are based on the item’s cost in dollars.

Ultimate Rewards points essentially have a monetary value of 1 cent per point when you’re redeeming them through the travel portal.

For example, if you want to use your points to purchase a plane ticket from Seattle to Orlando, Florida, that costs $500, you’ll need 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points to purchase your reward ticket.

The exceptions to this value are Ultimate Rewards points redeemed from a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve account.

As one of the Sapphire Preferred card’s premium benefits, the same Ultimate Rewards points upgrade in value to 1.25 cents per point. This means that the same $500 plane ticket would cost about 33,000 Ultimate Rewards points when booked through the travel portal using a Sapphire Preferred account.

Sapphire Reserve cardholders get an even higher upgrade on their points, as they are worth 1.5 cents per point at redemption through the Chase travel portal.

Booking through the Ultimate Rewards travel is easy, and works great when you’re booking flights that are inexpensive. The lower the dollar amount of the ticket, the fewer points you’ll pay.

This option also comes in handy when you have little flexibility in your travel, need to book multiple tickets, are booking an obscure airline that isn’t part of any alliance, or you need to book during peak travel times when airline websites are showing no availability or blackout dates.

Redemption tip from a pro: Family traveler Kathrin Spacarelli from Taking the Big Break is always collecting and redeeming her Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase travel portal, which she says is the easiest way to find four seats on the same flight. Spacarelli earns her Ultimate Rewards with her Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Ink Business Preferred, which she uses for all her small-business expenses.

Her method: Look for the cheapest flights that work for her family’s schedule, then book directly through the portal. And because these are considered “paid” tickets by the airline (Chase pays for them when you redeem your points) her family is earning additional miles in the program of the airline on which they are flying – an added bonus that you don’t get when you book an award ticket directly through an airline. 

The logistics: Simply log in to your Ultimate Rewards account, and find “Redeem for Travel”  link (this is always on the home page menu, but its location changes often as Chase optimizes its site). Search the travel deals and make your choice. Chase will automatically deduct the points from your account and issue your ticket.

Important note: If you have multiple accounts that earn Ultimate Rewards points, including one Chase Sapphire Reserve account, be sure to move your points to your Reserve account before you redeem as they’ll stretch further in the transaction. To move points between accounts look for the “Combine Points” option in the menu. 

Transfer to one of Chase’s 13 travel partners and book 

Another option for using your points for travel is to transfer your points from Ultimate Rewards directly to your loyalty account of any of Chase’s nine airline or four hotel group transfer partners.

Transfer partners represent airline options from each of the three main alliances including United and Singapore (Star Alliance), British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus (onerworld), Korean Airlines and KLM/AirFrance (SkyTeam), as well as independent carriers Southwest and Virgin Atlantic. For hotels, points transfer to IHG, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Hyatt.

Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 with all of the transfer partners, which usually happens almost instantly, and are available in 1,000-point increments with no transfer fees.

This means that one Ultimate Rewards point immediately becomes one mile or point in the partner airline or hotel program of your choice. You then book the reward directly through the hotel or airline program following the booking terms and process of this program.

For example, that $500 Seattle-to-Orlando ticket that we were looking at above, when booked as a United award ticket through MileagePlus would cost 25,000 United miles according to United’s award chart which is based on location rather than cost.

What this means: You saved 15,000 points by transferrring your points to United and booking there, instead of through the Chase travel portal.

If you’re good at booking partner award tickets through the airlines, there’s lots of value to be had with this option.

The biggest benefit of transferring your points and booking through a partner: You can take advantage of lower points costs on tickets and hotel bookings with a high cash cost.

For example, very expensive international first- and business-class tickets are almost always the best value when booked directly through an airline partner.

Redemption tip from a pro: When I was helping Chelsea Maricle and her fianc\xe9 Kevin use their points to plan a honeymoon to Asia, they were stockpiling points in their Ultimate Rewards account from their Chase Sapphire Preferred so that they might fly business class on Singapore Airlines – a ticket with a retail price around $3,000 per person one way!

While booking two tickets through the Ultimate Rewards portal was possible, the points cost at this ticket price would have been prohibitive at 240,000 points each, or 480,000 for the pair.

Because Singapore Airlines is a Chase transfer partner, however, the couple had a more feasible option. Maricle created a Singapore KrisFlyer account online (even though they’d never flown the airline before), found award availability for the same ticket at a cost of 88,000 miles each (176,000 for the pair), and then transferred the points she needed from Ultimate Rewards to KrisFlyer and completed the booking. That’s a huge savings.

Important note: You won’t always save big by transferring your Ultimate Rewards points to a travel partner. The easiest thing you can do to determine which option has the best value in your situation is to check the redemption cost for both the portal and through the airline or hotel directly.

Hotel points transfer tip: Another time when the points transfer option may be better is if you’re booking hotel rooms through a chain with which you have elite status benefits (even if it’s free status that you have from a credit card). Hotels usually won’t offer benefits like upgrades, stay credits, free breakfast and late checkout when you book through a third-party system (as opposed to directly through the hotel website which is how you’d be booking if you transferred your points).

One word of warning about transfer bookings: Be sure the flight or hotel room you want is available before you move your points. All transfers are one way. You can’t move your points back to Ultimate Rewards once they’ve been transferred. 

The logistics: Select “Transfer to Travel Partner” from the Ultimate Rewards home page, and then select the partner to which you want to transfer your points. To make the transfer you’ll have to enter and verify your account number in the partner’s loyalty program. If  you are going to transfer to a program in which you don’t already have an existing account, you’ll have to set this up this account separately first through that airline or hotel group’s website.

Enter the number of points you want to transfer (in 1,000-point increments) and confirm.

Wait a minute or two, then log in to your account in the partner’s program – you’ll see that your points have magically appeared there.  Finally, make the booking directly through the airline or hotel.

If one of these options seems to fit your travel style, start there. No matter which option you lean toward, the best thing you can do to get started turning your points into actual rewards is to pick a destination that you’re dreaming about and explore what options are available. The greatest value you’ll get from your points is the memories you make from the trips that you spend them on!

 

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Published: July 6, 2018

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