#MileageMonday: Chase Ultimate Rewards - Smart Money Seed


#MileageMonday: Chase Ultimate Rewards

Welcome to the inaugural #MileageMonday! This will be a recurring series of blog posts where I will go deep into the world of credit card, airline & hotel rewards programs. For those of you that don’t know already, I am a huge proponent of the “travel hacking” world. This involves signing up for credit cards with the intention of earning the bonuses associated with the account. 

Often times, 1-2 credit card bonuses can easily pay for an entire vacation’s worth of travel & lodging, shaving hundreds to thousands of dollars off of my total bill. If you need a refresher on the methods I use to earn these credit card bonuses, check out the “Vacation Like a Baller” blog from a few months ago. You'll have a great base to build on as we gradually build #MileageMonday into a travel hacking machine!

Chase Ultimate Rewards: An Introduction

When I was deciding what to write about for our first Mileage Monday post, I could think of no better place to start than the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. This is the points system that Chase uses for all of their own Chase-branded cards, which include:
  •          Chase Sapphire Reserve
  •          Chase Sapphire Preferred
  •          Chase Freedom
  •          Chase Freedom Unlimited
  •          Chase Ink Plus (Business)
  •          Chase Ink Cash (Business)
In later Mileage Monday posts, we’ll do comparisons on each of the three pairs of these cards and whether the card makes sense for you when considering an application. Keep in mind that when contemplating applying for multiple cards on the list above, Chase has a hard 5/24 rule, meaning that your application will automatically be denied if you have been approved for 5 credit cards within the past 24 months.

 This is why it is important in the “travel hacking” world to document when you applied/were approved for credit cards, keeping track of when you will be under the 5/24 stipulation that Chase sets.  Since the Chase-branded cards tend to be the most sought-after cards in the market, it is vital that we develop the habit of documenting our application & approval/denial process.

Value Of Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

The important thing to note is that no matter what card you choose from that above list, they all earn the same currency: Chase Ultimate Reward points. These points are earned through everyday purchases on your credit card, akin to “cash back” cards you typically see in the market today. Depending on the type of purchase (think dining, travel, etc.) & the corresponding card you are using, you can earn anywhere from 1x-5x UR points/$1 spent. There are multiple ways you can redeem the points you earn through these cards, listed below:

1)      Straight cash, homie:  At bare minimum, you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for cash back at a rate of 1%. Therefore, if I had 10,000 Chase UR points, I could redeem these for a $100 statement credit. While I’ll go into why this is not the best use of Chase UR points, there is certainly value in getting quick cash when you are in a pinch.
2)      Gift Cards: Chase Ultimate Rewards can also be redeemed for a wide variety of gift cards at most mainstream retailers. This includes Nike, Amazon, The Home Depot, Best Buy & pretty much any retailer you can think of. The redemption rate is typically the same as cash (1%); however, Chase often runs deals where you can get 10% off gift cards from select stores. Here’s the discounted selection I have to choose from:

3)      Transfer to Travel Partners: This is where we start to find value in redeeming our Chase Ultimate Rewards. Chase has a wide array of travel partners that you can transfer points to at a 1:1 rate, meaning that my 10,000 Chase UR points work as 10,000 miles/points for the corresponding travel partner. I’ve included a full list of Chase’s travel partners below:

Hotel Programs
British Airways
Korean Air
Flying Blue
Singapore Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
Aer Lingus

Keep in mind that ALL POINTS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL! For example, transferring 10,000 points to the Marriott hotel program might not cover half a night at the property you are looking to stay at. However, those same 10,000 points could be transferred to Southwest to book a roundtrip flight from Columbus-Atlanta, depending on your dates & flexibility. Needless to say, there is a TON of value in using your hard-earned Chase UR points on their growing list of travel partners.

Chase points can also only be transferred to travel partners if you have one of the Chase Sapphire cards (Reserve/Preferred) or the Chase Ink Business Preferred. You can still earn points with your Chase Freedom/Freedom Unlimited & then combine point balances with your other UR-earning cards; you’ll just have to select that “premium” card when trying to transfer points.

4)      Book Travel Through The Chase Portal: If you are the proud cardholder of a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, you also have the option of booking travel through the Chase travel portal for a discount. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 6:5 ratio on your Chase UR points, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a 3:2 ratio (effectively 20% & 33% off your travel, respectively).  This does not limit you to the travel partners listed in the previous point & also extends beyond flights & hotels. Rental cars, excursions and much more are available through the travel portal!

The process to use your points in the travel portal is quite simple. Once you’ve selected the card you want to use, click “Explore and Book Travel” in the “Use Points” dropdown menu.

Let’s make our own example-say I want to take a flight from Columbus-Los Angeles for a long weekend in April.  After punching in my dates & traveler information, this is the screen I’m greeted with:

As you can see, I have multiple options for my airline (there’s many more than just these) & I can immediately see my savings in the flight by booking with Chase. In the Delta option, I’d save $80 by using my Chase UR points for travel rather than booking with the airline directly. Easy savings-what’s not to like?

You also do not need to use all of your miles to book that flight. There is a points + cash option, meaning I could simply use 10,000 of my UR points at the discounted rate & then pay the remainder in cash. This is especially helpful when you don't have enough points to cover the entire purchase but still wish to take advantage of the better exchange rate.

Finding the Right Redemption

Now that we’ve described how to use these points in the most effective manner, it’s time to evaluate when a redemption makes sense. When looking at travel, we need to keep in mind that many airline & hotel programs offer reward nights at figures lower than the discounted travel through the Chase portal would give you.

Let’s take a United flight as an example. In the Chase UR portal, a one-way flight from Columbus-Chicago may cost 12,000 miles ($120) after taking the discount. However, United offers 10,000 saver award flights for flights less than 700 miles originating & ending in mainland USA (aka those quick 1-1.5 hour flights).  A simple award search on United’s website could find you that cheap saver award availability and save you 2,000 UR miles by transferring the points to United.

This may seem like a lot of work to book a short flight to Chicago…but what if we were flying to Italy? Flights to Europe routinely cost $1,000+ & still would be expensive through the Chase portal. However, did you know that United has 30,000 saver award space for flights to Europe? Most people don’t-and this is where the value of our points goes a long way. I could book that $1,000 flight for only 30,000 Chase UR miles, getting much more value out of the 30,000 points as MILES vs. redeeming them for cash or a gift card.

It’s the little things like this that pay off when planning any trip. If you can make your rewards program work for you, you’ll be saving hundreds of dollars on your next trip. With that money we saved, you could pay for those bleacher seats at Wrigley Field or take a nice excursion at your tropical destination.  Ultimately, saving money is the name of the game!

Final Thoughts

Everybody is going to have different goals when deciding what they want to do with their Chase UR points. I’ve used every method I described above (even the gift cards before I got into travel hacking!) & found all of them to be incredibly straightforward.  Chase Ultimate Rewards have gotten Kayleigh & I all-inclusive vacations in Jamaica, countless flights across the United States & two Disney extravaganzas, all at least partially paid through this simple rewards program.

As we wrap up the first-ever #MileageMonday, I’d love to hear from you guys about what mileage or loyalty programs you’d like to know more about. I plan to cover all of the major credit card companies, airlines & hotels but I only really care about what YOU want to know. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section or through Smart Money Seed’s social media platforms.

Until next time, happy saving!


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