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When it comes to credit card rewards programs, you’ve got a handful of choices, including American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points.
While I’ve dabbled in other programs, I have to say my favorite is Chase Ultimate Rewards.
That’s because Chase Ultimate Rewards points (UR points) are flexible, as they transfer to 13 different airline and hotel partners, and easy to earn, as Chase cards often have great signup bonuses and high earning capability.
Want to get involved? Here’s everything you need to know about Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program.
|Card & Rewards||Annual Fee|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®
|Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®
|Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
|Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card
Once you’re approved for a Chase card that’s affiliated with Ultimate Rewards, you’ll be automatically enrolled in the program — and can start earning points as soon as your card arrives.
Then, down the road, you can redeem those points for free flights and hotel stays (more on that later).
Here are the three main ways you can earn UR points with your Chase credit card:
All of the Chase UR cards come with an “introductory bonus.”
This is the easiest way to rack up rewards, as you’ll get a huge chunk of points if you spend a certain amount of money on the card within three months of your account opening.
With my introductory bonus from the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, for instance, I was able to book several one-way flights on points alone: San Francisco to Buenos Aires, Medellin to Malaga (Spain), and San Francisco to Tokyo. If I had booked those flights with cash, it would’ve easily cost me $2,000.
Never go over your budget or into debt to get a signup bonus. If a bonus requires you to spend $5,000 in the first three months, but you can only pay off $1,000 per month, the answer is simple: Don’t apply. As rewards cards often have high interest rates, you should only consider them if you can pay your statement balance in full each and every month.
Although bonuses can kickstart your UR journey, your point accumulation won’t stop there.
Aside from the bonus, most UR cards earn a baseline of one point for every dollar you spend (which we write as “1X”), and have several bonus categories in which you’ll earn more.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for example, earns 5X Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on Lyft rides and 2X points per dollar spent on travel and dining.
Let’s say you generally spend $1,500 per month on your credit card, of which $500 goes toward travel and dining. Here’s how that might break down in your first year with the Sapphire Preferred card:
When added to a 60,000-point introductory bonus, you’d have 84,000 points — just for applying for a credit card and putting your everyday expenses on it. Those 84,000 points would be worth more than $1,000 of travel (or potentially much more). We’ll get into redemption options below.
You can also earn UR points with the “Shop through Chase” program, which gives you extra points for logging in to Chase’s shopping portal before clicking through to a retailer and making an online purchase.
Chase claims it has more than 350 stores in the program, at which you can earn an extra 1X–15X points per dollar.
Keep in mind, this is on top of your regular earning: If Chase is offering a 4X-point bonus at a certain store where you’d normally earn 1X point, you’d earn 5X points per dollar in total (1X base rate, plus 4X for shopping through the portal). So, 250 points for a $50 purchase.
When I checked recently, you could earn 2X extra points per dollar on purchases made at Macys.com, 4X at Cabelas.com, 5X at Staples.com, and 20X at Norton by Symantec.
At the moment, you can apply for seven Chase credit cards that come with access to the UR program: three “premium” cards and four cash back cards.
To maximize the value of your UR points, we recommend having one premium and one cash back card (we’ll explain why in a minute).
Though we refer to the cash back cards’ rewards in terms of dollars and percentages, they actually earn UR points (1 point = 1 cent). If you’re earning 1.5% cash back, for example, a $100 purchase will snag you 150 UR points. Which you can then redeem for statement credits or travel (we recommend the latter, as you’ll get a higher redemption value).
This card rules the Chase Ultimate Rewards kingdom, and deservedly so. Frequent travelers will quickly make up for its annual fee with the $300 travel credit and excellent perks.
In addition to one of the cards above, you might also consider a Chase business card if you’re an entrepreneur. This one has an amazing introductory bonus.
You don’t need an official business to get a biz card — you just need to earn money outside of a regular job. Dog sitting counts. And so does driving Uber. Here’s more information about applying for a business card.
If you don’t travel a few times a year (or even if you do), this card is worth a look. You’ll earn 5% cash back in bonus categories that rotate each quarter; they often include heavy hitters like gas stations, department and grocery stores, and Amazon.
If keeping track of bonus categories sounds like too much work (I don’t blame you!), this card offers an easy breezy 1.5% cash back on every single purchase.
Now for the fun part! What do you do with all those points? There are a variety of ways to redeem your UR points — some fantastic, some not so fantastic.
In general, here’s the approximate value you can expect with each redemption option:
The cash back Ultimate Rewards cards do not come with the ability to transfer points to travel partners — unless you also have a premium card. We’ll explain more in the next section.
As you can see, the values vary widely; here’s a rundown of redemption strategies, starting with our favorite.
For the highest redemption value, we recommend transferring UR points directly to one of the program’s 13 airline and hotel partners, which include:
|Airline Travel Partners|
|Aer Lingus AerClub||British Airways Executive Club||Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM||Iberia Plus||JetBlue TrueBlue|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards||United MileagePlus||Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||Emirates Skywards|
|Hotel Travel Partners|
|IHG Rewards Club||Marriott Bonvoy||World of Hyatt|
The points transfer ratio is 1:1, so your 50,000 UR points can become 50,000 Southwest Airlines miles or 50,000 Marriott points — whatever strikes your fancy.
The transfer process is super easy, too: All you have to do is log in to the Ultimate Rewards portal and select how many points you’d like to move (in increments of 1,000).
With several partners, the transfer is virtually instantaneous; with others, it takes 24 to 48 hours. (In the past, I’ve transferred UR points after I’ve already had a United Airlines flight in my cart!)
Once you transfer your UR points to a travel partner, you can’t undo it. So be super duper sure before you click that button.
If you don’t see your favorite airline on the list, keep in mind that you can use one airline’s miles to fly with another airline in the same alliance. The three main alliances are oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance — and luckily, UR has transfer partners in each.
Here’s how that works: Say you find a flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo for 80,000 miles round trip on Delta Air Lines, which is in the SkyTeam Alliance.
Although Delta’s not an Ultimate Rewards partner, KLM/Air France’s Flying Blue program is. So you could transfer your 80,000 UR points to Flying Blue, then use those miles to book the flight on Delta. Nifty, huh?
If you can’t find the rewards flight or hotel stay you want — either because you’re booking with a small chain, you can’t find availability, or you simply don’t want to bother searching — using the Chase travel rewards portal is another good option.
Chase’s travel portal is powered by Expedia, and works very similarly: Once you’re logged in to your UR account, you can search for flights, hotels, car rentals, activities, or cruises. To complete your booking, you can pay with your card, UR points, or a combination of the two.
When booking travel through Chase’s portal, the value of your UR points will vary from 1–1.5 cents, depending on your credit card:
|Card||Redemption Rate||Value of 10,000 UR Points|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||1.5 cents/point||$150|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||1.25 cents/point||$125|
|Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card||1.25 cents/point||$125|
|Chase Freedom®||1 cent/point*||$100|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||1 cent/point*||$100|
|Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card||1 cent/point*||$100|
|Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card||1 cent/point*||$100|
*Unless transferred to a premium card — more on that in the next section.
Although redeeming through the travel portal generally won’t yield as high of a point-per-dollar value as transferring directly to travel partners, it does have a few perks.
You don’t have to know anything about frequent flyer programs, you don’t need to worry about awards availability, you can book with a combination of cash and points, and, on flights, you’ll earn miles with the airline’s loyalty program.
The Chase portal generally doesn’t offer the lowest prices on travel purchases, so we always recommend shopping around — especially when it comes to hotels and car rentals.
If you’re not interested in redeeming your points for travel, I’ll be honest: You might be better off with a different card. (The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is a great option.)
Redeeming your UR points for cash back (through statement credits or direct deposit), gift cards, or credits at Amazon or Apple isn’t a great value. We’d only recommend it as a last resort.
You can also redeem points for Chase Experiences; things like a concert, athletic event, or dinner with a celebrity chef. Though far from cheap, it might be worth it if it’s an experience to which you otherwise wouldn’t have access.
Remember when we alluded to the differences between premium and cash back cards? And how it might behoove you to have both? Here’s what we meant.
As noted above, the cash back cards actually earn UR points (1 point = 1 cent). If you earn 1% cash back on a $100 purchase, for example, you’ll earn 100 UR points. You can redeem those points through the Chase portal but you can’t transfer them directly to travel partners.
Luckily, there’s an easy way around this.
You can transfer your cash back card’s UR points to the account of a premium card like the Sapphire or Reserve. The points will then have the privileges of the premium card.
You could then transfer them to travel partners, or use them to book through Chase’s portal at an elevated redemption rate.
Confused? This example should clear things up:
Besides transferring between your own accounts, you can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to “one member of your household” at the same address (or, in the case of business cards, to an “owner of the company”).
If your family member is an authorized user on your card, you can also transfer UR points to one of their loyalty accounts at another rewards program. If your boyfriend is an authorized user on your Sapphire Preferred card, for example, you could transfer points directly from your UR account to his JetBlue frequent flyer account.
As we noted above, if you have the Sapphire Preferred — or used to have it, and got the signup bonus within the last four years — you cannot qualify for the Reserve. (And vice versa.)
You could ask Chase to switch cards (a “product change”), but if you go that route, you will not be eligible for the introductory bonus.
If you’re an avid traveler, and can qualify for the card, we’d say the Chase Sapphire Reserve is an unmatched choice for its excellent perks. But if you just travel a few times a year, and are intimidated by the Reserve’s annual fee, the Preferred is a wonderful alternative.
To round out your earning, you could also apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Since it has no annual fee and offers 1.5% cash back on everything, it’s a great complement to one of the premium cards above.
A smart strategy would be to use the Freedom Unlimited for all of your purchases in non-bonus categories (everything other than travel and dining), and then transfer the points to either the Preferred or Reserve to take advantage of its superior redemption options.
Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the best credit card rewards programs out there. Not only is it easy to earn points, but it’s also easy to redeem those points for hundreds of dollars of free travel. These seven cards will help you get started today.
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