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Chase Ultimate Rewards: Our Complete Guide to Maximizing Your Points in 2018

The post Chase Ultimate Rewards: Our Complete Guide to Maximizing Your Points in 2018 appeared first on Club Thrifty.

As an enormous credit card rewards enthusiast, I believe Chase Ultimate Rewards is the best rewards program there is. Period.

Offering point transfers to over a dozen travel partners is impressive on its own. However, Chase rewards are some of the most flexible points and miles you’ll find. Additionally, the core of the program hasn’t been devalued in years. When you put it all together, for me, the Ultimate Rewards program from Chase is far superior to other award-winning rewards programs like Citi ThankYou and American Express Membership Rewards.

Since I’m totes crushing on the program, I decided to create this complete guide to using Chase Ultimate Rewards. Through examples and personal experiences, I’ll show you how to earn Chase points, explain how to redeem your points for the most value, and describe which pitfalls to avoid. I’ll also clue you in on some of my favorite ways that I’ve used my own personal stash of points.

Let’s get started!

Credit Cards that Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards

Before we dig into the details of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, let’s explore which cards actually let you earn this valuable travel currency.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Ultimate Rewards - Chase Sapphire Preferred

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you’ll earn 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases. For a limited time, you’ll also earn 50,000 points after you spend just $4,000 on your card within 90 days. Those points are worth $500 in top value gift cards or cash back or more than $600 in travel. Conversely, you can transfer these points to any of this programs’ travel partners. More on that in a minute. The $95 annual fee on this card is waived the first year.

This is a great card and typically the first one we recommend to newbies. Honestly, with this card, you can’t go wrong.

Compare with other cards | Read our review 

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

Chase Ultimate Rewards - Sapphire ReserveWhile I love all cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is in a class of its own. This card offers the same 50,000 point signup bonus as the Preferred card, yet it offers a ton of important travel benefits most people love. For starters, you’ll get a $300 annual travel credit you can use for any type of travel. Beyond the travel credit, you’ll also get more value out of your points when you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Last but not least, you’ll get a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership as a cardholder perk. Of course, this card does come with a $450 annual fee, so you’ll definitely want to weigh the pros and cons before you sign up.

If you’re a frequent traveler, this is one card to consider. In fact, for heavy travelers, we think this is the best card on the market.

Compare with other cards | Read our review

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Chase Ultimate Rewards - Ink Business PreferredEven though the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card is for businesses, it lets you earn points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program as well. Currently, this card doles out 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in select categories such as online advertising, cellular phone, shipping, and travel. You’ll also earn a flat 1 point per $1 spent on all of your other business purchases. Plus, for a limited time, you’ll earn 80,000 points after you spend just $5,000 on your card within 90 days. The $95 annual fee is not waived the first year.

If you had to choose one business card, this is the one to get. We use it for our business and highly recommend it to other small business owners.

Compare with other cards | Read our review

Chase Freedom Unlimited Card

Chase Ultimate Rewards - Chase Freedom UnlimitedWith the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card, you will earn Ultimate Rewards points. However, those points do not transfer to partner loyalty programs unless you carry one of the premium rewards cards on this list. Still, you’ll earn an unlimited 1.5x points on all your purchases. You’ll also earn a $150 signup bonus for spending just $500 in the first three months. Best of all, this card comes with no annual fee.

Cash back enthusiasts will love this card. The simplified rewards structure is easy to understand, so there’s no strategy to worry about strategy once you get it.

Compare with other cards | Read our review

Chase Freedom Card

Chase Ultimate Rewards - Chase FreedomThe Chase Freedom offers a nice set of perks – and all without an annual fee. Like the Unlimited card, however, you can not transfer those points to partner loyalty programs unless you also have the Ink Business Preferred, Sapphire Preferred, or Sapphire Reserve card. Once you sign up for this card, you can expect to earn 1 points per $1 spent on all purchases and 5 points per $1 spent on your first $1,500 spent in categories that rotate every quarter.

If you’re looking to max out your cash back, this is the card for you. The signup bonus is also incredibly easy to achieve.

Compare with other cards | Read our review

How to Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards

Part of the reason Chase Ultimate Rewards points are so lucrative is because they are so versatile. Depending on your travel needs and goals, you can easily find a way to use your points that meets needs. Here are three ways you can (and should) consider using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel:

Redeem Your Points for Cash Back

If you choose to redeem your points for cash value, you’ll receive a value of one cent per point. As an example, the signup bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which now sits at 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on your card within 90 days, is worth $500 in cash. When you redeem your points this way, you can book any type of travel you want (or use your cash back for anything else).

While this isn’t the best option offered, it’s nice to know you can redeem your points for cash if you really want to. Personally, I find that kind of flexibility important.

Also, you never know what could happen in your life. A lot of people think they’ll have time to travel but wind up not being able to go anywhere due to work or health problems. Since this card gives you the option to redeem points for cash back, you’ll never get stuck with points you can’t use.

Book Travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal

If you’re going to book travel, using your points to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is usually a much better option. When you use points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you’ll get a 20% discount for doing so. That’s why you commonly hear how 50,000 points is worth more than $600 in travel through the Chase portal. When you use the Reserve version of the card, however, you get 50 percent off the travel you book.

Best of all, booking through the portal allows you to book almost any type of travel experience, a flight with any airline, and hotel stays with any participating hotel. In a lot of ways, booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is a lot like using Expedia. The only difference is, your points allow you to book travel for free.

Here’s what the Chase travel portal looks like:chase travel portal

Personally, I have had a ton of luck booking travel through the Chase portal. I love booking hotels there, and have even booked some condo-type hotels in Europe through the portal entirely on points. I am also huge on booking excursions, and I occasionally book a flight through the portal if the price is right. Sometimes the portal is more expensive, but there are great deals to be had there, too. It’s always worth checking to see how prices compare so you can find the best deal.

Transfer Points to Loyalty Programs

If you travel frequently, you already know how valuable the points offered by many of the top loyalty programs can be. And in my opinion, this is where Chase Ultimate Rewards really shines. The fact that Chase partners with so many popular airlines and hotel chains makes transferring points an extremely popular option. And, the fact that points transfer to all partners at a 1:1 ratio makes these transfers especially lucrative.

Here is an updated list of Chase travel partners for 2018:

Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Partners

  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Marriott
  • IHG
  • Hyatt

Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Partners

  • United Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Air France (Flying Blue)
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Korean Air
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Iberia Plus
  • Aer Lingus AerClub

You may notice that Chase added a few new transfer partners as of late 2017 – Aer Lingus and Iberia. These options should be good ones for specific destinations, though whether or not you should use them depends on where you’re traveling and when.

We’ll dive into how these options work later, but I also want to be clear that transferring Chase points to loyalty partners can be extremely lucrative. My favorite partners are IHG, Southwest Airlines, Air France / Flying Blue, and Hyatt, although I have used almost all of these loyalty programs at one point or another.

Best Ways to Use Chase Rewards

While there is no “right way” to pursue or redeem credit card rewards, some options are certainly a lot more lucrative than others. To highlight some of those options, I’ve included a short list of example scenarios below. All of these travel experiences can be booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards!

Best Redemption #1: Transferring points to Southwest Airlines

If you live near a Southwest hub, Southwest Airlines will almost always offer the best deal you can find on domestic travel and fares to the Caribbean. Because their rewards program is fare-based, you can shop around for deals and book your flight when the price is as low as it will go.

Pro Tip: By signing up for a Southwest Visa, you can rack up points even faster! Right now, you can earn 40,000 bonus points just for signing up for either of the personal cards and spending $1,000 in the first three months!

You can sometimes find round-trip flights for as little as 8,000 Rapid Rewards points each. Flights to the Caribbean can also be found for less than 12,500 points per leg, which makes this an awesome option for families who don’t have a lot of points to go around.

With just two signup bonuses on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (one for each spouse or partner), you can normally book up to four round-trip flights to tropical destinations like Aruba, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Belize, Nassau, Punta Cana, and Cancun.

I have personally used Southwest Airlines to fly my entire family to Jamaica for spring break twice, and travel to places like Denver, Los Angeles, Raleigh, Cancun, Puerto Rico, and New York City. And if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, your points can go even further.

Best Redemption #2: Transferring to Hyatt

Hyatt is one of my favorite redemption options since their program is fairly valuable and your points go pretty far. Even a top-tier property like the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris costs just 30,000 points per night, and you can even book their all-inclusive resorts for 25,000 – 25,000 Hyatt points per night. Pretty sweet.

Best Redemption #3: Transferring to British Airways for short-haul flights

Even after the recent British Airways devaluation, transferring points to this airline for short-haul flights is an epic deal. Most short-haul flights in the U.S. will only cost 7,500 points per leg. If you fly a lot of domestic routes and have some flexibility in terms of the dates and times you fly, these points can really help you go far. We’re even using British Airways miles to fly to Grand Cayman this upcoming May! Depending on where you want to go and when, you should find plenty of options available.

Best Redemption #4: Booking activities through the Chase travel portal

While you don’t often hear about people booking activities through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, I personally find awesome savings there – whether I’m paying in points or cash. If you plan on taking part in a snorkeling excursion, going zip-lining, or booking a guided tour of a museum or attraction, you can often find stellar deals through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Better yet, you can get a 20% – 50% discount if you use points to book your event depending on the Chase card you have.

Recently, I booked some trips out of Croatia for 4,000 – 10,000 points each. We are taking one trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and another to Montenegro and the Bay of Kotor. These trips will be sweet, so I’m pretty excited. Best of all, they are 100% free.

Best Redemption #5: Finding an awesome hotel deal through the Chase travel portal

Getting 20% off travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal can be rather “meh” at times, but absolutely lucrative in other instances. It really depends on where you’re going, what your dates are, and how rates stack up to rates offered on other sites like Expedia and Travelocity.

With that being said, I have noticed plenty of awesome all-inclusive resorts you can book for as little as 12,000 points per night for a family of four in places like Jamaica and the Mexico. And, when I was browsing hotels for a trip we’re considering to Greece later this year, I found all kinds of three star properties offered for as little as 6,000 points per night. When you find deals like this, your points can go a whole lot further.

Best Redemption #6: Transfer to Air France / Flying Blue for cheap flights to Europe

The last two years in a row, we have flown our entire family to Europe for most of the month of June. Both times, we did it by racking up points we could transfer to the Air France program through programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

This is fairly easy to do since round-trip economy flights to Europe cost just 50,000 miles per person plus around $100 in taxes and fees. Last year, we used Flying Blue miles to fly into Munich and home from Zurich. For this upcoming summer’s trip, we’re flying into Venice and home from Naples, Italy instead. Over all, I love how lucrative and flexible the Air France /Flying Blue program is.

Worst Ways to Use Chase Points

While there really is no “wrong way” to use credit card rewards, some of the ways you can redeem your points aren’t very lucrative. It doesn’t mean you should never choose one of these options, but it means you should think long and hard before you do. Here are a few of the worst ways to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points:

Worst Redemption #1: Redeeming points for low-value gift cards

While you can generally get one cent per point when you redeem your Chase rewards for gift cards, that isn’t always the case. Sadly, a lot of low value gift cards in the $25 range require you to redeem more than one point for each cent of value you receive. (e.g. 30,000 points for a $25 gift card) Redeeming points for gift cards isn’t a stellar option to begin with, but redeeming them for low value gift cards can be even worse. If you want gift cards, go for any option that gives you at least one cent per point.

Worst Redemption #2: Redeeming points for merchandise

Redeeming points for merchandise is an exceptionally bad idea across all rewards programs, but that’s especially true when it comes to Chase Ultimate Rewards. Depending on what type of merchandise you pick up, you could get as little as .5 cents per point. If you want to use your Chase points for merchandise, the least you can do is redeem your points for cash back at a rate of one cent per point. Then, head to the store to buy the item yourself.

Worst Redemption #3: Transferring points to a loyalty program without checking prices first

This is one scenario I’ve seen time and time again. Someone transfers their points to a loyalty program without checking the actual cost of their flight or hotel first. This commonly happens with high value hotels through Chase transfer partners. The Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay, for example, runs 35,000 IHG points if you book it through IHG. However, rooms often go for as little as 15,000 points per night through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. If you were to transfer your points and book this option through IHG when prices are this low, you would be wasting 20,000 points per night.

Read Also: Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay Review

Worst Redemption #4: Transferring points to British Airways to fly to Europe

Many times, British Airways flights to Europe are absolutely obscene. This is because the airline tacks on huge taxes and fuel surcharges for many of their transatlantic itineraries.

While a lot of people assume they’ll want to fly British Airways to London specifically, you are almost always better off utilizing a different airline loyalty program. Before you transfer any points to British Airways or any other airline, it helps to find out how many points you will need for the flight you want ahead of time. But, you should also make sure to check on airline taxes and fees to make sure they’re fair and comparable to what other airlines are charging.

My Favorite Chase Ultimate Rewards Redemptions

Over the years, we have racked up and spent hundreds of thousands of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. While some of these points weren’t all that exciting to redeem, others turned out to be some of our favorite point redemptions of all time! Here are some of the best ways we have redeemed our Chase Ultimate Rewards points over the years:

Transferring points to Southwest is always a win.

Over the years, my husband and I have had the Southwest Companion Pass multiple times. (Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to get than it once was.) Our favorite Southwest trips by far have been when we flew to Denver to see a concert, the time we flew to Mexico to spend a week with friends in Playa del Carmen, and of course all of the trips we have taken with our kids.

Thanks to the flexibility of Southwest points, we have even used them to fly to Jamaica for spring break twice! The first time, we brought my parents along. The second time, however, we brought along my parents and my sister’s family! 

See Also: How We Booked a Trip to Jamaica for Free

Jamaica 1

My kiddos at the Holiday Inn Resort in Jamaica!

I am obsessed with using Chase points for excursions.

While a lot of travel bloggers make fun of excursions and guided tours, I absolutely love them! In fact, I always check the Chase portal for activities any time we travel somewhere new. So far, my favorite activities booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal include a) the time we booked a black Mercedes airport transfer in Rome, b) a three-stop snorkeling tour I booked in Cancun, and c) the time I booked a three-city guided tour all over the Tuscany region of Italy. These “extras” were a lot of time at the time, and they were items I normally wouldn’t want to pay for. Since I could use points to book them, it made the “splurge” seem a lot more sensible.


Snorkel selfie….

Hyatt transfers are the bomb.

While I haven’t stayed at any of Hyatt’s all-inclusive properties yet, I will certainly do so eventually. However, I get pretty excited about almost all of Hyatt’s properties and their rewards program in general. Why? Because it hasn’t been devalued like many of the other hotel programs....yet. My favorite Hyatt redemption so far is when we stayed at the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris. Rooms were over $900 per night when we stayed, but we didn’t pay a dime for the experience. It was awesome!

park hyatt

One of the nicest hotels we have stayed in by far

How to Rack Up Chase Rewards Like a Boss

Now that you know all about Chase Ultimate Rewards and their many valuable uses, it’s time to explore the different ways you can rack up as many points as possible! Obviously, more points = more free travel! If you’re looking for a way to earn thousands of dollars in free travel, here are some top strategies to consider.

1) Sign up for credit cards and earn huge signup bonuses.

Obviously, the easiest way to rack up a ton of Chase points is by signing up for credit cards and earning their respective signup bonuses. By signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, and Chase Freedom over time, you can earn over 150,00 points through just the signup bonuses alone. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure your credit is in good standing before you apply. In addition, it’s my opinion that you should never pursue credit card rewards if you’re in debt!

2) Get your spouse to sign up for double the points.

If you play your cards right, both you and your spouse can sign up for the same Chase cards and earn the signup bonuses twice! If you want to go this route, however, you’ll want to make sure you don’t add each other as an authorized user. Why? Because some of the new rules from Chase make it harder to get a Chase card if your spouse has one and you are their authorized user already.

3) Beware the Chase 5/24 rule.

In 2016, a new rule dubbed the “Chase 5/24 Rule” was created, making it harder to earn multiple signup bonuses. In summary, this new rule means they may not approve you for a new card if you have had five other new credit cards within the past two years. This rule is important to consider if you want all three of the top Chase credit cards. By getting the Chase cards first, you can bypass this rule. Once these cards are safely in your wallet, you can pursue many other awesome travel credit card offers from other issuers.

4) Maximize bonus categories as much as you can.

Since the Chase Freedom offers 5x points on your first $1,500 spent in categories that rotate every quarter, you’ll want to pay special attention to those categories and maximize them as much as you can. Meanwhile, you’ll want to use your Chase Sapphire Preferred for travel and dining purchases since you earn 2x points. The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, on the other hand, offers an amazing 3x points on your first $150,000 spent in categories like travel, online advertising, and cellular service. If you can maximize any of these bonus categories, you’ll earn a ton more points over time!

5) Get the business credit card if you have business expenses.

If you have any kind of business at all, then signing up for the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card is an absolute no-brainer. Not only does it offer a huge signup bonus, but it makes it easy to earn a ton of points over time. Since we’re bloggers, we take advantage of the 3x points we earn on business travel and online advertising specifically. However, I could see this card leading to huge earnings for almost any business owner. The best part is, Chase lets you pool your points from all your Chase accounts into a single account where you can maximize them. I typically pool all our points in our Chase Sapphire Reserve account so I can score 50 percent off travel or transfer them to loyalty partners 1:1.

6) Utilize the Chase shopping portal.

Once you have any of these Chase cards in your wallet, you’ll want to use the Chase shopping portal any time you buy anything online. By logging into your Ultimate Rewards account and opting to “earn points by shopping through Chase,” you’ll be redirected to a page that shows the bonus points you can earn by clicking through to shop with certain retailers. If you plan to buy an item anyway – and especially a big ticket item – you can often earn 4x extra points just by clicking through the Chase portal first. And remember, these “bonus points” are on top of the points you’ll earn by using your Chase card for the purchase!

chase screen shot 1

Chase Ultimate Rewards: The Final Word

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards has allowed us to travel the world for pennies on the dollar. Their high-value redemptions, awesome transfer partners, and fantastic Chase Ultimate Rewards are the most valuable points around. Learn how to earn Chase points and redeem them for maximum value with our complete guide!flexibility easily make them my favorite rewards points to earn and redeem. Start earning your points today by clicking through any of the links above.

If you’d like help planning how to earn and use these points, feel free to hit me up at my free rewards advice page! I’ll create a personalized rewards plan to suit your travel needs.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out our card reviews here:

The post Chase Ultimate Rewards: Our Complete Guide to Maximizing Your Points in 2018 appeared first on Club Thrifty.

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