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The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is one of the most popular travel rewards currencies out there. There are actually several programs out there, but today we are going to focus on the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
The largest programs right now are:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Citibank ThankYou Rewards
- Starwood Preferred Guest Rewards
I’ll cover travel cash back cards in a separate video/post, which are also a valuable (and often a simple) way to earn free travel.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Program
I’ll be honest, I’ve collected each of these rewards programs over the years, but the one that I find most valuable for my lifestyle and travel needs is the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
Not to say that the other programs aren’t extremely valuable, but for me, I find the Chase cards to best match my needs.
Here’s why …
Bonus categories that match my spending habits
With my Chase cards, I seem to be able to get a lot of bonus points on areas where I spend the most money in my daily life.
Multiple cards that pool into the same program
Since multiple cards are earning points, I find that I am able to accumulate points faster.
Travel partners that match my needs (as of early 2017)
- Airlines: United and Southwest (and many more partner airlines)
- Hotels: Hyatt and IHG
Eligible Chase Cards
When you look at the Chase website, you’ll notice that only a few cards are listed as having access to the Ultimate Rewards program. Some popular chase cards, like the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited, are listed as cashback cards only.
Unlocking Other Chase Cards
There is a way to make the cash back cards earn points too. You just need to have one premium card which then unlocks the ability to earn points on other cards. This also allows you to pool your points into one bucket. Examples of premium Chase cards include the Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Cash, and Ink Business Preferred.
For example, I carry the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which carries a hefty annual fee, but gives me a lot of value in both my daily life and when traveling. Since it’s one of the premium Chase cards, it allows unlocks the ability to earn points on other Chase cards, such as the Chase Freedom, the Freedom Unlimited, and the Ink Cash cards. I now essentially have four Chase cards that earn points, each with their own bonus categories.
Earning Ultimate Rewards Points
In my case, my Chase Sapphire Reserve earns:
- 3x points on dining and travel
My Chase Ink Business Cash earns the following:
- 5x points spent on utilities, cable, and phone
- 2x points per dollar spent on gas and dining
My Chase Freedom Unlimited earns a flat 1.5x points.
And my regular Chase Freedom earns 5x on rotating categories per quarter. This includes dining, gas, drug stores, Amazon, home improvement, and many more.
How to use Ultimate Rewards Points
Chase offers a ton of ways to redeem your points. For the best value though, I recommend using the following two redemption methods:
1. Transfer points to a travel partner
This is super easy, and instantaneous. You can easily transfer points from Chase one of their partners, such as United, Southwest, British Airways, Marriot, Hyatt, IHG, Ritz Carlton
2. Book travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal
Once you find the flight or hotel that you want to book, you can redeem points at a flat rate (1.25 to 1.5 cents per point – depending on your card). With this method, you are essentially buying the ticket or hotel stay and reimbursing yourself using points.
I typically will compare the points required to book using these two methods. You can sometimes squeeze more than 1.5 cents per point using the transfer option. Otherwise, I’ll just book the travel via the portal and redeem points toward the trip (TIP: You don’t have to redeem points for the full amount (i.e., you can select the number of points you want to use and pay the rest).
Keep in mind that you’ll also earn mileage or hotel stay points when you purchase your travel through the portal since you are essentially “buying” the ticket or hotel stay.
Value of Ultimate Rewards Points
It’s difficult to put an exact number on the value of each point. The Points Guy does a monthly valuation of points, and as of April 2017, he values Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents per point. Redemption values can vary, and I generally get around 1.5 to 2 cents per point. However, I there is value in the level of flexibility of the points that are hard to quantify into an exact amount.
Things to keep in mind
Keep in mind that Chase does have a “5/24” rule, which means they typically will not approve you for credit if you have had 5 or more credit cards applications (with any creditor) in the last 24 months. There are some exceptions to this rule, but in general, you may want to hold off if you have applied for 5 or more credit cards in the last two years.