SETTING THE STAGE

It’s true:  based on the credit card in your wallet, you could have a HUGE advantage over other people if travel is what you want.

I’ll explain with an example.  Say you want to travel to Hawaii.  You go online to put a sample flight itinerary together to see how many rewards miles you’d need.  In general, you see that the ‘Big 3’ (American, Delta, and United) require 40,000 to 45,000 miles for a round trip flight in economy.  Perhaps you go apply for an American Airlines credit card with a 50,000-point signup bonus.  Sweet…that’s enough for your trip!  But once you use those miles, you’re almost back to 0 again and are stuck with a card that earns 2X miles on American purchases and 1X on everything else.  It’s going to take a very long time to get another 40,000+ for your next flight.  Assuming most of your expenses are non-travel related and fall into that 1X earn category, you’ll have to spend around $40,000 to earn another 40,000 miles…ridiculous, right?

That’s why I generally don’t recommend using airline or hotel credit cards for your everyday spend.  It sounds crazy, but you just saw the problem: once that first-time signup bonus is used, the cards don’t offer a good return on your month-to-month expenses, meaning it will take a very long time to get enough miles (or hotel points) to get you on your next trip.

There are 3 major point currencies out there that are infinitely better, and the one I’m introducing to you today are Ultimate Rewards (UR) points by Chase.

–> By the way, that flight to Hawaii?  Yeah…it can be done with just 25,000 miles.  That means you could have gone on **2** Hawaii trips with 50,000 miles instead of just one.  (The secret involves using Chase points, transferring them to Air’s SKYPASS program, and using those Korean miles to fly on Delta to Hawaii.)  Don’t worry about the details; you’ll learn a lot the more you read and experiment over time.  But for now, let’s focus on Chase 🙂

Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points are the points currency used by Chase for a handful of its card products.  UR points are both flexible and transferrable.  Flexible means you can use them in many different ways (e.g. travel, cash back, gift cards, online shopping).  Transferrable means you can convert them into currencies of other programs (e.g. convert 20,000 UR points into 20,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points).

Why flexible & transferrable currencies are best:  You start with a diversified portfolio from the get go.  Rather than locking yourself into earning air miles or hotel points with one program, you can transfer your points to a variety of partner programs, giving you the flexibility to put your points where they can do the most good for what you’re trying to achieve. You’ve probably noticed that airfare and hotel pricing varies drastically.  A room that normally goes for $200 per night could be $350 on a different night.  However, a lot of airlines and hotels set fixed redemption pricing for their points based on award charts or categories / levels.  So that hotel room could be a fixed 15,000 points per night while the cash price fluctuates.  That’s where transferrable points often show the most value – when you redeem them in the program during times when prices are high and yield a solid ‘cent-per-point valuation’ (e.g. 15,000 points for a $200 night means your points have a redemption value worth 1.3¢ each, whereas a 15,000 points for a $350 night gets you a 2.3¢ per point valuation…much better).  I always go through this mental math when choosing a redemption.

The general baseline for Chase points is 1¢ per point (e.g. 50,000 points = $500).  Depending on the card you have, your points can be worth more toward travel on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal portal, or even more via those transfer partners.

 

CHASE ULTIMATE REWARDS TRAVEL PORTAL

Chase has its own equivalent of Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, etc.  You can book flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, and experiences through the portal at a fixed point value.

You can book through the portal and pay with your Chase credit card (i.e. to earn points), or you can pay with Chase UR points at a fixed rate (use them to cover all or part of your total cost).

When redeeming for travel, some Chase cards will give you 1¢ per point in value (50,000 = $500), others will give you 1.25¢ per point (50,000 = $625), and another will give 1.5¢ per point (50,000 = $750).

Here are the current Chase cards that earn UR points and are available to apply for online:

Redeeming points via the portal can be good when: (1) your chosen airline or hotel is not a Chase transfer partner (2) you want to book rental cars or smaller / local hotels or airlines that do not participate in a loyalty program, or (3) when a partner program requires more points than the portal (explained in the next section below*).

CHASE TRANSFER PARTNERS

Chase currently has 11 transfer partners: 7 airlines and 4 hotels.  They are pictured below.  Chase UR points can be transferred to any of these programs at a 1:1 ratio (e.g. 10,000 UR points = 10,000 Marriott points).  Note that Hyatt’s loyalty program has changed its name from Gold Passport to World of Hyatt.

Why are these so great?  In some situations, transferring UR points to other loyalty programs and booking directly on their websites can yield even higher value per point than on the portal.  Example:  Say ‘Flight X’ is going to require 40,000 UR points on the Chase travel portal, but that same flight can be booked for only 30,000 United Airlines miles on United.com.  Clearly you’d want to use only 30,000, so you transfer 30,000 UR points from Chase to your United MileagePlus account where they’re converted to United miles.  You then book your flight there and save 10,000 points to put toward another trip.

The same could be true for hotels, so always price out your trip on the Chase portal and also on the airline / hotel website to see which option requires the fewest number of points.

Of course, the advanced part of this strategy involves understanding the 3 airline alliances and using air miles from one program to book on another (like the earlier example of using Korean Air miles to fly Delta to Hawaii).  That can be discussed in a future post.  For now, keep things simple and recognize that using the portal vs. using transfer partners can yield different results depending on the trip.

CARD STRATEGY:  POOLING

I’ll close with a final tip.  Since all 5 of those Chase cards above earn the same type of points (UR points), the points can be pooled together.  If you have the Sapphire Reserve card, you’re earning 3X on travel and dining, but only 1X on everything else.  So for those non-travel and non-dining purchases, put them on the cards that will earn you more than 1X.  For example, it would be wise to put your gym membership, drug store purchases, department store purchases, misc. bills, etc. on the Freedom Unlimited card to earn 1.5X.  Then all those points from the Freedom Unlimited card can be moved to your Sapphire Reserve account where they will instantly be worth 50% more on the portal and have access to all the transfer partners.  In addition, the regular Freedom card earns 5X in different categories that rotate each quarter (so when supermarkets earn 5X for 3 months, use the Freedom), and the Ink Business Preferred earns 3X in a bunch of categories, including: internet, cable, and phone.

CONCLUSION

Chase-branded credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points are some of the best cards on the market if you like to travel.  Using 2 or more of them together can yield a high return on your spend while giving you a variety of favorable redemption outlets.  Other hotel and airline credit cards have their place (benefits / perks), but typically should be avoided for everyday use.

Cover image source: UpgradedPoints.com