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If you’re looking to get the most out of your credit card rewards program, Chase Ultimate Rewards® could be the perfect fit for you.
Chase Ultimate Rewards® is one of the more versatile credit card rewards programs out there, especially if you have the right mix of Chase® credit cards. Chase Ultimate Rewards® points don’t expire as long as your account is open, and you can redeem them for everything from travel to gift cards.
But before you rush off to spend your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points on a Starbucks or Amazon gift card, you may want to think twice. Squeezing the most value out of your points can take a bit more planning than that, and your best option probably isn’t a gift card.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the quirks of this unique rewards program. And if you don’t know whether to use a Chase Freedom® or a Chase Sapphire Reserve® (or both!) to get the most value out of your points, we’ll go over that too.
Thankfully, it can be easy to maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards® points once you break the program down into distinct parts and match those parts with your goals. On that note, let’s get to it.
Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards® points for the best value
- Boost your rewards with sign-up bonuses (responsibly, of course)
- Apply for the right mix of Chase® credit cards
- Understand your redemption options
- Compare, compare, compare
One of the fastest ways to rack up Chase Ultimate Rewards® points is to qualify for a sign-up bonus. In order to qualify for such a bonus, you generally need to meet a specific minimum spending requirement within a set time frame.
Other rules and restrictions may also apply. For example, to qualify for the Chase Freedom® sign-up bonus you must not have earned the sign-up bonus for that card within the previous 24 months, and you must not be a current card member. Additionally, for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can only earn one sign-up bonus between the two cards within the 24-month exclusion period.
Sign-up bonuses seem to change almost as frequently as the weather, so do a little research to make sure you strike when the iron is hot. In some cases, you may want to wait awhile to see if the sign-up bonus goes up, though there are no guarantees.
Here are the current sign-up bonuses for three personal credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points.
- Chase Freedom®: Earn 15,000 bonus points, which you can redeem for $150 cash back, after spending $500 or more on purchases during your first 3 months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending at least $4,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending at least $4,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
One last thing: We don’t recommend trying to qualify for a sign-up bonus if you can’t do so responsibly. If spending, say, $4,000 on purchases in a three-month period would stretch your budget to its breaking point, hold off. The points you’ll earn likely won’t be worth the interest charges (and the headache!) associated with carrying a balance.
If you’re looking to earn the most points possible, you’ll need three Chase® credit cards to get the job done.
We don’t recommend applying for all of these cards at once, or even within the span of a few months, as multiple hard inquiries in a short period could lead lenders and credit card issuers (like Chase) to consider you a higher-risk customer. Before you apply for any credit card, it’s important to know the impact that a hard inquiry can have on your credit scores.
On that note, here are the three cards you’d want to consider in order to get the best possible value out of the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
First, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, a premium travel rewards card that earns three points per $1 spent on eligible dining purchases and one point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.
This card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, so it’s not for everyone. But if you’re a relatively big spender and know how to use the card’s unique benefits, Chase Sapphire Reserve® can be more than worth the price of admission.How to maximize the benefits of Chase Sapphire Reserve®
If you’re not a huge spender in the travel and dining categories, you may want to consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card instead. It only offers two points per $1 spent on eligible purchases while dining at restaurants and spending on travel, but the annual fee ($95) is much lower.
Next, take a look at the Chase Freedom® and consider taking advantage of the quarterly 5% cash back bonus categories. You’ll need to pay attention to the bonus category calendar, as the categories rotate each quarter, and make sure you activate them in time to earn those rewards.
You should also track your spending to make sure you don’t exceed the per-quarter combined-purchases limit on up to $1,500 in the bonus categories after activation, after which you earn only one point per $1 spent. Once you’ve met that limit, you’ll want to put all nontravel and nondining spending on the next card on our list to maximize your rewards earnings.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Finally, you may want to think about having the Chase Freedom Unlimited® in your pocket to earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases that don’t fit into a bonus category like dining or travel. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® will earn you even more points during your first year of having the card, too — you’ll get three points per $1 spent on every purchase, on up to $20,000 spent.
Since Chase Sapphire Reserve® only earns one point per $1 spent on eligible nondining purchases, Chase Freedom Unlimited® can be a great tag-team partner to help boost your everyday rewards earnings.
Personal credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||3 points per $1 spent on eligible dining purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||2 points per $1 spent on eligible travel and dining purchases and 1 point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases|
|Chase Freedom®||5 points per $1 spent in rotating quarterly categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter you activate, 1 point per $1 after) and 1 point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||3 points per $1 spent on all eligible purchases in your first year (on up to $20,000 spent), then 1.5 points per $1 spent on all eligible purchases|
When it comes to using Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, you have quite a few options.
The exact number of redemption options available to you may depend on the specific cards you carry. The following redemption options are only available with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
- Book rewards travel at an enhanced value via the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers a 25% bonus value and Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a 50% bonus value on points redeemed.
- Enjoy Preferred and Reserve Chase Experiences®, which may include VIP or behind-the-scenes access to sporting, entertainment and culinary events.
- Transfer points to travel partners at a 1:1 point ratio. Eligible airline and hotel partners include …
- Aer Lingus AerClub®
- British Airways Executive Club
- Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM
- Iberia Plus
- Korean Air SKYPASS
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
- United MileagePlus®
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- IHG® Rewards Club
- Marriott Rewards®
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
- World of Hyatt®
These redemption options apply to all Chase Ultimate Rewards® cards.
- Book travel such as flights, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.
- Get cash back directly deposited into most U.S. checking and savings accounts, or choose to redeem for statement credit.
- Shop at Amazon.com and pay with points for eligible orders when your Chase® card is linked to Amazon.com.
- Redeem for gift cards from a range of popular stores and restaurants.
- Enjoy events perks like special offers on concessions or merchandise with Chase Select Experiences.
J.R. Duren, personal finance reporter at consumer review website HighYa, highlights the importance of being able to transfer points to travel partners.
“Our usual transfer partner is Hyatt because we celebrate our anniversary at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay every year,” says Duren, who goes on to talk about his experience with transfer values. “We can book three nights at the hotel for 36,000 points. The cash value of those nights is between $600 and $750, which is pretty much twice what the points are worth for a cash redemption.”
Your exact redemption values may vary, but Duren’s point still applies: transferring your points to an eligible partner may help you squeeze the most value out of them. For that reason, spending your points on travel tends to be the best way to maximize their worth.
Now that we’ve established that travel can offer the best way to go, you have one of two options. You can seek the absolute best value possible and plan a trip around that redemption option, or you can plan a trip first and then find the best way possible to use your points on that trip.
Redeeming points for a great value
Finding a great value can result in redeeming multiple cents per point, but it may land you on a trip to somewhere you aren’t ecstatic about visiting.
For instance, with points earned on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you could transfer points to World of Hyatt® and redeem 5,000 points to book a standard room at the Hyatt Place in Hoover, Alabama. Last we checked, the standard rate is around $109 plus taxes and fees per night, giving you a value of more than 2 cents per point. (Unfortunately, Hoover isn’t known as a tourist hot spot … but who knows if that will change?)
Usually, finding the best possible redemption values requires searching the transfer partner programs for redemptions that offer the highest value per point. While all points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® transfer to Chase® partner programs at a 1:1 ratio, different programs may offer different redemption values.What are credit card points and miles (really) worth?
Redeeming points for your dream vacation
Finding a great value on the trip you already want to go on is an easier option, but it may result in redeeming at a lower value per point. Once you know where you want to go and what you want to do, break down your trip into every expense you plan to incur.
Say you want to plan a trip to Walt Disney World. You know you’d have at least the following expenses:
- Park entry tickets
Go down the list and find out if you can redeem points for each expense. You could search for the cheapest flight option, pick the hotel you want to stay at, and try to figure out how to pay for other expenses with Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. My theoretical list might look like this.
- Airfare (1.5 cents per point using Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® 50% bonus)
- Hotel (up to 2 cents per point by transferring points 1:1 to a partner program, depending on the program’s offering, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®)
- Park entry tickets (1 cent per point by redeeming points for cash back to pay for tickets)
- Food (1 cent per point by redeeming points for cash back to pay for food)
Essentially, it all comes down to using your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points for the highest value redemptions available to you until you run out of points. In this case, I’d use points for my hotel, airfare, park tickets and food (in that order) until I ran out of points.
You’ll want to compare transferring points to booking directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal too. In some cases, transferring points to a partner program may yield a better redemption value, as in the hotel example above, while in other cases booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards® may work out better.
And if you’re looking to maximize your points and you carry either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you may not ever want to redeem your points for cash back, gift cards or at Amazon.com, as these all offer point values of 1 cent per point or less, whereas redeeming your points for airfare through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal, for example, is worth more.
Comparing Chase Ultimate Rewards® to other airline rewards programs
Comparing Chase Ultimate Rewards® with an airline-specific rewards program is like comparing apples to oranges. True, they’re both rewards programs — but they operate in different ways.
Using Chase Ultimate Rewards® points is generally easy because you have so many options, including booking travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal or transferring points to a hotel or airline partner.
With airline-specific programs, you may only have one airline with which to use your rewards. For example, Southwest Rapid Rewards® allows you to transfer your points to certain hotel partners but only allows you to use points to fly Southwest.
On the other hand, United MileagePlus® allows you to earn United miles and use them on any Star Alliance™ travel partners’ flights, which include United, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Air Canada, just to name a few. Just make sure to join the program of one of the member airlines and register your account number.
Sometimes the airline-specific programs will work out better if you reliably choose one group of airlines over another. But if you prefer greater flexibility, Chase Ultimate Rewards® may be your best bet.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards® program allows you to earn and redeem points in many different ways, making it easier to use your points at a decent-to-great value on a trip you actually want to take.
If you include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® in the mix, and you’re willing to spend a fair amount of time researching Chase’s transfer partners, the value of your points could skyrocket.
Just remember, credit card rewards points are there to help pay for your trip — they’re the means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Researching the best way to redeem your rewards is important, but don’t spend more time poring over redemption values than you’ll spend actually enjoying the rewards you’ve earned!