For years, American Express dominated the field of flexible rewards points. Their Membership Rewards program as well as the points earned from their co-branded Starwood Hotels Preferred Guest card were the best ways to earn points that could later be redeemed for frequent flier miles or travel reservations. But recently, Chase has made strong moves to compete with American Express. Chase offers Ultimate Rewards points that are so flexible, that cardholders need to seriously consider how to earn the best value from them.
Direct travel booking
Cardholders can book travel directly through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards web site. Standard Sapphire and Freedom cardholders receive one cent per point in value towards airfare, rental cars, hotels, and cruises. However, holders of the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus cards receive 1.25 cents per point in value. And if you hold multiple cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer points from lower value cards to higher value ones to receive the better rate.
Point transfer options
Another advantage of the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus cards is that cardholders can transfer points to airline or hotel programs. Southwest, United, Korean, and British Airways are the four airline transfer partners. The nice thing is that United, Korean, and British are each members of the Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and One World programs. So between those three, you have access to awards seats on most airlines throughout the world.
Among hotels, Chase lets you transfer points to Marriott, Priority Club (Intercontinental Hotel Group), Hyatt, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards. In addition, Amtrak is another option.
The best of the best
Here are five of my favorite award redemption options:
- Southwest points with a companion pass. Southwest points are typically worth 1.8 cents towards flights, but if you have the companion pass, their value doubles to 3.6 cents each.
- United Airlines international partner awards in business class. United’s international business class is nice, especially on their former Continental aircraft. But I love redeeming 100,000 points for a business class flight to Europe on partners such as Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, SAS, and Turkish.
- Partner flights with BA points. Last year, BA switched to a distance based system. And although flights operated by BA and some partners require you to pay obnoxious fuel surcharges, awards on flights operated by American, LAN, and Aer Lingus do not. Better yet, a round trip flight of 650 miles or less is only 9,000 BA points.
- Amtrak sleep accommodations. 25,000 points on Amtrak is good for a bedroom on one of their trains. This can sleep two adults and one child and all meals are included.
- Rental cars. It is very hard to rent a car with points and miles, so this is one time when it makes sense to book directly through Chase’s web site.
By taking the time to consider all of the possible ways to use your Ultimate Rewards points, you can find the most value from this flexible rewards currency.