Category Archives: Ultimate Rewards

An Updated Look at Ultimate Rewards Versatility

Over a year ago I wrote a post praising Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) for their versatility.  I gave several examples when Ultimate Rewards were crucial to my trip planning efforts.  In these examples, the versatility of these points made all the difference.

The original blog post: Chase Ultimate Rewards – Versatility Matters

Having a stash of Ultimate Rewards made the following trips possible:

Nicoleen and I in Bad Nauheim, Germany, on our 10 year anniversary trip.

Nicoleen and me in Bad Nauheim, Germany, on our 10 year anniversary trip.

Ultimate Rewards still proving themselves

Since writing the original post on Ultimate Rewards versatility, the incredible usefulness and value of this points currency has continued to manifest itself.  Since publishing that post, Ultimate Rewards have been instrumental in planning the following trips:

  • Our long weekend in Costa Rica.  I used UR to back-fill my Hyatt account so we could book a third free night at the Andaz Papagayo.
  • Nicoleen’s surprise birthday vacation to Miami Beach.  I transferred UR points to British Airways to book the outgoing American Airlines flights and transferred UR points to Southwest to book the return flights.
  • My upcoming summer trip to Europe.  I pumped up my United Airlines account with UR points so I could book a 1-way business class seat to Zürich.
All our airfare (Southwest and American) for our recent Miami Beach trip was paid for with transferred Ultimate Rewards.

All our airfare (Southwest and American) for our recent Miami Beach trip was paid for with transferred Ultimate Rewards.

What makes Ultimate Rewards so valuable?

Chase Ultimate Rewards are considered a transfer point, meaning their most valuable use is to transfer to one of their partner programs.  Partner programs include airline frequent flier and hotel loyalty programs.

How do you get more value by transferring points?

When cashed out, Ultimate Rewards are worth 1 cent each.  1,000 points will get you $10.  When used to book travel through the Chase travel portal, the value per point gets a little better.  Depending on which Chase credit card you have, they are worth 1.25 or 1.5 cents each.  (1.25 for Chase Sapphire Preferred card holders and 1.5 for Chase Sapphire Reserve card holders.)   When transferring to a partner program, the sky’s the limit.

Example 1

Ultimate Rewards transfer to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.  I value Hyatt points around 3 cents each, so in this case, the same 1,000 UR points you could have cashed our for $10 could be worth ~$30 in hotel stays instead.

Example 2

Let’s look at my upcoming one-way United Airlines Polaris Business class seat to Europe.  The flight was 57,500 United miles, most of which I transferred in from Chase at a 1:1 ratio.  Let’s assume for this example that every last United mile I had was transferred in from Chase Ultimate Rewards.  57.5k UR points is worth $575 in cash, or $718.75 – $862.50 when booking airfare through the Chase travel portal.  By transferring to United and booking the flight with miles, I got $3,346,66 worth of airfare with that same 57.5k points.  That’s a whopping 5.8 cents per point!

Intangible value as well

In the above examples it’s easy to see the incredible transfer value of Ultimate Rewards.  But that’s only half the story.  The real value in the variety of transfer programs associated with Chase.

Chase Ultimate Rewards has the most expansive network of partner programs of any transfer point.  Partners occasionally come or go, but most of them have been steady for years.  As of this writing you can transfer UR points to:

Airlines:

  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM
  • Korean Air SKYPASS
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
  • United MileagePlus®
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Don’t recognize your preferred airline?  Keep in mind some of these airlines belong to huge airline alliances.  For example, you can use United miles to book flights on Air Canada, Air China, ANA, Austrian, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, and 20 more!

You can even use Ultimate Rewards to book flights on United’s competitors.  Korean Air miles can book flights on their partner, Delta.  And British Airways Avios can be used to book American Airlines flights.  Pick almost any destination you have in mind, and Ultimate Rewards can get you there somehow!

Hotels:

  • IHG® Rewards Club
  • Marriott Rewards®
  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
  • World of Hyatt

Consider all the brands associated with these hotel groups.  Hyatt alone includes: Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Andaz, Hyatt Centric, Unbound Collection, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Ziva, Zilara, Residence Club, and Miraval.

Marriott’s recent merger with Starwood Preferred Guest opens that entire portfolio of hotels up to Marriott Rewards members, and points are transferable between the two programs at a 1:3 ratio.

You can transfer Ultimate Rewards to Marriott Rewards, to Starwood Preferred Guest, and book an award stay at the Westin Punta Cana.  (Photo by VT reader Danie)

You can transfer Ultimate Rewards to Marriott Rewards, to Starwood Preferred Guest, and book an award stay at the Westin Punta Cana. (Photo by VT reader Danie)

This is where I have found the true value of Ultimate Rewards.  By having a stockpile of these transfer points, I almost never get screwed out of my vacation plans for lack of points.  If I’m short a few thousand points or miles in a particular program, there’s a good chance I can back-fill my account with Ultimate Rewards through one avenue or another.

transferred from

It’s easy to see how Ultimate Rewards have made many of my trips cheaper and more convenient.  Several of them wouldn’t have been possible at all if I had not had a pool of Ultimate Rewards to draw from!

How to get Ultimate Rewards

All the Ultimate Rewards earning cards we’ve had over the years

Some of the Ultimate Rewards earning cards Nicoleen and I have had over the years.

Ultimate Rewards are easy to come by, but you have to be nice to Chase.  More accurately, Chase has to like you.  The UR-earning credit cards from Chase are:

BEWARE THE DREADED 5/24 RULE

It’s impossible to know for sure if you’ll get approved for a Chase credit card.  But there is one way to know for certain that you will not be approved: by violating the 5/24 ruleIf you have opened 5 or more new credit card accounts (from any bank) in the past 24 months, you will be summarily denied any new Chase card. 

Even having an authorized user card for someone else’s credit account will count as a “new account” for determining your 5/24 eligibility.  There are a few exceptions to the rule but they are uncommon.

The value potential and versatility of Ultimate Rewards make them a desirable transfer point to have.  Stocking up on these points early in your free travel career is a wise move.  The difficulty of getting these points once you have a few cards under your belt is yet another reason to get these Chase cards sooner rather than later!

Thanks for reading and remember to “like” the ValueTactics Facebook page and check back often!  I love questions and discussions on all these topics!

The Best Credit Card Offer. . . Ever

NOTICE: The 100,000 Ultimate Reward sign-up bonus will change to a 50,000 bonus on January 12th.  The 11th is the last day to apply for the 100k offer.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has received a lot of attention since it became available.  I have mentioned it a few times like in this update post, but I haven’t done a full write-up yet.  I figured those of you serious enough to apply for a card with a $450 up-front annual fee would know how to look up the details yourself. 🙂  However, the bonus offer which gives this card its unbelievable value is being reduced, so I feel compelled to alert my audience before it’s too late.

reserve-smallHere’s why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is widely accepted as the best credit card offer ever:

  • 100,000 Ultimate Reward bonus after $4k spend in 3 months
  • 3x Ultimate Rewards per dollar spent on dining and travel, including gas station purchases
  • $300 annual travel expense reimbursement, with a generous definition of travel expense
  • $100 toward Global Entry or TSA Pre-check registration
  • Priority Club airport lounge access membership
  • 1.5x Ultimate Reward redemption rate at the Chase travel portal
  • No foreign transaction fee

That’s crazy!!  If you can stomach the $450 up-front annual fee, the benefits of this card could be worth thousands of dollars.  The 100k UR bonus alone is worth a minimum of $1000 (if cashed out – don’t do this).  It’s worth $1,500 at the Chase travel portal.  But by taking advantage of airline and hotel transfer partners I value 100k UR points at well over $2,500!

450fee

The benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve laugh in the face of the scowling $450 fee!

That’s not to mention the travel reimbursement benefit, which is based on the calendar year; not the cardmember year.  It’s pushing it, getting the card in January; but it’s still possible to get the $300 reimbursement for 2017 and 2018, and then cancelling before the next annual fee is due.  That tactic would put you $150 in the black without even considering any other benefits.

If you can’t stomach a $450 up-front annual fee, there are still other great cards that can earn you tons of valuable Ultimate Rewards pointsCheck out my Card Offer Page to see a few.

All good things must come to an end

As I stated, the 100k UR bonus is ending after tomorrow.  I would still recommend this card though.  As I just explained, the other benefits could still easily outweigh the annual fee.  Even the reduced bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards more than makes up for the annual fee.

For those of you who live near Chase branch locations, the 100k deal is extended through March 11th for in-branch applications only.  Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for my fellow Minnesotans, as I point out in this post on the regional nature of deals.

No Reserve for me, but my fair lady. . .

Thanks to Chase’s insidious 5/24 rule, I am disqualified from getting this card with the 100k bonus.  However, Nicoleen got down to 4/24 in November!  I wanted to wait until February, so getting the 2 years’ $300 travel reimbursements would be easier to time.  But as soon as the 100k deal’s end date was announced, we had to pounce!  On Saturday Nicoleen applied online and got the 7-10 day pending message:

The best credit card offer ever!

Annoying, but expected.  She had planned on calling the reconsideration line but then last night (Monday) she got a UPS message that a package was on it’s way.  We logged onto her account and Eureka!  The Reserve had been added to her account:

So beautiful . . .

So beautiful . . .

If you want to get more info on people’s recent experiences applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, check out the Flyertalk thread on the topic.

If you’re ready to apply, here’s the direct link to card offer splash page.

Our Jamaican All-Inclusive Vacation

In the spring of 2015 Nicoleen and I spent 4 nights at Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica.  Although we got the airfare for free by using the points and miles tactic, we paid to stay at the resort.  In this trip report I’ll go into detail on how we got the free airfare and give a review of the resort.

Nicoleen and I in Jamaica, 2015

Origin of Concept

I graduated the U of MN in June 2013 and gained full time employment in January 2014.  My graduation present to myself was my trip to Europe that next summer.  But even before that trip was planned I was scheming to surprise Nicoleen with an unforgettable 10th anniversary vacation for the summer of 2015.  I figured the best way to make it a surprise was to create a decoy vacation, since she would probably be expecting some sort of trip for our milestone anniversary.

Aside from the decoy plan, I also thought Nicoleen and I deserved a vacation (which we hadn’t done in years) since I finally had year round, full time income.  My points and miles balances were still getting established at the time.  I had no hotel points at all, so I started shopping for an all-inclusive resort at a destination we could reach by using miles.

The Planning Phase

Since this trip was a surprise for Nicoleen, I wanted to tailor it to her preferences.  She loves warm, tropical, pool & beach type vacations.  The trip was a decoy, so I needed it to be fairly short.  But it had to be long enough for her to believe this was “the” anniversary vacation.  Here was my thought process:

Timing:

The “real” anniversary trip to Europe was to be in the summer, so this trip had to be in the spring.  I can’t take time off in the spring because my new job requires me to be available during Minnesota’s wildfire season.  Late February is the latest I could take time off.

Destination:

Nicoleen loves warm weather vacations, but if she’s going to swim, it has to be actually hot.  So I needed a destination with a definitively hot climate in late February.  That ruled out anything north of Key West.  It also had to be somewhere relatively quick to get to, which ruled out anything outside of North or Central America.  The Caribbean met all these requirements.

Accommodations:

I had no hotel points or free night certificates at the time, so that whole aspect of planning was a non-factor.  I was shooting for a 4 night stay, so I didn’t want too much time locked up in logistics or ground transportation.  An all-inclusive resort seemed to fit the bill nicely.  We wouldn’t have to worry about finding places to eat or finding our way around with local transportation.  With an all-inclusive, you can basically get to the resort and stay there the whole time.

Couples Resorts:

Once I decided on all-inclusive resorts, my list got pretty short.  There are the big ones: Beaches, Sandals, Club Med, etc.  But I was looking for something a little less circus-like.  After a few hours on TripAdvisor and other review sites, one resort chain stuck out.  Couples Resorts has 4 locations, all in Jamaica.  All rooms are double occupancy, and no kids are allowed!  (I just sold half of you on this place with that one line 🙂 ) Couples resorts have almost universally positive reviews online.  They are priced similarly to the giant all-inclusive chains, but they have fewer hidden fee amenities.
Couples Resort, Negril
After some extensive searching I reverse-engineered most of their pricing structure.  Each day of the year is priced according to demand, with prices changing in 2 week blocks or longer.  A stay spanning two different price levels will show the average price for the stay, applied to each night individually.  The different promotions listed on their website pretty much all result in the same discount, so I felt like I was getting the best price available.

Flights

Since I was splurging on a fancy all-inclusive resort and paying cash, I needed to get a stellar deal on the airfare.  I set my budget at “free” and was able to stay within that budget!

At that time, my points and miles balances weren’t very built up, and I didn’t have much diversity in point types.  I mainly had Chase Ultimate Rewards to work with, so my major airline options were United or Southwest.  Both airlines are transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards, with a 1:1 transfer ratio for points to miles.  Southwest had recently started flying to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and they offered the cheapest flights, points-wise.
sw_ua_xfer

Southwest Flights and Couples Negril

The flights on Southwest were unremarkable.  We forgot to check-in online 24 hours before the flight, but we still got to sit together.  For a full review of the wonderful and relaxing Couples Negril resort, see my review post!
sw_flightjamaica1

Cost Summary

Airfare: $223.40
Other transportation: $30.00 (tips)
Lodging: $2,102.00
Souvenirs: ~$100.0

Total cost for 5 day, 4 night Jamaican all-inclusive vacation: ~$2,913.80
Total cost we paid: ~$2,455.40
Savings from using value tactics: $458.40
Points earned on trip: 4,651 Ultimate Rewards

Cost Breakdown

Airfare:
The airfare for both of us cost 40,880 Southwest Rapid Rewards, which I transferred from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account, earned mainly with my Sapphire Preferred card.  Award tickets still incur taxes and fees, which came to $223.40 for both our round trip flights.  The cash cost of both tickets would have been $681.80.  That’s still a really good price and some may argue I should have saved the points for a better redemption value.  I stick with my decision to use transferred UR points on the airfare.  Free airfare at a slightly inefficient redemption rate is still free airfare!

Ground Transportation:
Couples Resorts offers free shuttle service from the airport in Montego Bay to the resort in Negril.  Through a weird turn of events I won’t get into here, we discovered that we had a connection to the contract transport company.  Instead of waiting in the Couples lounge at the airport, we were whisked away in our own private van!  I think between both trips we tipped $30.

Lodging:
As this trip represented the last vestiges of my old, unenlightened ways, we paid cash for the resort.  (By “cash” I mean we paid the full price, but obviously we used a card to pay).  This guilty splurge was $525.50 a night, totaling $2,102.

Food and Shopping:
Otaheite dessert - Couples NegrilFood, drinks, entertainment, beach amenities, and even oceanside drink delivery were all included!  That’s the beauty of an all-inclusive resort like Couples.  Our only out-of-pocket expenses were purely optional and included a professional photo and some souvenirs.  Even the formal dinner and the sunset catamaran cruise were included!

Couples Negril sunset cruise

Overall we had a wonderful time!  I think if I had to straight-up pay for a resort stay again, I wouldn’t hesitate doing so at Couples Negril.  The weather was fantastic, and we met some fun and interesting people.  Using points to book the flights made the sting of the resort cost a little less painful too.

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Versatility Matters!

(This is a data recovered post, originally published on July 5th, 2015.)

How my Ultimate Rewards points have bailed me out 3 of the 4 times I have been short on points/miles

My first major credit card sign-up was the Chase Sapphire Preferred (see my full review here). I had heard and read about how great Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points were, and if you’re a regular on points blogs you’ll know that UR points are consistently touted as the most valuable points out there. The most commonly cited reason for this value is their versatility. I didn’t really understand why this was such a big deal until I booked my first flight with rewards.

Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred, with no penalty (i.e. a 1:1 ratio), to 11 different partner programs. This means if you are short points for a purchase with one of these programs, you can back-fill your balance with transferred UR points. Or, like I did with my first ever award flight, you can fund your whole purchase with transferred UR points.

I used UR points to fund my United Mileage Plus account for a trip to Europe before I had ever earned a single United Airlines mile. My Southwest Rapid Rewards account balance was only 750 points when I discovered that Southwest was the only airline that worked with my schedule for our Jamaica trip earlier this year. For yet another flight booked through United, my wife’s United Mileage Plus account had enough mileage for the award ticket but mine was a few thousand miles short, so once again UR points saved the day as I was able to back-fill miles from my Chase UR account to book my ticket.

In each of these cases there was very limited award seat availability and the ability to quickly get the points/miles where I needed them (I should mention the transfer only takes a matter of seconds!) probably saved my travel plans.

This versatility to transfer to partner programs, $0.01 cash redemption value, and discounted travel booking redemption make Chase Ultimate Rewards a strong contender for the most valuable type of points or miles out there.  And if things didn’t already seem too good to be true, they are also some of the easiest to get.  All Chase Sapphire and Ink products earn UR points and these cards consistently have great sign up bonuses, like the current 45k bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

All the Ultimate Rewards earning cards we’ve had over the years

All the Ultimate Rewards earning cards we’ve had over the years

Building up UR points is a valuable tactic to accomplish your overall miles and points strategy.

Weekly Review (March 8, 2015)

It was a good weekend at Menards! Today there were 5 simultaneous ad flyers going, including a Crazy Days sale. (Crazy Days are Fri-Sun sales, usually with several free items) The total retail value of items I bought for free this weekend is $133.40.

My free gas total for the week was $6.81 using free gas tactics. One of the coupon flyers we get in the monthly junk mail has a few 15 cent coupons which are valid Sundays only. With gas prices edging slowly back up, I’ve been filling up on Sunday nights to save every dollar I can on gas.
gas240
Travel News
My wife and I returned on Tuesday from a 4 night, 5 day trip to Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica, to celebrate our 10 year anniversary!

The main pool at Couples Negril

The main pool at Couples Negril


We splurged a bit on this all-inclusive resort. I planned the trip between April and August of last year and at the time I didn’t have many points or vouchers built up for lodging. So I decided to bite the bullet and make this my last “full price” vacation before starting to reap the rewards I’d been accumulating with points and miles. Although we paid for the resort (got a decent early bird sale price) we did get the airfare for free! $618.69 in airfare for FREE by redeeming 40,880 Southwest Rapid Rewards I got by transferring points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account. Yes, if you’re doing the math, that’s less than you’ll get with just the sign-up bonus from Chase’s popular Sapphire Preferred card! With just this one card’s bonus you could fly to a Jamaican paradise with your wife, girlfriend, or mother-in-law. Then when that person gets the card too, they can return the favor and fly you two back there next year!

The trip was exactly what we needed after a long winter full of cold weather and stress. The resort was outstanding and the weather was great. I’ll do a full review coming soon. I’ll also do a breakdown of how we flew for free and what the whole trip cost us. Stay tuned. . .

New Deals
The only newsworthy change in the card world this week was a negative one: it looks like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is back down to 25,000 bonus points with every public offer I could find. This card had been at 50,000 points for some time, which it will almost certainly be back to in a few months, as this card is one of the most predictable as far as bonus offers go.

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!