Complete Guide To Chase Ultimate Rewards Program

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The Chase Ultimate Rewards Program—the rewards program of cards including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom, and Chase Freedom Unlimited—is one of the more complicated, but also more powerful, credit card rewards programs. For all types of travelers, from business travelers to family travelers and Disney travelers, there is a lot to know about how to take advantage of this program.

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A Quick Overview of Points and Miles

Suggested Reading: Check out our post on the basics of points and miles.

Nowadays, pretty much every credit card gives you some form of "point," "mile," or "cash back" for your purchases. A typical card will give you 1 point or 1 cent back for every dollar you spend. Some cards, like the Citi Double Cash, effectively give you 2 cents back for every dollar.

When most people think of using credit cards to earn points, they contrast two types of cards:

  1. Cards that earn cash back, like the Citi Double Cash

  2. Cards that earn airline miles or hotel points that you can then redeem for flights or hotel stays, like the United MileagePlus Explorer card (referral link)

But the most powerful credit cards are actually a hybrid of these two. The best credit cards earn "flexible" or "transferrable" points. With those credit cards, you earn points that you can redeem in a variety of ways, usually including for cash back or by transferring them to partner airlines and hotels.

You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to fly international business class for cheap!

You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to fly international business class for cheap!

These points are valuable because if you know where to transfer them, you can use them to get flights or hotel stays for a relatively small number of points. There are four major programs in this group: American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, Starwood Preferred Guest (technically a hotel card, but with very flexible points), and the program we're concerned with today, Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program

There are six primary credit cards involved in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. We're going to break these into three "basic" cards and three "premium" cards. The three basic cards are (links are to reviews):

If you research these above three cards, you'll see lots of language talking about getting "cash back," and we'll explain why that is in a bit. Just stick with us for now.

The three premium cards are:

These six cards are the cards to care about if you're looking to earn Ultimate Rewards points. Remember, Chase does have other cards, like the Chase Rewards Disney Visa card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Card, that can be good for family travelers to know about, but those cards earn different points in different programs, and we're not talking about them today.

Earning Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

There are two major ways to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points: signup bonuses and spending.

Getting Chase Ultimate Rewards Points from Signup Bonuses

The quickest way to amass Chase Ultimate Rewards points is through signup bonuses, particularly on the premium cards. Here are the current (January 31, 2018) bonuses on the six cards (links are referral links or just links to Chase):

Due to Chase's restrictions on how many cards you can get, you wouldn't be able to get all of these in a short amount of time. But if you were able to get the top five, you'd earn 225,000 Ultimate Rewards points from signup bonuses alone. With a partner, the two of you could earn 450,000 points, worth $6,750! Note though that Chase now prohibits you from getting more than one bonus from a Sapphire card in 24 months, so you'll need to space out at least those two cards.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the flagship card of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the flagship card of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program

Earning Chase Ultimate Rewards from Spending

The slower (but still incredibly useful) way to earn points is through regular spending on your cards. The six cards all earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points at different rates, and this is part of what makes the program so complicated. While we try to be clear throughout, just keep in mind that when we say "earns 3X points" we mean you earn 3 points for every dollar you spend.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Earns 1.5X Points on All Purchases

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is the most straightforward card in the program. It earns 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar you spend on it with no limits or special categories. Check out our review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Chase Freedom Earns 5X On Rotating Categories, 1X on All Other Purchases

The Chase Freedom is the most complicated card in the program. Every calendar quarter, Chase picks a category of purchases that will earn 5X points on the Chase Freedom for up to $1,500 in purchases. All purchases in other categories, and purchases above the $1,500 limit in the chosen category, will earn 1X point per dollar. Check out our review of the Chase Freedom.

The Chase Freedom 2017 5X bonus calendar

The Chase Freedom 2017 5X bonus calendar

Chase Ink Business Cash Earns 5X and 2X Points Back in Special Categories

The Chase Ink Business Cash earns:

  • 5X points on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each year

  • 2X points on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year

  • 1X points on all other purchases

Chase Sapphire Preferred Earns 2X Points on Travel and Dining

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is widely regarded as the best credit card for people new to the points and miles world to try. It earns 2X points on travel expenses and restaurants, and 1X points on everything else. The Chase "Travel" category can be quite broad, we've even had Disney ticket purchases from Undercover Tourist code as "Travel." We'll get more into what makes this card so special below. Check out our comparison of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Earns 3X Points on Travel and Dining

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the newer, "super premium" version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It earns 3X points on travel and restaurants, and 1X points on everything else. Check out our review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Chase Ink Business Preferred Earns 3X Points in Special Categories

The Chase Ink Business Preferred earns 3X points on the first $150,000 spent annually in combined purchases on:

  • travel

  • shipping

  • Internet, cable and phone services, and

  • social media / search advertising

Earning Maximum Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

As you can tell from the above six sections, it is mighty tough to track your spending well enough to earn the maximum number of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. But, if you can do it, you'll earn between 3X and 5X points on almost everything you purchase.

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

This is where things get really interesting. Obviously we wouldn't have written this entire post if the answer was just "use your points for a statement credit." Actually, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is much more powerful than that.

The Basic Cards Aren't Really Just "Cash Back" Cards

The Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, and Chase Ink Business Cash all market themselves as getting "cash back" rather than points. Chase is not super clear about this, but what's really going on is that when you use these three cards you're earning points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. If you don't have any of the three premium cards, you can only use your points for 1 cent each for cash back, travel, or gift cards. The true power of the points is only unlocked once you get one of the three premium cards.

The Premium Cards Unlock The Power of The Chase Travel Portal

The Chase travel portal is an online booking engine (like Expedia or Priceline) that allows you to book flights, hotels, and other travel experiences using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Unfortunately, Chase no longer allows you to book Disney owned-and-operated hotels with Ultimate Rewards points.

Technically, even those with just the basic cards can book travel through Chase using their points, there's just no reason to go through the hassle (you're only getting the same 1 cent per point you'd get just requesting a statement credit). Once you have the premium cards, though, your points are more valuable in the travel portal. In particular:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders get 1.25 cents per point when using points to book travel in the Chase travel portal

  • Chase Ink Business Preferred cardholders get 1.25 cents per point when using points to book travel in the Chase travel portal

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders get 1.5 cents per point when using points to book travel in the Chase travel portal

Our 35,148 points are worth 1.5 cents each when used for travel!

Our 35,148 points are worth 1.5 cents each when used for travel!

Most importantly, it doesn't matter what Chase Ultimate Rewards card you earned the points on. You have to transfer the points between your cards (which is easy), but once you do, you can use them all at that increased rate. When we first got the Chase Sapphire Reserve, we had about 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points from our Chase Sapphire Preferred. The day before we got the Reserve, those points were worth $1,250 in travel expenses. The day after, they were worth $1,500!

Getting 7.5% Back With the Right Combination of Chase Cards

Take a breath and sit through some quick and easy math with us:

  • This quarter's bonus 5X category on the Chase Freedom is gas stations.

  • If we spent $1,000 at gas stations this quarter, we'd earn 5,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

  • As Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders, we can transfer those 5,000 points to our Reserve card and when we log into the Chase travel portal, those points will be worth $75.

So by combining the 5X points on the Chase Freedom and the 1.5 cents per point on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, we're effectively getting 7.5% cash back (when redeemed for travel). We cover this concept in more depth in our post on "stacking" the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Sapphire Reserve to always get 2.25% back.

The Premium Cards Unlock Transfer Partners

This is second to many of our readers, but usually the more important feature of the premium cards. The premium cards give you the ability to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Chase's travel partners. For example, Chase is a United Airlines travel partner, so you can transfer 25,000 points to United and use them to book a domestic round-trip flight. It's important to note that you cannot transfer points the other way. You can transfer from Chase to United but not from United to Chase!

The big value here usually comes in booking international flights in business or first class. The wide array of tricks/tips/possibilities in this area is beyond the scope of this post, but we'll give a quick example in the next section.

The current (Feb. 1, 2018) transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards (all at 1:1 transfer ratios) are:

Airline Transfer Partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards:

  • Aer Lingus AerClub

  • British Airways Executive Club

  • Air France / KLM Flying Blue

  • Iberia Plus

  • Korean Air Skypass

  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards

  • United MileagePlus

  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Hotel Transfer Partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards:

  • IHG Rewards Club

  • Marriott/Ritz Carlton Rewards

  • World of Hyatt

Remember, you don't have to fly with these airlines to get use out of them as a transfer partner. 45,000 points transferred to Korean Air Skypass can be used to book a roundtrip first class flight to Hawaii on Delta, for example.

Getting 7 Cents Per Point On Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. Last March, we booked two one-way tickets in Singapore Airlines' first class "suites" between Singapore and London. We used 182,750 points and paid $410 in taxes and fees. Had we just paid outright for the flight, it would have cost us $13,886. That means we got $13,476 of value from our 182,750 points, or just over 7 cents per point.

That's a huge amount of value. To earn those 182,750 points spending in 5X categories on the Chase Freedom or Chase Ink Business Cash, we'd "only" have to spend $36,550. That's a lot to spend and would take a while, no doubt, but you wind up getting a $13,476 flight out of it! That's a 37% value back! A small business owner using the Chase Ink Business Cash for business expenses could earn that flight every two years!

Chase Transfer Partners Have Hotels at Walt Disney World

We don't see a ton of value in using your points this way, but all three of Chase's hotel transfer partners have hotels at Walt Disney World. However, in most cases you'll be better off using your points to book hotels through the Chase Travel Portal than transferring them to hotel partners.

Closing Thoughts

If you're new to using points and miles, it is natural to be intimidated by all the options everyone throws at you. The reason the Chase Sapphire Preferred is regarded as the best card to start with is in part because of the power of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. We don't see any reason to disagree with that sentiment. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is a great credit card program for beginners, experts, family travelers, Disney travelers, business travelers, and everyone in between!

What would you like to know about the Chase Ultimate Rewards program?