Last week I wrote about how and why you’d to want transfer Ultimate Rewards between accounts. If you haven’t read it yet, stop and read before continuing with this post.

A reader asked me the following question in regards to that article:

Is using Ultimate Rewards to purchase air travel (1.5 cents cash value) a good use of UR, or is using UR as award points for travel a better deal?

What he was asking, more specifically, was whether he should redeem his Chase Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Reward points for 1.5 cents via booking travel through Chase’s online travel portal, or if transferring his Ultimate Rewards to an airline or hotel loyalty program partner–like Singapore Airlines or Hyatt, for example–is a better deal. FYI: Ultimate Rewards earned by (or in the account of) a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred account can be redeemed for only 1.25 cents each through the travel portal.

The answer is that it totally depends on each case. I gave him a general rule of thumb to follow, though, and a means of figuring out how to compare in each case.

General rule of thumb for flights: It’s a better deal redeeming Ultimate Rewards for 1.5 cents each for domestic economy travel, and as airline miles for international/premium cabin flights.

That being said, you should be checking each time which is the better deal that would have you spending less points. Personally, I like to save my Ultimate Rewards to redeem on higher values than 1.5 cents per point, because I know I can easily get 2 cents of value per point, if not higher, on international/premium cabin flights.

The Math

Here is an example that illustrates how to compare and figure out which way to redeem your points.

  •  A roundtrip in Delta One between Atlanta and Buenos Aires, Argentina in November (high travel season for Buenos Aires) costs $4,467* in cash. If you booked it through the Chase Travel Portal, that would cost you 297,800 Ultimate Rewards (4,467 / .015 = 297,800).
  • The same roundtrip Delta One flight is available to book with just 90,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles (transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards). I know because I just recently booked and flew this award.

That’s 90,000 Ultimate Rewards versus 297,800 Ultimate Rewards.

Delta One, on a recent flight I took between Atlanta and Buenos Aires.

*During this comparison process, always check the cash price of the flight or hotel you want outside of the Chase travel portal as well as in it, as sometimes Chase’s price will be higher. Typically not, but you should double check anyways. In the example I gave above, the price on Google Flights, the airline’s website, and the price on Chase’s Travel Portal (powered by Expedia now) were the same.

What would likely be the case if we were looking at an economy flight between two major airports within the United states is that the cash price would be a lot cheaper, the rewards price would be comparatively higher, and if you did the same math as above (divide the cash price by .015, as that is 1.5 cents) then you’d end up needing less Ultimate Rewards to book the ticket through the Chase portal than you’d need to transfer to a mileage program and book as an award ticket. If you do tend to fly mostly in economy domestically, read about how to maximize your return on spending with the card strategy outlined in Rewards Earning Strategy for Domestic Economy Travelers.

These are simplified examples, because in reality there are other factors that could influence your decision. Maybe there isn’t award space on the exact day you want to travel. Maybe the flight available to book with miles and the cash flight aren’t the same and the routing of one is better than the other. But finding the price of an acceptable flight to your desired destination around your desired date through the Chase Travel Portal (that uses your points as 1.5 cents each towards the cash price), and comparing that amount of Ultimate Rewards needed to the amount you need for an acceptable award flight is where you start. Of course, this requires some knowledge (also known as googling) of loyalty programs, which ones have good prices to where, and how best to search for that award space. This is why many people just use the Chase Travel Portal (or whatever the equivalent is for their transferrable point type) without thinking twice about complicating the equation and utilizing mileage programs… but look how many points you can save with some research! TONS. Or you could just use our Award Booking Service instead if don’t have time/confidence you are finding the best award flight/price.

This a screenshot from within my Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards account, which is why it says my 84,837 points are worth $1,060.46 and not $1,272.55 (redeemed through the UR travel portal). Sapphire Preferred Ultimate Rewards are worth 1.25 cents each redeeming this way, while Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards are worth 1.5 cents each.

Is it a Third Party?

The same reader emailed again and asked another good question, which I think is important to share with you guys:

If I do buy through Chase, it is a direct ticket with the airline, or is it a third-party Orbitz type ticket? I have seen a few instances where the agent says: “This sounds harsh, but it is the truth. You are not our customer. You are Orbitz’s customer. Therefore, we cannot do a single thing with your ticket. We want to help you, but the record is locked against changes. It’s between you and Orbitz, sadly”.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal is a third party. You are not buying a ticket directly from an airline (nor the hotels room directly from a hotel), therefore changes need to be made through Chase’s call center and not directly with the airline or hotel. I have never booked anything through the portal, as I said above I can consistently get 2+ cents of value for my Ultimate Rewards so I don’t use them for 1.5 cents each. If anyone reading has and has had issues changing a booking, please leave intel in the comments.

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