April 21, 2021

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It’s Time to Fly

Best Ways to Earn and Redeem

9 min read

Earn, redeem, and maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards points for free travel and other perks.

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Although you can certainly get a lot of value by racking up and using airline frequent-flier miles or hotel loyalty points, Chase Ultimate Rewards is still one of the best travel rewards programs out there. Not only can you earn points with a variety of credit cards, but you can also redeem them in several useful ways. 

Since it launched in 2009, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program has evolved from a points-never-expire system to an even more comprehensive platform and booking agent. You can now transfer points to more than a dozen airline and hotel partners; put them toward travel reservations made through Chase; and even just cash in points for statement credits, all making Ultimate Rewards points particularly relevant right now when travel patterns are curtailed. Whether you already have a Chase card, or are considering opening one, here are some of the best ways to earn, redeem, and maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points by card

To earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you have to carry a credit card that participates in the program. The main differences between these cards are their annual fees, the bonus purchase categories they offer, and the value of each card’s Chase Ultimate Rewards points when redeemed for travel or statement credits. Here are the basics on each.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

This card became an instant hit when it debuted more than a decade ago, and it remains popular today thanks to its excellent earning potential.

  • Introductory bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months from account opening.
  • Earning rates: Earn two points per dollar on dining (including takeout and delivery) and travel purchases like airfare, hotel bookings, train tickets, rideshares, and even tolls and parking. Through April 30, 2021, you can also earn two points per dollar on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases each month, including eligible pickup and delivery services.
  • Points value: 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards online portal
  • Annual fee: $95

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

This higher-end option offers extra benefits like up to $100 in statement credits toward a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application once every four years, plus up to $300 in credits each year toward travel.

  • Introductory bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Earning rates: This card earns three points per dollar on dining and travel (after the $300 annual travel credit). Now through April 30, 2021, it also earns three points per dollar on up to $1,000 per month in grocery purchases.
  • Points value: 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed for travel through Chase
  • Annual fee: $550

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Ostensibly a simple cash-back card, points earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited can actually be combined with Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve if you have either of those, and redeemed for travel at their higher rates, or transferred to the program’s airline and hotel partners.

  • Introductory bonus: Earn a $200 bonus (or 20,000 points) after you spend $500 in the first three months from account opening. Plus, earn 5 percent cash back (or five points per dollar) on grocery store purchases excluding Target and Walmart on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earning rates: This card earns 5 percent back (five points per dollar) on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3 percent back (three points per dollar) on drugstore spending and at restaurants, including takeout and delivery; and 1.5 percent back (1.5 points per dollar) on everything else.
  • Points value: Points are only worth one cent each when redeemed for travel or cash back. 
  • Annual fee: $0

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Its name and earning structure are similar to the Freedom Unlimited, with one significant difference in terms of earning.

  • Introductory bonus: The same as with Chase Freedom Unlimited
  • Earning rates: This card earns 5 percent back (five points per dollar) on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and on up to $1,500 in bonus categories that change quarterly (including but not limited to gas stations, streaming services, Amazon buys). It also earns 3 percent back (three points per dollar) on drugstore spending and at restaurants, including takeout and delivery; and 1 percent back (one point per dollar) on everything else.
  • Travel redemptions: Your redemption options with the Flex version are the same as with the Unlimited, including the ability to combine points with those from a higher-end Chase card.
  • Annual fee: $0

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Don’t forget about this business card—especially if you can leverage its welcome offer and bonus earning categories.

  • Introductory bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months of account opening.
  • Earning rates: Earn three points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone services, and advertising with social media sites and search engines each account year. Earn one point per dollar on everything else.
  • Travel redemptions: Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Annual fee: $95

Keep in mind you can also combine points earned from some of Chase’s other cards, such as the Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card and the Ink Business Cash Credit Card, with Ultimate Rewards from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Business Preferred to open up your redemption options.

How to maximize earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points

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Where to start? Get the card (or cards) that earn the most bonus points on what you tend to buy. If groceries are a greater expense than dining out, you might want one of the Freedom cards. If you need a solid card for work expenses, the Ink Business Preferred might be your best bet. If you do tend to book a lot of travel and can take advantage of its other benefits, such as Priority Pass Select airport lounge access, the Chase Sapphire Reserve might be your top pick.

Shop through Chase

If you have one of the above cards, you can log into the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and navigate to the “Ways to Earn” page, where you should see an option to “Shop through Chase.” Click “Shop Now,” and you’ll be redirected to the program’s online shopping mall where you will see offers to earn bonus points per dollar at various merchants such as Kiehl’s, Blue Apron, Petco, and more.

Refer a friend

You might be targeted for referral bonuses. When you send a personalized link for a Chase card to a friend and they apply for and are approved for it, you can usually score 5,000–10,000 bonus points per person up to 10 people (though your particular offer may vary).

Get a Lyft

At the beginning of 2020, Chase and Lyft launched a partnership to reward cardholders with bonus points. Through March 2022, folks with the Chase Sapphire Reserve can earn 10 points per dollar on Lyft rides. Those with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Business Preferred earn five points per dollar, while those with the Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex earn 5 percent cash back (or five points per dollar).

How to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Ultimate Rewards points give you a wide variety of ways to redeem them for travel and a decent rate of return no matter which method you prefer. Here are the best ways to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel.

Book travel through Chase

Perhaps the simplest way to redeem Ultimate Rewards points is to cash them in for travel reservations, like booking flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, vacation rentals, and activities, made directly through the Chase portal (look for “Travel” under the “Earn/Use” tab in your Ultimate Rewards account). 

The value you get for your points will depend on the specific card you carry. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents apiece redeemed this way, while with either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred, you get a value of 1.25 cents per point. The Freedom Unlimited and Freedom Flex only yield one cent per point, though you can redeem at the higher rates if you have one of the aforementioned cards. 

Transfer to airline or hotel partners

Leverage the program’s airline and hotel transfer partners. Chase points convert at a 1:1 ratio to the following carriers and chains.

Chase airline partners

  • Aer Lingus AerClub
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Iberia Plus
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Chase hotel partners

  • World of Hyatt
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Bonvoy

For example, converting Chase points into British Airways Avios and then redeeming those for short-haul flights on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines is a great way to save miles on routes within the U.S. and from the West Coast to Hawaii, specifically.

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Flying Blue, the frequent-flier program of Air France/KLM, fields “Promo Rewards” with discounts of 20–50 percent off award pricing on its own flights between certain cities and regions that rotate monthly. Economy awards between North America and Europe start at as little 11,000 miles each way, while business class can be as low as 28,750 miles one way. Delta, a SkyTeam alliance partner of Air France/KLM, would charge you 35,000 miles for economy or 95,000 for business class on the same routes. Plus, Flying Blue members seem to have access to many more premium award tickets on Air France/KLM flights than folks redeeming miles from other partner programs. 

World of Hyatt points also present some spectacular opportunities. For example, you might need just 30,000 points per night for top-tier hotels such as the Park Hyatt New York or Ventana Big Sur, an Alila Resort, both of which can charge well over $1,000 for nightly rates.

Use Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature

Another easy way to cash in Ultimate Rewards points is with a new feature Chase introduced back in May called “Pay Yourself Back.” Basically, this lets cardholders redeem their points at the higher rates normally reserved for travel bookings on other categories like grocery stores, dining, home improvement stores, and charitable donations to partner organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the National Urban League.

Redeem for cash back, gift cards, and Apple products

Although they’re mainly thought of as travel points, you can actually redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for statement credits toward purchases or for gift cards at merchants like REI, Starbucks, and West Elm. You get a solid one cent per point in value in most cases, although Chase sometimes offers a bonus on gift cards that can slightly raise your rate of return.

Similarly, you can shop for Apple products directly through your Chase Ultimate Rewards account online and check out using points at a rate of one cent apiece. If you’re points rich but short on cash, this can be a good way to save a little money, although you can generally get a much better value from your points if using them for travel rewards.

Avoid Amazon

You can now link your Chase Ultimate Rewards profile to your Amazon account and use your points to pay directly at checkout. Don’t do it, though. You only get around 0.8 cents per point redeemed this way. Instead, use your card to pay and then redeem points for statement credits. That way, at least you’ll get one cent per point you cash in—a much better return.  

Buy a ticket to exclusive experiences

Chase lets you redeem points for various activities and experiences, usually at rates starting at one cent per point. In the past, these have included Sundance Film Festival packages, chef-led dinners, and concerts, though as you can imagine, the options are limited currently. Hopefully some of the more interesting ones will return once people are able to travel and gather again.

Maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for the most value

Travel and limited-time “Pay Yourself Back” options will get you the best return when redeeming your Chase Ultimate Rewards points. In a pinch, points can also be useful as cash back, but they tend to hold more value for travel redemptions. 

Transferring rewards points to airline miles or hotel points can also be a good value—often more than the mere 1-1.5 cents per point with other options. That said, knowing you have a solid return on spending no matter how you use your points is one of the main reasons Chase Ultimate Rewards points are so versatile.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.

>> Next: The Best Rewards Cards for International Travel

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