This Might Be the Best Travel Rewards Program (No Matter What Airline You Fly)

By Summer Hull. Last updated 29 April 2014. 0 comments

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There are so many different types of reward programs that offer miles and points that it can be very difficult for those newer to the world of rewards credit cards and (almost) free travel to know where to start. If you're interested in diving in, a very good place to consider starting is with the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. These points are flexible, valuable, and easy to earn.

However, a "secret" that many people don't know is that cards within the program (and a Chase checking account) can work together to help you earn even more for your purchases. Specifically, you can take advantage of what I call the "Chase Trifecta" to earn even more rewards for your everyday spending.

Here are some details about how the program works and how to get the maximum value when earning and redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards.

What Is a Chase Ultimate Rewards Point?

A Chase Ultimate Rewards point is a credit card rewards point earned via a Chase credit card that falls under the Ultimate Rewards umbrella. Right now that includes cards such as the Chase Freedom, Chase Sapphire, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Cash, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus.

How Do You Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points?

You earn at least one point per dollar charged on a card that earns Ultimate Rewards. But the real trick is to take advantage of the bonus categories of these various cards in order to rack up the points much faster.

Chase Freedom

Earn 5x up to $1,500 quarterly max at rotating categories that have historically included places like restaurants, gas stations, department stores, and more. There's also a 10% annual bonus if you have a Chase checking account. (No annual fee.)

Chase Sapphire

Earn 2x on dining. (No annual fee.)

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Earn 2x on travel and dining plus 7% annual bonus on points earned. Also, get 20% off travel redeemed via Ultimate Rewards. (Annual fee.)

Chase Ink Cash

Earn 5x points per $1 on the first $25,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, Internet, and cable TV services. Earn 2x points per $1 on the first $25,000 spent annually at gas stations and restaurants. (No annual fee.)

Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus

Earn 5x points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services. Earn 2x points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and hotel accommodations (when purchased directly with the hotel). Also, pay 20% off travel redeemed via Ultimate rewards. (Annual fee.)

Ultimate Rewards Mall

Another great way to earn Ultimate Rewards points is via the Ultimate Rewards Mall. This is an online shopping portal that is open only to those with an Ultimate Rewards earning card. In this "online mall" you can earn 10x points or more for online purchases at retailers such as Home Depot, Sears, Kohl's, Pottery Barn, REI, Apple, and J.Crew. You click via provided links from the Ultimate Rewards Mall to your favorite retailer's site and then make your purchase like normal. For doing so, you earn a bonus number of Ultimate Rewards points that range anywhere from one extra point per dollar to 25 extra points per dollar.

At 10 extra points per dollar this means that your $100 online purchase at Kohl's goes from earning 100 points to earning the 100 points it normally would on your card plus 1,000 bonus points for making the purchase at 10x via the Ultimate Rewards Shopping Mall. This is a great way to earn a ton more Ultimate Rewards points in a hurry!

Redeeming Ultimate Rewards

You can redeem the points at a one point equals one cent value for merchandise such as a digital camera, retailer gift cards to places like Gap, as a direct deposit into a Chase account, at Amazon.com, or as a statement credit.

But that's as much as you can do with a Freedom, Sapphire, or Ink Cash cards as far as redemption.

The other cards (the ones with an annual fee, of course) offer you more travel value.

First, you get an additional 20% off travel redemptions through Ultimate Rewards.

What type of credit card are you interested in?
How much do you spend per month?
Do you carry a balance?

But the best redemption value comes when you transfer them at a 1:1 ratio to a hotel or airline partner such as United MileagePlus, Hyatt Gold Passport, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Korean Air Skypass, Marriott Rewards, IHG Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Virgin Atlantic, and Amtrak Guest Rewards.

Many people, myself included, get far more than the one cent per point value when you can transfer to some of those programs listed above. For example, via Hyatt Gold Passport you can book a room on the ski slopes at the Hyatt Escala Lodge in Canyons Mountain Resort for just 15,000 points per night. During peak ski season nights, rooms at this hotel can go for $400 - $500 per night, so clearly you get more than one cent per point value when you use your Ultimate Rewards points in this manner.

Even better, you can combine points with spouses or domestic partners!

The Chase Trifecta

As I mentioned earlier, you can use Ultimate Rewards to its fullest power by having several cards and accounts under Chase. Specifically, if you have all three of the following:

  1. A Chase checking account;
     
  2. A Chase Freedom Card;
     
  3. A Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus credit card.

A Chase checking account combined with a Freedom card will get you a 10% annual bonus in Ultimate Rewards points. This 10% bonus includes the 5x quarterly bonuses and points earned via the Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping portal, so it can really add up to a pretty substantial number over the course of a year.

As I mentioned above, the Freedom card allows you to redeem your points for gift cards, travel (spent via the Ultimate Rewards portal), or cash at one point equals one cent. However, if you also have one of Chase's top tier cards (Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, Ink Plus), you can transfer your Freedom points to these cards, which you can then use to transfer 1:1 directly to hotel and airline partners!

This means you can take advantage of Freedom's 5x quarterly bonus points, plus the 10% annual bonus for having a Chase checking account, and be able to transfer them at a 1:1 rate to travel partners. You can't do this if you have the Freedom card alone. You must have either a Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus card in order to do the 1:1 transfer.

Note that you can transfer points to one of these three cards from a Sapphire or Ink Cash card, but you don't get the added 10% bonus for having a Freedom + Chase checking account. Also, the Freedom card has better point bonuses than the Sapphire or Ink Cash cards.

Ultimate Rewards points, when used to their maximum potential, can bring otherwise unattainable luxury travel expenses like ocean-front resorts, first or business class flights, and more into the realm of very possible. Now get out there and start turning your everyday purchases into a pile of valuable Ultimate Rewards points!

Have you taken advantage of the Chase Trifecta to wrack up the reward miles?

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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