Above cover photo by BriYYZ
Like many of us travel and points geeks, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve the day it was released. It was probably the most anticipated card in years! Now that I finally have my sign-up bonus it’s time to book the next trip!
Chase Ultimate Rewards is a very lucrative program that offers huge flexibility when redeeming for travel. Their transfer partners include a decent amount of airlines, at least one from all three major alliances, and hotel options as well. The best part about this is that the points transfer over at 1:1 ratio almost instantly! This gives you a ton of options on redeeming. But another huge perk, and perhaps my favorite perk, (especially as someone who redeems awards for economy flights) is the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal which gives you 1.5 cents in value for every point in their portal. Of course, this is only for those of us carrying the Chase Sapphire Reserve, as the step under that is Sapphire Preferred which offers a decent 1.25 value through the portal. Now here’s where things get interesting —
Trying the Transfer Partners:
Overall, awards for the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners sit at a pretty fixed ratio with a few exceptions. That is until airlines devalue or change their award chart amounts, but that’s a whole other conversation completely. Essentially, if there is award availability, you’ll be able to find flights in general for the designated amount within a reward program. This is usually based off a set amount between regions and you have to figure in the taxes and or the evil fuel surcharges (looking at you British Airways) that can hinder the value of your rewards. The notable exceptions to this are British Airways (distance based) and Southwest (revenue based and requires a phone booking) However, for most partners the rates of these areas don’t fluctuate based on the price of the actual ticket and you can usually find award availability that corresponds with the amount on each airlines award chart.
I’ll try to show a comparison using a trip I’m currently booking next spring (this isn’t the exact flight I’m using, but you’ll get the point). Myself and my girlfriend are taking an open-jaw trip (arriving at one place, and departing from another), LAX-Paris-Amsterdam-LAX. Based on Chase’s Ultimate Rewards partners, I’ve found the best value for my trip to be in UR’s newest airline partner Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) It also happens that these two airlines have hubs in the cities I’m traveling to. Tip: Flying through rewards program hubs usually offers better availability and options when redeeming points. Flying Blue has an award redemption rate of 25,000 Miles between North America and Europe and I first found decent flights (allowing more time at my destinations) each requiring that said amount. As you can see, these come with some taxes attached, but they are about average in comparison to other airlines. If you’re wondering why I didn’t transfer to Virgin Atlantic or British Airways it’s exactly for this reason. Because of their high surcharges, there really is only value in them when redeeming for business class and higher, but even then you have to figure out if the cost is worth it vs other transfer partners.
Trying through the Chase Travel Portal:
Next I went onto the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and plugged in my dates. This time I found two great direct flights on the same open-jaw that cost roughly $853. The nice part about Chase Ultimate Rewards is that it’s tied to current market price so in this case, the prices are very low for direct flights and offer great value. As you can see, even with the 1.5 rate in redeeming these points, I’m still coming out behind redeeming directly through Air France and KLM at 50,000 points. However, that’s where the taxes and fees come in on award bookings. Although Air France’s taxes are minimal, they are already included in the amount on the Chase portal. In USD these taxes (converted at the current EU to USD rate) are $134.57.
By selecting the flight in the Chase Portal, I can try to figure in the taxes and fees I’d be paying through Flying Blue to see how many points I’d be using if I paid the same amount. Of course I could just use a calculator, but the Chase Portal allows me to choose how many points I wish to pay with and dragging that toolbar is way more fun than going Point Dexter. As you can see with the same amount in taxes I’d be paying redeeming for this flight with miles, I now actually come out ahead by going through Chase for this specific flight. Sure it’s only a couple thousand points, but that’s points I could use for a Hotel in Paris. Also since this flight offers direct flights each way vs Flying Blue which wanted 35,000 for this itinerary for the direct flight, the redemption this time is far superior through Ultimate Rewards.
To further add insult to injury, I will be able to earn miles through my Ultimate Rewards booking which I can use to add to either my current Delta, Flying Blue or Alaska account. Pretty sweet right?
When is Transferring is a Better Deal?
Although Ultimate Rewards was the sweeter deal in this case, it won’t always be that way. You have to keep in mind that I’m traveling during the low season and booking a ticket that is very cheap for this route. Basically, I found a great fare which made the booking an easy choice this time around. Holiday travel and summer travel are certainly going to be a times where airline rewards bookings are going to get the better of booking though the Chase Portal. Also, if you’re looking for international business/first class you will usually find much better deals booking through the airline’s rewards programs. Also something cool about Flying Blue is that they have award discounts on certain routes. For example currently JFK – Europe has a 15 percent discount (unfortunately they rarely discount coming from LAX).
Overall, Just make sure that whatever way you choose to book, weigh your options first. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program offers incredible flexibility and with the kind of options you have, it’s worth taking the time before you book.