The Ultimate Rewards program that comes with several Chase credit cards is one of the best credit card rewards programs out there. Not only are its basic rewards great, but if you understand the full program details, you can stretch your rewards so they’re worth much more than the typical one cent per point. Here’s how.
Six current Chase credit cards earn Ultimate Rewards:
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Ink Cash Business
- Ink Plus Business
- Chase Corporate Flex Card
- J.P. Morgan Palladium (for Chase Private Client, JP Morgan Private Bank and similar clients only)
Several of these are business credit cards, but even if you only have a small side business, you might be eligible to apply. (For related reading, see Best Small Business Credit Cards and Using Business Cards Strategically.) The now-discontinued Ink Bold and Ink Classic cards also offered Ultimate Rewards. If you still have one of these cards, check with your bank about whether they are still usable.
Each card earns rewards at a different rate. For example, with the Chase Freedom card, you earn one Ultimate Reward point per $1 spent on all purchases, and five Ultimate Reward points per $1 spent in bonus categories that change quarterly, such as gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, meanwhile, you earn two points per $1 spent on travel and restaurant meals and one point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Some Chase cards let you redeem your Ultimate Rewards at a more favorable rate than others, as we’ll explain below.
Redeem Points for Travel
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Corporate Flex Card and Ink Plus Business all offer 20% off travel when you redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website: For example, if you want to purchase $500 in travel, you only need 40,000 points.
The Ink Cash and Freedom cards don’t have this perk but, as we’ll explain below, there is a trick to make your points earned with these cards go further. Details from Chase about the Palladium card’s rewards structure aren’t available online, but most people won’t qualify for this card anyway.
Chase considers a travel purchase to be one of these:
- Hotel accommodations
- Car rentals
- Vacation packages
Combine Chase Rewards Points for Maximum Gain
If you have a Chase Freedom or Ink Cash Business card – and you or your spouse also have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus Business card – you should consider moving the Ultimate Reward points you earn from one of the cards in the first group to one in the second group. After you do that, the miles you earned from your Chase Freedom or Ink Cash purchases and then transferred become more valuable if you redeem them for travel because they are now covered by the 20% travel discount of these higher-end cards.
Let’s say your household has three Chase credit cards that let you earn Ultimate Rewards points. One is your Chase Freedom card, the second is your husband’s Chase Freedom card and the third is your business’s Chase Ink Plus Business card. Here’s how you could combine your household’s points to maximize your rewards.
Chase Freedom card 1: 1,500 Ultimate Reward points
Chase Freedom card 2: 10,500 Ultimate Reward points
Chase Ink Plus Business card: 40,000 Ultimate Reward points
Log into your account for Chase Freedom card 1. Click the link in your account summary, “Go to Ultimate Rewards.” From the Ultimate Rewards page, mouse over your points balance in the top right corner of the screen to access a drop-down menu, then click "Combine Points." Enter the card number and last name associated with your Ink Plus Business card, then review and confirm your transaction to move all of your Freedom points to your Ink Plus Business points account. Repeat this step with Chase Freedom card 2.
It's better to have your 52,000 points in the Ink Plus Business account than spread out among three accounts for two main reasons:
– The minimum redemption amount is 2,000 points, so you can’t do anything with the points from Chase Freedom card 1 until you earn 500 more, which requires spending $100 in 5% back categories, $500 in 1% back categories, or some combination thereof.
– By placing all your points in the Ink Plus Business rewards account, you can get the 20% travel discount. Your household’s 52,000 points, instead of being worth $520, will be worth $650. That might be enough to get plane tickets for both you and your husband, instead of just one of you.
When you initiate the points transfer, the fine print will state that you can only combine Ultimate Rewards points with accounts belonging to you or your spouse/domestic partner. Don’t violate these terms; you don’t want to lose your points or lose your ability to qualify for future Chase rewards because you abused its rewards program. Being able to combine points from cards from the same household is a great perk.
The cards that offer the 20% travel discount – Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus Business – each have annual fees of $95 that are waived the first year. If you’re planning to close the account with the annual fee before it comes due, make sure to use up your entire rewards balance first. Otherwise, you’ll lose any unredeemed points when you close your account. You don’t want to pay $95 a year just for the privilege of hanging on to your points balance. The only reason to pay the annual fee is because you get more than $95 worth of value from it. (For related reading, see Credit Cards: Should You Ever Pay An Annual Fee?)
Transfer Points to Other Rewards Programs
Another option for maximizing your Ultimate Reward points is to transfer your points at a rate of 1 point to 1 mile to a participating travel rewards program:
Amtrak Guest Rewards®
British Airways Executive Club
Hyatt Gold Passport®
Korean Air SKYPASS
IHG® Rewards Club
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
As with the 20% travel discount, the cards that have this perk are Ink Plus Business and Sapphire Preferred. You can use the points transfer strategy described earlier, in the section on combining household points, to turn Chase Freedom or Chase Ink Cash points into these partner programs’ currency.
You can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to participating partner programs in increments of 1,000. This redemption strategy offers the most bang for your buck if you’re already close to a reward with one of these partners. For example, if you can transfer 5,000 Ultimate Reward points, worth about $50, to your Southwest Airlines frequent flyer account to give you enough Southwest miles to get a $400 plane ticket, that’s a great deal because you’ll be able to use miles that were otherwise just sitting there and effectively get a $400 plane ticket for $50. In this situation, this redemption strategy makes more sense than redeeming 32,000 Ultimate Rewards points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website to get your $400 plane ticket (discounted 20% to $320).
Just don’t wait until the last minute: Points may transfer instantly and often transfer the same day, but allow at least a week for processing.
The Bottom Line
These strategies for maximizing your Chase Ultimate Rewards points are a great example of how savvy consumers who pay their credit card bills in full and on time can use credit cards to their benefit to make money. These strategies lie completely within the rules and the spirit of the rewards programs.
Unlike manufactured spending, they don’t involve sketchy strategies that – while they might not explicitly violate any program rules – probably go against how credit card issuers expect consumers to use their cards and their rewards. Feel free to take advantage of these points-maximization strategies without fear or guilt and enjoy maxing out your rewards. For more advice, see What are some tips for getting the most out of my credit card rewards program?