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Guide to Chase Ultimate Rewards® points

By , CardRatings contributor

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chase ultimate rewardsIf you have a Chase credit card with rewards points (and not all of them have them), then you have a card that can collect Ultimate Rewards® points, which can be redeemed for numerous perks, including cash back, gift cards and travel. Intrigued? Here's how to take full advantage of Ultimate Rewards® points.

Credit cards with Chase Ultimate Rewards®

We'll cut right to the chase. (Ha! Get it? These are Chase credit cards… okay, tough crowd.) So, anyway, there are quite a few credit cards that offer Chase Ultimate Rewards®:

Important details about each of these card is provided below:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Highlights: You earn 2 points on travel and dining out and 1 point for every $1 that you spend on everything else. Also, there's a signup bonus of 60,000 points – worth up to $750 in travel when redeemed through Ultimate Rewards® – after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. Annual fee: $95

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Highlights: Get 3 points on travel and dining out purchases--and the sign up bonus is 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months. Why the three points? It may be because the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card has an annual fee of $450. That said, the card does offer a $300 annual travel credit that it puts toward any travel purchases, so before balking at the annual fee, you may want to take a closer look -- after all, MONEY® Magazine named this card the "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018.

Chase Freedom®

Highlights: Sloths can hold their breath longer than dolphins. Not useful info? Well, if you were hoping for useful intel about Chase Freedom®, you'll be happy to know that you get 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories, up to $1,500 per quarter (the money comes in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards®, that is, points that you can redeem for cash). If you spend more than $1,500 per quarter, you earn 1% back. As for your sign-up bonus, you receive $150 after spending $500 on purchases during your first three months from opening the account. The annual fee: $0

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Highlights: You'll earn 3% back on all purchases up to the first $20,000 spent during your first year as a cardholder. After that, and on an ongoing basis, you earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.  Also the annual fee: $0

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

Highlights: Earn 5% cash back on office supply store purchases and receive 5% cash back on your internet, cable and phone services – on up to a combined $25,000 that you spend annually. You'll also receive 2% cash back when you gas up your company vehicle (or any car) and take your business clients (or your grandmother or whomever) to restaurants, on your combined spending of up to $25,000 a year for gas and restaurants. And you'll get 1% cash back on everything else. The sign-up bonus is $500 cash back after spending $3,000 during the first three months from account opening. Annual fee: $0

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Highlights: You'll get 3 points per every dollar you spend -- up to $150,000 per year, in combined spending on travel and select business categories, like shipping. You'll receive 1 point per every $1 that you spend on everything else. And that sign-up bonus? Enjoy 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 within the first three months of opening your account. The annual fee is: $95.

Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card

Highlights: Earn 1.5% cash back on all spending. The sign-up bonus is $500 cash – after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. And the annual fee is no more than: $0

Chase Ultimate Rewards® value

Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are typically worth 1 to 1.5 cents each, and you can redeem for, well, a lot of things, such as cash back, gift cards, Amazon purchases and "pay with points" online purchases. For instance, on the latter point, if you shop online, you can use the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal with any of your Chase credit cards and earn anywhere from 1 to 15 points per dollar, depending on what online store you're visiting.

Many people also like to use points for travel. Some Chase cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, even allow you to redeem points for access to special events like concerts and film festivals.

The big thing when it comes to value with these points, however, is that you can make your points worth more just by combining them under a particular Chase card. That's because Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card members' points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards® portal. Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders' points are worth 50% more when redeemed that way. Why does that matter to you? Let's talk strategy...

How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points

Thanks to the ability to combine Ultimate Rewards® points earned through the use of several different cards under a single card, savvy cardholders can make the points they earn with a no-annual-fee card go as far as the ones they earn with a card that charges an annual fee... and maximize how they earn those points as well.

To truly earn the most points and then get the most value out of them, you'll want to carry (and regularly use) two or even three Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards® points. Let's say you have Chase Freedom® and earn 5% back on the first $1,500 you spend in the rotating categories each quarter you activate. Instead of earning just 1% back on your other purchases, why not carry Chase Freedom Unlimited®, another no-annual-fee card, so that you can earn at least 1.5% cash back on the non-bonus categories; it's even better during your first year as a cardholder when you earn 3% back on all purchases up to $20,000 spent during that first year? Better still, if you carry a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you'll be earning two points per $1 on travel and dining AND you can combine all your points earned with your Chase Freedom® and your Chase Freedom Unlimited® in the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card bucket so all those points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the Ultimate Rewards® portal.

Chase Ultimate Rewards strategy

*Note that the Chase Freedom Unlimited® earning in the chart above refers to the 1.5% earning rate that is ongoing beyond your first year and $20,000 spent as a new cardholder.

Transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards® points

While Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are usually worth 1 to 1.5 cents each (.8 cents, however, when they're used for Amazon purchases), they may be worth more or less if you transfer them to one of Chase's partner programs.

What sort of partners? There are number of them, mostly airlines and hotels.

The Ultimate Rewards airline partners are, in alphabetical order:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Air France/KLM
  • British Airways
  • Iberia Plus
  • JetBlue Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

Chase hotel partner programs include those with the following properties:

  • IHG
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • Marriott Bonvoy™

There are a few things you'll want to remember about using a Chase partner, however. First of all, if you're transferring your points to a partner, you are still in the Chase galaxy, but you are no longer on planet Chase. In other words, you're subject to the rules, fees and price charts of its partners--and not those of Chase. So you want to make sure you check any differences related to partners, such as blackout dates for the airlines. And when you transfer points to a partner, it's non-reversible, so it's important to make sure you are clear on the terms before making a transfer.

Sounds a little intimidating, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't use the points for an airline. Plenty of people do, and what's nice about using points for airline miles is that many of Chase's airline partners participate in airline alliances. So you can use your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to fly on more airlines that you might think. For instance, British Airways, a Chase partner, is part of Oneworld Alliance, and Singapore Airlines, another Chase partner, is part of Star Alliance. Why is that important? Because maybe you don't have a big need to fly on British Airways, but American Airlines is a Oneworld Alliance Airline, and maybe that's exactly what you need for your next trip. Meanwhile, EgyptAir is part of Star Alliance Airlines, and so you can start to see how these alliances can allow you to use your points to pretty much take you anywhere in the world if you play your cards (er, points) right.

Still, the farther you get from Chase, to go with our space analogy, you're beginning to reside in the Chase universe. So if you do wind up using your points to help you reduce your costs for flying on EgyptAir, be familiar with that airline's rules on blackout dates or any hidden fees, so you gain maximum advantage from your points.

No-annual-fee cards with Chase Ultimate Rewards®

There are two Chase rewards credit cards for consumers that have no annual fee. They are:

  • Chase Freedom®
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited®

And there are two Chase rewards business credit cards with no annual fee:

  • Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
  • Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card

There are also some Chase branded cards that have no annual fee. It's definitely worth considering getting these cards if you, say, fly United all the time, or you're a huge Disney fan and are often traveling to its theme parks. Those Chase partner rewards cards with no annual fee are:

· United TravelBank

· Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card

· Disney Visa Card

· AARP Rewards

You need to have a pretty strong credit score to get a rewards credit card -- whether it's for Chase or any other brand, like American Express. So what constitutes a "pretty strong credit score"?

Generally, credit scores fall within a range of 300 to 850, and if you have a credit score of 700, that's considered good, and you should certainly impress lenders if your score is 700 or above (most people tend to fall between 600 and 750). The higher your score, the better (cheaper) the interest and better the card you'll be able to get. If you have an 800 credit score or above, you're into "excellent" territory and can probably not only get any credit card you want, but convince the credit card's CEO to wash your car on Saturdays for free. (OK, maybe that's overstating it a bit.)

Since you don't want to ding your credit unnecessarily (when you apply for a credit card, your score can drop a bit temporarily), it's obviously best not to apply for a rewards credit card if you have a low or mediocre credit score.

Do Chase Ultimate Rewards® points expire?

Many people wonder, "Is there a way that these points can be taken from me? What happens to them if I close the card account?"

Good questions. First of all, the good news is that Chase Ultimate Rewards® points do not expire.

It is possible that you could lose your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points if:

  1. You close the credit card account with points still left in it.
  2. You return items that you've bought with your card. In other words, you bought something with your Chase credit card. You got 11 points. You returned the item. Alas, Chase will be taking back those 11 points.
  3. You made a late payment. If you've been collecting points for a long time, don't worry -- all your hard work isn't for naught. But you'll lose the points that you collected during the month that the payment was due.
  4. If you transfer your points to a Chase partner, there could be a case in which those points expire. So as always, read the fine print to avoid issues.

Otherwise, you're safe.

Pros and cons of the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program

There are more advantages than disadvantages associated with Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Pros

  • There are lots of airline partners, so chances are good that you can use your Chase credit card to go pretty much anywhere you want.
  • No expiration dates on your points, as long as you pay on time, don't close your account or return an item.
  • The rewards are competitive with other credit cards.

Cons

  • There's potential to get confused if you are planning travel hastily.
  • Annual fees, if your card has one, are never fun to pay. But the idea, of course, is that you only get a credit card with an annual fee if you believe that you'll collect enough perks and discounts to pay for that annual fee.

If you want to accrue rewards when you use your credit card and would like flexibility when redeeming those rewards so that you can use them to access cash, gift cards or travel perks, the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program might be very appealing.

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