Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points For “Pay With Points” Option

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Reader KJB asked a fantastic question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Lucky, I know it’s not worth it to redeem Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards points at a penny a piece but do you think using them this way to cover paid stays makes it more worth it when able to combine with status/suite upgrades?

I’ve been comparing the Ritz card and Hyatt Diamond challenge as ways to upgrade paid stays if I can find affordable rates.

Just as an example I could cover 5 nights at the Ritz in Maui with 185k Ultimate Rewards in a standard room and use suite upgrades from having the card to get club level access to more than double the value of my room.
Just as a comparison it’s 240k Marriott points for the same 5 nights in a standard room. I know you value UR at nearly 4x Marriott points so 185k is still a lot.

I often read blogs about the value in high level Hyatt redemptions with Ultimate Rewards. Having limited experience in high category hotels I don’t know where to draw the line with value and points.

I know that it’s subjective but for someone who has better access to points than cash it’s starting to look attractive to consider combinations like this.

I figured I would answer it here, because I think it gets at an overall challenge that a lot of us face when it comes to redeeming our points.

Ultimately a good use of points is anything that makes you happy

Let me start by making a point that’s hopefully very obvious. As much as many of us like to make a “sport” of finding the best uses of points in terms of the cent per point “value,” at the end of the day any use of points that makes you happy is a good one.

I’d rather spend 100,000 miles to visit a sick family member in economy than to fly Singapore Suites somewhere without much purpose, assuming paying with cash wasn’t a reasonable option.

I think that’s acknowledged in the question above — yes, this is highly subjective, and at the end of the day if you can redeem your points for something memorable, whether it’s a toaster oven, One Direction concert tickets, or a Singapore Suites class award ticket, you win.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are easy to come by… and valuable!

If you’re in the US and maximize your credit card “return,” chances are that you have a card that accrues Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I’d argue Chase has the single best personal and business credit cards out there.

For personal spend, it’s tough to beat the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months, plus an additional 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and they make their first purchase in the first three months
  • Earn 2X on travel and dining
  • No foreign transaction fees

And for business spend, it’s tough to beat the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card which offers:

  • Huge sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months
  • 5x points on office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services
  • No foreign transaction fees

So on one hand when you’re valuing your points it does make sense to keep in mind that Chase Ultimate Rewards points are fairly easy to come by compared to other points currencies.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are incredibly flexible

Ultimate Rewards has a lot of great transfer partners. My favorites are:

  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • Korean Air SkyPass
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • United MileagePlus

In addition to the handful of other transfer partners they have, there’s also a “pay with points” option for Ultimate Rewards points. You can redeem each Ultimate Rewards point for 1.25 cents towards the cost of paid travel, which is what KJB is suggesting here.

So for example, if a hotel costs ~$360 per night, you can instead redeem ~29,000 Ultimate Rewards points per night for it.

Ultimate-Rewards-Points

I value Ultimate Rewards points at more than 1.25 cents each, so it’s not how I would choose to redeem my points, as I can get a lot more value by transferring them to the Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel partners.

How I get more value for my Ultimate Rewards points

Just to give some quick examples of other uses of Ultimate Rewards points where you’re getting (a lot) more value than 1.25 cents per point:

25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night for the Park Hyatt Maldives
Opportunity cost: $312.50 worth of travel

This hotel often retails for over $1,000 per night, so is a heck of a good use of points.

Hyatt-Maldives-2 Hyatt-Maldives-1

80,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles for first class between the US and Asia
Opportunity cost: $1,000 worth of travel

Korean Air has a phenomenal first class product, and it’s also one of the most readily available on miles.

Korean-Air-A380-First-Class-001
Korean Air A380 first class

25,000 British Airways Avios for business class between Boston and Dublin
Opportunity cost: $312.50 worth of travel

One of the very best values on British Airways’ distance based award chart is for travel between Boston and Dublin, which is just under 3,000 miles. A one-way business class ticket on Aer Lingus costs just 25,000 Avios.


Aer Lingus business class

Consider the opportunity cost

So there are a couple of things that make KJB‘s situation unique:

  • Marriott Rewards is also an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, and he wouldn’t get nearly as much value by transferring directly to them. So he’s making a side-by-side comparison, and in this case, “paying with points” is the better option.
  • He can actually substantially increase the value of his redemption by using upgrades, which he couldn’t do if redeeming Marriott Rewards points for the stay. So he’s getting substantially more value than 1.25 cents per point compared to other points redemption options, though not necessarily compared to paying cash (since he’d get the same benefits if instead paying cash for the stay)

So he’s redeeming his points for 1.25 cents each, but in the end getting over double the value of that — 2.5+ cents per point — based on the upgrade he can confirm into.

This isn’t a bad use of points short term

As surprised as you might be to hear this from me, given the above situation, I don’t think it’s a bad use of points. If you have better access to points than cash and this is a trip you want to take, then it sounds like you can get a lot of value out of this option.

Everyone has different short term aspirations for their points, and all things considered I’d say redeeming for a premium room at a Ritz Carlton in Hawaii is pretty damn aspirational.

It probably is worth putting some more thought into your long term credit card strategy, though. If you want to redeem points as cash towards travel, it’s really tough to beat the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, where you’re essentially earning 2.22% cashback towards travel.

If you think you’ll have similar redemptions in the future then that might be a better option for you, assuming a majority of your spend isn’t on dining and travel, where you’d be earning double Ultimate Rewards points.

What do you guys think? Is redeeming Ultimate Rewards points for the “pay with points” option a “sin,” or can it make sense under circumstances like these?

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Comments

  1. Because UR points are easy to come by, I look at how to best use them in situations where I have multiple point options. For instance in an upcoming Hawaii trip – where the goal is free nights – it was far “cheaper” for me to book nights at the Grand Wailea using UR points booked through Chase (26,000/might) vs HHonors points (120,000/night) and with virtually unlimited access to no-cost UR points using them is far cheaper than paying for the room.

    Similarly, an upcoming flight was either 150k United Miles or $706 or ~60k UR points. Again, UR points wins for me. Well, Barclay rewards would win… but I’ve already allocated those to covering other travel expenses on that trip.

  2. So am I correct in saying that when using Pay with Points, the hotel (or airline or whatever) counts it as a paid stay for purposes of upgrades, or elite status, etc.? SImilar to if you redeem with the Barclay Arrival card?

  3. Just because people can have different opinions doesn’t mean they’re all equally valid. While folks can subjectively value things differently (Y v J/F, hotels v airbnb, transit v rental car), when it comes to objective valuation, there is just math.

    To that end, I only redeem UR/MR when I get more than 2¢ in value, otherwise I should just get a 2% cashback card instead. If you are points rich and cash poor, that’s not an excuse, that just means you’re overspending in other areas.

  4. @ DBest — I don’t disagree at all, but it also raises the question as to how you define “value.” If you redeem 25,000 miles for a one-way first class ticket on an hour long flight that would have cost $600, is that a good value?

  5. I agree that this is a “valuable” redemption. Lately, I’ve been focusing less on cpm and more on what redemption I can obtain sooner (avoid devaluation) and which redemptions are more likely given my schedule and available vacation time. As much as I would love a ATW redemption, I’ll never have the time or ability to do it no matter the cpm value.

  6. So a question here – What if there are no hotel partners that you can use? For example – Auckland New Zealand – There is a ridiculously priced Hilton, but other than that no hotel chains? Is it worth paying with points? Are there any other options?

  7. Great question Lucky. For me, when assessing value, I’m not doing so in a vacuum. In your example, I’d also compare not only the Y + Preferred Seating price, but also other choices like using Avios (13.5k), using Amtrak, driving, etc. This goes double for hotels, if I can get 2¢ value at a Hyatt, but can get another 4* hotel for cheaper paying cash, I use that competitor’s rate to determine the value, not Hyatt’s.

  8. My mom and I got into a mini-argument recently because she wants to use her Thank You points (who even HAS those!?) to buy herself a mini-refrigerator for her office so she can store Diet Coke. I eventually had to give up.

  9. I forget about this option and it opens up the flexibility to get rooms other than what is offered on points alone. I often travel with 2 friends and we each like our own bed. If I redeem points the traditional way that generally means twin beds & rollaway. But “buying” with UR points allows us to upgrade to a suite with twins & sleeper sofa as well as kitchen & washer/dryer. Thanks for pointing this out!

  10. I redeemed 32,000 UR points for one week mini-van rental with Enterprise in June where other rental website listed price in the upper $700. UR points are easy to come by with office stores these days.

  11. The Ritz-Carlton in Maui is lovely. Was there at Christmastime the last time and it was so beautifully decorated. Usually I use Marriott points for Ritz stays, so this option is intriguing. Thanks for highlighting it for the rest of us.

  12. UR point transfers do not distinguish between the values of the end points very well. Marriott points are usually worth less than United Airlines miles or Hyatt points. If your hotel choice is a Marriott (most places have a Marriott but not a Hyatt), the pay with points is often the better option.

  13. @OP
    @Lucky

    I have the Ritz Reward card.

    Are you sure you are able to use the Club Level upgrade certificates on this kind of booking?

    I have never found RC to be restrictive (they have applied the upgrade certs to any stay I have booked), but I have never tried to use one on this type of booking.

    My real world situation, and yes, I am math challenged:

    I have an upcoming Ritz stay in LA (LA Live!) that I booked for $459.00 per night, and have club level upgrade certificate (need to keep the hoi polloi away from us :)).

    How many UR rewards would this cost?

    How are taxes and resort fees handled?

    Thanks for highlighting this option Lucky – just gives me one more thing to think about before I book a trip! (and my brain explodes)

  14. Lucky — quick question. If I book a Hyatt hotel using Chase UR pay with points, can I then use a diamond suite upgrade?

  15. Ben – I believe your opportunity cost calculation for the 25k point redemption is off slightly. By my math, it should be $312.50 rather than $375.

  16. Hey, don’t forget that there’s value at the low end as well.

    We spent a day each in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks recently. We paid 9000 Club Carlson points ($45) for two nights in Fresno, and 8000 Choice Privileges points ($40) for a night in Merced. Cash bookings would have cost three times as much.

    Aspirational? Of course not. Clean, comfortable, and adequate? Definitely.

    I’m happy :-).

  17. Thanks Lucky! I’m thrilled you did a full post on this, I figured it was a question others would be curious about.

    I had actually forgotten about the 1.25 point redemption and if I adjust my math it all breaks down to 30k/night for a club level room at the Ritz, certainly worth it to me compared to something like 33k/night for club level at the Grand Hyatt.

    I did consider the Arrival card but I’m not sure we could rack up the points necessary to cover the whole stay even with 2 people getting the bonuses. Would probably need to MS $45k to cover the rest, I’d rather spend that $45k at Staples on my Ink card!

  18. I redeemed a TON of MR points for lift tickets for my family of 5 at Beaver Creek this winter. It wasn’t good objective “value” but it was about a $1200 savings and I’d rather take my whole family skiing for a weekend than fly one of us first class internationally. So for me, that’s good value.

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