Maximize Ultimate Rewards | Discover the Smartest Way to Redeem Ultimate

My magic 8-ball is telling me that many of you are accumulating Ultimate Rewards points using either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Bold Business card. (Either that, or my analytics and stats tell me this.)

I also predict that you want to use your Ultimate Rewards points, not just accumulate them.

I’ve been getting questions like: how do I know if I should be using my Ultimate Rewards (UR) to transfer to one of the mileage/points programs or using them to book travel through the UR booking portal so I can get the 25% bonus?

Smartest Way to Redeem Ultimate Rewards

Let’s do a real life experiment to show you (1) how to decide which is the best use of your UR points, and (2) to show you a sample of the process you should go through in determining the options.

My sample is a selfish one, as it’s a trip I’d like to take in the next year (just not the date listed).

By the way, if you don’t think you’d every want to do this much research be sure to read the article I’ll publish on Thursday.  I’ll be introducing a new Ultimate Rewards booking service.

Denver (DEN) to Quito, Ecuador (UIO) in October 2012.

The first order of business is knowing your options.

In this case, my options are as follows:

  1. Book flights using the Ultimate Rewards Booking portal and get a 25% point bonus.
  2. Book flights on United Airlines (transfer points to United 1:1).
  3. Book flights on British Airways (BA) (transfer to British Airways 1:1).
  4. Combination of British Airways + either Southwest (1:1) or direct booking: DEN – MIA using flight booking direct with UR or Southwest transfer then BA from MIA to UIO.

Option #1: UR Direct Booking Cost

The cheapest flights were $914 on American Airlines. That means I’d need to use about 68,550 Ultimate Rewards points to book that flight (25% mileage reduction included).

Advantage: You’ll be able to earn mileage on your flight. There was no need for flexibility to find availability.

Option #2: Book Award Flights on United Airlines

The cost was 40,000 miles and $71.30 in taxes and fees. What that means is I could do the trip with 40,000 Ultimate Rewards miles (transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio) and $71.30 out of pocket.

Disadvantage: After playing with the dates, I could get a flight out late Oct. and returning early Nov.

Option #3: Book flights on British Airways

While there are some direct flights on American between DEN and Miami (MIA), I couldn’t easily find one with availability. The result was that I would need 44,000 British Airways miles and $111.70 in taxes and fees.

Disadvantage: These flights required the most date searches to find availability.

Option #4: Combination

The flights from MIA to UIO are reasonably priced at 20,000 BA miles and $101.70. As a result, I wanted to know if I could find a cheaper way to get from DEN to MIA.


Right now, Southwest doesn’t really have any great fares, so it would cost me $350 for a Wanna Get Away Fare. Using Rapid Rewards points costs 60 Southwest points per $1 ticket cost (for Wanna Get Away fare). Thus, I’d need 21,000 Ultimate Rewards points and $10 in taxes to get from DEN to MIA.

Total with the Southwest option is 41,000 Ultimate Rewards points plus $111.70.

I managed to shave off 3,000 UR points, but I’m also flying different airlines and actually flying into Ft. Lauderdale airport (FLL), not Miami (MIA). The 3,000 point difference is not worth the added hassle.

If Southwest had a cheaper sale fare, this could be a more viable option.

Book with Ultimate Rewards points directly DEN – MIA:

The best price I could find for this was $293. This would cost 21,975 Ultimate Rewards points.

The total with the Ultimate Rewards points plus BA option would be 41,975 UR points and $101.70 in taxes and fees.

Maximize Ultimate Rewards | The Final Results

The results are listed below in order from best (cheapest) to worst (most expensive). I also factored in inconvenience.

  1. Transfer points to United and get your flights for 40,000 UR points and $71.30 in taxes and fees.
  2. Transfer 20,000 points to British Airways and buy tickets (on American) from DEN – MIA. 41,975 UR points and $101.70 in taxes and fees.
  3. Transfer 44,000 points to British Airways. 44,000 UR points and $111.70 in taxes and fees. Bonus: This could easily become the #1 option if one could find a direct flight from DEN – MIA as that would reduce the required BA miles from 24,000 to 15,000.
  4. Transfer 21,000 points to Southwest and 20,000 to British Airways. Total would be 41,000 Ultimate Rewards points plus $111.70. You’d also have to find a way from FLL to MIA. Bonus: Get a cheap Southwest flight, and you could save even more UR points.
  5. Book directly using points. Uses 68,550 points.

Final Notes:

If this all sounds too complicated to you or if you wouldn’t want to spend the time doing this research stay tuned for Thursday’s post where I’m introducing a new travel service related to Ultimate Rewards points.


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