Earn Elite-Qualifying Miles When Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

May 19, 2015

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You won’t earn any miles when you redeem frequent flyer miles for a flight, but Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal provides an opportunity to use your miles and earn credit. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr reviews this option to see when it might make sense for you.

Last month, I wrote about the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal and all the benefits you can receive by utilizing the tools it offers. Today, I want to cover another great reason you should use the Chase travel portal: You can redeem miles for free tickets and earn elite-qualifying miles on your free flights.

The well-designed Ultimate Rewards site is very user-friendly.
The well-designed Ultimate Rewards site is very user-friendly.

Having airline status is a wonderful relief from some of the stressors faced when traveling. Beyond the upgrades, additional miles, free seat selection and other perks, people want to have airline status because it’s a badge of honor.

Just last night, I caught the middle of the George Clooney movie Up In the Air right when Clooney is describing to his new apprentice how he does not spend a dollar anywhere unless it boosts his mileage balance. He wants to earn 10,000,000 miles to say he earned 10,000,000 miles. I love meeting and talking to people like George Clooney’s character who want to have airline status just to have airline status. If that’s you (or you’re after the practical perks as well), the good news with Chase is that you can use your hard-earned points to continue your climb toward airline status.

Chase cardholders who have the Chase Freedom, Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus Business card can redeem their Ultimate Rewards points for 1.25 cents each toward airfare when booking directly through the Ultimate Rewards site. That means my 5,600,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth $70,000 in free airline tickets. Just kidding — I don’t have anywhere near that many points.

If you did sign up for the Ink Plus Business Card 60,000-point bonus offer (earned after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of account opening), you would have $750 towards air travel. Of course those 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points can be even more valuable when transferred to an airline program like United MileagePlus, or a hotel program like Hyatt, but you won’t receive elite credit with those redemptions.

Pay for Chicago to Los Angeles round-trip with your points or cash.
Pay for Chicago to Los Angeles round-trip with your points, cash or a mix.

Using 28,656 Ultimate Rewards points to book the above American flight for free, you would earn 3,489 elite-qualifying miles toward AA status. Chase books the flight for you with American and it is treated as a revenue fare. A few strategies to keep in mind when redeeming Ultimate Rewards for flights via the travel portal:

  • Calculate your break-even point — The American flight above can be booked for 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points if transferred to British Airways. That means if the airfare is well above $250, you may want to transfer to British Airways and book via that method to save your points. If the airfare is close to $250, it probably makes more sense to book via the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, allowing you to earn EQMs in addition to redeemable AAdvantage miles.
  • Shop for the best price — When I searched for flights using the Citi, American Express and Ultimate Rewards travel portals, some fares appeared to be slightly inflated compared to OTAs (online travel agencies) and the airlines’ own websites.
  • Look elsewhere for first-class awards — It’s rarely a good deal to book premium-cabin flights via the Ultimate Rewards site, as demonstrated by the below comparison of New York City to Rome in business on Lufthansa.

Transferring Ultimate Rewards to United to book this itinerary on Lufthansa would cost you 140,000 miles:

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 11.33.43 AM

Using the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, the same flights would cost 245,584 points due to the significant cost of paid premium-class tickets:

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 11.33.33 AM

Earning Premier/Medallion Qualifying Dollars

With Delta and United requiring a certain amount of spend as an additional qualification for elite status, many have questioned whether tickets like these booked through Ultimate Rewards would earn either Premier or Medallion Qualifying Dollars. From my research, I have not found a definitive answer beyond the fact that any tickets deemed to be “bulk” tickets will not earn PQDs or MQDs. A few readers on travel forums have stated that they earned spend toward their status dollars, but as they say, your mileage may vary.

It’s also difficult to find out which fare class you are booking when using Ultimate Rewards, and since prices may be slightly inflated when booking through Chase, it’s not always possible to identify fare classes by matching prices with the airline’s website. Many times you will end up with a bulk ticket, and other times a discount economy fare class. I would count on not earning PQDs or MQDs if booking with points via Chase. Call it a bonus if you do end up earning any.

Bottom Line

It’s important to weigh the benefits of using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal on a case-by-case basis. I always think the best use of Ultimate Rewards is transferring to partners such as British Airways, Hyatt, Southwest and United. Before booking right off the bat with Chase, compare the prices the Ultimate Rewards portal shows with what you find on other online search engines and the airline’s own website. Once you know your break-even point — i.e., if you could save points by transferring to an airline — you can make an informed decision about whether the EQMs you will earn on your free flight outweigh any potential cost or point savings.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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