That Time I Passed On Redeeming Less Than 20,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points For Flights To Japan

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If you saw my Instagram stories a couple weeks ago, you may remember that I booked flights to Tokyo for next year for $250 each

I happened to come across these fares while researching some different award routes and comparing award ticket prices to paid fares. The fares were available on a United/ANA operated itinerary when I searched google flights, then I found it on both United and ANA’s websites. I checked the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal to see if that fare was available because if so, I could have used Chase Ultimate Rewards to book. It was available, and I could have booked the $250 tickets for ~16,700 points each. In the end, I decided to save my points and book with cash (by cash I mean credit card, of course).

First of all, our flights are for next year and while I do always recommend booking as far in advance as possible if you’re using miles, I also like to book in a way that I can change or cancel with ease and with little penalty. Booking directly through United will make it easier to cancel or change plans if we need to. Most airlines have flexible change and cancellation policies these days, but when you book through a third party (such as the Ultimate Rewards portal), it is sometimes difficult to change your plans. The airline will usually have you work with the third party (Ultimate Rewards in this case). If you book with points through the portal, you may be able to get your Chase Ultimate Rewards points refunded, but it seems like most recent data points suggest you would receive airline credits/vouchers.

The other reason I chose not to redeem has to do with redemption value. Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points for these Japan flights would have been a redemption value of 1.25 or 1.5 cents per point.

Our threshold for redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points is usually 2 cents per point

I don’t want to discourage anyone from similar redemption opportunities that may arise, because booking a roundtrip ticket to Japan from the US for 16,700 or 20,000 points is absolutely a win if that is how you choose to use your points. But I do want to explain my logic behind passing on most redemptions if the redemption value is lower than 2.

We would rather pay and save the points if the redemption value does not meet the threshold and the fare/rate is low. Of course there are exceptions, and I’m not necessarily suggesting that this is how everyone should approach award travel. This is just what works for us. It is also important to note that not all miles and points are equal. I have different thresholds for other types of points and miles.

If the value isn’t around 2 cents per point(or more), we will usually pay and save our points. Since the redemption portal always results in a value of 1.5 cpp (or 1.25 if you have Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve), we rarely redeem in the portal. We did make a recent exception to this when booking a hotel stay in Thailand for this fall and I’ll discuss that in another post soon!

For some people, the goal of award travel is to pay as little out of pocket as possible. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it may result in lower redemption values. For others, award travel is a way to book high value plane tickets and hotel stays that would otherwise be out of budget. We try our best to combine these two approaches, making the ultimate goal to pay almost nothing out of pocket for luxury travel! Unfortunately, we do not have an unlimited supply of Ultimate Rewards points so something’s got to give. Sometimes, that means passing on a redemption opportunity, especially when paid fares are this low.

Redemption value isn’t the only thing that makes a redemption “good” redemption, and these plane tickets are the perfect example. A roundtrip ticket to Japan from the US for 16,700 or 20,000 points is a steal, no matter what the cents per point value is.

Redeeming the Chase points for these tickets would not have been a bad move at all, it’s just that I personally would rather save the points for higher value redemptions, and I’ll explain how I could redeem at a higher value for Japan.

value of Chase Ultimate Rewards points
Bamboo forest in Kyoto
There are two ways to redeem transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel
  1. Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points by booking with the Ultimate Rewards redemption portal.
    • You can ‘pay’ for all or part of your hotel, airfare, rental car, and more by redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Ultimate Rewards redemption portal. This portal is powered by Expedia, so they should have the same options for flights, hotels, rental cars, and tours as what Expedia.com offers.
    • The value of your points is fixed
    • Redemption price is variable because the paid fare or rate determines the redemption price.
  2. Transfer to airline or hotel partners. Chase Ultimate Rewards become airline miles or hotel points.
    • Once transferred, you can redeem the miles or points according to the rules and redemption prices of the airline or hotel program to which you transfer.
    • The value of your points will vary
    • With the exception of a few airlines, redemption prices are either fixed or at the very least there is a redemption price range (such as peak/off peak pricing). Award seats are usually subject to availability.

This may seem like somewhat of a departure from my typical posts about redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards because I’m usually writing about how important it is to learn how to use transfer partners.

In fact, I came across these fares while putting together a post about using transfer partners, particularly for long haul flights that are typically in the $1,000 range or more. But a $250 roundtrip ticket to Tokyo is the perfect example of when it makes sense to redeem by paying with points in the Ultimate Rewards portal.

The important takeaway here is to always check the paid fares/hotel rates before using transfer partners. If they’re low, it might make sense to either pay cash or to redeem through the Ultimate Rewards portal. This will make more sense when I give examples in a moment.

Fixed Redemption Value vs. Fixed Redemption Price

Understanding the value of your points for both redemption methods is critical. Using the $250 Tokyo fares, I’ll show the redemption values using Ultimate Rewards portal vs. transfer partners.

Option 1: Ultimate Rewards portal

The value of an Ultimate Rewards point is fixed and it depends on which card you have.

The math is simple. Take the fare, divide by the value (1.25 or 1.5), then multiply by 100.

  • 250/1.25=200
  • 200 X 100=20,000

The $250 ticket will require either 20,000 points (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Business Preferred) or ~16,700 points (Chase Sapphire Reserve).

The advantage to this (as opposed to transferring to airline partners) is that award availability isn’t an issue because you basically have the same options you would if you were paying cash. In other words, redeeming points with transfer partner airlines is always subject to availability, so you may not always have the option to book your preferred routes/dates.

It is also worth mentioning that when you redeem points through the Ultimate Rewards portal, you should be eligible to receive miles/elite qualifying miles the same way you would if you were booking a paid ticket.

The disadvantage of this redemption method is that you will be redeeming the points at a fixed value. Sure, there are no blackout dates and you don’t have to worry about award seat availability. The problem is, a more expensive plane ticket (think holidays) is going to require more miles/points. The only reason these Japan tickets were available to book at the redemption price of 16,700 or 20,000 is because of the super low paid fare.

Option 2: Transfer to airline or hotel partners

The value of your points will vary, but this is sometimes a good thing. The redemption price (how many miles or points are required) is determined by the airline or hotel program to which you transfer and redeem. Once you’ve figured out your redemption price, you can do the cents per point math using the paid fare or rate.

The way that airline and hotel loyalty programs are structured sometimes allows for some valuable redemption opportunities. This will probably make more sense once you see the examples below, but instead of the mile or point being worth a fixed value*, the airline or hotel requires a fixed amount of points or miles for any given route/hotel property. There may be some variation in redemption pricing (for example, different pricing for peak/off peak dates), but at the very least, there is usually a range that is fixed.

Regardless of the paid fare or rate, that fixed amount of points or miles does not change. This means that if a seat is available to book as an award seat, the paid fare could be $500 or it could be $1,000, but the amount of miles required would not change.

Transfer partners are also the way to go if you want to book luxury hotel stays and long haul business class seats without redeeming hundreds of thousands of points.

*There are some airline programs that have fare-based redemption prices. For example, Southwest’s redemption prices are directly tied to the paid fare at the time of booking. In other words, Southwest points are worth a fixed value, which makes redeeming Southwest points similar to redeeming points as cash (though the value of Southwest points may be different from the value of Chase UR).

Comparing redemption pricing
Ultimate Rewards portal

For a $250 ticket, here are the redemption prices using points from each of the 3 transferable Ultimate Rewards earning cards:

I would typically expect a US-Tokyo roundtrip economy ticket to cost around $1,000-$1,200. Of course this can be lower or higher but at those fares, it would often more sense to redeem with transfer partners (if available). This is what would be required in the Ultimate Rewards portal for a $1,000 ticket:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 80,000 points
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: ~66,700 points
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred: 80,000 points
Transfer to airline or hotel partners

I believe British Airways Executive Club (a Chase Ultimate Rewards 1:1 transfer partner) has the lowest redemption price of DFW-Tokyo out of all of Chase’s airline transfer partners, so I’ll use that. There are other airports that have routes with lower redemption prices using Chase’s other partners.

British Airways Avios (miles) can be redeemed to book flights operated by American Airlines or Japan Airlines. Click here to learn how to use British Airways to book American Airlines award flights.

A nonstop AA or JA flight between DFW and Tokyo would require 31,0000 Avios (miles) each way in economy.

This is subject to availability, but the great thing about Ultimate Rewards points is that if this flight isn’t available, I can check options with the other airline partners.

The roundtrip total would be 62k.

Compared to 16,700 or 20,000, a redemption price of 62,000 seems terrible. Depending on the fare, it could actually be a good value, though. It’s actually lower than what the American Airlines AAdvantage program requires for this route.

Obviously with a paid fare of $250, you would either want to redeem via the portal or pay cash like I did.

But if the fare is more like what I would normally expect ($1,000-$1200), 62,000 isn’t so bad.

Here’s the cents per point math (redemption value) using $1,000 as the paid fare:

  • 1,000/62,000=0.016
  • 0.016 X 100=1.6

1.6 is better than the 1.25 or 1.5 you would get with the portal, and if the fare is higher, the value of your points would be even higher by booking with this transfer partner.

Earn your first 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2021

No matter what your travel goals are, the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is the first card I suggest for almost anyone. The welcome bonus of 100,000 is worth at least $1250 in travel.  But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners.

This card also earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining spend.

There is another way to earn more points within the Chase Ultimate Rewards system on everyday spending and you can read more about that here.

Redeeming with transfer partners is how we’re able to redeem Ultimate Rewards points at higher values than 1.25 or 1.50

While transfer partners would not have been the best way to redeem Ultimate Rewards points for the $250 tickets, this is how it is possible to redeem Ultimate Rewards points at higher values than 1.25 or 1.50.

A lot of people don’t want to bother with this, but it is how Ryan and I have stretched our points to make all of our travels happen over the past 8 years! Using transfer partners can sometimes make the value of your points double or even triple that of the value you would get from redeeming points in the Ultimate Rewards portal. That translates to 2 or 3 tickets for the price of 1. Or 2 or 3 nights for the price of 1.

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to 10 different airline frequent flyer programs or 3 different hotel loyalty programs.  The transfer ratio to any airline or hotel partner is 1:1. 

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners 2021

Chase has three hotel partners: IHG, Marriott, and Hyatt. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to either of these programs at a 1:1 ratio. World of Hyatt has provided tremendous value for Ryan and I.

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners 2021
This is likely the only way you will want to redeem points and miles for long haul business class flights.

This topic could will absolutely snowball into a whole new series of posts, but to give a quick example, Chase UR transfer to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio. Virgin Atlantic partners with ANA, which is a great way to get to Japan. You can redeem as little as 90,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for a roundtrip business class flight to Japan operated by ANA. Of course this is subject to award availability, but business class ANA from LAX to Tokyo would be at least $6,000 roundtrip.

To book a $6,000 flight through the Ultimate Rewards portal, you would need either 400,000 or 480,000 points, depending on which card you have. On the other hand, if you can find award availability, you would be able to transfer just 90,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic, then redeem the Virgin Atlantic miles to book the flight.

90,000 Ultimate Rewards points for a $6,000 flight would be a cents per point value of 6.7, which is over 4 times that of the value of Chase UR in the redemption portal (1.25/1.5).

A note about high cents per point values

To be clear, while it’s fun to redeem at a high cpp like this, I wouldn’t actually pay $6k for a flight, so it would not be accurate to say “I’m saving $6,000”.

For that reason, it is important to realize that while calculating cpp is a great tool to help make decisions, redemptions with lower cpps are sometimes more practical.

For example, we would not pay $1200 per night for a hotel room; instead we would book a different hotel with lower rates. But I could redeem 30,000 points per night to book a room that averages $1200 per night by transferring points to Hyatt. That’s 4 cents per point, which is great, but I’m not actually saving $1200 since I wouldn’t spend that.

Here’s another way to took at it: I paid $1250 for 5 tickets to Japan rather than redeeming a total of 83,500 points. Since I am willing to pay $250 per ticket for this flight, redeeming points for those 5 tickets would have actually saved us $1250. Instead, we’re out $1250, but we still have 83,500 points, which is almost enough for business class seats worth $6,000. It is also enough for a 5 night stay at a medium tier Hyatt property that results in a value of about 2 cents per point.

As you’ll see below, the cents per point value at lower category properties most likely isn’t going to be as high as a stay at Park Hyatt Tokyo or another top tier Hyatt property, but it’s a more practical redemption because your points go further (5 nights vs. 2 nights).

Transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt is a great way to book valuable hotel stays for less than what the Ultimate Rewards portal would require

I honestly haven’t even thought about booking Japan hotels yet because I have no idea which areas we will try to visit, but I’ll give some examples of Hyatt properties in Japan.

Park Hyatt Kyoto is a new property and you can book it for 30,000 points per night. Just like airline award seats, hotels have limited availability for free nights. Always confirm availability before transferring any points. For what it’s worth, redemptions for free nights at all hotels in this post were available for every date I checked next spring.

ultimate Rewards world of hyatt

When you redeem World of Hyatt points for free nights, there are no taxes and fees. After confirming availability, I could transfer Chase UR points to my World of Hyatt account, and then book this property for a total of 30k points per night.

This rate is from Hyatt.com so the Ultimate Rewards portal could be slightly more (or slightly less). I’ll use $1256, but these rates are before taxes and fees, so they’ll actually be higher. Which means more UR required if booking through the portal.

To book this property in the Ultimate Rewards portal, this is how many points per night you would need:

Transferring to Hyatt requires a fraction of the points the exact same room would require when booking through the Ultimate Rewards portal. Here’s the cents per point math:

Again, I’ll use $1256, but the total is going to be higher which would make the cpp even higher:

  • 1256/30,000=0.04187
  • 0.04187 X 100=4.18

Like I said with the business class example, this is the type of travel I wouldn’t otherwise pay for, so a while a cpp of 4 is excellent, it doesn’t mean I’m saving any more money than I would be saving if I were getting a lower cpp. It just means I’m able to book a nicer hotel than I would book if I was paying.

In my experience, the best hotel redemption values are with the higher end Hyatt properties, but if you really want to stretch your points, sometimes it makes more sense to go for the mid to lower range hotels.

Here are some other examples using 4 Hyatt properties in Tokyo:

These rates are from Hyatt.com so the Ultimate Rewards portal could be slightly more or slightly less. Also, these rates are before taxes and fees, so they’ll actually be higher. Which means more UR required if booking through the portal. If you book with WOH points, there are no taxes and fees

Ultimate Rewards portal redemption price
(CSP,CIBP/CSR)
World of Hyatt redemption priceCents per point value if you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to World of Hyatt to bookNotes
Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo~18,500/~15,40025,0000.9The portal is clearly the better way to book with this rate
Grand Hyatt Tokyo~30,600/~25,50025,0001.5WOH is better because the cents per point value will be even higher after factoring in taxes and fees
Hyatt Regency Tokyo18,000/15,00012,0001.88WOH is definitely better and the cpp would be over 2 after factoring in the taxes and fees you would have to pay if booking with cash or through the UR portal
Park Hyatt Tokyo50,400/42,00030,0002.1WOH is definitely the best way to book.

After factoring in taxes and fees, Hyatt Regency Tokyo and Park Hyatt Tokyo are both going to have a cents per point value of at least 2 if you transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt to book.

Both are a good redemption value, but the best redemption really just comes down to personal preference. When Ryan and I travel without the kids, we like to book luxury hotel properties. When the kids are with us, we’ll book higher end places when it makes sense, but we’re definitely more likely to choose a place like Hyatt Regency Tokyo.

Another way to look at it is I can redeem 60k points for either 5 nights at Hyatt Regency Tokyo or 2 nights at Park Hyatt Tokyo. Both would be a good value in terms of cents per point, but the ability to stretch those points into a 5 night stay vs a 2 night stay definitely has some weight here. After taxes and fees, the 5 night stay at Hyatt Regency Tokyo is ~$1360. 2 nights at Park Hyatt Tokyo is ~$1600 after taxes and fees. Park Hyatt is a higher value, but 5 free nights is really appealing.

Circling back to the $250 plane tickets

To illustrate how much further points can stretch by saving them for redemptions with transfer partners, let’s look at the big picture.

Booking 5 tickets for 16,700 each in the Ultimate Rewards portal would be a total of 83,500 points. The value is $1250. Note that I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve so the value is 1.5 cpp. With Chase Sapphire Preferred, the total would be 100,000 points. Again, 83,500 or 100,000 points is not bad at all for 5 tickets to Japan. But the only reason those are available to book at that redemption price is because of the fare sale. With fares that low, I’d rather pay cash.

On the other hand…

I can redeem 60,000 points for a 5 night hotel stay valued at $1360 by transferring the Chase UR to Hyatt. That’s 23,500 (CSR) or 40,000 points (CSP) less than if I were to redeem my points to book the plane tickets. And the value is higher.

Nara, Japan

Final Thoughts

Here are a few important takeaways:

  • Always compare Ultimate Rewards portal redemption prices to redemption prices using transfer partners
  • Redeeming via the Ultimate Rewards portal is best when airfare/hotel rates are low
  • Redeeming with airline partners can result in a higher redemption value (and thus a lower amount of points required)
  • Transfer partners are usually the best way to book business/first class and luxury hotel properties
  • Sometimes when airfare and/or hotel rates are lower, we pay cash and save our points
  • Higher cents per point redemption value is always fun, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a “better” redemption than one with a lower cents per point value

Even though I chose not to redeem points, this is a great example of why it is nice to have 2 different ways to redeem Ultimate Rewards for travel.

Chase Ultimate Rewards have a potential value of more than 1.25 or 1.5 cents per point when you redeem them with transfer partners. As much as I love transfer partners, that would not have been the best way to book a plane ticket to Tokyo.

It is always important to check the paid fare and calculate the cents per point value. If the value using transfer partners is less than 1.25 (for Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Business Preferred) or 1.5 (Chase Sapphire Reserve), the Ultimate Rewards portal is going to be a better way to book, IF you’re going to redeem. We chose to pay and save our points for higher value redemptions on this and future trips.

Redeeming points for hotels on this trip would result in a higher redemption value (at least 2 cents per point).

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