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I love flexible points more than points associated with just one airline or hotel program. But let me be clear — only flexible points that transfer into ‘real’ airline miles or hotel points, not the sort of proprietary bank point programs that just buy you an airline ticket with a low fixed value per point. A $5000 business class ticket would cost you half a million Capital One points.

Probably the best flexible currency these days is Chase Ultimate Rewards.

  • Points transfer to United, British Airways, and Korean Airlines (so a foot in all 3 major alliances). They also transfer to Southwest.
  • Points transfer to Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz Carlton, and Priority Club. Excellent hotel coverage.
  • Points even transfer to Amtrak.
  • Points transfer instantly to several partners like United, British Airways, and Hyatt.
  • Points transfer to anyone’s account you wish

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is truly outstanding. I’ve been a cardholder since 2001. It was voted “Best Credit Card in the Galaxy” by participants in last month’s Frequent Traveler University. I reviewed it extensively in December.

But while Starwood points are arguably more valuable than Chase Ultimate Rewards, transfers generally take from 5 days to a month depending on partner. That makes it virtually impossible to lock in an award reservation with a hold, transfer the points, and then issue tickets. You have to devise your strategy, transfer points, and hope seats are available when the points post.

The granddaddy of flexible points is the Membership Rewards program. And the most lucrative points-earning card in the Membership Rewards family is the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (25,000 point signup bonus, no fee the first year). That’s because it earns triple points on airfare purchases and double points on gas and groceries.

I use it for those bonus categories, but not for other charges. Because while the Amex Membership Rewards program has plenty of partners to transfer points to, and frequent transfer bonuses (eg 50% bonus on transfers to British Airways, and in the past bonuses as high as 67% to Delta in the form of a 40% rebate), most of the airline partners impose fuel surcharges on award tickets.

I do like that they partner with Singapore Airlines, since Singapore offers their own members substantially more premium cabin award space than is available to Star Alliance airlines like United. It means the opportunity to book Singapore first class from Houston to Moscow to Singapore, from or San Francisco to Hong Kong or Seoul to Singapore, for instance.

What’s crazy though is that Chase Ultimate Rewards came in dead last in Freddie Awards balloting for the Americas. All that makes sense is that the program is still really new, it’s only been on my own radar less than a year, and the television commercials are bad.

They advertise the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as “a card of a different color.” And they highlight using points to purchase travel at 1.25 cents a point. It’s great that they offer that option, but I’d never use it. They do not even advertise the ability to transfer points to a wide variety of airline and hotel programs.

The card is much better than the tv commercials would ever let on.

  • The very flexible points transferred already noted, my favorites are to United and Hyatt.
  • 40,000 point signup bonus after spending $3000 within 3 months.
  • Double points on all travel (air, hotel, car rental, taxi, tolls, etc) and restaurant spend — that’s the bulk of my spend as a frequent traveler.
  • 7% annual bonus on all points earned, including the signup bonus.
  • No foreign currency transaction fees, saving 3% on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Access to the Ultimate Rewards online shopping portal, often the most lucrative online shopping site, I earn additional points for my online travel purchases through Travelocity and my drugstore.com purchases, but they have a deep list of partners.

It’s even a sweet looking card, a heavy metal with no pre-embossed numbers on the front, people think it’s special like an Amex Black Card (which can be a positive or a negative, I do get comments on it from store clerks all the time).

A friend that had been recruited to join the Chase Ultimate Rewards team told me from her recruiting conversations that it was clear that Chase was ‘going after Amex’ with the Ultimate Rewards program. They’re investing with deep pockets. A travel journalist shared with me that some of the other co-branded card portfolio managers are frustrated, since the card is too good. Sapphire Preferred is even better for earning United miles than the United Explorer card, another Chase product.

But Chase doesn’t understand how to market it. They’re putting real money into the card, it’s become my number-one go to. But despite big advertising budgets they miss the messaging and most of the world doesn’t ‘get’ what they’re offering.

Savvy travelers know about it. Blog readers couldn’t possibly miss it. But it’s sometimes easy to forget that the rest of the world hasn’t been clued in yet.

Meanwhile, a great companion to Sapphire Preferred is the small business version of the card, Ink Bold Charge Card. No annual fee the first year, 50,000 points as a signup bonus after $5,000 spend within 3 months.

The card earns Ultimate Rewards points, and offers quintuple points on wireless/telecommunications services, cable and satellite TV and radio, and office supply stores and double points on hotels, gas stations, and with travel agencies, up to 200,000 points per year.

My own personal solution for everyday spend (purchases I’m not using to meet minimum spend for a new card’s signup bonus) is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa for purchases outside the United States, for travel and dining purchases which are bonused, and for purchases with merchants who don’t take American Express. I use the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express for the rest of my spending, except that I put airfare on the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card.

(As if often the case, the credit card links above provide me a referral credit if you use them, they’re to the best current offers I’m aware of and I very much appreciate it.)

  1. Bren said,

    Hi,

    I’m a regular AMEX Gold cardholder. Would they allow me to apply for a Premier Gold card to gain that bonus or would it just be an upgrade without the bonus?

    Thanks!

  2. Gary said,

    @Bren they’ll let you apply for new cards with new bonuses

  3. Slomike said,

    I have and use Chase Sapphire. If I opted to got preferred, would I get the bonuses?

  4. Liz said,

    I love the Sapphire Preferred, but I’m hitting a year this month, and thus the annual fee. Any idea whether they’ll waive it or offer some extra points? If I canceled, how long before Chase would let me reregister for the card? Thanks for your help!

  5. Gary said,

    @Slomike yep you should, different card = bonus

  6. John said,

    Gary- I thought you put $40,000 a yr in spend on the Hilton Surpass Amex card?

  7. Gary said,

    @John I do — but that’s a bit of a different topic. I meet lots of minimum spend requirements, but that’s ancillary to my primary credit card strategy. As I say, first priority is meeting minimum spend for signup bonuses. Then I also hit minimum spend on Surpass and potentially other cards for EQMs. This is about how I do my ‘normal’ spend that isn’t about getting a bonus. Apologies if I was unclear in a post that was already getting WAY too long :)

  8. Erik said,

    Hi Gary – Any idea if Chase have plans to expand the number of airline partners in the US besides United and Southwest?

  9. Gary said,

    @Erik what they seem to mostly be doing is grabbing those airlines they partner with already with co-branded cards. Of course you can get Delta redemptions and Alaska redemptions via Korean, American redemptions and Alaska redemptions via British Airways, and US AIrways redemptions via United.

  10. matt said,

    The value of UR points vs. MR points seems to be overstated on a rather frequent basis.

    On the airline side, both partner with BA, but MR frequently offers bonuses. Amex partners with Delta (and AM, AZ, KL, AF), Chase with Korean. Focusing on DL which I am most familiar with, each award chart has strengths vs. the other, routing rules look similar, KE can get you into F. KE lists inelligible flight numbers and blackout dates – mostly codeshares but some actual flights are included. Not sure if this is just them being more transparent vs. dl.

    In Star Alliance, UR gets UA, MR gets Singapore, ANA, Air Canada. United is better than those, with the recent changes to Aeroplan.

    On the hotel side, Hyatt is far and away the most valuable option. I don’t see a similar-value option on MR.

    How much of the love for UR is really just a love for United, or United and Hyatt? Other than those 2 options, I don’t see UR standing out that much.

  11. Mark T said,

    “How much of the love for UR is really just a love for United, or United and Hyatt? Other than those 2 options, I don’t see UR standing out that much.”

    +1. Spot on.

  12. Jim L said,

    Gary,

    Any thoughts about the Diners club card? I believe you still carry one. It has many partners. It is a chip and pin card now, though it still has foreign transaction fees. I know there was an issue about new applications for a while. Any thoughts?

  13. Gary said,

    @Jim L – i do still have one, largely for nostalgia reasons, I almost never use it except for rental car transactions and where I need a mastercard (eg paying with mastercard earns a bonus). I actually DON’T like chip & pin, though there are a very small number of places in europe where you need that for a transaction.

  14. Super said,

    What happened to Citi’s effort to allow their TYP to be transferred into AA, BA or Singapore airlines miles?

  15. Gary said,

    @Super I would guess that’ll still be coming down the pike, they just weren’t prepared to launch it as early as some expected, but time will tell!

  16. Nun said,

    If you spend a serious amount on dining and travel, then the double points make this is a good card.

    Otherwise, I have this card and don’t understand the enthusiasm. For other spending you get 1.07 potential miles per dollar spent, making it inferior to SPG at 1.25. If you redeem for travel, it’s a little better but still less than the 2% CB cards.

  17. Gary said,

    @Nun I say quite clearly in the post that Chase Sapphire Preferred and SPG Amex are a great one-two punch. And you should always transfer points to miles, not redeem for purchased travel, or it is a bad deal.

  18. Will said,

    Gary-I have the Chase Sapphire, tried to gain the bonus by upgrading to the Preferred, and Chase refused to grant the bonus but would upgrade the card. No thanks.

  19. Gary said,

    @Will two different issues — ‘upgrading’ wouldn’t get a bonus, a new application should in my understanding

  20. Scott said,

    I live most of the year abroad, and use the Sapphire card for most of my spend. No foreign exchange fees is massive. I stayed at a Starwood property this weekend and it made more sense to use my Sapphire card than the SPG Amex (which would have earnt 3pts but cost 2.75% in currency fees).

  21. Craig said,

    I have a Sapphire Preferred and just got Ink Bold for my small business — this probably isn’t the proper forum to raise the question, but will I have two separate UR accounts (one for each card) or will they consolidate them based upon the common SSN? Based upon my preliminary account access, it looks like separate UR accts linked to each card.

    If it is two separate UR accounts, how easy/hard is to transfer between UR accounts? Not an issue for me until I hit minimum spend, but then it will be

  22. Gary said,

    @Craig you will have two separate Ultimate Rewards accounts. You can move the points between the two at will, however, online and instantly.

  23. theblakefish said,

    Gary, is the Chase Sapphire REALLY underappreciated or is it just that you haven’t gotten enough $400 referral fees from Chase lately? :rolleyes: Honestly, I know that you are trying to make a living off your reader’s sign-up fees, but it gets really old after a while, and it is one of the reasons that I signed-up for said cc’s on my own and not through your links…it got so old to this unbiased reader that I wanted to give my referral business to the next guy…c’mon man, give us something good rather than crap that you benefit monetarily from…

  24. Gary said,

    @theblakefish I’ve been writing a whole lot about the results of the Freddies and Chase Ultimate Rewards came in DEAD LAST in the Americas among qualifying programs, so yes I would say that it is underappreciated. I

    haven’t written a post focused on the Sapphire Preferred card in over a month.

    Folks who sign up through my link do provide a referral credit to me but it is NOT hundreds of dollars (!@#$!), Hah. It is also NOT a card that provides among the larger benefits to me either, if I were motivated by that I’d be recommending something else, but it is one of the absolute strongest cards in the market — just because you’re familiar with the benefits doesn’t mean that the majority of folks are.

    And as for “c’mon man, give us something good” clearly something keeps you coming back to this blog, perhaps there are posts that you feel are ‘good’?

  25. Buck Smith said,

    Gary — there is absolutely no need for you to defend yourself against the likes of Blakefish. You disclose your interest, which ends the discussion. I, for one, am grateful for your advice and insight. And I’m intelligent enough to realize there is no way experts like you could or would pursue these free blogs without some small reward in it for you. Keep up the good work, and ignore the churls like Blakefish.

  26. Patty said,

    Points transfer to anyone’s account you wish? So my points can be transferred to a friend’s account?

  27. strickles said,

    Gary: I agree with Buck Smith. Your advice is spot on, and much appreciated. I have no qualms sending you a referral fee on the Sapphire card I just applied for, as you spelled out its advantages very well. Keep up the good work.

  28. Hank said,

    Gary, I also agree with Buck Smith and Strickles. I read many of the blogs, and yours is one of the top that I follow. I find that you are very fair and honest in your articles and reviews and greatly appreciate that. I use the link of the person who give the best and most convincing/truthful evaluations. I have learned a lot from you and will continue to do so. Thank you!!!!

  29. RHDAILEY said,

    Matt, above #10, states that UR gives Korean Air bonuses.
    i’ve not heard of it. Pl. amplify. Tx!

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