Strengths Membership Rewards has over Ultimate Rewards

When it was discovered last month that Chase would be losing Korean as a transfer partner, I offhandedly mentioned that the announcement increased the value of Membership Rewards in my mind. A reader challenged me as to why a change at Chase would change my mathematical value of Membership Rewards points. He’s right that there isn’t a direct relationship, but the comment caused me to consider which currency is more valuable to me. Are Membership Rewards more valuable than Ultimate Rewards? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But here are 5 strengths Membership Rewards has over Chase Ultimate Rewards.

1) Membership Rewards has more airline partners

Korean didn’t singlehandedly tip the scales on this, but losing Korean was still a major blow to Ultimate Rewards. There are a number of airlines that are both Chase transfer partners and Amex transfer partners. Some of these can be quite valuable, but they do not give a competitive advantage to Chase since they are shared by both programs. Here are the partners that overlap:

Partners with both Chase and Amex:
Air France / KLM Flying Blue
British Airways Executive Club
Iberia Plus
Aer Lingus AerClub
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Singapore KrisFlyer
JetBlue TrueBlue
Marriott Rewards

In addition to that list, Chase has two unique airline transfer partners:

Unique to Chase:
Southwest
United

However, Amex has ten* unique transfer partners:

Unique to Amex:
Air Canada Aeroplan
ANA Mileage Club
Cathay Pacific Adia Miles*
Delta SkyMiles
Etihad Guest*
AeroMexico Club Premier
Alitalia MileMiglia
El AL Matmid Frequent Flyer Club
Emirates Skywards
Hawaiian Miles
*Note: Etihad and Cathay are also Citi transfer partners

Right off the bat, Amex has strength in numbers. But beyond just the quantity, those partners have some excellent award chart sweet spots / advantages that make them stand out values. More on that in a minute.

2) Frequent transfer bonuses

While Amex and Chase share a number of common 1:1 airline transfer partners, Amex frequently offers transfer bonuses that make your Membership Rewards points worth more miles. There is currently a 40% transfer bonus to Avios (British Airways / Iberia) and within the last month alone we saw a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic and a short-lived targeted bonus on transfers to Cathay Pacific. If Chase has ever run a point transfer bonus, I don’t remember it.

For this reason, the shared partner list isn’t necessarily equal. Amex frequently offers transfer bonuses to the following airlines:

British Airways / Iberia
Air France / KLM Flying Blue
Virgin Atlantic

This means that Chase is only really on equal footing with Amex on the following shared partners:

Singapore
Marriott

Note that I left out JetBlue. Chase recently added JetBlue as a 1:1 transfer partner and Citi has increased the ratio to 1:1 for premium cardholders effective 9/13/18. Amex is currently running a transfer bonus that brings JetBlue to 1:1. Will they keep the 1:1 ratio long-term? I’m not sure. At the moment, I’d have to give the edge to Chase / Citi, though JetBlue may become a wash.

Transfer bonuses from Amex can really help to exploit award chart sweet spots. For instance, with the 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic, one could book round trip first class to Japan on ANA for about 85K / 93K Membership Rewards points (depending on departure point), whereas the same awards would cost 110K / 120K without the bonus (from Chase or Amex). A difference of 25K points is not insignificant. Under the same bonus, it was possible to transfer 39K Membership Rewards points to land Delta business class to Europe — a savings of 11K points. One or two transfer bonuses maximized could mean getting a lot more mileage out of your points.

3) More credit card options

Chase currently offers 7 cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points (note that there are also some cards that still exist but are no longer available to new applicants). Amex offers 11 Membership Rewards-earning cards that currently offer public welcome bonuses (and 13 cards overall that earn Membership Rewards points). If you were able to get all 7 Chase cards with their associated public welcome bonuses, you would have 315K Ultimate Rewards points (though note this would be challenging as current language would prevent you from earning both Sapphire bonuses within 48 months). If you were to pick up the public welcome bonuses on all of the currently-available Amex Membership Rewards cards, you’d have 410K (targeted offers may bump that up significantly, though note that several flavors of Platinum are included — these points do not come without cost).

The key difference, of course, is that while Chase generally limits you to earning the welcome bonus once every 24 months, Amex limits you to once-per-lifetime unless you receive a targeted offer absent the lifetime language. Here is a list of the currently-offered cards that earn Membership Rewards points (click each card name to learn more about it and see its current offer):

4) Better airline sweet spots

ANA Business Class, bookable round trip to Japan from 75K.

Compared to Chase, Amex offers unique partners with better award chart sweet spots. Here are a few Membership Rewards partner sweet spot highlights:

Air Canada Aeroplan:
-55K each way business class to Europe 1
-70K each way first class to Europe 1
-No fuel surcharge options to Europe: Aegean, Avianca, Brussels, Croatia, SAS, Swiss, Singapore, Turkish, United (or low surcharges on LOT)
-Cheap lap infant pricing: $50 or 5K in economy, $75 or 7.5K in business, $125 or 12.5K in first

Etihad Guest:
-“Old” AA award chart (i.e. 50K each way business / 62.5K first to Europe or Asia 1, 25K economy to Japan in off-peak season, etc)
-44K each way business class on Royal Air Maroc
-59K business class on Asia between the west coast and Seoul
-25K business class Prague to Seoul

ANA Mileage Club:
-From 75K round trip in business class on ANA between North American and Japan (90K round trip in high season)
-From 105K round trip business class on ANA to Australia
-88K round trip on partners to Europe
-104K round trip on partners to South Africa
-120K round trip on partners to Australia
-Awesome around-the-world chart

Add to those the strength of a transfer bonus to exploit the sweet spots in Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Flying Blue, or Avios and there is a ton of potential for really outsized value.

5) Round-the-world awards with ANA

ANA is a program that has really caught my attention this year for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its around-the-world pricing on Star Alliance. These are subject to a number of rules (up to 8 stopovers, up to 12 total segments, no backtracking to name a few), but they can provide tremendous value. Here’s a look at the chart.

It is possible to build some pretty amazing values from that chart, particularly in business class. For example, for 115,000 total miles, fly in business class from New York to Tokyo to Seoul to Bangkok to Frankfurt to New York:

Or for 145K, fly from New York to Johannesburg to Istanbul to Delhi to Beijing to New York.

Those examples don’t come close to the maximum number of stopovers or segments – play with routings at GCMap.com to get a feel for distances and you can see some amazing potential compared to buying separate awards. While I love having a variety of points to piece together my trips, it’s just not possible to use any other transferrable currency to get that much mileage out of your points.

Bottom line

Membership Rewards is obviously a well-known program, but I think its strengths are often overlooked. Chase has strengths of its own — Membership Rewards doesn’t have a hotel program to match the value of Hyatt to name one. But if you are looking to fly internationally, especially in premium cabins, Membership Rewards has some strengths that you shouldn’t overlook.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

More articles by Nick Reyes »

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Ron
Guest
Ron

Lufthansa Miles & More transfer also exclusive to Amex

Greg The Frequent Miler
Admin

Amex Membership Rewards does not transfer to Lufthansa. At least the US version doesn’t (Amex has different transfer partners depending upon which country your Amex cards are based in). Maybe you’re thinking of SPG/Marriott which does transfer to Lufthansa?

Damon
Guest
Damon

Comparing the value of points without comparing the ease/difficulty of accumulating/earning points reduces the strength of the argument. It’s far easier to earn more points on the same spend with chase, which makes the total value of your points higher because you have more of them. That’s always been the value of ultimate rewards if you are comparing post card opening bonuses.

ucipass
Guest
ucipass

Change stengths to strengths

AAHA
Guest
AAHA

ANA round the world award is awesome! How do I book it?

Christian
Guest
Christian

@ Ron…due to the high redemption fees on LH it would seem that Chase UR to UA is a better option…at least IMHO.

Talissa
Guest
Talissa

That is all true, but you did not mention that Chase points are easier to earn (with all that 5x categories on Freedom and Ink), 3x on travel/dining on Reserve, etc. …so an average person has more Chase points than MR and can easier (I would say – much easier even) replenish them…in view of this you have to consider – is it better to pay more points knowing that you can get them easier or less points that are harder to get…
besides, Amx is much tougher on MS and shuts down accounts left and right…

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

The white ink on your green tabs do not show up in an email on the iPhone. When you open the internet link they populate.

J.P.
Guest
J.P.

It’s actually easier to accumulate MR points w/ EDP, Amex MR offers and now Rocketmiles.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

I burn up Hyatt points now as fast as I can earn them so I’m not about to give up all the 5X that Chase gives me. The other infuriating aspect of Membership rewards is how much they lack transparency in their transactions. Trying to trace bonus spend is a grind where it is easy with Chase and Citi. Then they delay the deposit so by the time it happens any positive energy from the spend is long gone. For getting so much right in international redemptions they get so much else wrong it’s hard to get excited about them.

MalMel
Guest
MalMel

Great article. I only have Chase cards and want to add Amex. I have been studying In recent weeks, trying to decide which one to go for. I can get the Morgan Stanley Platinum card and the hefty annual fee will be waived once I meet their (cumbersome) requirements. Do you think that is the best choice?

Rob
Guest
Rob

There are a few flavors of the AMEX Platinum cards that are slightly different. Comparison can be foudn here https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2017/04/04/which-is-the-best-amex-platinum-card

Article is over a year old but still mostly relevant (there are some minor changes since the posting of article). See which is better for you.

Mich
Guest
Mich

Membership Rewards has a charge when converting its points, which Ultimate Rewards does not. It’s a small amount but not totally insignificant.

Debit
Guest
Debit

Fake news. Complete witch hunt! Deep state working against us. Sad!

Mahesh
Guest
Mahesh

There are MR earning cards that can transfer to airlines with no annual fees. For chase, you have to pay annual fee to get at least the CSP to be able to transfer. That is big since You don’t have to keep paying the annual fee just to be able to have the transfer capability.

WR2
Guest
WR2

Chase is better for Hyatt and for SWA fanboys, and for those who MS. That’s it. Amex is better for everything else, and is especially superior for travel to Asia. Amex cards are also much easier to be approved for.

Enrico Pallazzo
Guest
Enrico Pallazzo

Very Good Post Nick, Drew would be proud.

Samantha
Guest
Samantha

Good article. I have thankyou points and am looking at borth MU and UR points. I think that Chase is way, way overrated. They have too few partners. And the CSP is 2x travel whereas the citi premier is 3x Travel.
And the fact that you must always pay an annual fee to keep their cards suck. But at least with AMEX they do have credit cards with no AF.
And finally you can get an AMEX at any time. With Chase the rules change: 5/24 rule, 24 month rule to a 48 month rule changes with no notice. No more 5,000 point AU bonus or referral bonuses, where does it end with Chase?

JayP
Guest
JayP

For me UR are much more valuable than MR simply because it’s easy to accumulate enough miles for the amount of up front flying that I can reasonably do in a year, so then I have a bunch of extra points and need to figure out what to do with them. With UR you can transfer to Hyatt, or else book hotels through the portal at 1.5 cpp with CSR. It’s hard (impossible?) to get that kind of value from MR without using them for flights. Also, it seems to be a bit more complicated to avoid fuel surcharges with the MR partners.

Rob
Guest
Rob

Yup, MR, using AMEX travel portal, don’t even get 1 cent per points for hotel booking; the value is 0.7 cpp.
https://rewards.americanexpress.com/myca/loyalty/us/catalog/pressvc/pricinghub#/Platinum%20Card&%23174%3B%20from%20American%20Express

Fixed value redemption is not MR strong suit (unless one has the Schwab Platinum that can redeem for 1.25 cents; this is decent).

esdot
Guest
esdot

I used to redeem UR through KE for xxx-yyy flights, since that provided me what I considered best redemption value for xxx-yyy flights. I now prefer to redeem MR through ABC, since it is the next best alternative for those flights. This may make my existing MR balance less valuable due to actual redemptions at a lower value than my prior use of MR. Or this may make my existing MR balance more valuable due to actual redemptions at a higher value than my prior use of MR (e.g., 0.7, 1.25, 1.54), if used for non-premium cabin international redemptions (perhaps “suboptimal”) redemptions as a result of insufficient travel needs compared to point balances. In either case though, if xxx-yyy flights matter to me, losing KE from UR makes MR as a whole more valuable to me due to increased redemption demand vis a vis existing supply previously used otherwise.

RAJ
Guest
RAJ

Membership rewards is a better option, since ultimate rewards require one of the Chase Sapphire product i think for transfer. While earning points potential is much better with Chase Freedom

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[…] you but I get all the crap, me the so hypocritical one lol. Anyway, this one does have good info! Strengths Membership Rewards has over Ultimate Rewards. Has anyone booked an ANA round-the-world award? I am thinking to treat my son to such a trip as a […]

Clare N
Guest
Clare N

Would love to see either program include Amtrak in their mix.

masselite
Guest
masselite

You can redeem Amtrak gift cards for MR points at 1:1 ratio.

steven
Guest
steven

Etihad 59K business class on Asia between the west coast and Seoul, what is this?
Thanks!

Andy Shuman
Guest
Andy Shuman

I feel the same way. If you look at the big picture, MR points are more valuable now than UR points all things considered.

trackback

[…] other day, I wrote a post about the Strengths Membership Rewards has over Ultimate Rewards. In that post, I mentioned that Chase only really has two unique airline partnerships: United and […]

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[…] significant portion of annual spend from many readers. Considering my post the other day about the Strengths Membership Rewards has over Ultimate Rewards, this new set of benefits looks very attractive […]

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[…] MR vs UR, Who Wins?:  Keep in mind that everyone values points differently, which is totally ok!  I thought this was a very, very good breakdown comparing two of the most popular flexible point programs around.  Do you share Nick’s sentiment on MR? […]

Ripley62
Guest
Ripley62

The question become more difficult the more you work the AmEx program. I don’t believe Chase does retention offers, this year I’ve gotten for just my Plat 30k MR as a retention offer. I don’t think I’ll try it yearly but it’s not a bad bonus. There’s been quite a few targeted spending offers recently also that effectively make all categories 2x. Then there’s the AnEx offers, yes Chase has some, but this year there’s been a long list of good travel ones I got a 15k MR for $750 on AF, in addition to the 5x, KLM had a similar one. Marriott, SPG, RC, Hilton, Intercontinental, all of those have been widely targeted with eithe $60 or $100 statement credit (20% return) or better 6k to 10k MR. For me between using both the KLM and AF offers and a retention I’ve gotten 60k MR

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[…] recently wrote a post about some of the Strengths Membership Rewards has over Ultimate Rewards. Of course, Ultimate Rewards is also a terrific currency to collect and one that has many strengths […]