The best way to use Chase points to book hotels

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A reader recently asked me about booking a hotel with Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  She had found a Marriott property that had good reviews and was available for a free night award for 30,000 Marriott Rewards points.  She could have transferred her Chase points to Marriott to book the room, but first she checked the Chase travel portal and found that she could pay 13,419 points for the same night at the same hotel.

She concluded her email with this: “the room booked through the Chase portal is less than half the points of the Marriott Points. What am I missing?”

I often claim that the best use of Ultimate Rewards points (for those with a premium Chase card such as the Sapphire Preferred, or Ink Plus) is to transfer points to loyalty programs to book flights or nights.  So, my reader’s question was reasonable.  What was she missing?

While I’ve often mentioned the ability to use Ultimate Rewards points for 1.25 cents each to book travel, I’ve never suggested that it is a good way to book hotels.  Why not?  In my reader’s example, booking travel with Ultimate Rewards points is clearly a much better deal than transferring points to Marriott, so why wouldn’t I recommend it?

As a general rule (this isn’t 100% true, but mostly true), the only Chase hotel partner worth transferring points to is Hyatt.  With Hyatt, you’ll usually (but not always) get very good value from your points.  With most of their other hotel transfer partners, hotel points tend to be worth less than 1 cent each, so you’re actually better off simply redeeming Ultimate Rewards points for cash, at a rate of 1 cent per point (I don’t generally recommend this – it’s just an example of why it’s bad value to transfer to Marriott, IHG, etc.)

So, assuming that Hyatt isn’t an option for your stay, the next question is whether it makes sense to book the hotel through Chase’s travel portal.  Assuming you’re not saving up your Ultimate Rewards points for higher value options, here’s how you could evaluate this question:

  1. Search for the best paid rates for the place and dates you need (I usually use Kayak.com for this)
  2. Search the Ultimate Rewards travel portal for the same hotels: ultimaterewardspoints.chase.com/travel (if you have multiple Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, make sure to log in with a premium account to get 20% off the points price for travel)
  3. If the hotel is part of a chain in which points can be transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards, then check the point price for the same hotel.  Current hotel transfer partners include: Hyatt, IHG (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, etc.), Marriott Rewards, and Ritz-Carlton (which is really the same as the Marriott program)
  4. Compare the above results.

In all of the examples I’ve looked at, Chase’s paid rates are higher than the direct-pay alternatives.  And, this often wipes out most or all of the 20% discount given to those with premium cards.  Here’s an example:

Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel:

Use Chase points to book hotels Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel

For a particular night in Chicago at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Downtown / River North, Chase shows a paid price of $349.88 (including taxes), or a point price of 27,990.  The point price reflects the 20% discount given to premium cardholders.  Without the discount, the $349.88 price would translate to 34,988 points.

Kayak:

Use Chase points to book hotels Kayak

For the same hotel and the same night, Kayak shows rates starting at $250.  After taxes and fees, the rate comes to $291.

Marriott Rewards:

Use Chase points to book hotels Marriott Rewards

The same hotel can be booked with 35,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Compare Options

We now have identified three options for this hotel:

  • Pay with Chase Ultimate Rewards points: 27,990 points
  • Pay with credit card: $291
  • Pay with Marriott Rewards points: 35,000 points

If you already have a healthy stash of Marriott Rewards points, then paying with Marriott points is a reasonable option.  You would get .83 cents per point value compared to the best available paid rate.  That’s quite a bit higher than the current .56 cents per point Fair Trading Price for Marriott Rewards.

If you don’t have many Marriott Rewards points to spend, then transferring points from Chase To Marriott is clearly a bad idea. 35,000 points is more than the cost of either of the other options.

If you pay with Ultimate Rewards points, you would get $291 / 27,990 = 1.04 cents per point value.  That’s not very good.  My recommendation is to go through a rewards portal to book the room (to get extra points or a cash rebate), and pay with a credit card that earns bonus points for travel, or pay with a gift card that you bought at a discount.

Booking the room

If I were to book the Fairfield Inn after running the above comparison, my first step would be to see if Marriott.com offered competitive prices.  In this case, they do offer the same best rate (otherwise I might look into submitting a Best Rate Guarantee claim, but that’s a whole different story…).  I’d prefer to book through Marriott so as to ensure that I earn Marriott Rewards points from the stay and potentially qualify for any current Marriott promotions I may be enrolled in.  So…

  1. I search for Marriott on CashBackMonitor to find the best available portal option.  I find that 5% cash back is the best I can do (or, up to 7% cash back for new TopCashBack customers, but I don’t qualify).  I go to the portal in question (uPromise, in this case), find Marriott, and click through to Marriott.com to book the room.  After my stay, I should receive 5% cash back from uPromise.
  2. To pay for the room, I would use the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card, either of which offers 3 points per dollar.  If I didn’t have a card that offered 3X points, I would opt for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (which offers 2X for all travel) or the Chase Ink Plus (which offers 2X for hotels).  If I really wanted the hotel to be “free”, I would pay with a card in which points are best used to offset travel expenses.  Two good examples are the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and the Capital One Venture Rewards cards.

Summarized Advice. When to use Chase points to book hotels

Here’s an oversimplification that may be useful:

When considering whether to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book hotels, don’t do it unless you want to stay at a Hyatt.  There are situations here and there where this advice is wrong, but I’d bet that it is the right call 95% of the time.

Note: there are situations where Ultimate Rewards transfers to Marriott make sense in order to book a Marriott Travel Package.  Read more here: SPG Nights & Flights vs. Marriott Travel Packages

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