Ultimate Rewards Continue To Take Body Blows, Do They Still Reign Supreme?

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Most Valuable Transferable Currency

What Is The Most Valuable Transferable Currency Now?

Ultimate Rewards long reigned as the most valuable transferable currency.  The KING of the hill so to speak.  They were “my precious” to miles and points enthusiasts but that shine has worn off over the past year or two.  Have they been reduced to the backup plan yet though?  Have they been surpassed by American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points? What is the most valuable transferable currency now?  These are all great questions that I want to take a look at.  The truth is the answer will depend highly on your personal situation but I will share my perspective with you.  Share yours in the comments below!

What Happened To Chase Ultimate Rewards Points?

Over the past few years Chase Ultimate Rewards points have continued to hemorrhage value without really replacing it with anything.  They first lost Amtrak which wasn’t a hugely popular partner but it did offer the most consistent value on a cent per point redemption basis.  People were able to get between 2-3 cents per point on a regular basis.

Then came the Korean Air Skypass exit which was a favorite program among the miles and points community. Korean had one of the better award charts for partner flights to Asia as well as flying Delta Airlines flights.

Lastly, United has continued to devalue their program to the point that it has affected the value of UR points too.  They have gone to dynamic pricing on United metal flights and they have set it up that they can do the same thing on partner awards.  No matter what lip service they say I think we all know dynamic partner pricing is coming sooner rather than later.

Those three changes have negatively affected the value of Ultimate Rewards points.  And they haven’t done anything to replace the value lost.  They don’t even have transfer bonuses, outside of that token one with British Airways, that could help lessen the sting.

Earning Points & Burning Points

We need to take a look at this issue from both sides of the coin to see who currently is king of the points hill.  You have to take earning potential into account and also transfer partners.  Everyone’s rankings will be different depending on which partners they value the most.

Most Valuable Transferable Currency

What Is The Most Valuable Transferable Currency – Earning Side

Earning points is a two fold process. You have your large welcome offers and then you have earning on your everyday spend.  If you dig even deeper you have to take into account which banks have the most consumer friendly application rules and easier approvals.  Taking all of that into account I rank the three major banks as follows:

  1. American Express Membership Rewards
  2. Chase Ultimate Rewards
  3. Citi ThankYou Points

I rank them in this order because American Express pretty much takes the cake in all three categories.  They offer the most Membership Rewards earning cards which means they have the most welcome offers.  Amex also has the most lucrative earning structures on their cards.  They are the only major currency that has a grocery bonus and they have it on multiple cards. American Express has good earning potential at gas stations, on airfare and restaurants as well.  Their Membership Rewards earning in the hotel category is pretty non existent though.

Chase comes in second because it has a healthy earning option for travel related expenses as well as dining.  But the real key to giving it the nod over Citi ThankYou points is the 5X earning potential of the Chase Ink Cash card.  Chase probably has the toughest approval rules of the 3 banks but they are one of the easier approvals if you are under 5/24.

Citi has some good earning potential on dining, flights and travel. Especially with the revamped Prestige card.  Their approvals are not terribly difficult and the 24 month rule on Citi ThankYou cards is easier to navigate than Chase 5/24.  I do find that the 24 months being based on opening or closing an account to be annoying though.  Citi comes in last because it offers the fewest cards which means the fewest welcome offers and also the worst earning structure of the bunch.

Most Valuable Transferable Currency

What Is The Most Valuable Transferable Currency – Burning Side

This one is tougher to judge than the earning side because it is more subjective.  I find Hyatt to be the most valuable partner of any of the 3 currencies.  But does that carry enough weight for the rankings?  The burn side rankings are as follows:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

I went back and forth on this one a bit.  Chase has the most valuable partner in Hyatt. And they also have a unique one in Southwest. Southwest is unique since there is no way to work around booking the airline with partners like you can with United.  But Chase has almost half as many partners as American Express does.  It drops even further when you realize that Amex overlaps most of Chase’s partnerships. Partners like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue work with both programs.

Even then I was sticking to Hyatt, Southwest and United.  Those are 3 pretty great unique partners. Even with the United’s devaluations there is value there, like with the Excursionist Perk.  Chase’s true value may be in using the portal for 1.5 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Reserve though.  It has become more and more useful which is a good and bad thing.  It is the least restrictive portal out there but that means that UR points have lost value to make it a valid option.

The two currencies were neck and neck but what finally swung it Amex’s way is the fact that they often have transfer bonuses and they are usually pretty rewarding.  Chase has only ever had one.

Those transfer bonuses have even made two of Amex’s hotel transfer partners (Hilton & Marriott) usable.  Normally the rates are too low to make a transfer but with these bonuses sometimes they make sense.

Citi was making a push with the newfound value in Turkish Airlines miles but they have hit a speed bump recently.  Until Citi gets someone unique to come into the fold, hello American Airlines, they will never be a serious player.

Most Valuable Transferable Currency

My Personal Rankings

I tried to be somewhat objective above and tried to look at it from all angles.  Personally, I follow a similar pattern but I have broken down my points values even further.  I almost exclusively use MR points for flights and UR points for Hyatt stays.  That is 90% of my transactions.  When there isn’t a Hyatt hotel I use my stash of Hilton points.  I may even top off that balance when Amex has a 3 to 1 transfer bonus for Hilton.

Having said that I still find myself hoarding Ultimate Rewards points more than anything else.  I am not sure if it is because they have a true cash value and I think of them as a savings account safety net or because I am remembering their fonder days.  It probably has more to do with how much harder they are to accumulate these days than they were 4-5 years ago.  I am always well over 5/24 so padding my accounts is tough to accomplish.  Although my wife should be dropping under early next year!

Final Thoughts

American Express Membership Rewards points are the easiest to earn via welcome offers, spending offers, upgrade offers and spending categories.  They also have the most transfer partners of anyone.  They are lacking in the hotel point department but it can become a viable play if you get enough of a transfer bonus offer.  And don’t sleep on Choice Privileges overseas, even at 1 to 1 they can sometimes net you a ton of value.

It appears Chase has fallen off the perch of most valuable transferable currency for now. Things can always change in the future though.  If you had said 5 years ago that Chase wouldn’t have the most valuable points I think people would have called you crazy.

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35 COMMENTS

  1. I appreciate being advised of the Staples and Office Depot fee free gift card offers. I have the old style Ink card and I really cash in on this. I love being able to transfer points to SW and Jet Blue when I need to top off. I have also used the Hyatt transfer option once. I sometimes use point via the portal for rental cars when they are cheaper. The United hit is bad going to dynamic pricing. I once used to get Austrian 1st class tickets to Salzburg. Still, I love these points. So, thanks for these updates.

  2. I was pretty loyal to Chase cards in general, but the loss of partners, continued deval of United points combined with United status now not even worth going after I’m shifting all my spend to Amex. For me, at least, there’s not much value in the Chase cards any more. Def not in the United Club Card, or any of the other United branded cards.

  3. That’s your opinion and your article is lacking any mention of the most valuable business chase ink card benefit that is 5x for staples, od/om. This benefit alone combined with chase sapphire reserve allows you 7.5 redemption per $1 spent in the above stores.

    • Will the Chase Ink Cash is mentioned in there right under the earning category. It was taken into account but Amex has more and better bonus categories, more cards with bonuses and it is easier to get their cards. That pushed it ahead of Chase.

  4. Everything you say makes sense for those who exclusively churn cards to earn points, (and add points from normal organic spending).

    For myself though, I MS* moderately for points, about 60k/month (just straight-up, never to meet Min-required spend for a SUB). Given this reason, Chase beats Amex hands down for me. The two factors are that all my UR’s reside with my C$R, (@1.5 cents for revenue travel booked through their portal at minimum, and more if transferred to an air partner for premium cabin award air). The second factor is the death of all Amex product at Simon this year for rewards, (a real shame given Simon’s current 1K VGC policy).

    I want to thank you Sir for your regular updates about OD/Max and Staples offers on fee free VGC’s. This year I hit about 30k of my annual 75K/year “Office Supply”, (wink, wink, nod, nod), spending on my Ink+ & Ink Cash thanks to you.

    • Glad we could help Clint. With the changes to the Citi Double Cash are you thinking that could be a good play for you at Simons?

      • I assume you’re referring to the coming ability to convert cashback to TYP.

        If so no, I don’t acquire TYP. However, I DO use my DC at Simon to the tune of about 15K/month, (I don’t really pursue cashback, I just think of it as a way to get Citi to pay the gift card acquisition and liquidation fees for the FF miles or convertible points I really seek so they’re free to me).

        Going forward, I understand that as of 1 Nov 2019, (In 2 weeks), Citi is rolling out new T&C’s that SPECIFICALLY exclude gift cards from earning rewards on this product. Obviously, it remains to be seen whether or how they enforce this? I’m leaving the country for 3 months next week so I’ll be looking for data points for when I resume the game in February.

        • The Citi DC now earns ThankYou points as well as cash back. You can transfer it on a 1 penny to 1 point basis.

    • May I take a second to chuckle at the idea that anyone would consider $60k/month to be “moderate” MSing. 😀

      It is true though, if you are going to MS, AmEx is going to be the first one to shut you down. I guess they learned their lesson with Bluebird.

      • LOL,,,, LOL,,, I agree, but at my local Simon the GM has told me she has 4 regulars who buy the current “Full Monty” of 25K/Day 4 -6 days/week!!!

        Sure wish I had their liquidation sources!!!

  5. I tend to agree with you, Mark. One reason I’ve started to migrate to MR is because I find Avianca LifeMiles to be a good value for transatlantic flights. I also love the transfer bonuses MR tend to have. I still hang on to Chase though because I figure for all the possible devaluations to come, there is always cash back or the Chase travel portal to fall back on. And don’t get me started on United and this dynamic pricing….what a said story…

  6. I think “hemorrhage“ is wayyyy too strong. Unless you are that person who uses URs towards those terminated programs.

    Mark, if Chase stopped Hyatt transfers, then hemorrhage is the right word…for you. If they stop the sizable discount on the travel portal, then probably for me as well.

    But for overall ease of use, no strings attached, Chase still rules the transferable currency domain. If you are remotely interested in hotel stays, AMEX transfers are weak & Citi has 0. So is you want to actually stay someplace, affordably, after a nice point flt redemption & are only spending toward one currency, Chase s/b be your go to.

    • Interesting point on spending toward one currency. Amex restricting the way you can redeem points with the Biz Platinum does hurt it some for an all around currency.

      But if you are talking about carrying multiple currencies I think Amex offers the easiest point accumulation, the most partners and the best overall value right now.

  7. I’ve built and rebuilt my wallet over the past few years to eek out the very last penny of cash/value. That wallet has never included a UR-earning card, because no matter how I shuffled things around – even rebuilding from scratch – there was always a wholly-non-UR combo that netted more. So MR/TYP it is, for the foreseeable future.

    • The only one I could see missing is the Ink Cash card – 5X at Office Stores can be pretty valuable but not everyone can really use it.

      • My apologies, I had originally written a lengthy comment including a “no business cards” stipulation. I refuse to get one without a real business (and declaring actual busines income, not my salary). I’m sure it’ll happen eventually…

        I should mention that I don’t MS, either – so Amex and Citi are just as good as Chase.

        I’m also by EWR, a UA fortress hub that just lost Southwest. With MileagePlus in freefall and earn rates on personal Chase cards fairly low (including UA Explorer), I do better with *A partners. I do keep a small batch of MP for short intra-Europe flights (taken a few) and Excursionist Perk shenanigans (none yet – soon, hopefully!).

  8. I value UR pts the most, because of the ease of obtaining them with the Chase Ink Business card and the ease of using them, mostly for Hyatt, but also thru the travel portal. I have several Amex cards but am hesitant to apply for a new card, since I have read so many stories of them not awarding the bonus points , often just because they can deny them for any reason they want.

    • Amex will usually tell you with the pop up if you won’t be getting the bonus and you can then cancel the application at that point. But it is something to be cautious of for sure.

  9. One huge bonus with Chase (I don’t know about Citi) vs. Amex. Amex charges a fee for mileage transfers to US airlines to offset the 7.5% excise tax. Chase doesn’t pass this fee to users. At least the fee is capped at $99 for any one transfer. Diners Club passes the full 7.5% tax in the transfer fee price. i.e. 1075 points = 1000 miles.

  10. 5/24 has just been a real kick in the butt. My wife is under 5/24 and cannot get a business card approval OK’d. Strange for someone at 825 and great income. Chase seems to hurt themselves.

    I just did a PC today to move from Preferred card, which was unused, to the Double Cash card. Took no more than 5 minutes on the phone, and it could have been done with Chat. It takes me about 24 months to earn the TY points for a couple business class tickets to Europe or SA. Got about 1 more year to get enough points but slowly getting there. Once that trip gets booked, then I drop the Premier and go to the Prestige and the cycle starts over.

    I sure hope the Turkish thing works out because that is an awesome use of points.

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