How I'm maximizing Chase Ultimate Rewards points during the pandemic — while staying close to home

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  • During the pandemic, my family used Chase Ultimate Rewards points for short getaways close to home.
  • By booking through Chase Travel the points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve® are worth 1.5 cents each.
  • If you prefer staying home, Chase’s Pay Yourself Back program is another great redemption option.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best rewards credit cards.

Chase’s credit card loyalty program is called “Ultimate Rewards,” which at first glance sounds pretty grandiose. But during the pandemic, I’ve come to believe that this program is truly deserving of its name. That’s because when I wasn’t able to travel, I’ve still been able to use my Ultimate Rewards points without going very far from home. 

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is best known for the ability to transfer rewards to airline miles or hotel points. But less appreciated is the ability to redeem your points directly for travel reservations through the Chase Travel Portal.

When our family of five was going stir-crazy last summer, we were able to redeem some of our points for a much-needed getaway, but one that was not too long or too far away for our comfort. 

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We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

Using Ultimate Rewards points for short road trips

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Chase Sapphire Reserve®

But by using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, I was able to book the Comfort Inn & Suites, Alamosa for a mere 12,546 points per night, instead of paying the room price of $188.19 (including all taxes and fees). That works out to a value of 1.5 cents per point, which is what you’ll always receive when you use points from your Chase Sapphire Reserve® account to book travel through Chase.

If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, your points are worth 1.25 cents each when you use them this way. And thankfully, you can easily combine points into your Sapphire or Ink Preferred account from other cards you might have such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠. 

This spring, I used the Chase Travel Portal again to stay two nights at the Nordic Inn in Crested Butte Colorado, for a weekend ski trip. This time, I redeemed 40,956 points for a room that would have cost $614.34 for two nights, including all taxes and fees. While it was a bit on the expensive side, it was worth it for the walk-to-the-lift convenience.

Not ready to stay in a hotel yet? Another great part of the Chase Travel Portal is the ability to redeem points for vacation rentals. Over winter break, we stayed in a vacation rental in Marathon Key, Florida, where we had a unit to ourselves complete with a private entrance, a kitchen, and its own laundry facilities. In fact, you can use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to stay in many of the same places available through platforms like Airbnb or VRBO. 

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth, on average, 1.8 cents apiece, according to Insider’s points and miles valuations. That’s because you can often get a higher rate of return by transferring points to airline and hotel partners.

Other great uses of Ultimate Rewards Points for staying close to home

There are many hidden gems in the Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal under the title “Things to Do,” which used to be labeled “Activities.”  Options near my home in Denver include zipline tours, indoor skydiving experiences, and guide hiking and bicycling tours. But checking in other cities, there are also lots of great options.

In Los Angeles, you can get a Go LA pass to over 40 attractions, tickets to a hop-on/hop-off bus tour, or a private Malibu wine tour. In New York, activities include a harbor cruise, museum tours, and a CityPass that includes six top attractions. The options frequently available in other cities include food tours, scavenger hunts, and guided walks through historic places.

At-home options for redeeming Ultimate Rewards points

While nearly every adult in the US will be eligible for a vaccine by the end of April, it doesn’t mean that everyone will be fully vaccinated and ready to travel by then. Thankfully, there’s still some time left to take advantage of at-home options to redeem Ultimate Rewards points this spring and summer.

Through September 30, 2021, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can use Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature to redeem points at a higher value for statement credits toward grocery store purchases, dining (including eligible takeout and delivery services), and home improvement purchases. You can also use Pay Yourself Back for eligible charity purchases through December 31, 2021. 

As with the Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders receive 1.5 cents in value per point, while Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders receive 1.25 cents per point. To take advantage of this option, simply make a qualifying charge to your card, and then apply the points from your account to that charge within 90 days of purchase. 

If you have the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (or Ink Business Plus® Credit Card, which isn’t available to new applicants), you can redeem points through Pay Yourself Back toward home improvement and shipping purchases at a rate of 1.25 cents each through June 30, 2021. 

Is this a good use of Chase points?

Given all of your options for redeeming Ultimate Rewards points, you’ll have to decide if this is the best way for you to use them. Keep in mind that if you’re planning to travel in the near future, you could receive even greater value from your points by transferring them to travel partners.

For example, I’m often able to receive 1.5 to 2 cents in value for each Hyatt point I redeem, after transferring Ultimate Rewards points to the World of Hyatt program. And in the before times, it was not uncommon to receive 3 cents or more of value per point when I transferred my rewards to airline partners and then redeemed those frequent flyer miles for international business-class award flights.

With most of the world still closed to tourists, it might be a long time until some of these more valuable options become viable again. If you’re planning to travel later this year or early next year, then you might just want to save your Ultimate Rewards points for the opportunity to receive extraordinary value for them, through transfers to travel partners. 

But if you’ve got a good-sized stash of points, and you’re more concerned about paying your bills and taking a much-needed break close to home, these options can be attractive. This is especially true if you’re a Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholder who receives 1.5 cents in value per point for Chase Travel and Pay Yourself Back redemptions. 

Jason Steele has covered credit cards, award travel, and other areas of personal finance since 2008. He also produces CardCon, The Conference for Credit and Credit Card Media.

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