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The Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners

Chase Ultimate Rewards has five airline partners to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio. United Airlines, British Airways, Southwest Airlines, Korean Air and very recently new partner Virgin Atlantic. It also has five hotel and other travel partners that will be covered in a separate post. I previously gave step-by-step instructions for transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to partners and, in this post, we rank and evaluate each individual Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer airline partner.

Remember, you can only transfer points to airline partners if you have the Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You cannot transfer to airline or hotel partners from the Chase Freedom card, but you can combine your Chase Freedom points with your Chase Ink Bold or Chase Sapphire Preferred accounts and then transfer.

This is part of my Chase Ultimate Rewards series:

  1. Chase Ulti­mate Rewards Mall: Earn miles for reg­u­lar shopping
  2. Card Review: Chase Free­dom Card 
  3. Card Review: Chase Sap­phire Preferred
  4. Card Review: Chase Ink Bold/Ink Plus
  5. How to Trans­fer Ulti­mate Rewards Points to Air­line and Hotel Partners
  6. Best Ways to Use Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 

1. United Airlines Mileage Plus

(United Mileage Plus Program Details and the United Airlines Interactive Award Chart)

United Airlines Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partner

It’s no secret that I love United Airlines and Star Alliance. I rank United Mileage Plus as my number on Chase Ultimate Reward transfer partner. The Star Alliance has the best award availability of any alliance to fly to pretty much any continent or destination. In the past year alone, I’ve used United miles to book Business and First class tickets to Africa, South America, Europe and Asia. Asia was just a tiny bit tough because I wanted to fly back in the afternoon New Year’s Day directly in Business Class from Tokyo to New York (and I got it!). Other than that, I never had any real difficulty booking the tickets I wanted and getting amazing value with United miles.

United allows miles redemption on a wide array of partners in the Star Alliance with comprehensive routes all over the globe. The Star Alliance has the best award availability of the three major alliances and award space is easily searchable on United.com. Routing with United miles is super-flexible and a round trip award between different regions allows a stopover and two open jaws. That includes award tickets to Hawaii and the Caribbean! The flexible routings let you add free one-ways or hit two or three destinations on a single trip and I’ve been using these to the limit! In addition, trips booked with United miles let you change to better flights, add connections, stopovers, change dates etc completely for free up to to 21 days before your trip.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know full well by now, I make full use of the stopovers and open-jaws leaving nothing on the table every time!

As for my valuation, I will let my United Airlines award bookings speak for themselves:

And, of course, a few Business/First Class bookings:

Business class tickets are much harder to value since I personally would not pay out of pocket to fly business class. I included the trips to show how much value I’ve been getting from United miles. I’ve been flying to far-away destinations like Africa and Asia in style!

2. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards 

(Southwest Rapid Rewards Program Details)

Southwest Airlines Ultimate Rewards TransfersYou’re probably surprised to see a low-cost domestic carrier take the number two spot among all five Chase Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners. However, there are two simple reasons why I find Southwest Rapid Rewards such a good deal:

  • The Southwest Companion Pass will double the value of your Southwest Rapid Rewards points by letting you bring a previously designated companion on any flight with you, whether you pay cash or with miles. The companion pass is good until the end of the following year. This means that if you were to get the companion pass this year, it would be valid until the end of 2014.
  • There is nearly no award hunting on Southwest. Every Southwest Rapid Rewards point converts into 1.67 cents towards Wanna Get Away fares, which are available almost all the time.

With Southwest merging with AirTran, Southwest’s route network has drastically increased. You can now book with Southwest Rapid Rewards points any of AirTran’s domestic routes, including Puerto Rico. International routes are not available yet (hopefully by the end of 2013), but AirTran does have Caribbean destinations, such as Dominican Republic and Aruba, among others. Southwest also plans to start service to Hawaii at some point in the near future.

3. British Airways Executive Club Avios 

(British Airways Executive Club Avios Program Details and the British Airways Avios Calculator)

British Airways has a distance based award chart where you pay per segment based on the miles traveled:

British Airways Award Chart

British Airways Award Chart

There are a few disadvantages to British Airways miles. They do charge hefty fuel surcharges, especially to Europe when flying American Airlines or British Airways. It will also cost a lot of miles to travel the long-distance flights to Asia or Australia or for itineraries with many connections. That said, British Airways can prove indispensable on short-haul flights where the smaller distance puts the mile redemption in one of the lower bands. I do consider them among the best ways to fly to the Caribbean with miles. A few examples where we can gain value on the short flights:

  • 4,500 miles each way + taxes from New York to Montreal or Toronto on American Airlines (tickets can easily cost $400-$500 in high season!)
  • 10,000 miles each way from New York to Cancun on American Airlines (vs. 17.5k miles each way with miles American Airlines, United Airlines or US Airways miles programs)
  • 12,500 miles each way from West coast cities (e.g. LAX, SFO, SJC) to Hawaiian islands on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines and I detail this in the post: West Coast to Hawaii for 12,500 British Airways Avios Each Way! 
  • 12,500 miles each way Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus (Aer Lingus does not have fuel surcharges).

4. Korean Air SkyPass

(Korean Air SkyPass Overview and the Korean Air SkyPass Award Chart)

Korean Air Ultimate Rewards TransferI’ve personally never used Korean Air to redeem awards and try to avoid Delta and SkyTeam. (The one time I used SkyTeam the past year ended up causing an unpleasant last-minute rebooking. Not that I attribute this one incident to SkyTeam, but I tend to get unlucky with that alliance!)

The Korean Air award chart is comparable to Delta, but Delta and SkyTeam have a reputation for having the worst availability of the three alliances in terms of award seats. When booking my trips, I will also tend to check availability with SkyTeam in case there is a good opportunity. Unfortunately, a good availability situation seldom comes up. It’s always Star Alliance or oneworld that wins out on miles use.

The one place Korean Air SkyPass miles do have an advantage is on first class award seats they on their own planes. A first class ticket from North America to Asia will cost 160k round trip and it’s not uncommon to see three to five seats available with these miles. Moreover, since Delta does not allow first class awards with their own SkyMiles, you aren’t really competing with other miles programs for these seats. It’s one of the best opportunities to fly the A380!

One last annoyance with Korean Air miles is the actual process involved in redeeming the actual miles for award tickets. Lucky reports and Gary reports that you need to go to the length of calling, faxing or mailing ID’s and forms, waiting a few days to get the ticket issued. Moreover, you can’t even book tickets for others without providing written documented proof of a family relationship. The sheer obstacles involved in all this really bring down the value of Korean Air miles in my book!

5. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

(Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Award Chart and Information on Partners with Award Charts)

Virgin Atlantic Chase Ultimate RewardsVirgin Atlantic ranks last in my list of Chase Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners due to fuel surcharges on most partners and a relatively uninspiring award values on top of that. Daraius at MillionMileSecrets did a full review of Virgin Atlantic as a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner so I’ll defer to him in digging around in the Virgin Atlantic award charts (they have a separate award chart with each partner!).

To summarize his lengthy analysis, Virgin Atlantic charges hefty fuel surcharges on all partners except Virgin America, Hawaiian Air and U.S. Airways. However, even with those partners, they charge either the same or comparatively higher prices on most routes as the corresponding carriers. Most disappointingly, they have a terrible change policy where you pay $38 to change dates (it’s free on United and American). You lose 25% of your miles if you cancel more than 7 days before your trip. You lose ALL your miles when canceling within 7 days. I am doubtful someone who values flexibility as much as I do will be using their award chart anytime soon.

The best use of Virgin Atlantic miles used to be the ability to transfer them to Hilton HHonors points at a 1:2 ratio like I did when I booked the Conrad Tokyo for my trip to Asia in December. However, with Hilton’s recent massive point devaluation, this is simply no longer a lucrative deal.

Do you agree or disagree with my Chase Ultimate Rewards airline partner rankings? Where have you found amazing value by transferring your points?

Comments

  1. Paul says

    I find better value transferring to Hyatt. 22K points = one night in the Park Hyatt Vendome = 5 cpp. I appreciate a good hotel more than a flight in a pressurized tin can (however nice the seat).

    And there are plenty of decent airline CC offers out there that airline miles are easy to get. I don’t sweat paying a few thousand more miles by using sub optimum reward strategy for my flights. They are the means to a destination, not the raison d’etre as so many seem to think.

    Top tier hotel redemptions are very limited now that Hilton has been eviscerated. As such, Hyatt redemptions are easily the most valuable UR partner for me. The problem is relatively small chain.

    • says

      Thank you for your thoughts. This particular post only focuses on airlines and there will be a separate post that specifically covers hotel partners. The PH Vendome is an excellent example of a top Hyatt redemption that I will be mentioning there. I certainly agree that, among Chase’s hotel partners, Hyatt is by far the best value. If you value a visit to PH Vendome at the going rate of $1100, then certainly that is a good redemption. Some value first class seats above top tier hotels; some the reverse. Fortunately, with Chase Ultimate rewards, the right earning strategy can get you enough points to redeem for everything for your vacations – hotels and flights; provided Hyatt has the properties in your destination, of course :)

  2. srdshelly says

    An “AirTrain” would be a lot of fun, since I like trains and I like to fly. However, you might want to correct that Southwest acquisition to AirTran.

  3. Jonathan says

    Hi, to get most points possible for travel to fly first/business intl…do you suggest chase ink plus/chase bold or united mileage plus where you get 1.5x for every dollar spent. If you have a business and spend a couple hundred k for inventory and such it seems united may make sense? Any thoughts? Thx!

  4. Tim says

    Hi MP,
    Just wondering how you manage to get 1K on United when you do so much award travel that doesn’t count as PQM. I rarely spend United miles on myself because I am always working to get to 1K and I also have a lot of ecert dollars to spend from accepting bumps.

    Thanks,

    Tim

    • says

      I got my 1K status because million milers can nominate partners to take on their status. I actually almost never fly internationally on paid tickets so my PQM is certainly low. The perks are definitely nice :)

  5. brian says

    Sorry but this question is kind of off topic but not sure where else to ask so since this topic is archive under Virgin Atlantic I thought I ask here. I would like to know if I can use my VA miles to fly on Hawaiian Airline and do they offer one-way? Also, how do I check availability? I already have a plan to get to Hawaii but need a way back home to either EWR or JFK. Thanks for any info you have!

  6. Mel T. says

    Hi MP,

    Keep up the great work with this blog – you are a wealth of knowledge!!

    My question pertains to the Chase Sapphire card. I am very interested in building points/mileage, and think that this card may be what I need. (I use the Capital One Venture card now, and it’s great for cheap, domestic travel… but not really for redeeming miles to fly internationally). I am wondering if it is possible to use the Chase Sapphire card to eventually book on Singapore Airlines. I understand that Chase Sapphire points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to United Airlines. Once you’ve done this, is it then possible to transfer the United Airlines points to SQ (or other Star Alliance partners for that matter) to actually fly SQ instead?

    Many thanks!

  7. says

    Thank you for this great work. I value international business or first and particularly the ability to do one-way. For example, I needed one way business ticket to middle east (air france = $6,000) I got it for 100k miles. Its a lot of hard work to find these niche deals, but MP is doing a great job.

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