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:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall: Earn miles for regular shopping
- Card Review: Chase Freedom Card
- Card Review: Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Card Review: Chase Ink Bold/Ink Plus
- How to Transfer Ultimate Rewards Points to Airline and Hotel Partners
- Best Ways to Use Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners
1. United Airlines Mileage Plus
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:
- Saving $1000 with United Miles: Natalya’s trip to Grand Cayman and Cancun (52.5k United miles to save $1000 on trips to Grand Cayman and Cancun. Value: 1.90 cents per mile).
- Tickets to Grand Cayman with United miles plus free one-ways (Round tickets to Grand Cayman plus one-way tickets between LAX and NYC for a total value of $700. Value: 2 cents per mile).
- Singapore, Phuket and Tokyo for 65k United miles (A similar ticket would cost $2000. Value: 3.07 cents per mile).
And, of course, a few Business/First Class bookings:
- Kenya, My First Trip To Africa: The Plan and Qatar Airways First Class (120,000 United miles for Business/First class tickets to Kenya stopping in Copenhagen for a few days en route)
- Thanksgiving in Grand Cayman, New Year’s in Rio and Fourth of July in Greece (100,000 United miles for Business Class ticket from Rio to New York, Business Class ticket from New York to Athens and Economy from Athens to New York)
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
You’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 has a distance based award chart where you pay per segment based on the miles traveled:
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
I’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 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?