Almost everything you’ve read in blogs and on FlyerTalk has probably pointed you in the direction of transferring your points to a loyalty program instead of redeeming using the Pay with Points feature on Ultimate Rewards. And it’s true that in most cases you’ll get better value from transferring your points than taking cash back or using Pay with Points, but it’s not always true. If you’re unsure why transferring points gets you more bang for your buck, see this post that I wrote a few weeks ago.
In that post, however, I mentioned a small caveat when I wrote “Once you become a little more advanced, you’ll learn to take other things like mileage accrual into account as well. For example, if you did use [Ultimate Rewards] points to book the flight, you’d also earn United points for the flight (but you don’t earn points for rewards flights). If you factor that in it may end up being cheaper, but that’s a topic for a different time.”
Let me clarify your two options to redeem points for a flight:
- You can transfer your points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to your United Airlines frequent flyer account. If you wanted to take a round trip flight from San Jose to Miami in Economy (and if there was award availability), you’d be paying 12.5K miles each way for a total of 25K miles, plus taxes and fees. OR
- You can use the Pay with Points feature, which values your points at 1.25 cents ($0.0125) each if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Plus cards. That means your price in points for a San Jose to Miami ticket would depend on the actual dollar price of the ticket. If the ticket costs $500, it would cost 40K points ($500/$0.0125 = 40,000 points). If the ticket costs $100, it would cost 8K points ($100/$0.0125 = 8,000 points).
So clearly there’s a certain cost at which it makes more sense to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points via the Pay with Points feature than it would to transfer them to United. Let’s figure out that cost.
As I mentioned above, it costs 25K points for a round trip, domestic United Economy award if you transferred your UR points to United. To see the cash value of those same 25K points using Pay with Points, we just multiply that number by $0.0125. So 25,000 x $0.0125 = $312.50. That means if the actual price of the ticket is less than $312.50, you will save points by using Pay with Points.
A Real Life Example
Let’s look at a real life example. The Flight Deal (one of my favorite websites) recently alerted us to an amazing deal between San Jose and Miami. The round trip ticket cost is just $156.60, a ridiculously low fare for a cross-country flight. This also provides the perfect example to prove my point.
If we wanted to book this trip by transferring points from our UR account to United, we’d need 25K points, plus we’ll pay $10 in taxes/fees.
But if you wanted to book the identical flight using Pay with Points through Ultimate Rewards, the total cost would come to just 12,527 points and no taxes/fees.
Remember, your points are worth $0.0125 each. The calculation then is $156.60/$0.0125 = 12,528 points (and they actually took off an extra point in the image above). In this example, you save 12,473 Ultimate Rewards points and $10 cash by NOT transferring your points. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s an amazing deal. And as I mentioned above, you’ll save points using this method of booking for all fares that are under $312.50.
But Wait…There’s More!
Booking through Pay with Points has the added benefit of earning points and miles on purchased fares. Remember, award flights do not earn miles, which means Pay with Points is even more valuable for low-cost fares. But how much more valuable?
Let’s continue using our San Jose to Miami example and assume you have no status with United. That means you’ll earn one United frequent flyer mile for every actual mile flown. In this case:
You see that the total round trip mileage flown is 5,144 miles. Taking this into account, that means your total effective cost for this flight using the Pay with Points option is 12,527 (UR points cost) minus 5,144 (United miles earned) = 7,383 for a round trip, cross-country flight. Now THAT’S an amazing deal! And keep in mind that you’ll earn even more points (and decrease your effective cost) if you have status with United. This could be an effective way to mileage run if you want to save cash and use points.
I should point out that the example I used above is relatively rare since it’s such an amazingly cheap fare. But again, if the actual ticket price is around $312.50, do some calculations to see if it’s worth using Pay with Points instead of transferring miles. And remember, using Pay with Points means you don’t have to find Saver or other low-level award availability. If the ticket is for sale, it’s yours.
Also keep in mind that this isn’t exclusive to United Airlines. If you have AA, US, or Delta points it will also cost you a minimum of 25K points round trip. You can book on all these airlines and more through Pay with Points.
- Pay with Points is valuable for fares with actual costs of $312.50 (or more depending on distance flown).
- You earn frequent flyer points/miles when using Pay with Points.
- There’s no searching for award availability with Pay with Points – if a ticket is available, it’s yours.
- This works mostly for cheaper flights (mostly domestic unless you find a super cheap international fare).
- This could provide an alternative to spending cash for mileage running.