Sometimes it’s Better to NOT Transfer Your Ultimate Rewards Points

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

 

It would cost the standard 25K miles plus $10.

It would cost the standard 25K miles plus $10.

 

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.

 

Using Pay With Points will cost just 12,527 points and no taxes/fees.

Using Pay With Points will cost 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:

 

That's a significant sum of miles!

That’s a significant sum of miles!

 

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.

 

 Summary

  • 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.

 

Happy Travels!

Comments

  1. Great post about a little known part of the UR program. Keep up the good work!

  2. Since I’m an AA elite and not much of a UA flier, I *always* cash in my UR points for airline tickets.

  3. I think it usually makes more sense to just pay cash for such cheap airfares and save your UR points for future trips that would otherwise cost much more. Or better yet, use points from a card like the Venture card that earn two cents towards travel costs per dollar spent to cover such cheap tickets.

    • Travel Summary says:

      Agreed. Personally, I save my points for international redemptions and try to pay cash for domestic flights, depending on the cost and length of the flight.

  4. Great post. Had not thought of using UR points that way. Makes lots of sense. I’m building elite status on AA, so this gives me another tool to make status. Maybe with UA in the near future, too.

  5. Great post! My brain hurts.

  6. Thanks so much for this explanation. I use BA Avios for short haul domestic and try to pay for other tickets. I save my miles for Intl business ( F is not that big deal for me cause I dont eat much ). This article is great and offers a new possibility to consider.

    • Travel Summary says:

      I also save my points primarily for international premium cabin trips! But this is occasionally useful for cheap domestic flights.

  7. Good one. You should post more often so you can be mentioned more often in my blog and increase your hits and get more dinero from people innocently clicking in your links:)

    • Travel Summary says:

      haha thanks. If only I posted links in most of my articles! I manage to write most of my posts without any affiliate links. I thought you’d appreciate that :)

  8. This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of how to use miles and avoid just blindly signing up for cards that don’t serve you well. Choosing between converting to miles for a $150 ticket and redeeming UR at 1.25 cents each is like buying a Versace scarf and choosing which side to use to wipe the table. You’ve equipped yourself with the completely wrong tool and didn’t plan ahead. Throwing away UR at 1.25 cents each is a terrible idea and comparing it to something even worse does not make it better. UR points should be used at 2 cents each at least and, if you don’t have any trips where you can use them at that value, then you have the wrong card to begin with. Get the Barclaycard so you make 2.2 cents per dollar or the ThankYou card where you at least get bonus points for categories; or even a simple cash back card will do.

    • Travel Summary says:

      I appreciate that you took the time to comment here, but I completely disagree. If someone gets the card purely for the bonuses, the Sapphire ($500) and Ink cards ($625) get you more than either the barclaycard or ThankYou card. Anyone that travels only domestically could benefit from this. Anyone that flies on cheap routes can benefit from this. Anyone that can’t find award availability can benefit from this. Anyone that doesn’t fly United can benefit from this.

      Let’s just agree to disagree.

  9. I would use my barclaycard arrival and use barclaycard points and earn united miles :)

  10. “If someone gets the card purely for the bonuses, the … Ink cards ($625) get you more …. Anyone that travels only domestically could benefit from this.”

    Yup, that’s me! I had to fly (biz class, the only way I’ll fly!) ATL to LAX for a wedding I could not miss! Got the Ink, got the miles, got to the wedding! I’m working on learning how to use Avios for short-haul US flights, and will keep racking up UR points as fast as I can. I’m not going to be flying international again, probably for many years, but I DO need to get across the U.S. a couple times a year.

  11. Marty dee says:

    I earmed EXP with AA using this method with UR,MR, and citi TY points..which get me double AA miles plus can get more bonus miles for hitting miles flown.

  12. Just wanted to let you know this tip saved me 30,000 UR! Had to book a last minute flight from BOS to SNA and cheapest flight to be booked 1 way with points was 50,000 pts on United business class. Was going to transfer over 50,000 UR to pay for it, but then read your blog and saw I could use ultimate rewards portal.

    Got a flight on Delta for 21,000 pts and getting ~2600 skymiles for paying with points.

    Thanks a lot!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Summary explains how sometimes it makes sense to use your Ultimate Rewards points to pay for a cheaper ticket instead of transferring out to an airline (usually United).  The ticket [...]

  2. […] the name of fairness I’d like to link to a post that Travel Summary shared with me on how sometimes there are good options. You can read the post yourself so you can get the other side… but I’ll sum it up by […]

  3. […] But wait…. Travel Summary said I was wrong, and he linked to a post that showed me excellent value from flights – guess what? He was right.  Here is his post: Travel Summary – sometimes its better not to transfer your Ultimate Rewards […]

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