On Friday, we received the disappointing news that United MileagePlus would be ditching its award charts. Instead of requiring a set number of miles, United is moving to dynamic (or variable) award pricing. With that change, you’ll no longer be able to confidently plan for how many miles you’ll need for a trip.
While the move was frustrating in and of itself, we should also think about what it means for United’s partnership with Chase. United has long been a staple of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and many have loved the perks of the Chase United cards. But, with the United landscape, where do things stand with Chase?
Another Blow to Chase Ultimate Rewards
This is a blow to the value of Chase Ultimate Rewards points plain and simple. If someone else would like to spin it and tell you it’s great, they’re more than welcome to do so but we don’t have time for that mess. The sad part is that this is the second major blow to the Ultimate Rewards program since late August 2018.
When Chase lost Korean Air SkyPass as a partner, we lost one of the best ways to use points on flights to Asia. Previously, you could transfer 80,000 Chase points to Korean Air to book a one-way first class flight from the US to Korea.
Even folks who wanted to book economy flights were hurt by this change. Korea SkyPass provided a great option to book flights to Hawaii with miles thanks to its SkyTeam partner Delta. You only need 25,000 miles — 45,000 miles for business class which is also great — for a round-trip ticket.
Now, your only options are to transfer Marriott Bonvoy points or use a pretty weak co-branded Korean Air credit card issued by US Bank. If you book a ton of paid stays at Marriott properties, you might be okay but when it comes to everyday spending on credit cards, the breakup of Chase and Korean really hurts.
Don’t worry, there are still a bunch of great ways to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Chase Needs To Make A Move
For years, Chase Ultimate Rewards points have been considered many to be the most valuable points out there. However, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points have been fighting back with the addition of new — and useful — airline transfer partners. And, of course, Capital One jumped into the transferable points game late last year.
Chase still provides some great options with partners Air France-KLM Flying Blue, British Airways Executive Club, Singapore KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and more. However, those airlines partner with at least one other bank — often more than one. It’s time for Chase to make a move and add a new transfer partner to expand its reach and provide more value to its customers.
Why Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Are Still Valuable
Right now, Chase really maintains its place as a priority points program because of three reasons. When it comes to hotel transfer partners, Chase has a huge advantage over the other bank programs because of its partnership with World of Hyatt. This might be THE distinguishing factor of Ultimate Rewards points thanks to Hyatt’s reasonable redemption rates.
Don’t get us wrong, Amex’s partnership with Choice Privileges can be useful as well. However, unless you’re booking a hotel stay in northern Europe, you can generally get much more value out of your Membership Rewards points by transferring to airline partners.
Next, the Chase 5/24 rule forces you to make Chase a top priority if you want to earn Ultimate Rewards points. For those unfamiliar, the rule restricts you from getting Chase cards once you’ve opened 5 personal cards — and business cards from Capital One and Discover — within 24 months. Basically, if a credit card shows on your personal credit report, it counts as one of the 5.
Finally, Chase Ultimate Rewards cards still offer some great bonus categories that make it easier to earn points on dining, travel and more. There’s just no denying that 2X, 3X and even 5X bonus categories make it tough to pass on Chase.
What About The Addition of JetBlue?
Shortly after losing Korean Air, Chase added JetBlue as a partner. While it’s always nice to see banks bring in new partners, JetBlue True Blue just isn’t on the same level as Korean SkyPass. It’s pretty simple, really. JetBlue has revenue-based awards — just like Southwest Airlines — which means the number of True Blue points you need is tied to the cash price of a ticket.
This has its place but it doesn’t provide the aspirational travel opportunities that Korean SkyPass did or United has offered for that matter. In the end, the addition of JetBlue just isn’t enough to offset the loss of Korean Air.
Are Chase United Cards The New Amex Delta Cards?
One of the biggest perks of having one of the co-branded Chase United cards is that you have access to extra saver level award space on United flights. With United removing award charts for its own flights, how will they handle this? Is saver level just going to be whatever they feel like in the moment? Think about it. It’s not really much of a perk if you can have access to more space if you still need 70,000 miles for a one-way economy ticket to Europe.
Amex Delta cards don’t provide extra award space but the United change makes these cards more similar. The Delta cards are often considered a low priority because it’s so hard to predict how useful the welcome bonus will be with wildly variable award rates. Again, we come back to the fact that not knowing how many miles you’ll need for a ticket is a huge negative.
With United going the way of Delta, can we really expect the United cards to maintain their value? The United cards already have a disadvantage in that you only get a free checked bag on United flights when you pay with your United card. With Delta, you merely have to be an Amex Delta cardholder to get that benefit.
It’s tough to look at this United devaluation as anything but a 1-2 punch to Chase.
Honestly, this move by United shouldn’t be the thing that spurs Chase into action. One would hope that they were already thinking about potential partners to add to the portfolio of airlines since the lost off Korean Air.
If Chase wants to continue to be a leader in the transferable points world, it needs to act. Otherwise, they’re going to see Amex, Capital One and Citi start becoming bigger and bigger priorities. Heck, we were already hearing chatter about people moving personal and business spend away from Chase as other banks improved their offerings. Hopefully, Chase will respond soon.