Exploring Ultimate Rewards: Earning Big Points

Exploring Ultimate Rewards: Earning Big Points
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Exploring Ultimate Rewards Series

Part 1: Redemption OptionsUpdated October 2014
Part 2:Earning Big PointsUpdated October 2014
Part 3: Top 11 Ultimate Rewards Redemptions!

In part one, we explored the many redemption options offered by Ultimate Rewards. In this feature, we’re going to discuss the many ways you can earn Ultimate Rewards points for awesome travel opportunities!

Card Sign-Up Bonuses

Unlike airline and hotel programs, the only way to earn Ultimate Rewards points is by using one of several Chase credit cards. That makes the promotional cards many of these cards offer even more valuable. Here are the best offers presently available for each card:

Card Name Sign-Up Bonus Minimum Spend Annual Fee
Chase Freedom 10,000 Points $500 in First 3 Months No Annual Fee
Chase Sapphire Preferred 40,000 Points $3,000 in First 3 Months $95, Waived for First Year
Chase Ink Bold 50,000 Points $5,000 in First 3 Months $95, Waived for First Year
Chase Ink Plus 70,000 Points – Limited Time Offer! $5,000 in First 3 Months $95, Not Waived for First year

It’s critical to understand that Freedom earns Ultimate Rewards-compatible points, but Freedom does not allow for points to be transferred to travel partners like Southwest and Hyatt. Chase markets Freedom’s quarterly bonuses as “5% Cash Back” as opposed to “5x Points” for this reason.

However, if you hold a Sapphire Preferred or Ink card, you may combine points earned using your Freedom card with those earned using either Sapphire Preferred or Ink. Once you’ve combined them – a simple process that can be accomplished instantly with a few clicks on the Ultimate Rewards website – you may then freely send these points on to airline and hotel programs that are Ultimate Rewards transfer partners.

As such, it makes sense for many people to have a Freedom and Sapphire Preferred card because of Freedom’s great earning potential on quarterly category bonuses and Sapphire Preferred’s better reward options and handsome sign-up bonus.

Category Spending Bonuses

Different categories of spending are incentivized by each Ultimate Rewards card. Using them in concert with each other strategically is an awesome way to maximize points earning potential. Let’s take a look at what sets each card apart:

Card Name Spending Category Bonus Amount Earnings Cap
Chase Sapphire Preferred Travel and Dining 2 Points Per $1 No Earnings Cap
Chase Freedom Categories Change Each Quarter (Freedom 5% Calendar) 5 Points Per $1 First $1,500 from July to September
Chase Ink Bold & Plus Office Supply Stores, Telecom 5 Points Per $1 First $50,000 Annually
Chase Ink Bold & Plus Gas Stations and Hotels 2 Points Per $1 First $50,000 Annually

Freedom’s Quarterly Bonuses

As you may have noticed, Chase Freedom® reward categories [highlight class=”highlight_class”]rotate quarterly. Categories for 2014 included:

January – March: Gas Stations, Movie Theaters & Starbucks
April – June: Restaurants,Lowe’s Home Improvement
July – September: Gas Stations, Kohls
October – December: Amazon.com, Zappos.com, Select Department Stores

You can activate your 5 points per $1 earning potential for each quarter’s categories by visiting Chase’s website and clicking one button on your account summary. Once you do so, you earn 5x points on your first $1,500 of spending. That’s equivalent to 7,500 points each quarter, or up to 30,000 extra points per year!

Defining Travel and Telecom

Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points on travel expenses, and Ink offers 5x points on telecom, but what do these include?

For Sapphire Preferred, eligible travel expenses include any airfare, lodging, cruise, rental car and railway expenses. This means tickets booked directly, such as through AA.com, as well as through sites like Hotels.com or through a travel agent. Travel also includes tolls and bridge fees, parking fees, taxis, bus fees and time shares, which means you may have a good opportunity to earn 2x points on many everyday expenses even when you’re at home!

For Ink, telecom includes cellular phone service, landline phone service, internet and cable or satellite television. These tend to be some of the bigger bills many people pay each month, so the opportunity to earn 5x points on them is pretty fantastic.

Transferring and Sharing Points

One of the best features of Ultimate Rewards is the ability to transfer and combine points between accounts. For example, this means that if you have an
Ink and Sapphire card and earn the bonuses for each, these large point balances don’t have to be segregated from each other. It’s very easy through the Ultimate Rewards website to combine points from several of your Ultimate Rewards-earning cards.

Finally, it’s possible to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to travel partner accounts under names other than your own. If you would like to transfer your points to a family member’s Hyatt Gold Passport account, for example, in order to split the points cost of a stay, you are able to do so.

Transfers between Ultimate Rewards accounts are almost always instant, as are transfers to travel partner accounts, but always take a screenshot or print out the confirmation page just to be safe!

Ultimate Rewards Mall

The Ultimate Rewards Mall is the #1 way to accelerate your earnings potential after sign-up bonuses. By simply clicking a retailer’s affiliate link on the Ultimate Rewards Mall site on your way to make a purchase, rather than going to the retailer’s site directly, you are eligible for bonus points on purchases.

For example, going to Staples.com directly will afford you the opportunity to earn 5x points if you pay with an Ink card, since Ink offers 5x points at all office supplies retailers. However, if you go to the Ultimate Rewards Mall first and then use the mall’s referral link to shop at Staples.com, you’ll earn an extra 2 points per dollar, for a total of 7 points per $1!

These are limited by unique terms and conditions for each retailer, but a few rules generally apply.

You won’t receive bonus credit for purchasing gift cards unless explicitly allowed under the “Buy Gift Cards” link under the left-hand sidebar of the Mall. You also may be unable to use certain promo codes found on other sites and still earn points. In my experience, I have been able to use other promo codes successfully, such as 20% off to JCP.com, but gift card purchases from sites like Staples.com have indeed failed to pay bonus points in excess of any category bonuses like those offered by Ink.

Even given these rules, there are some stunning earnings opportunities through Ultimate Rewards Mall. For example, purchases from Magazines.com currently net a whopping 25 points per $1, while purchases from popular online retailers like eBags.com pay out bonuses of 8 points per $1 or more! The best part is, you do not typically have to actually make the purchase using your Ultimate Rewards card in order to receive the bonus points! This allows you to use whatever card offers you the best earnings opportunity for that retailer, even while earning additional Ultimate Rewards points.

You might be surprised how many retailers take part in the UR Mall. While Amazon.com isn’t among them, Apple.com, iTunes.com Walmart.com, Nike.com, Groupon and LivingSocial are among the sites I didn’t anticipate seeing listed.

Apple offers just 1 extra point per $1, but why pass this up? If you’re in the market for a new MacBook Pro listed at $2,000, buying it would typically net just 2,000 points. By simply clicking through to the Apple Store via the UR Mall, you double your earnings potential to 4,000 points. Big earnings are literally a click away.

UR Mall + Category Bonuses

Combining category bonuses with the Ultimate Rewards Mall can be a big boost to your earnings potential. OfficeDepot.com, OfficeMax.com and Staples.com all offer affiliate links through the UR Mall and are currently paying an extra 3 points per $1. If you click through using these links and pay with your Ink card, you now can earn 8 points per $1 on these expenses!

Wrapping Up

Hopefully this guide helps broaden your view on how to earn points rapidly. While card sign-up bonuses certainly offer large, one-time bonuses that can’t be beat, unless you plan to churn credit cards regularly and invest a significant amount of time in your points and miles hobby, the best way to consistently earn points is to identify a portfolio of cards that allow you to earn bonus points in the categories you spend in most regularly and to take advantage of the easy earnings opportunity offered by shopping portals like the Ultimate Rewards Mall.

The UR Mall is far from alone in offering bonus points for shopping, and at times better deals may exist through other malls, such as American’s AAdvantage eShopping Mall.

For now, though, it’s worth taking a moment to reiterate what makes Ultimate Rewards our favorite program. Tremendous sign-up bonuses are complemented by the ability to earn points in different bonus categories across a variety of different cards and through the UR Mall. Ultimate Rewards points can then be combined between cards and family members and points may be transferred out to many of the best airline and hotel programs instantly at an easy 1:1 rate. This makes Ultimate Rewards an extremely compelling program, and one that can help make your dream trip possible, wherever you may want to go!

3 Comments
  1. CaliforniaJag

    Just reading this makes me dizzy. You truly are a credit genius.

    I get the feeling from this site that in order to best utilize points and rewards, my wife and I are going to have to completely reshape the way we use our money. We currently have only one credit card, a U. S. Bank credit card that earns I believe one point per $1 spent. Their rewards aren’t all that great, and I don’t know anything about what they offer because I never cared that much. I use my debit card as a credit card often, and usually pay my bills via bank draft.

    Like deciding to lose weight, accruing and using points and rewards to the best of their ability seems like a lifestyle change more than just a casual adjustment. It’s a change I’d like to figure out how to make, but it’s very confusing for me because I already tend to get stuck in decision loops and spend more time researching options than I should.

    I see the links on the “Must Read” section and have read them all, but I think it would really be helpful to have a post about “how to switch from debit/basic credit cards”. Maybe I’m just not reading them carefully enough. I showed my wife the site and she was extremely excited about potentially being able to save money on things we already buy, so any help you can give me in trying to plan and make this type of change would be greatly appreciated.

    • PointsAway

      @CaliforniaJag: Thanks so much for the comment! I’d love to put an article like that together and will plan to post one next week. There are certainly some general guidelines to follow, but knowing your personal travel preferences are as important in making an informed decision as knowing the various deals are. I’ll focus the article on a few different scenarios, and you may see yourself matching up well with one or several of them.
      Is there a particular trip that you and your wife have had in mind for a while, or do you tend to utilize one airline or hotel chain most regularly for your travel? Maybe consider submitting a trip to us for a future article! That way, we can craft a strategy that specifically makes that happen.

      • CaliforniaJag

        We tend to fly with and stay at whichever is the cheapest while not being a piece of crap, if that makes sense. I prefer flying Southwest so we can check bags for free, but we often just book based on overall price.

        The trip my wife had in mind was one to go back to Arkansas to see her family, but that wouldn’t involve a hotel room because she would just stay with a family member. I will check with her and see if she’s got something specific she’d like to submit. Thanks!

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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