If you’re in the market for a new rewards credit card, you’ve probably compared options from Chase and American Express, as they offer the biggest sign-up bonuses out there.
But their rewards points are very different, so you can’t just say one is offering more points and is therefore the better option.
Instead, you need to determine what you’ll use the points for before applying for the card in question to avoid any wastage.
Assuming you want to book a trip, namely a flight, both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards are transferable to airline partners.
Both allow you to convert your credit card points to airline miles at a 1:1 ratio. So if you have 100,000 points with either issuer, those are effectively 100,000 miles with a number of different airline partners like United or British Airways.
That’s the good news. However, you have to look at the airline partners before you make grand travel plans.
Amex Has More Airline Partners than Chase
At first glance, you’ll notice that American Express has more airline partners to transfer to than Chase.
However, the way airlines work these days, it’s pretty easy to book flights on just about every carrier thanks to code sharing.
For example, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards from Chase to United, then use those United miles to book flights on Turkish Airlines, Air Canada, etc., even though they’re not explicitly listed as travel partners with Chase.
The same goes for Membership Rewards points with Amex. Their list of airline partners can be expanded similarly once you start doing award searches with partner carriers.
So they’re still basically offering the same benefit when it comes to travel. Plenty of airline partners and the same transfer rate.
Amex Might Charge a Fee
One negative for Amex MR points is that they charge a small fee when transferring points to a U.S. airline ($0.0006 per point transferred with a maximum fee of $99).
Chase doesn’t charge this fee when moving UR points to an airline. That’s one win for Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Another win for Chase UR is the fact that the points can be transferred into cash at a 1:1 ratio. In other words, 100,000 UR points are worth $1,000 cash. Yes, just cash them in and use the money as you wish.
With Amex MR points, you can’t do that. The best you can do cash-wise is convert the points to an Amex gift card, and the ratio is a less than favorable 2:1. That means 100,000 MR points are worth just $500 in gift card value.
Chase is the big winner here because any excess points can be used for straight cash with no hoops to jump through. And there’s a very good chance you’ll have some extra points lying around after redeeming for airline miles.
Really, if you don’t transfer your Amex MR points to airlines, you basically lose out because every other redemption value is less than 1 cent per point except a few things like Uber, third-party gift cards, and some flights booked via the Amex Travel website.
Chase Offers a Redemption Bonus on Flights Booked via Their Portal
Meanwhile, Chase will give you a bonus when you redeem UR points via their travel portal. With Chase Sapphire Preferred, a $625 flight booked via their portal requires only 50,000 points. That’s a 25% bonus.
With Chase Sapphire Reserve, the bonus jumps to 50%, so 100,000 points are worth $1,500 toward travel.
The new Ink Business Preferred offers the same 50% bonus.
It should be noted that Amex finally caught up to Chase on this by offering a 50% point refund when you use Pay with Points to book travel with an Amex Business Platinum. That means it only costs 50,000 MR points to book a $1,000 flight, a value of 2 cents per point.
However, this feature is only found on the biz version of Amex Platinum…the good news is all your MR points can enjoy this redemption rate, even if they weren’t earned via the Amex Platinum Biz card.
Chase vs. American Express: Other Travel Benefits
If you consider other travel benefits, like the $300 travel credit with Chase Sapphire Reserve vs. the $200 with Amex Platinum, Chase wins again.
Chase gives you instant statement credits for any travel purchase, while Amex asks that you designate an airline first and only reimburses airline incidentals like baggage fees (not airfare unless you buy a gift card that triggers the credit).
Additionally, Chase UR points can be easily transferred to a spouse or relative, whereas Amex MR points can only be transferred to an authorized user account. And authorized user accounts often come with hefty annual fees.
This means it’s easier to pool together Chase UR points than it is Amex MR points, another advantage for Chase cardholders that need a higher point total for a certain redemption.
Ultimately, Chase UR points are worth more than Amex MR points in many situations, though it does depend on your specific travel goals, assuming travel is your redemption of choice.
But one last thing to consider is how easy it is for you to earn points in the two programs. If you can earn points more easily in certain categories like office supply stores and on certain utilities, Chase might allow you to earn many more points much quicker.
Conversely, if you can score tons of MR points at grocery stores and gas stations, Amex might be the way to go for you.
You really have to sit down and map it all out to determine which points mean more to you. For me personally, Chase UR points are more valuable, but that’s because I like the flexibility and the lower annual fees.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Advantages
– Large sign-up bonuses with relatively low annual fees
– Easier to transfer to spouse or family member
– More 1:1 redemption options including cash
– Better travel credits to offset annual fee
– Lots of ways to earn 5X UR points per $1 spent
– Points can be worth 50% more than used on Chase Travel website
Chase Ultimate Rewards Disadvantages
– Fewer transfer partners
American Express Membership Rewards Advantages
– Large sign-up bonuses to earn lots of points fast
– Tons of travel partners to transfer points to
– Amex Biz Platinum now offers 50% points back when used at Amex Travel website
American Express Membership Rewards Advantages
– High annual fees
– Bonus categories not as good as Chase for most cards
– Harder to combine points across different user accounts
– Fees charged for certain point transfers
– Redemption values generally poor if not used for travel
– Travel credit not as lucrative/flexible