The Hidden Cost of Using Chase Ultimate Rewards for IHG, Hyatt and Marriott Hotels

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is like travel heaven on earth for people who love to hotel hop.

If you’ve been keeping tabs on our credit card section – and credit card news in general – then you know that the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred have topped nearly every travel-rewards card list on the internet.

You could even say the Reserve broke the internet in 2016 when it launched to an overwhelming response from travel experts like The Points Guy and average people looking for a relatively affordable status symbol.

One of the big draws of the Reserve was the 50% Chase Ultimate Rewards (CUR) bonus, which works like this:

  • Spend $4,000 in the first three months with your Reserve card and you get 100,000 CUR points
  • 100,000 points is equivalent to $1,000.
  • If you redeem those CUR points through the CUR booking portal, you get a 50% bonus.
  • With the bonus, 100,000 points becomes 150,000 points and is equivalent to $1,500 when booked through CUR.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred gets a 25% bonus when booking through CUR, so the card’s 50,000 intro points are worth $625. Cardmembers also have the option of transferring their CUR points to seven airline frequent flyer programs and four hotel loyalty programs.

Since the CUR bonuses are a huge part of each card’s ability to attract new cardmembers, I became very curious about the kinds of pricing and availability you could get through the CUR portal.

I was equally curious about flights and found that Chase Ultimate Rewards customers actually benefitted from transferring points to Southwest and booking their flights through the low-cost carrier.

Not only did Southwest flights require fewer points than Chase cards (bonuses included), those flights had shorter layovers and better departure times.

My conclusion? When booking flights, points transfers to Southwest are the way to go and booking through CUR, even with the 50% and 25% bonus, was pretty much useless.

I wanted to know if the same held true for hotel bookings. Since you can transfer CUR points to IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards and Hyatt Gold Passport, I decided to research CUR prices/points cost for one four-star hotel from each of these companies in three different U.S. cities.

See Also: Marriott Rewards Premier Card Review

Winter is here, so I chose a trio of warm-weather locations: San Diego, New Orleans, and Orlando. I chose to narrow my search to four/five-star hotels – why not? – for a one-night stay on Nov. 11 or 12, depending on availability.

For each city, I’ll list the points and cash cost of booking through CUR, a third-party website and the IHG, Marriott and Hyatt websites. I’ll present a chart of the results and then talk about what those results mean.

Quick note: HighYa does not receive any affiliate revenue from the links included in this article.

1. San Diego, CA: America’s Finest City

My first hypothetical booking focused on San Diego, the Southern California city with an average temperature of 65 degrees during November. It’s a great vacation spot during the cold months, and the city has a variety of top-tier hotels from which to choose. Here are the results of my search:

San Diego IHG: Hotel Indigo Del Mar Hyatt: Manchester Grand Marriott: Renaissance San Diego
CUR Res Pts: 13,232
Prf Pts: 15,878
Price: $198.48
Res Pts: 15,066
Prf Pts: 18,079
Price: $225.99
Res Pts: 13,736
Prf Pts: 16,483
Price: $206.04
Hotel site Points: 25,000
Price: $174.44
Points: 20,000
Price: $190
Points: 35,000
Price: $237
Kayak Price: $187 Price: $659 Price: $224


How CUR Compares to IHG and Kayak

Chase Ultimate Rewards offered excellent points redemption value on IHG’s Hotel Indigo in Del Mar, requiring 15,878 points from Sapphire Preferred (CSP) customers and 13,232 points from Sapphire Reserve (CSR) customers. The savings compared to booking with points through IHG are significant: 47% for CSR and 36% for CSP.

Price wise, we see a reversal in value. CUR’s price tag of nearly $200 is $11 more than Kayak’s price and $24 more than booking through IHG.

How CUR Compares to Hyatt and Kayak

Screenshot of CUR

The CUR portal’s 15,066-point CSR price tag for the Manchester Grand Hyatt is 24% cheaper than what you could book with Hyatt Gold Passport points, while the 18,079 CSP charge is 9% less than Hyatt’s points rate.

The CUR cash price is $35 more than the Hyatt website price and $26 more than the Kayak.com price.

How CUR Compares to Marriott and Kayak

The comparison here is similar to IHG. The number of points required to book the Renaissance in downtown San Diego was 53% cheaper for CSPers and 61% cheaper for CSR customers. In fact, CUR’s $206 price tag was cheaper than what could be found on Marriott.com and Kayak.com.

For this particular hotel on this date, booking through CUR makes a lot of sense. The Chase Ultimate Rewards customer wins in terms of price and points.

2. Honolulu, HI: A Weekend in Waikiki

My second search took me even farther west, to the land of hula dances, Diamond Head, and macadamia nuts. Room rates weren’t as bad as you think – one night in a decent hotel could be had for less than $250. That’s good news for Chase Ultimate Rewards members looking to cash in their points for a night in paradise.

Honolulu IHG: Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber Hyatt: Regency Waikiki Beach Resort Marriott: Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
CUR Res Pts: 19,107
Prf Pts: 22,929
Price: $286.61
Res Pts: 18,326
Prf Pts: 21,991
Price: $274.89
Res Pts: 18,326
Prf Pts: 21,991
Price: $274.89
Hotel site Points: 40,000
Price: $244.02
Points: 20,000
Price: $239
Points: 40,000
Price: $218
Kayak Price: $259 Price: $239 Price: $229


How CUR Compares to IHG and Kayak

It was difficult to find what I would consider a true four- or five-star IHG hotel in Honolulu. As far as rates go, the Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber was at the top of what IHG offered. Here again, we find that the CUR price was higher than what was listed on IHG or Kayak.com. Their $286 rate was 17% higher ($42/4.2K points) than IHG’s and 10% higher than Kayak ($27/2.7K points).

Screenshot of CUR

Points-wise, CUR offered superior value. Their CSR rate was more than 50% off the IHG rate, and the CSP total was 42% cheaper than IHG.

How CUR Compares to Hyatt and Kayak

Like the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, Sapphire Reserve cardholders paid less points for Hyatt’s Regency Waikiki Beach Resort through CUR than through Hyatt’s site: 1,684 fewer points, to be exact. CSP customers, on the hand, could expect to pay 1,991 more than they would through Hyatt.com.

As far as price goes, the CUR rate ($275) was once again higher than Hyatt.com and Kayak ($239), representing a $36 markup.

How CUR Compares to Marriott and Kayak

Once again, CUR offers a much better points rate on the Marriott hotel in question. In this case, it’s the seaside Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

Sapphire Preferred customers can expect to pay 21,634 points, or around 46% less than the Marriott Rewards rate of 40,000 points. Sapphire Reserve customers get an even better deal with a 55% discount.

In terms of price, CUR was more expensive than Marriott.com and Kayak.com. Their $270 rate represented a $52 difference (5.2K points) over the Marriot rate and a $41 jump (4.1K points) over the Kayak rate.

Related: Hyatt Credit Card Review

3. Orlando, FL: Home of Disney World

The final city I researched was Orlando, the most popular tourist destination in the United States. Prices in this city were a bit sporadic – The Holiday Inn I found was very reasonable, the Hyatt was kind of pricey and the Marriott option in downtown Orlando was a few dollars above average.

Orlando IHG: Holiday Inn Orlando-Disney Springs Hyatt: Regency Grand Cypress Marriott: Grand Bohemian
CUR Res Pts: 11,577
Prf Pts: 13,892
Price: $173.66
Res Pts: 27,352
Prf Pts: 32,822
Price: $410.28
Res Pts: 19,928
Prf Pts: 23,914
Price: $298.92
Hotel site Points: 35,000
Price: $145.04
Points: 15,000
Price: $339
Points: 35,000
Price: $243
Kayak Price: $148 Price: $309 Price: $256


How CUR Compares to IHG and Kayak

In this final round of research, the CUR portal proved to be the superior value to IHG Rewards customers once more.

Screenshot of CUR

Booking a rewards night at the Holiday Inn Orlando-Disney Springs would normally cost 35,000 points, but through CUR it only cost 13,892 for Sapphire Preferred cardholders and 11,577 for Sapphire Reserve patrons.

Those point totals both represented more than a 50% savings, with CSPers getting a 60% discount and CSR cardholders receiving 67% off the IHG points rate.

As far as price goes, the CUR rate wasn’t quite as marked up as it was in San Diego and Honolulu. The Chase Ultimate Rewards $173 price tag was $28 higher than IHG and $25 higher than Kayak.

How CUR Compares to Hyatt and Kayak

The Regency Grand Cypress erased any notion that CUR would be able to deliver on the value I witnessed in Honolulu. Both the points redemption and price of the room I found were significantly higher than what was listed Hyatt.com or Kayak.com.

As a Category 4 hotel, the Regency Grand Cypress cost Hyatt Gold Passport members 15,000 points, whereas Chase Sapphire Preferred members would pay a 118% mark-up (17,822 points) and Chase Sapphire Reserve members would pay an 83% mark-up (12,352 points).

The cash price of the room wasn’t as marked up as the points prices, but there was still a significant difference. My CUR search resulted in a room for $410, while Hyatt offered the same room for $339 ($71 lower) and Kayak.com’s option had a $309 price tag ($101 lower).

How CUR Compares to Marriott and Kayak

We’ve reached our final comparison: Marriott’s Grand Bohemian in downtown Orlando. The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal offered a room at 23,914 points for Sapphire Preferred customers and 19,928 points for Sapphire Reserve cardholders.

Once again, those totals are significantly cheaper (15,072 for CSR; 11,086 for CSP) than the Marriott Rewards price of 35,000 points.

Pricing for one night at the Grand Bohemian followed the trend of seven of the previous eight hotel stays: Chase Ultimate Rewards was more expensive. Their $298 rate was $55 more than Marriott.com (5.5K points) and $32 more than Kayak (3.2K points).

The Final Numbers: IHG and Marriott Loyalty Members Should Head to Chase Ultimate Rewards First

After sifting through room rates across three cities and three hotel chains, I realized that the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal is a great deal for IHG and Marriot loyalty customers:

San Diego

  • IHG points savings: 47% for CSR and 36% for CSP
  • Marriott points savings: 61% for CSR and 53% for CSP

Honolulu

  • IHG points savings: 52% for CSR and 42% for CSP
  • Marriott points savings: 55% for CSR and 46% for CSP

Orlando

  • IHG points savings: 67% for CSR and 60% for CSP
  • Marriott points savings: 43% for CSR and 31% for CSP

Average Savings on IHG: 55% and 46%

Chase Sapphire Reserve customers saved an average of 55% (18,333 points) compared to an IHG points booking, while Chase Sapphire Preferred customers saved an average of 46% (15,333 points).

Average Savings on Marriott: 53% and 43%

CSR customers saved an average of 53% (19,432 points) over Marriott’s point totals for the three hotels I researched, while CSP customers saved an average of 43% (15,766 points).

The Great Points Redemptions Come With a Hidden Cost

It’s pretty clear that the points required to book an IHG or Marriott room through Chase Ultimate Rewards are far less than what you’d have to use through the IHG or Marriott Rewards portals. And, in my opinion, that’s where Chase wants you to stop using your brain.

Why? Because if you go back and compare their cash prices to the IHG/Marriot sites and Kayak.com, Chase Ultimate Rewards overcharged you on five of the six rooms we looked at (the San Diego Marriott was the exception):

San Diego (Hotel site/ Kayak)

  • IHG markup: $24/ $11

Honolulu

  • IHG markup: $42/ $27
  • Marriott markup: $52/ $41

Orlando

  • IHG markup: $28/ $25
  • Marriott markup: $55/ $42

The average markup on IHG hotels was $31 above IHG.com and $21 over Kayak, while the average Marriott markup was $53.50 above Marriott.com and $41.50 over Kayak. If the San Diego Marriott prices are taken into account, the average markup was $39 above Marriott.com and $21 over Kayak.

Here’s the points cost of those markups:

  • IHG: 3,100 and 2,100
  • Marriott w/S.D.: 3,900 and 2,100
  • Marriott w/out S.D.: 5,350 and 4,150

While Chase Ultimate Rewards likes to remind you you’re getting great savings through their portal (which you are), they aren’t telling you that they’re charging you a premium for doing it. How much?

We already know the cash and points value of those markups, but what about percentages?

Mark-up Percentages

The average cost of a room on IHG.com was $187, and the average mark-up was $31, which equals a 16% mark-up. IHG rooms on Kayak cost an average of $198, so the CUR mark-up percentage was 21%.

The mark-up on Marriott rooms? Almost 17% over Marriott.com and almost 9% over Kayak. In my opinion, that’s a steep “fee” for using CUR.

The Final Numbers: Hyatt Gold Passport Members Should Check Hyatt First

I realize that the scope of my study is limited. I tested a trio of cities, and although they’re pretty popular tourist destinations, there are dozens of other big cities with IHG, Marriott and Hyatt hotels.

That being said, the results of this study show me Sapphire Preferred customers should go to Hyatt’s booking engine first, as only one of the three CSP rates were lower than Hyatt’s:

  • San Diego: 24% lower for CSR, 9% lower for CSP
  • Honolulu: 8% lower for CSR, 10% higher for CSP
  • Orlando: 83% higher for CSR, 118% higher for CSP

As for price, the Chase Ultimate Rewards rates were $36 higher than Hyatt.com in San Diego, $35 higher in Honolulu and $71 higher in Orlando. As compared to Kayak.com, CUR rates were $26 higher in San Diego, $35 higher in Honolulu and $101 higher in Orlando.

Mark-up Percentages

Just like we saw with the IHG and Marriott cash rates, the Chase Ultimate Rewards prices were noticeably higher than what you could get on Hyatt.com or Kayak.

The average mark-up over Hyatt.com was $47, or 18%, while the mark-up over Kayak was $54, or 21%.

Related: The Marriott-Starwood Merger: Pros and Cons for Loyalty Members

My Conclusion: Chase Ultimate Rewards Hides Mark-ups Behind Bonuses

In principle, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program seems like a fantastic idea for Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders. And who can argue with that?

According to the latest terms and conditions, Reserve owners get a 50% boost and Sapphire owners get a 25% boost on their points when they book through CUR. Those are great bonuses.

My research showed that these bonuses help IHG, Hyatt and Marriott loyalty members save on points in eight of nine Sapphire Reserve scenarios, and seven of nine Sapphire Preferred scenarios.

The three situations in which they don’t save all fall under Hyatt properties, which leads me to recommend that Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve cardmembers should sign up for the Hyatt Gold Passport program and check that site first.

IHG and Marriott Rewards members should go to Chase Ultimate Rewards first before booking through their loyalty programs. In my research of three popular cities, it’s clear CUR offers the better deal.

However, in offering a better deal, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is taking advantage of their customers by consistently charging you more than what you’ll find on Kayak or the IHG/Hyatt/Marriott websites.

Loyalty members of these hotel groups can expect to exchange points for a room on Chase Ultimate rewards at a cash-rate that was 16% higher than IHG.com, 18% higher than Hyatt.com and nearly 17% higher than Marriott.com.

I know this probably won’t change your mind about booking through CUR, especially if you’re an IHG or Marriott customer – you can save tons of points through CUR. As a member of the Hyatt Gold Passport program, I always check Hyatt.com first, and will continue to do so.

While the purpose of this article isn’t to dissuade you from using Chase Ultimate Rewards to redeem your points, I do want you to remember that, no matter how amazing a Chase credit card offer is, there is no such thing as a free hotel night.

You’ll always pay for something, and, in this case, it’s a well-hidden 16-18% markup on hotel prices.

Read Next: The Best Travel Card of 2017


J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a personal finance reporter who examines credit cards, credit scores and bank products. J.R. is a three-time winner at the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism contest and his advice has been featured in MSN and Fox’s money sections.


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