The best way to maximize your credit card rewards for travel is to earn transferable points currencies. However, the value propositions and specifics of the currencies are constantly changing. Every so often I like to take a big-picture look at the state of transferable points currencies.
In this post I wanted to share my general thoughts on the four major transferable points currencies — Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Capital One. This includes sharing what I like, what I don’t like, and how I generally redeem each of these points currencies. I’d like to acknowledge that Bilt Rewards is another useful program, but I won’t be covering it in this post, as there’s not the same potential to build a portfolio of cards.
Let me start by mentioning that all four programs have a bit of overlap, so often the differences are nuanced. For example:
- All four programs partner with Air France-KLM Flying Blue, Emirates Skywards, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Three programs partner with Air Canada Aeroplan, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and Etihad Guest
We’re seeing more and more overlapping transfer partners, and that’s both a blessing and a curse — it’s bad because the programs have few unique transfer partners nowadays, but it’s good because it means you can pool points from different transferable points currencies toward the same redemption.
With that out of the way, let me share how I’m feeling about these programs.
In this post:
American Express Membership Rewards
Here are the 20 Amex Membership Rewards transfer partners, including 17 airline partners and three hotel partners:
Aeromexico Club Premier
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
Things I love about Amex points
- Amex Membership Rewards continues to have the most transfer partners of these four programs
- Amex offers transfer bonuses the most often of the four programs, which can really help you maximize the value of your points
Things I don’t love about Amex points
- Amex is the only one of these programs that passes on a federal excise tax when transferring points to a US-based frequent flyer program; this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s something that other programs don’t pass on
- Amex only lets you transfer points to a partner loyalty account in the name of the primary cardmember or authorized user (and the authorized user needs to be on your account for at least 90 days); you can’t gift points to others, including a spouse or household member
Where I’m seeing value transferring Amex points
- All Nippon Airways Mileage Club is a unique transfer partner that has some incredibly low redemption rates; the catch is that transfers sometimes aren’t instant, you can’t book one-way awards, there are surcharges on some awards, and the process of booking can be cumbersome
- Air Canada Aeroplan is a valuable transfer partner, especially for award tickets on partner airlines with stopovers, and this used to be exclusive to Amex; however, now Aeroplan is also partners with Capital One and Chase, so that’s no longer a competitive advantage
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue can be useful, given business class transatlantic award pricing and availability
- British Airways Executive Club is valuable for short haul awards, especially when there are transfer bonuses
- Etihad Guest has some great niche redemptions
- Singapore KrisFlyer continues to be a great program for premium cabin redemptions on Singapore Airlines, and all four programs partner with the program
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has some phenomenal niche redemptions, especially in conjunction with a transfer bonus
Where I’m seeing less value transferring Amex points
- Delta SkyMiles was a valuable program back in the day, but nowadays is almost useless for transfers
Best cards for earning Amex points
American Express has lots of great cards, though I’d say the best for earning Membership Rewards points include the following:
- American Express® Gold Card (review), which offers 4x points at restaurants, 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year), 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines, and 1x points everywhere else
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (review), which offers 2x points on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year (1x after that)
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Here are the 14 Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners, including 11 airline partners and three hotel partners:
Aer Lingus AerClub
IHG One Rewards
Air Canada Aeroplan
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
World of Hyatt
British Airways Executive Club
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Things I love about Chase points
- Chase Ultimate Rewards has the only useful hotel transfer partner of any of the transferable points currencies (that’s to say that transferring points to World of Hyatt is actually a good deal, unlike any of the other hotel transfer options out there)
- Chase doesn’t charge fees for transferring points to any partners
- Chase lets you transfer points to a member of your household, even if they’re not an authorized user on any of your cards
- Chase lets you redeem Ultimate Rewards points at an efficient ratio toward a travel purchase (if you have the Sapphire Reserve, points can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each toward the cost of a travel purchase through the Chase Travel Portal)
Things I don’t love about Chase points
- Unlike American Express, Capital One, and Citi, Chase historically hasn’t had many transfer bonuses, though this is something that has improved in the past couple of years, as we’ve started to see bonuses
- Chase doesn’t have as many transfer partners as some of the other programs; for example, Chase has 11 airline partners, but three of them overlap (Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia), so really I only view Chase as having nine airline partners
Where I’m seeing value transferring Chase points
- World of Hyatt is probably where I see the most value; World of Hyatt is a lucrative program, and having easy access to points that you can redeem for Hyatt stays is fantastic
- Singapore KrisFlyer continues to be a great program for premium cabin redemptions on Singapore Airlines, and all programs partner with KrisFlyer
- I’m excited that Air Canada Aeroplan is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, and there’s even the Aeroplan® Credit Card (review), which is quite lucrative
Where I’m seeing less value transferring Chase points
- Given the 1:1 transfer ratio, IHG One Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy aren’t valuable transfer partners since their points aren’t worth as much
- Chase lost Korean Air SkyPass as a transfer partner in 2018, and this was a huge loss, because in my opinion SkyPass was the single most valuable transfer partner that Chase had
- United MileagePlus has been devalued in recent years that there aren’t many circumstances where it makes sense to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to MileagePlus
Best cards for earning Chase points
Chase has lots of great cards, though I’d say the best for earning Ultimate Rewards points include the following:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card (review), which offers 3x points on dining and travel
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (review), which offers 3x points on dining, online groceries, and select streaming services, and 2x points on travel
- Chase Freedom FlexSM (review), which offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories, on up to $1,500 of spending per quarter, plus 3x points on drugstores and dining
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review), which offers 3x points on drugstores and dining, plus 1.5x points on everyday spending
- Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (review), which offers 3x points on the first $150,000 spent every anniversary year on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable, and phone services, and advertising purchases made with select social media sites and search engines
- Ink Business Cash® Credit Card (review), which offers 5x points on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each anniversary year on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services, plus 2x points on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each anniversary year on gas stations and restaurants
- Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card (review), which offers 1.5x points on everyday spending
Citi ThankYou Rewards
Here are the 16 Citi ThankYou transfer partners, including 14 airline partners and two hotel partners:
Aeromexico Club Premier
Things I love about Citi points
- Citi has added several transfer partners in recent years
- Citi doesn’t charge fees for transferring points to any partner programs
- Citi lets you transfer up to 100,000 points per year to any ThankYou member; it doesn’t even have to a member of your household
- Citi offers transfer bonuses with some frequency, which can really help you maximize the value of your points
Things I don’t love about Citi points
- When you transfer Citi points to others or to a different card, the points have a hard expiration date of 60-90 days, which is extremely frustrating if you close down a card
Where I’m seeing value transferring Citi points
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue can be useful, and I ideally like to transfer points with a transfer bonus
- Avianca LifeMiles is a program that offers great value for redeeming on Star Alliance carriers; while LifeMiles doesn’t always have access to all Star Alliance award space, more often than not I find a lot of value with this program
- Turkish Miles&Smiles is an underrated program in terms of redemption value, both for domestic redemptions on United, and for transatlantic redemptions on Turkish; the catch is that the process of booking through Turkish can be a pain
- While Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is far from my favorite program, it is the best value program for booking long haul Cathay Pacific first class awards of any of the partners of the four transfer programs
- EVA Air Infinity MileageLands is a valuable partner, as it gets you more access to EVA Air business class award space
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has some phenomenal niche redemptions, especially in conjunction with a transfer bonus
- Citi has added Leading Hotel of the World Leaders Club as a partner, and this offers some great opportunities at luxury hotels
Where I’m seeing less value transferring Citi points
- Unfortunately there’s no way to efficiently redeem Citi ThankYou points toward hotel stays or flights when booking as cash, as you’ll get at most one cent of value per point.
Best cards for earning Citi points
Citi has lots of great cards, though I’d say the best for earning ThankYou points include the following:
- Citi Premier® Card (review), which is incredibly well rounded and offers 3x points on gas, groceries, dining, air travel, and hotels
- Citi Prestige Card (review), which offers 5x points on dining and air travel, and 3x points on hotels and cruises
- Citi Rewards+® Card (review), which offers 2x points on gas and groceries on the first $6,000 per year, and then 1x points
- Citi Custom Cash® Card (review), which offers 5x points in your top eligible spending category, on up to $500 spent each billing cycle
- Citi Double Cash® Card (review), which offers 1x points when you make a purchase and 1x points when you pay for that purchase; this is one of the best cards for everyday spending
Here are the 18 Capital One transfer partners, including 15 airline partners and three hotel partners:
Aeromexico Club Premier
Things I love about Capital One miles
- While perhaps minor, Capital One miles post to your account as soon as your purchase posts, rather than when the statement closes (or when the second statement closes)
- Capital One doesn’t charge fees for transferring points to any partner programs
- Capital One lets you transfer your miles to any other cardmember in the mileage program, making these points easily transferrable
- Capital One has the newest major transferable points currency, so it’s great to see how the value of this has improved
Things I don’t love about Capital One miles
- Capital One’s transfer program lacks unique partners; all of Capital One’s valuable partners are ones that at least one other program has as well
- While Capital One’s cards are great for everyday spending, I wish Capital One had more cards that offered bonus points in certain spending categories
Where I’m seeing value transferring Capital One miles
- Capital One is awesome for transfers to programs like Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France-KLM Flying Blue, Avianca LifeMiles, Emirates Skywards, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and more
Where I’m seeing less value transferring Capital One miles
- I used to think that redeeming Capital One miles for one cent each toward the cost of a travel purchase was a good value, but with mileage transfers now being 1:1 to a vast majority of programs, I have a strong preference for converting Capital One miles into airline miles
Best cards for earning Capital One miles
Capital One has several good cards, though I’d say the best for earning Capital One miles include the following:
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (review) (Rates & Fees), which earns 2x miles per dollar spent
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (review) (Rates & Fees), which earns 2x miles per dollar spent
- Capital One Venture X Business (review) (Rates & Fees), which earns 2x miles per dollar spent
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business (review) (Rates & Fees), which earns 2x miles per dollar spent
- Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card (review) (Rates & Fees), which earns 3% cashback on dining, grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target), popular streaming services, and entertainment; in conjunction with a card earning Capital One miles, those rewards can be converted into Capital One miles at a rate of one point per cent
- Capital One Spark Cash Plus (review) (Rates & Fees), which earns 2% cashback on all purchases; in conjunction with a card earning Capital One miles, those rewards can be converted into Capital One miles at a rate of one point per cent
How much are transferable points worth?
The above is my take on the pros and cons of transferable points, but how much is each point actually worth? People often disagree about which transferable points currency is most valuable, and that makes sense, given that we all have different redemption goals.
For example, if you’re a Hyatt loyalist then you’ll no doubt value Chase Ultimate Rewards points a lot, since you can transfer points 1:1.
How much do I value transferable points? At this point I value all four of them at 1.7 cents each. If I had to prioritize Amex, Chase, Citi, and Capital One points, based on my personal redemption patterns, how would I do so? The truth is that my prioritization of these currencies depends on several factors. I always try to earn as many points per dollar as possible, but what’s the tiebreaker?
- I look at which points currency I have the lowest balance of, so I can rebuild that
- I look at at what my future travel plans are, and which currency would come most in handy based on their unique transfer partners, history of offering transfer bonuses, etc.
My general thoughts are as follows:
- Chase points put me most at ease, because I can redeem them for 1.5 cents each toward expenses; I love that World of Hyatt is a transfer partner, since that’s a unique partner that can be incredibly valuable, and I can never have enough Hyatt points
- I’d say my second favorite currency is Amex points, thanks to the variety of partners, and the number of transfer bonuses we see
Am I overvaluing transferable points?
Historically I’ve thought that I’ve taken a conservative approach to valuing points. Others value transferable points at two or more cents each, and personally I think that’s aggressive. At the same time, I haven’t lowered my valuation of transferable points in years, and I’m wondering if it’s time?
On the one hand, I feel pretty comfortable with my valuations. While some points currencies have been devalued, we also see quite a few transfer bonuses, which make up for many of those devaluations.
At the same time, we’re now at a point where you can earn 2x transferable points per dollar spent with cards like the Capital One Venture X Card, Citi Double Cash Card, Amex Blue Business Plus Card, so it does make me wonder if suggesting you’re getting a 3.4% return isn’t steep.
I guess it depends if you look at points valuation from the perspective of acquisition cost, or from the perspective of realistic redemption value. I’d certainly welcome some opinions on this!
If you’re trying to maximize the points you earn through credit card spending, I highly recommend accruing transferable points currencies. In addition to these cards often having great bonus categories, having transferable points gives you a lot of flexibility with how you redeem points, as the points hold their value extremely well.
How do you view the relative value of the four transferable points currencies?