My Current Take On The “Big Three” Transferable Points Currencies

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Three of the most popular transferable points currencies are Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou.

Up until recently, I valued Amex and Chase points at 1.7 cents each, and Citi points at 1.5 cents each. However, recently I increased my valuation of Citi points somewhat to around 1.7 cents each. Perhaps more accurately, what changed in my head is that I now value all three points currencies roughly equally.

Some asked if I’m just saying this because the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card has an increased welcome bonus at the moment, but that’s not the case. Rather it’s because ThankYou points haven’t been on my radar that much lately, so that bonus made me think about it more again.

Also, the reality is that I’ve been spending Citi points much more quickly than Amex and Chase points, to the point that I’m “short” on them. I’m not sure if that’s subconsciously because I decided to redeem them first because I had said they were worth less, or what.

In this post I wanted to share how I’m feeling about these currencies, and share what I like, what I don’t like, and how I generally like redeeming each of these points currencies.

Let me start by mentioning that all three programs partner with Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, so they all have that in common.

American Express Membership Rewards

Here are the Amex Membership Rewards transfer partners:

AirlinesHotels
Aer Lingus Aer ClubChoice Privileges
AeroMexico Club PremierHilton Honors
Air Canada Aeroplan
AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue
Alitalia MilleMiglia
ANA Mileage Club
British Airways Executive Club
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Delta SkyMiles
El Al Matmid
Emirates Skywards
Etihad Guest
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
Iberia Plus
JetBlue TrueBlue
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Things I love:

  • Amex Membership Rewards continues to have the most transfer partners of these three programs
  • Amex offers transfer bonuses with some frequency, which can really help you maximize the value of your points

Things I don’t love:

  • Amex is the only one of these programs that passes on a federal excise tax when transferring points for a US-based frequent flyer program; this isn’t a huge deal, but Chase and Citi don’t pass on this cost
  • Amex only lets you transfer points to a frequent flyer account in the name of the primary cardmember or authorized user; you can’t gift points to others, including a spouse or household member

Where I’m seeing value transferring points:


Transfer Amex points to Virgin Atlantic for travel in ANA first class

Where I’m seeing less value transferring points:

  • Delta SkyMiles used to be a great program, but with increasing restrictions on redeeming miles and higher costs, I’m seeing less value than ever before in these transfers

Earn Amex points with the following cards:

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Here are the Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners:

AirlinesHotels
Aer Lingus Aer ClubIHG Rewards Club
Air France/KLM Flying BlueMarriott Rewards
British Airways Executive ClubRitz-Carlton Rewards
Iberia PlusWorld Of Hyatt
JetBlue TrueBlue
Singapore KrisFlyer
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
United MileagePlus
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Things I love:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards has some unique transfer partners that are actually useful, including the only good value hotel partner of any transferable points currency
  • Chase doesn’t charge fees for transferring points to any of their 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

Things I don’t love:

  • Unlike American Express and Citi, Chase almost never has transfer bonuses; while they partner with Air France/KLM Flying Blue, British Airways Executive Club, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, I’d shy away from transferring those points, since historically we’ve sometimes seen transfer bonuses from Amex and Citi to those programs
  • Chase doesn’t have as many transfer partners as the other programs; for example, they have nine airline partners, but three of them overlap (Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia), so really I only view them as having seven partners

Where I’m seeing value transferring points:

  • Korean Air SkyPass has long been a unique frequent flyer program with plenty of award availability, good award prices, the ability to do stopovers on one-way awards, and more; while it’s still hugely valuable, the program isn’t what it once was, as they have a lot less award availability than in the past
  • United MileagePlus isn’t exactly a world class frequent flyer program, but there are many situations where transferring points there is the best option
  • World of Hyatt is probably where I see the most value nowadays, and I’d argue the value in transferring Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt has increased lately, given that award nights now count towards status

Transfer Chase points to Hyatt for stays at some great hotels

Where I’m seeing less value transferring points:

  • Given the 1:1 transfer ratio, IHG and Marriott aren’t valuable transfer partners since their points aren’t worth as much

Earn Chase points with the following cards:

Citi ThankYou Rewards

Here are the Citi ThankYou transfer partners:

AirlinesHotels
Air France/KLM Flying BlueN/A
Avianca Lifemiles
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
Etihad Guest
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
Jet Airways JetPrivilege
JetBlue TrueBlue
Malaysia Airlines Enrich
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Qatar Airways Privilege Club
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
Turkish Airways Miles & Smiles
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Things I love:

  • Citi has added more transfer partners than any of the other programs in the past year
  • Citi doesn’t charge fees for transferring points to any of their partners
  • 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:

  • Citi is the only one of the three programs that doesn’t partner with one of the “big three” US airlines; while Citi issues co-brand American Airlines credit cards, you can’t actually convert ThankYou points into American miles

Where I’m seeing value transferring 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 has great values for redeeming on Star Alliance carriers; while they don’t always have access to all Star Alliance award space, more often than not I find a lot of value with this program
  • While Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is far from my favorite program, it is the best value program for booking longhaul Cathay Pacific first class awards of any of the partners of the three transfer programs
  • Etihad Guest has some great niche redemptions, and we’ve seen some transfer bonuses in the past
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer is a surprisingly useful program, especially for redemptions on some non-alliance airlines; for example, the best way to book EL AL awards is through Qantas, and they also partner with some airlines that really interest me, like Air Niugini
  • Singapore KrisFlyer continues to be a great program for premium cabin redemptions on Singapore Airlines, and all three programs partner with them; there are never transfer bonuses from any of the program, so transferring from any of the three programs is roughly comparable
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has some phenomenal niche redemptions, especially in conjunction with a transfer bonus


Transfer Citi points to LifeMiles for travel in Lufthansa first class

Where I’m seeing less value transferring points:

  • A lot of Citi’s partners programs are those belonging to great airlines, but where the award redemption value is really limited, like EVA Air Infinity MileageLands, Jet Airways JetPrivilege, Qatar Privilege Club, and more

Bottom line

If you’re trying to maximize the points you earn through credit card spend, 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.

People often disagree about which transferable points currency is most valuable, and I totally get why. We all have different redemption goals. Personally I’ve gotten to the point where I value Amex, Chase, and Citi points roughly equally.

They won’t be worth the same to everyone, but I’d have a hard time saying that one is “absolutely” more valuable than the others.

For example, many consider Chase Ultimate Rewards points to be the most valuable, though the issue is that they never have transfer bonuses, and that can significantly alter the value of those points.

How do you view the relative value of the three transferable points currencies?

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Comments

  1. I came across a 14 year old Diners Club statement last week. Brought back memories, that was the best transferrable points program of the early 00’s. That was my favorite card until Bank of Montreal bought it.

  2. @Lucky

    Why didn’t you mention SPG/Marriott as a transferrable currency? Last I knew the new Marriott would allow points transfers a la Starwood…

  3. You forgot SPG–now Marriott. Marriott is keeping the SPG airline transfer program with its new loyalty program beginning on August 18. Those Marriott points will be transferrable to even more airlines than Amex MR, and with the same SPG 25% bonus (60K Marriott points will be converted into 75K airline miles for over 35 airlines).

    Marriott’s points convert to United AND possibly American if the new program includes SPG’s American transfers. Marriott also could be the only way to transfer into Lufthansa if the new program similarly includes SPG’s Lufthansa transfers.

    I originally chose SPG as my hotel loyalty program because of the availability of so many airline partners–in addition to the uses of points towards excellent hotels. Now the new Marriott loyalty program may have even more airline partners.

  4. @ Tav @ Bill — I intentionally left out SPG. While the transfer ratio is the same, the value isn’t there anymore from the perspective of someone earning points through credit card spend. That’s because points earning rates on the SPG Amex have been slashed by a third. So while that’s useful for hotel stays, I don’t view it as a readily available transferable points currency that’s easy to accrue anymore.

  5. I still get a TON of value from transferring Chase to United Mileage plus. More than any other airline, they usually have availability, either through them or through their partners, on international itineraries, when I need them. This summer I went to Spain in late May and from when I first started looking in January through when I left (and even when I was gone) there were always a few good redemption options through UA Mileage Plus, and I had earned all those miles through Chase Sapphire. AA never had any availablity for the dates at Saver levels (UA always had multiple options, in different cabins, on them and their partners), and Delta is something I avoid. So for me, I understand what you’re saying, but Chase Sapphire remains my top choice.

  6. ps – this is the content I come to this site for, not debates about airline employee hairstyles.

  7. It’s important to note that transferring points to someone else with Citi carries the requirement that the points be redeemed in X amount of time. I don’t recall exactly right now but there is a time limit. With Chase, you can transfer them and keep them there. We tend to pool all of our Chase points in one account in our household whereas we have to be a bit more strategic with Citi.

  8. Obviously, as you said, points are worth something different to everyone based on how they’re used. Given how often and cheaply avianca sells life miles I’m not sure why you’d use citi points for that, but if you were short on cash I can see it. I find it tough to argue that KE isn’t the most valuable of any redemption given their price structure, although airlines are definitely getting pickier about releasing space to partners so it’s often worth paying more points to get the flight you want.

  9. This was actually really helpful by being kind of unhelpful. I started as a Chase partisan, then got the Prestige card for 4th Night Free so now I’m sitting on a small cache of TY points, and this year I started playing with AMEX and it’s all culminated in (1) a first class amazing trip to East Asia with my girlfriend next March and (2) way more cards than I want to have. I was hoping to pare that all down to avoid diluting my point balances since I’m not THAT big of a spender, and my system has gotten more complicated than I’d like, but each point network has its own perks and weaknesses that make it hard to walk away from. So my thinking right now is Citi for 4th Night Free and that’s it (I still get about $2k in value every year from that), AMEX for AMEX Offers, and Chase for everything else. I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on this breakdown.

  10. Most transferable points are most valuable as a top up option. In most other cases their value is less.

    If you are accumulating UR points to ONLY/PRIMARILY use as united miles, you should value them as united miles. This is what DCS raves about for SPG.

  11. @Stephen – I understand your need to prioritize. I, too, went a bit overboard in the past 3 years by getting a lot of sign up bonuses across the three currencies. I’m at the one year mark for my Chase Premier card and will probably cancel it – I got it for the 50k bonus they had last year and used those points. I’m mostly focusing on the Chase trifecta at this point (reserve, freedom unlimited and Freedom). This covers all my main spend areas, and the redemption opportunities in the DC area where I live are really conducive to Chase partners (United, Korean, BA, etc). I’m also keeping my Amex Platinum for certain airfare purchases. But everything else will be on Chase. I simply dont have enough spend to really effectively use all 3 programs, so I have to prioritize. For where I live and what I value, it’s Chase and Amex to a lesser degree.

  12. “Chase lets you transfer points to a member of your household, even if they’re not an authorized user on any of your cards”

    Am I missing something? I get this message when I log into the Chase UR transfer points portal:

    “You may only transfer points to yourself, or one additional household member who is listed as an authorized user on your card account.”

  13. To those who mentioned Marriott, I would say it’s interesting, but not from a credit-card perspective, as a transferrable currency. With a 60,000:25,000 transfer ratio to more airlines than anywhere else, the redemption is pretty unique. However, from an earnings perspective, it can be a good deal as a MR elite getting points from hotel stays. When earning via credit card spend, the best you can do for nonbonus spend is 2x, which is really only 0.83x when transferred. It makes no sense to put $30,000 of spend on a card to earn 60,000 points to transfer it to an airline partner for 25,000 miles when you could have gotten 30,000 points with a 1x card–still a terrible earning rate! With CFU, you could have gotten 45,000 UR points, and with Amex BBP, you could have gotten 60,000 MR points.

  14. @EZB I must disagree. But I understand your resistance. If I put $30,000 unbonused credit card spend on a Marrriott card, I’d only get 25,000 miles rather than 30,000 miles with other credit cards.

    However, Marriott is the only source for American miles (other than an AA card which puts you at risk of any AA devaluation) and Lufthansa miles (other than the LH card by Barclays). Since I often use awards on both AA and LH (not to mention other Miles and More options like Swiss and Austrian), there still is considerable value TO ME (and anyone else using AA or LH awards) for Marriott points even with the slight loss.

    Yes, SPG was better. In fact, it was the best—better by a wide margin over Amex and Chase. Marriott is a 1/3 loss of that for credit card spend. But it isn’t the complete loss for those who want to book award on AA and LH, two of the prominent airlines that are not partners with Amex, Chase, or Citi. (I keep waiting for Citi ThankYou or Chase UR to add Miles and More, but it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to happen.)

    I’m not saying Marriott credit card spend is the best way to go for everyone. But for Marriott elites or those who like AA or LH awards, it’s a no-brainer to have some Marriott points, too.

  15. @Bill, I get where you are coming from. For Marriott elites, there is potential to amass a lot of Marriott points and get some good value. However, if you don’t take into account combining points with your hotel-earned points, you can still probably do better overall redeeming UR points at a much higher rate–even with AA or LH! Let’s ignore bonus categories and say you earn 45,000 UR points on $30,000 spend. You can still redeem that for $675 of airfare on AA or LH via the Chase travel portal with the CSR (and still earn miles on the airfare). Getting that $675 of value from a Marriott transfer means getting 2.7 cents per mile from AA or LH, which is way higher than their value (though not impossible to do on a case-by-case basis)! That means it is MUCH easier (in fact, it’s a guarantee) that you can get $675 in value from that $30,000 in spend with CFU on ANY airline, including AA. It’s quite hard to get that same value from $30,000 in Marriott credit card spend.

    In other words, If you ignore what you can earn from Marriott in hotel stays and just take credit card spend into account, there is not much earning potential from Marriott points from credit cards.

  16. Citi TYP expire 60 days after you close the CC from which they came.

    This means you have to either be organized and also ready to transfer in a year, or pay the annual fee.

    Amex & Chase, OTOH, allow you to keep your transferrable points alive as long as you hold one or another of their premium cards.

    With the Amex No Annual Fee Everyday, your MRs stay alive and transferable for as long as you want with no fees.

    With Chase, provided you or your SO can open least one of their premium UR cards at least once a year, you can also make your URs immortal. Even if all your premium chase UR cards are closed, your URs simply become non-transferable until next you have a premium card, whereupon they become transferable once again.

    Since I prefer to decide for myself when I am going to use the transferable points, the ones that I can keep alive fee-free are worth considerably more to me than the TYP, which I can’t.

  17. @Debit…you’re missing the point. Someone may primarily use a transferable currency with one partner, but much of their value lies in the option of using the best partner for a particular time and/or destination. So instead of tying yourself to (usually poor) unbonused options in CC spend on some particular hotel or airline card, which you then are locked into redeeming with that brand, you often get better earning value on transferable currency cards with equal or better redemption options.

  18. For those who use points to purchase revenue airfare, US Bank Flexpoints is worth consideration. They offer Real Time Rewards redemption, which means you use your US Bank credit card to purchase airfare directly from any airline. You then receive a text message from US Bank offering to redeem points at 1.5 cents each for a statement credit offsetting the airfare. This is far more convenient than having to go through the Chase or Citi portal (or, even worse, call the redemption center) to purchase the airfare.

    Real Time Rewards is also available to reimburse hotel stays, though I am not familiar with the specifics.

    The US Bank Altitude card offers 3x on travel and mobile purchases, so you can effectively get 4.5% back on your airfare/hotel purchases.

    What US Bank does not offer is transfers to airline or hotel partners.

  19. Since award availability is nowhere what it was 15-20 years ago, it’s all about flexibility and liquidity now. People can argue until they are blue in the face about whether a specific points currency is worth $0.015/mile or $0.019/mile, but it is hard to put a value on the flexibility of maintaining a balance of 100,000 to 500,000 in all four accounts (Amex, Citi, Chase, SPG), it is as close as I can realistically get to being able to get the points I need for any ticket any time.

    Another factor that favors a broad strategy is the relatively low price of paid premium fares now, which were far more rare 15-20 years ago. I buy more J and F tickets than ever before, and I want to use the points when cheap J or F is not available, having 100K+ in each of the flexible points currencies makes that a lot easier.

  20. I am sorry but a statement like the one below has so little basis in reality it simultaneously elicits laughter and bewilderment:

    “United MileagePlus isn’t exactly a world class frequent flyer program, but there are many situations where transferring points there is the best option”

    Huh? Did you to write “world-classes airline” rather than “world-class FF program”?

    I am not exactly sure what criteria travel bloggers have established for deciding what constitutes a “world-class” FF program, but there is very little doubt in my mind that what elicited such a statement is confusion and conflation of United, the airline company that everyone loves to hate, with United MileagePlus, which is perhaps the only bright spot for an otherwise under-performing company that’s been marred by one misstep after another. I ought to know the difference because I’ve flown almost exclusively with UA to the tune of more the 1M BIS miles, all the while patronizing its loyalty program. I can categorically say that despite UA’s many problems, one aspect of its operation that it has not managed to screw up is its loyalty program, really.

    Year after year, MileagePlus has enabled me to fulfill my one true fantasy and passion, which is to travel to exotic and enthralling places, some with strange sounding names, while spending only a fraction of what it would cost me in hard currency. I am, of course, referring to my annual Year-end Asian Escapades(tm), which have given me almost limitless situations in which transferring UR points to UA miles was not just the “best option”, but the only option that made sense. This weekend, I finished drawing up and completely booking award tickets for every segment of the itinerary for the 2018 edition of my annual Year-end Asian Escapade, using a combination of UA miles and UR points. Although the itinerary ended up being, after grouping, a complex and 7-destination award travel, it all went so smoothly it was a thrilling experience…like it’s been every year since 2011! UA MileagePlus is a perfect fit as a Chase UR transfer partner and I will alert you when I begin reporting on what I have been able to accomplish wish the combination of the two points currencies for my 2018 Escapade.

    In my book, even after switching to the revenue system, UA MP has remained highly rewarding, as opposed to DL Skymiles and AAdvantage, which have been on a race to bottom and may already have gotten there.

    So, if UA is not considered a “world-class” FF program [as opposed to “world-class airline”, which it’s not], inquiring minds wanna know which FF programs you have anointed with that designation.

    We’ll be waiting with bate breath… 🙂

  21. Clicking through your links I read the article about RAM. Can I book RAM with EY miles and do JFK to Cairo for 44k each way in J? Been looking for a good way to use miles to Egypt.

  22. @ Stephen. I am kind of thinking like you are in that I want to get the Citi Prestige for the 4th night free option and also the CSR card. Have the JetBlue credit card for a great bonus last year and to have a good east coast airline as they fly from Savannah to Boston and JFK and getting the Alaska Airline card for travel to west coast and Hawaii and will use the Citi and Chase cards for transfer to other airlines as needed. My question is what would be the best AMEX card to have?

  23. Lucky, as an Amex and Chase point accumulator newish to it all, how do I know when either card is having a transfer promotion?

  24. Many of the Citi transfer partners overlap with Amex or Chase. Not to mention the transfer times with Citi are not as good as with Amex or Chase. I really don’t see much value in Citi, at least enough to justify paying an annual fee for one of their cards.

  25. “The airline company that everyone loves to hate”. Surely some mistake that it isn’t Bristish Airways? 🙂

  26. Take a poll and ask which points currency you would prefer if you could win a million points. I’d wager UR would win.

  27. That Citi offers ZERO hotel transfer partners makes their entire “travel” program a non-starter for me.

    Chase offers the best balance of all features among the 4 programs.

  28. Thank you for highlighting the fact (which pretty much no other writer ever does) that Amex passes on a tax on points transfers to airlines–essentially charging the customer a fee to transfer points. This is on top of a high-end card that costs $100 more per year than Chase and Citi’s. More nickel and diming from Amex

  29. DCS is as usual unaware of many things, superiority of UA MP being one of them (and just reflects someone with myopic tendencies). MP is great for GS, but they have decimated upgrade space for any Premier levels below that, and GS just plays by a different set of rules (pre-merger, they existed nicely next to each other).

    MP also now enforces married segment logic, which has ruined a lot of the benefit of Star Alliance awards. No longer can you book by multi-city for the same amount of miles if “the computer doesn’t show it”.

    The spread between cheapest fare and W continues to grow (often approaching $1,000 each way on many routes), diminishing the benefit of GPUs.

    First class awards are now exorbitantly priced (esp. for *A carriers, the only one you want to use them on) vs. the more reasonable upcharge vs. business they used to be.

    Upgrades are sold out from elites for tens of dollars to Kettles.

    Is it a bad program? No. Is it world class? No longer.

  30. @UA-NYC – You cannot speak about these things in the vacuum. Programs do change. Loyalty programs of today are not your grand father’s because things evolve with changing times. The question you must ask yourself is: are you adapting and is the competition offering better options on what United has supposedly taken away?

    Answer those questions for yourself and then get back to me, with the pledge to dump UA and join DL or AA because they offer better. While at it, could you name me what you consider a “world-class” FF program, or in general, a FF program that you would rank ahead of UA?

    FYI – I ain’t no GS but my upgrade success rate has not been “decimated”, as I still clear about as many as I always have. What has happened more recently (the last couple of years) is that I have been booking premium cabin tickets outright because there have been so many good deals out there. But, whenever I have put down a GPU, it’s cleared with about the same frequency as before. I do not bother using RPUs, as rely on automatic elite complimentary upgrades and I have been clearing those with about the same frequency as well. Lastly, the claim that “Star Alliance awards have been ruined” is just laughable and will not pass muster after I reveal the very complex itinerary for my 4-week 2018 Year-end Escapade, which I booked exclusively on *A partners and it was smooth and effortless, even fun to do. Heck, just check out my 2017 Escapade itinerary which was just as complex and for which I recently provided a link!

    I am sorry UA is not doing it for you as before, but I am not surprised coming from someone who was went gaga over SPG, the most expensive loyalty program ever invented that was thus counter to the whole concept of playing the game in order to be able cut leisure travel costs…

    “Is it a bad program? No. Is it world class? No longer.”

    Glad we at least agree that it’s not a bad program, but I will be awaiting the results of your introspection and what you consider to be a “world-class” FF program with bated breath 🙂

  31. @Lucky thank you for some sanity in the analysis of the values. These three are roughly equivalent in value. I find the valuation of Chase points at a point significantly higher than the other two, by another site, to be someone suspicious. Especially since they seem to really push the brand. The arguement made by some that Chase points are transferable to UA and therefore more convenient and valuable is a colander of an argument. Especially when you can purchase lifemiles at 1.3 cents and get even better value, albeit with some extra work sometimes, than UA miles.

  32. Ben

    One of the things I love about my SPG card is the ZERO $ activation fee AMX gift cards, I use them to pay my house sitter, my yard guy and my cleaning lady, do you still recommend SGP for the AMEX gift cards, do you still recommend SPG for this kind of points earning?

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