A guide to earning transferable points and why they’re so valuable

Apr 21, 2020

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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and

rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route networks. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.

This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

Transferable points have quickly gained traction as the most valuable type of currency to earn in the points and miles world. This is entirely due to their versatility. Chase, American Express, Capital One and Citi all offer rewards credit cards with points that you can transfer to a wide variety of flight and hotel partners.

This can be especially valuable when you need to make last-minute travel arrangements, as we’ve seen in several instances during the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. Instead of being limited to a single airline or one hotel program, you can leverage your points to book the best option available.

READ MORE: Stay up to date on the outbreak by visiting our dedicated coronavirus hub and signing up for our daily newsletter

Here is a guide on which cards earn transferable points, when you should transfer points, and which airlines and hotels partner with each program.

In This Post

Why are transferable points so valuable?

In short, transferable point currencies offer flexibility when it comes time to use your rewards to book travel. If you have a large stash of American AAdvantage miles, you’re limited to award flights on American and its partners. However, if you have a big balance of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you have many more options:

You could also transfer points to the World of Hyatt for luxurious hotel stays or even use your points to cover tours and activities on your trip.

When should you transfer points?

There are a seemingly infinite amount of ways to use your points — from flights, hotels, gift cards, merchandise and more. It can be quite complex. While you shouldn’t think of your loyalty program account balances as long-term investments, you should ensure that you spend your points just like hard-earned money: with strategy and efficiency. This is when it becomes critical to determine when you should transfer points to partners versus redeem them in other ways.

When you want to redeem your transferable points on flights, there are a couple of different ways to go about it. You can purchase them through the travel site specific to the bank (like the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or Amex Travel), or you can transfer your points to a frequent flyer program and book flights based on that program’s award rates. While your end goal is the same — book a flight using your points — the costs can vary widely.

If you need to book a last-minute flight due to a family emergency — or a sudden change in travel restrictions — transferring your points can make for a fantastic redemption.

Ignoring the current travel restrictions and significant flight reductions due to coronavirus, let’s say that you were in the New York area for work and suddenly needed to get back home to your family in San Francisco. Cross-country flights, especially ones at the last minute, are quite expensive — as in over $450 each way.

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you can use your Ultimate Rewards points directly for travel at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece toward travel, so you could redeem 30,540 points for either one of those flights:

However, since these flights are available as saver-level award tickets with United, you could instead transfer just 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points to your United MileagePlus account to book the exact same itinerary:

The savings are even more significant if you only have American Express Membership Rewards points. Points earned from cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card are worth 1 cent each when redeemed directly for travel. For these flights, the cash price through Amex is the same as booking directly with United, for which you’d need to redeem 45,810 points. Terms apply:

While Amex points don’t transfer to United, they do transfer to Avianca LifeMiles, one of United’s Star Alliance partners — and Avianca would only require 13,500 miles to book these flights:

In either case, transferring points instead of using them directly results in a massive savings in the points you’d redeem — over 2x for Chase and over 3x for Amex.

Now, it’s worth noting that the above calculations do ignore the fact that you’d earn miles on this flight if you booked directly using points rather than transferring them. However, they wouldn’t come close to the value you’d save by transferring points from Chase or Amex to book this flight.

READ MORE: Amex Membership Rewards vs. Chase Ultimate Rewards

So what kind of points can you earn to eventually transfer to your favorite airline program? Let’s dive into the four most well-known credit card rewards currencies so you know exactly what your options are.

American Express Membership Rewards

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
The Amex Gold card is just one option for earning Membership Rewards points. (Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy.)

American Express Membership Rewards is a favorite transferable points currency, with a value of 2 cents per point according to TPG’s latest valuations. These points can get you some incredible awards. Here are the various partners to which you can transfer your points, all with ratios of 1:1 unless otherwise noted:

Amex also has three hotel programs as 1:1 transfer partners:

It’s also worth noting that American Express offers frequent transfer bonuses to these partners; the last 12 months alone have seen offers from Aeroplan, Avianca, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, so keep your eye on your account for these offers to pop up.

RELATED: Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards points for maximum value

With the large variety of options to use these points, it can be simple to maximize Membership Rewards for incredible travel, though you’d first need to earn them. Here are the most popular cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points:

While many of these have lucrative welcome offers, you could be targeted for an even higher bonus through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at any time). If you want to earn the maximum amount of points, consider the Amex Trifecta, and once you have one (or more) of these cards set up for online account management, don’t forget that the Amex Offers program can earn you thousands of additional bonus points.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

RELATED: Choosing the best American Express card for you

Finally, you can also use Rakuten to earn bonus points when you buy items online. This online shopping portal partners with thousands of retailers to award you bonus cash-back for your purchases. However, you can elect to earn Membership Rewards points instead. It’s even offering a promotion for new members through May 1, 2020. You can sign-up here and earn a one-time bonus of $30 — or 3,000 Membership Rewards points — by spending at least $30 at a participating merchant.

READ MORE: How to use Rakuten to earn cash-back or Amex points

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase doesn’t have as many cards or transfer partners as American Express, but Ultimate Rewards points are still quite valuable. While many travelers can’t open new Chase cards due to the issuer’s 5/24 rule, many feel that Ultimate Rewards is arguably the best transferable program out there. You can transfer these points to 10 airline partners, all at a 1:1 ratio:

  • Aer Lingus AerClub
  • Air France-KLM Flying Blue
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Iberia Plus
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • United Airlines MileagePlus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

You also have three hotel loyalty programs from which to choose:

RELATED: Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points for maximum value

Here are the cards that earn fully-transferable Ultimate Rewards points:

However, it’s worth noting that there are two additional personal cards (the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited) along with two small business cards (the Ink Business Cash Credit Card and Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card) that participate in the Ultimate Rewards program. (Chase Freedom is no longer open to new applicants.) However, in order to transfer points earned from those cards to partners, you must have one of the three “premium” cards linked above and then combine your Ultimate Rewards points into that account.

The information for the Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

RELATED: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase cards

Citi Thank You Rewards

Citi also has a transferable currency with its ThankYou Rewards program. While most of Citi’s transfer partners are international carriers, you can still get tremendous value from your points by leveraging alliances and partnerships. One TPG writer even believes it’s the most underappreciated flexible currency out there.

Here’s a list of the program’s airline transfer partners, all with a 1:1 transfer ratio.

  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • Air France-KLM Flying Blue
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Guest
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
  • Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Like Amex, Citi has offered transfer bonuses for a handful of the above programs, including Avianca and Virgin Atlantic. There are only two cards currently available to new applicants that allow these transfers:

Like Ultimate Rewards, you have the ability to combine your Citi ThankYou Rewards points into a single account, allowing you to effectively “convert” your fixed-value earnings from cards like the Citi Rewards+® Card or the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card into fully transferable ThankYou points. This was even extended to the Citi® Double Cash Card in late 2019.

The information for the Citi Rewards+ Student Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.          

RELATED: Redeeming Citi ThankYou points for maximum value

Capital One

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card jumped in value significantly with the 2018 addition of transfer partners.

The final program on this list got into the transferable points arena in late 2018. While Capital One cards had long been known for their simple, fixed-value award options, the issuer upped its game with the addition of over a dozen transfer partners to some of its most popular cards.

Here’s a list of the airlines that are currently available as transfer partners, with all transfers at a 2:1.5 ratio unless otherwise noted:

  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air France-KLM Flying Blue
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Emirates Skywards (2:1)
  • Etihad Guest
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Finnair Plus
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (2:1)

The issuer then added two hotel programs as new partners in early 2020:

  • Accor (2:1)
  • Wyndham Rewards (2:1.5)

Even though the transfer option has only been available for a short amount of time, we’ve already seen bonuses for transfers to Emirates, JetBlue and Flying Blue, which is hopefully a sign of Capital One’s commitment to offering even more value in its program in the future.

Here are the cards that currently earn transferable Capital One miles:

The information Capital One Spark Miles Select has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.          

RELATED: Best ways to maximize Capital One miles

If you’re sitting on a stash of Capital One miles, transferring them to airline partners can unlock some fantastic awards. For full details on these options, be sure to check out our guides on how to transfer Capital One miles and when it makes sense to transfer instead of redeeming at a fixed value.

Bottom line

Earning and burning points can prove to be a bit of effort, and that’s certainly the case with transferable point currencies from Amex, Chase, Citi and Capital One. However, making the shift from using your points directly for travel to transferring them to airline or hotel partners is one of the most important steps to take when you want to extend the value of your rewards. It also provides immense flexibility when you need to book something last minute, as you’re not locked into a single rewards program. Check out our best travel credit cards for more of our top choices of cards that offer transferable rewards.

It may take some time to do so, but when you are able to take trips on Singapore Airlines new A380 suite, or British Airways 777 first class, it makes all of the effort worth it!

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Jasmin Baron contributed to this post.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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