Comparing the best fixed-value point credit cards
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new card information. It was originally published on Jan. 28, 2019.
Earning and redeeming points from travel rewards credit cards can be a challenging endeavor. Whether it’s remembering which one offers the best earning rates at certain merchants or figuring out which transfer partner offers the best redemption rate, there’s the potential for lots of complexity. Many of my friends and family members prefer simpler products, especially ones with points that can be redeemed for travel at a fixed value however they wish.
For those who want to keep things simple, I want to compare the most popular and rewarding credit cards in this category.
Before getting into the analysis, a few notes about how I selected the below cards. This post focuses on cards for which the best redemption isn’t cash back — after all, why not take the cash back when that’s the best redemption? As a result, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card and Discover it Miles are excluded. Likewise, the Citi® Double Cash Card and other cash-back cards are excluded since the only redemption option is cash back. This post instead considers the best credit cards with points that can be redeemed for a fixed value toward travel. But, cash is great, so here’s an article on the best cash-back cards.
Best fixed-value point credit cards for 2020
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for everyday purchases
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for travel and dining expenses
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business: Best business card
- U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card: Best for mobile purchases
Comparison of the best fixed-value point credit cards
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Earn 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening||$95|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.||$550|
|Capital One Spark Miles for Business||50,000 bonus miles after spending $4,500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.||$95, waived the first year.|
|U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card||50,000 points after spending $4,500 in the first 90 days from opening the card.||$400|
The information for the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve 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.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Bonus value: $600 in travel.
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase.
Annual fee: $95
Our take: Redeeming Capital One miles for a fixed value toward travel charges couldn’t be easier; just make a purchase and you have 90 days to use miles (at a rate of one cent each) to erase the eligible travel charge. The Capital One Venture card has a low annual fee and earns double miles for purchases that fall outside of the bonus categories you find on other cards, so it’s a great choice for those purchases.
It’s really hard to go wrong with this card and it even comes with up to $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. And if you want to get even more value for your miles, you can transfer them to Capital One’s airline partners. But, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple and using the miles to just erase the travel charges you charge.
Apply for the Capital One Venture card here.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Bonus value: $750 in travel book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Rewards rate: Earn 3x points on travel and dining; 10x points on Lyft rides and 1x points on everything else.
Annual fee: $550
Our take: With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, when you book travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal your Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents each. The best part is that you can pool the points you earn with other Chase credit cards, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, onto the Sapphire Reserve and they’ll instantly be worth more when you redeem via this manner. This ability makes the Reserve card essential if you prefer to redeem Chase points for a fixed-value.
The $550 annual fee might put some people off, but every year the card comes with a $300 travel credit, which effectively brings the annual fee down to a more reasonable $250. It also comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, getting the cardholder and up to two guest unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge access and it has excellent travel protections, like trip delay reimbursement, car rental insurance and baggage delay coverage. And Chase has added perks with DoorDash and Lyft to the card. While the points can transfer to hotel and airline partners, you can also just ignore that functionality and use them to book travel via the Chase site that is powered by Expedia.
Apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve here.
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $4,500 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
Bonus value: $700 in travel.
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase.
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year.
Our take: You won’t find a better business credit card bonus offer, especially when you consider that the card has a reasonable annual fee that is waived the first year.
You can redeem the miles you earn with Capital One Spark Miles card in the same way that you do with the Venture card, just make an eligible travel purchase and erase the charge at a rate of one cent per mile. Spark miles also transfer to the same airline partners and this card comes with a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit.
Apply for the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business here.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 points after spending $4,500 in the first 90 days from opening the card.
Bonus value: $750 in travel.
Rewards rate: Earn 3x points on travel and mobile wallet purchases; 1x points on all other purchases.
Annual fee: $400
Our take: You can redeem the points you earn with the Altitude Reserve card for airfare, hotel stays and car rentals at 1.5 cents per point when you book them through the U.S. Bank travel site. Or, you can redeem them instantly for eligible travel purchases with U.S. Bank’s Real-Time Rewards. Real Time Rewards is a great feature, the way it works is once you enroll and make an eligible purchase you’ll get a text asking if you want to redeem points for the purchase. Simply, respond with yes or no and you’re good to go. But with the Altitude Reserve, you aren’t able to go back and erase eligible purchases after the fact in the same way that you can with Venture and Spark Miles cards. That means you need to have the points in your account before you can use them.
This card also has an easy-to-use $325 in annual travel credits, which apply to a wide range of purchases including rental cars, airfare, hotels, taxis, trains and cruise lines. You’ll also get a Priority Pass Select membership with four free visits for the cardholder and one guest per year. This is also one of the few cards with an inflight Wi-Fi benefit — you’ll get 12 complimentary Gogo inflight Wi-Fi passes per year. It also comes with a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit.
Fixed-value points versus flexible points
Although this post is focused on fixed-value point credit cards, you can transfer the rewards you earn to travel partners with three of the four cards on the list. Generally, you can get a lot more value from transferable currencies by transferring your points to make a high-value redemption such as flying in a lie-flat seat to Europe from 50,000 points. But, it’s certainly less complicated to redeem points at a fixed value.
Plus, if you redeem your points toward airfare at a fixed value, you’ll still earn airline miles since your booking will be treated as a revenue ticket in the eyes of the airline. This can really help if you are chasing airline elite status.
Whether or not you transfer your points generally comes down to convenience versus value. The only credit card reward that is easier to use than fixed-value travel points is cash back. As long as you are making a qualifying travel purchase you’re good to go, although there are some gray areas. For example, Airbnb counts as a travel purchase with most cards, but vacation rentals like VBRO typically don’t always, though they might.
There are even instances where you can book flights or hotels using fewer fixed value points compared to transferring points. This is especially true with cheaper flights and hotel stays. For example, take a look at how many IHG points you’d need to book these L.A. hotels if you transferred Chase points to IHG at a 1:1 rate.
Related Reading: How to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for maximum value
Now look at how many Chase points you need to use if you booked the exact same hotel, on the exact same night through the Chase travel portal with the Sapphire Reserve.
By using Chase points as a fixed-value reward you end up saving 50% of your points per night. But if you’re booking expensive flights, especially business and first-class tickets, having the option to transfer points can be a game changer. For example, Lufthansa business class flights between the U.S. and Germany can regularly run $3,000 – $5,000 per round-trip ticket. But you can book the same flight with only 126,000 Avianca LifeMiles and Capital One miles transfer to Avianca at a 2:1.5 ratio. So you could book this business-class trip using only 168,000 Capital One miles if you transfer them to Avianca. But if you redeemed your miles at a fixed-value you’d need 300,000 – 500,000 miles for the exact same ticket!
What about Amex Membership Rewards points?
Just like with Chase points and Capital One miles, Membership Rewards points are transferrable points you can redeem for a fixed-value, but with more restrictions. You can apply 5,000 Membership Rewards points or more to pay the full or partial amount of airfare booked through Amex Travel at a value of one cent per point. You can also use your points to book prepaid hotels, vacations, or cruises through Amex Travel, but you’ll only get a value of 0.75-0.85 cents per point for these types of bookings.
Related reading: Everything you need to know about how to use Amex Pay With Points.
However, if you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express you’ll receive 35% of your redeemed points back (up to 500,000 points per calendar year) for all business and first-class bookings or any class of service with your selected airline when paying with points. The American Express® Business Gold Card has a similar feature, but the points rebate is only 25% (up to 250,000 points back per calendar year) Terms apply. So as you can see, redeeming Amex points for a fixed value isn’t quite as easy as with some other types of points and miles. Terms apply.
Diversifying your points and miles is a critical strategy in this hobby, and fixed-value credit cards represent a great way to do just that. Fixed-value points have compelling uses, but you may find that a transferrable rewards card that also allows you to get decent value when you book through its travel center is a better value, especially if you may want to transfer points periodically to top off loyalty account balances for redemptions.
Additional reporting by Katie Genter and Jason Stauffer.
Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy
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