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2018 could be considered as the year Capital One joined the big leagues, as I’d argue that no card issuer did more to add value to its rewards program. It started the year by adding a 10x bonus on hotel stays booked and paid for at Hotels.com/venture using the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, but the real fireworks came late in the year, when the issuer turned the Venture and Capital Spark Miles for Business cards from simple fixed-value cards into high-powered transferable point ones.
One of the most important elements of transferable points is the flexibility they offer to redeem for routings on different airlines and different alliances. In many cases, you even have the choice of multiple programs in a single alliance. Today we’ll continue our analysis of the newly transferable Capital One miles by looking at the best ways to redeem for flights on SkyTeam airlines.
Earning Capital One Miles
The best way to quickly rack up a large amount of Capital One miles is by signing up for a new credit card like the Venture card or the Spark Miles card. New applicants can earn the following welcome bonuses:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Capital One Spark Miles for Business: Earn 50,000 miles once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Both cards also earn 2x miles on all purchases, making them a great candidate for everyday spending. And as noted above, the Venture Rewards card earns 10x miles on hotel stays when you book through hotels.com/venture and pay with your Venture card. That’s like getting a 20% return when you factor in the Hotels.com Rewards program.
Creating a new transferable points currency isn’t easy, but Capital One was up to the challenge. The issuer retained the well-regarded “Purchase Eraser” option, allowing you to redeem your miles at a fixed rate of one cent each for travel purchases. However, the addition of airline transfer partners boosted the value of Capital One miles significantly. The team here at TPG held a lively debate over exactly how much this boost should be, and TPG eventually settled on a valuation of 1.4 cents each, thanks (in large part) to some of the transfer partners we’ll cover below.
Two final notes before getting into the best options for SkyTeam award flights. First, note that Capital One miles transfer to all of the below programs at a 2:1.5 rate, so be sure to factor in that ratio when figuring out how many miles to transfer. Second, be sure you check out our guide to Capital One transfer times so you know how long it’ll likely take for the miles to post to your frequent flyer account.
Air France / KLM Flying Blue
It’s not unusual for the US legacy carriers to copy each other when it comes to loyalty program
changes devaluations, but it was still sad to see Flying Blue follow Delta and remove its fixed award chart in place of the infamous “variable pricing” model. This has led to a wide range of prices across dates and created some comical, illogical award tickets. Despite an online calculator that shows the minimum number of miles you need, it’s become hard to speak in general terms about redeeming Flying Blue miles.
For a one-way business class award between Los Angeles (LAX) and Paris (CDG) this May, Flying Blue wants anywhere from 120,500 miles to a whopping 312,500 miles. Never mind the fact that 120,000 miles will get you a round-trip business class ticket to Europe on most other airlines. Having prices that can fluctuate by almost 3x in a single week is a little alarming.
Economy awards are prone to the same multi-fold price fluctuations, but you can rest assured that at least the baseline price is lower.
Despite all of this, there are still some solid award options in the program. TPG Editor Nick Ewen recently redeemed just 53,000 miles plus ~$235 per person for three (3) one-way business class tickets for him and his family from Miami (MIA) to Venice (VCE). There’s also the one remaining consistent way to extract value from your Flying Blue miles: the program’s monthly “Promo Awards,” discounting flights between Europe and certain cities by a fixed percent. The discount used to be a fixed number of miles, though variable pricing has changed the discount to a percentage off the normal price on that date.
Here are the current discounts for flights to/from North America:
|City (Airport)||% Discount||Eligible Cabins|
|Montreal (YUL)||50%||Economy, Business|
|Seattle (SEA)||25%||Economy, Business|
Award space on these discounted routes tends to go pretty quickly, but you can still find a few good deals available even this late in the month. A one-way business class flight from Montreal to Paris for only 26,500 miles is an absolute steal, and it might even be worth taking a short positioning flight to Canada to grab this deal.
Just be award that Air France does impose fuel surcharges on the majority of its award tickets. For a simple round-trip ticket to Europe, this can add a few hundred dollars to your redemption, though you may be able to find some carriers with lower out-of-pocket costs.
Aeromexico Club Premier
Aeromexico’s Club Premier loyalty program uses a relatively inflated points currency. Other programs that partner with it, like American Express Membership Rewards, compensate for this fact by increasing the transfer ratio (Amex points transfer to Club Premier at a 1:1.6 ratio). With Capital One, the transfer ratio is the same 2:1.5 as it is for most of the other airline partners, meaning you’re likely to lose a good amount of value here.
For example, round-trip flights from the US to Mexico on Aeromexico cost 56,000 premier points during low season. While you’d only need to transfer 35,000 Membership Rewards points to book this ticket, you’d have to transfer 75,000 Capital One miles for the same seats.
The same problem applies to the SkyTeam award chart, with round-trip award prices for flights departing the US shown below. A round-trip economy ticket to Europe costs 96,000 Premier Points in low season, which would mean transferring 60,000 Membership Rewards points. If you wanted to redeem Capital One miles, it would instead cost you a full 128,000.
Despite this relatively unappealing award chart, there is one massively overlooked area where Club Premier excels: A SkyTeam Round-The-World pass. Of all the airlines that still offer round-the-world (RTW) award tickets, this is one of the most valuable and least restrictive options.
Let’s start with the basics: economy awards cost 224,000 points, and business class awards cost 352,000. That means you’d need to transfer 299,000 or 470,000 Capital One miles (respectively) for each class of service. In exchange for that, you can book anywhere from three to 15 stopovers as long as you adhere to the following rules:
- Valid only for travel on SkyTeam airlines.
- Travel must continue in the same direction, east or west (although there are some reports that Aeromexico is flexible on this if you’re backtracking to connect through a SkyTeam hub city).
- Travel must begin and end in the same country.
- You can have a minimum of three or a maximum of 15 stopovers, with no more than five per continent. A stopover is defined as any city where you remain for 24 hours before continuing your travel.
- All flights must be booked in the same class of service.
- Pass is valid for one year from the date of issue.
And that’s it! Other than those short and manageable rules, the only real constraint here is your imagination. As long as you plan your trip so every flight segment is either departing from or arriving into a SkyTeam hub city, you should have plenty of options. Here’s one possibility for a seven-stop routing, but you could literally double the number of flights you get out of this pass.
Alitalia Mille Miglia
There are plenty of reasons to be wary about using Alitalia, including the carrier’s troubled financial situation and the fact that its published award chart is simply wrong. Keep in mind too that only round-trip awards are allowed with SkyTeam partners, and for a single partner award, it should cost 80,000 miles each way (160,000 miles round-trip) for a business class flight between the US and Europe.
However, when I went to make a dummy booking from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR) on a nonstop Delta flight in both directions, I was quoted 200,000 miles and over $250 in taxes:
Alitalia also wasn’t able to see as much Delta award availability as some other partners (like Virgin Atlantic Flying Club), so if you plan on going this route, make sure you confirm the award space directly with Alitalia before initiating your transfer. Otherwise, you might get stuck with miles in a program that makes it challenging to find a good value redemption.
Fixed Value Redemptions
In the midst of all this excitement about new transfer partners, don’t forget what made the Venture Rewards card so appealing in the first place. The 2x earning rate combined with the ability to redeem points to “erase” travel purchases at a rate of 1 cent per mile make it relatively easy to get a good redemption value with little work. In the airline’s eye, you’ve purchased a revenue flight, so you should earn miles and credit towards elite status on these tickets as well. Fixed-value redemptions typically don’t work as well for premium cabin tickets due to their high cost, but if you’re looking to travel in economy, don’t just jump to transferring your points. We’ve seen a slew of deals and fare sales in recent weeks, so if the revenue rate is low, you may very well come out ahead using the purchase eraser redemption instead of transferring.
No matter what points you’re trying to spend, it’s become harder to find a good value SkyTeam redemption, as multiple airlines have devalued award charts and/or switched to variable pricing. Still, Capital One miles give you the chance to take advantage of monthly discounted awards with Flying Blue or utilize a cheap and easy round-the-world pass with Aeromexico.
And if you don’t want to even mess with transferring, it’s easy to simply pick the cash ticket you want and apply your points towards the cost. It’s that incredible flexibility that makes Capital One miles, and really all transferable points, so valuable.
Featured photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
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TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
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