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After biding its time for many years and building a solid portfolio of fixed value and cash-back credit cards, Capital One took a big step forward at the end of 2018 by adding airline transfer partners to its popular lineup of cards under the Venture and Spark brands. While this was perhaps the biggest points and miles news of the year, in many ways it wasn’t all that revolutionary. All of the most valuable airlines Capital One partnered with were already transfer partners with other major programs such as Chase and Amex. The reason Capital One was able to gain such an edge was by combining transferable points and fixed value redemptions into a single low cost card.
Today we’ll go through some strategies for maximizing your return with Capital One miles.
Earning Capital One Miles
There are currently four cards that earn Capital One miles (rather than just cash-back). This include a primary personal and business card as well as no annual fee versions of each:
- Current bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
- Benefits: 2x miles on all purchases, 10x miles on hotel stays booked and paid for at Hotels.com/Venture, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application free credit (up to $100)
- Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)
- Current bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
- Benefits: 1.25x miles on all purchases, 10x miles on hotel stays booked and paid for at Hotels.com/Venture
- Annual fee: $0
- Current bonus: Earn a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
- Benefits: 2x miles on all purchases, free employee cards
- Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)
- Current bonus: Earn a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
- Benefits: 1.5x miles on all purchases, free employee cards
- Annual fee: $0
You have two broad options for redeeming your Capital One miles: for a fixed value or by transferring them to airline partners. While the latter of these two will usually get you a better value (at least on paper), it’s the ability to mix and match them to suit your personal travel needs that gives Capital One such a unique edge here.
Let’s take a closer look at these two redemption alternatives so you know when to use each one.
Fixed Value Rewards
Capital One provides a few different options for getting a fixed-value return when you redeem your miles. However, not all of these are created equally. You can check out Benji Stawski’s complete guide to How to Redeem Capital One Miles at a Fixed Value for full details, but here’s a quick summary:
- “Purchase Eraser” — You can use your miles to erase eligible travel purchases made in the last 90 days on your Venture or Spark card at a fixed rate of 1 cent each. There’s no minimum redemption amount, and you can redeem for things like airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental agencies, limousine services, bus lines, cruise lines, taxi cabs, travel agents and time shares.
- Book new travel — You can instead book new travel directly through Capital One and redeem your miles at the same value of 1 cent apiece, but this would prevent you from double-dipping with any rewards program offered by an online travel agency, nor will you be able to get 10x miles when you book and pay for a hotel stay at Hotels.com/Venture. Bear in mind too that booking hotels through a third-party site (like Capital One) would likely prevent you from earning points and enjoying applicable elite status perks. As a result, you’re likely better off booking travel directly and then using the Purchase Eraser option.
- Redeem for gift cards — You can use your Capital One miles for gift cards at the same rate of 1 cent per mile, but since gift cards are often on sale, redeeming to cover travel purchases is likely a better option.
- Redeem for cash-back — The final fixed-value option is for cash-back, but you should do everything possible to avoid this option, as it’ll only provide a redemption value of 0.5 cents per mile.
Transfer to Airline Partners
If you’re looking to get higher value for your miles — especially for premium class flights — transferring to airline partners may be your best bet. You can currently transfer your miles to a total of 15 different airlines, with most following a 2:1.5 transfer ratio (Emirates, JetBlue and Singapore all use a 2:1 ratio). Many of these process instantly, as TPG Contributor Katherine Fan found out when she tested the transfer times for these partners.
Given the 2x earning rate on the Spark and Venture cards, you can effectively think of them as earning 1-1.5x partner airline miles per dollar spent on every purchase.
Travel Eraser vs. Airline Transfers
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card used to be a great choice for people looking to earn travel rewards without learning the ins and outs of points transfers. A fixed-value, purchase eraser redemption can be a nice option to have, though with miles fixed at 1 cent each, it’s impossible to score an above-average, aspirational redemption. You certainly won’t find yourself flying in fancy first class suites courtesy of these fixed-value awards, but there might still be some times when you want to use them.
While we like to praise the versatility and flexibility of transferable points, they’re often limited to flights and hotels. You don’t have as many lucrative options for using points for rental cars, cruise lines, train tickets and other travel purchases. These ancillary costs can add up on a long vacation, and it might be worth taking a slightly lower redemption value here in order to keep your trip truly free.
However, as we’re about to see, it’s possible to do much better.
Maximizing Airline Transfer Partners
After bringing together some diverse opinions from the TPG team, we ultimately settled on a valuation of 1.4 cents apiece for transferable Capital One miles. That number was largely driven by just a handful of partner programs, so to keep things simple, I’m going to split the list of transfer options into three groups:
- Those that you should avoid
- Those that should be used only in specific circumstances
- Those that consistently offer high-value
Bad Transfer Options
EVA, Finnair, Hainan, Alitalia and Qatar don’t offer enough value in their loyalty programs to consider transferring your Capital One miles to them. While there might be a specific route or a singular redemption that can net you a decent return, the overall process will be plagued by some combination of high fuel surcharges, difficult websites and customer service, or limited award availability. Simply put, it isn’t worth the time.
While Emirates, JetBlue and Singapore have much more compelling loyalty programs, they earn a spot on the no-go list when it comes to Capital One miles thanks to the 2:1 transfer ratio. JetBlue uses revenue-based award pricing, meaning you’ll generally get just 1.4 cents of value from each TrueBlue point. The 2:1 transfer ratio thus means that you’re only getting 0.7 cents from your Capital One miles this way, less than if you paid cash for a JetBlue flight and used your Capital One miles to erase the charge.
Emirates Skywards is plagued by high fuel surcharges (and decently high award rates as well), while Singapore KrisFlyer has devalued both its award chart and its Star Alliance partner chart this year. If you decide to utilize one of those programs, you should consider transferring your points 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and/or Citi ThankYou Rewards instead.
Finally, Aeromexico appears on the avoid list in spite of a few decent SkyTeam redemption options (like round-the-world tickets). This is because the carrier uses kilometers instead of miles, thus boosting award rates by roughly 60% over “standard” mileage charts. That coupled with the 2:1.5 ratio pushes the program into the poor value category.
Average Transfer Options
Air France KLM Flying Blue: Flying Blue can be a good value option, especially if you’re able to take advantage of one of the carrier’s monthly promo awards that offer discounts of 25-50% on select routes. However, the use of dynamic pricing makes it impossible to talk about Flying Blue redemptions in general terms, as award rates can vary significantly from one day to the next.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: Asia Miles uses a distance-based award chart, so unfortunately, Cathay Pacific flights from the US to Asia wind up falling on the expensive side of things. Still, it might be worth paying up for one of the world’s best first class products or for nonstop flights to Asia from cities like Boston or Washington, DC . You can also find good values on some shorter domestic AA flights, and on Oneworld flights from the East Coast to Europe, though you’ll also need to content with the carrier’s challenging award booking engine.
Qantas Frequent Flyer: Qantas also uses a distance-based award chart for Oneworld flights, and it generally isn’t the most rewarding. One advantage of using the Frequent Flyer program is that you might have access to additional premium class Qantas award space that other partners can’t book. Qantas also partners with Israeli flag carrier El Al, and you can get a good value redeeming Qantas miles to Israel, especially for business class flights on El Al’s new 787 Dreamliner between Newark (EWR) and Tel Aviv (TLV).
High Value Options
The overwhelming bulk of the value of Capital One miles comes from just three transfer partners, all of whom are also 1:1 transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards.
Air Canada Aeroplan: Air Canada’s independently run loyalty program Aeroplan has long been one of the most popular options for booking Star Alliance awards, especially in premium cabins. With United’s upcoming switch to dynamic award pricing, it’s more important than ever to leverage foreign partners with fixed charts, and Aeroplan is a great option to consider.
While it charges some of the lowest award rates out there, you have to be careful about fuel surcharges, which can add up quickly. Take this Lufthansa first class flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA). While 70,000 miles for this ticket is an absolute steal, the US$800+ in taxes really hurts the value.
For full details, check out TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele’s guide on How to Book Award Flights With Air Canada Aeroplan.
Avianca LifeMiles: While Avianca LifeMiles used to be a relatively obscure program that only the points pros new about, Capital One and Amex have helped bring it into the limelight recently. One of its biggest advantages is that it doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges for any partner airlines, so you can book that exact same Lufthansa first class award for 87,000 miles and just $5.60 in taxes.
LifeMiles also has the odd but consumer friendly policy of discounting mixed cabin awards, such as the below one-way first class award on ANA from New York (JFK) to Okinawa (OKA). The LifeMiles award chart says that this flight should cost 90,000 miles, but because your connection from Tokyo-Narita (NRT) to Okinawa is in economy, you end up saving ~6,500 miles.
Another beneficial quirk of LifeMiles is the way it splits the US into multiple award regions, allowing you to save miles by traveling within the same “zone.” While the three zones roughly map to the east coast, central US and the west coast. The sweet spots fall for flights within the same zone, such as flying from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Miami (MIA) for only 7,500 miles each way in economy.
You may even find lower rates on certain routes, as TPG Editor Nick Ewen discovered earlier this month. Just bear in mind that Avianca will be adjusting these prices as of July 15, 2019, though we haven’t yet seen a full award chart.
Etihad Guest: Despite not being a member of one of the three major alliances, Etihad has a partnership with American Airlines that allows for reciprocal mileage redemptions. The best news is that Etihad’s pricing for AA awards matches what American used to charge before its large-scale devaluation in 2016. This means that — if you can find saver level award space — you can fly from the US to Europe for only 50,000 miles each way in business class.
American is also the last of the US airlines to offer a true first class cabin, which you can find flying to select European, Asian and South American destinations. Award space is incredibly tough to come by, but you can fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to London-Heathrow (LHR) or Tokyo-Haneda (HND) for only 62,500 Etihad Guest miles each way.
Etihad has a number of other niche partners as well, and its currency continues to be one of the most underrated out there. Another great redemption option is using 44,000 miles to fly business class in Royal Air Maroc’s 787 from New York to Casablanca (CMN).
Capital One is the most recent program to morph into a transferable points currency, though many of its valuable partners are already familiar transfer options thanks to existing partnerships with Chase and/or American Express. The beauty of Capital One miles comes from the strong, fixed earning rate as well as the ability to combine point transfers with fixed-value redemptions to suit your travel needs.
Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy.
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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.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel