Best ways to maximize Capital One miles
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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 Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. 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.
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Earning Capital One miles
There are currently four cards that earn Capital One miles, rather than just cash back. These include a primary personal and business card as well as no-annual-fee versions of each:
- Current bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Benefits: 2x miles on all purchases, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application free credit (up to $100)
- Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)
- Read our review of the Capital One Venture Card
- Current bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Benefits: 1.25x miles on all purchases
- Annual fee: $0
- Current bonus: Earn a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of 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 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.
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:
- “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. 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 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.
If you aren’t in the mood to deal with award availability, found a screaming deal for cash airfare or simply can’t use airline miles for your travel expenses, redeem your Capital One miles at a fixed value. The process is relatively easy, and doesn’t require jumping through any hoops. Here’s a step-by-step guide showing how to use your Capital One miles at a fixed value.
First, sign in to your Capital One account, click on your mileage balance (located below the icon of your card), and you’ll be taken to the rewards page. There, you’ll be presented with four fixed-value redemption options — you can use your miles for travel, gift cards, cash or transfer them to another account.
When it comes to redeeming miles for travel, you can either book new travel or use the miles as a statement credit against previous eligible travel purchases. Regardless of which route you take, the redemption rate when using Venture miles for travel is always 1 cent per mile.
Option 1: Erase a previously-made travel purchase: Clicking “Redeem Travel Purchases” will bring you to a screen with all your eligible travel purchases made with the card in the last 90 days. The term “travel” is used quite broadly and includes everything from flight and hotel bookings to Uber and Airbnb purchases. From there, you’re just two clicks away from essentially erasing travel expenses from your statement.
After selecting the purchase you’d like to make disappear, you can either approve the redemption outright or edit the number of miles used for a partial credit of the charge. Note that there’s no minimum redemption amount, unless you’re redeeming for a partial credit, in which case you’ll need to use at least 2,500 miles.
Option 2: Book new travel through Capital One
Alternatively, you can use your miles to book new travel directly through Capital One. The portal looks like any other booking site, and since the miles have a fixed value, you’ll never need to worry about blackout dates or award restrictions. That being said, you’ll probably be better off booking your travel using an online travel agency (OTA) like Orbitz or Hotels.com and then offsetting the purchase using the method previously described. This is because many OTAs have their own rewards programs and appear on cash-back shopping portals, so you can double or triple dip on a booking and get even more cash back.
Option 3: Redeem for gift cards: Miles maintain the same fixed value of 1 cent apiece when redeeming for gift cards, such as for Amazon. However, gift cards can often be bought with a discount or cash back, so you’re better off using your miles to offset travel expenses first.
Option 4: Redeem for Cash Back: The least valuable redemption option is for cash in the form of an account credit or a check by mail. You’d probably want to avoid this option because the value of the miles is cut in half when using this method.
Option 5: Transfer miles to another account: The final way you can redeem your miles is by transferring your miles to another account. There are no costs associated with this, and as long as the other person holds a miles-earning card, there are no restrictions as to who you can send them to.
Transfer to airline partners
If you’re looking to get higher value for your miles, transferring to airline partners may be your best bet. Here’s a high-level overview of the program’s 15 transfer partners and what it will take to book a flight within the U.S.
|Program||Miles needed for one-way domestic flight||Capital One miles needed
||Transfer ratio||Online booking?|
|Aeromexico||40,000 – 44,000 / 80,000 – 88,000*||53,333 – 58,666 / 106,666 – 117,333||2:1.5||Yes|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||12,500 / 25,000||16,666 / 33,333||2:1.5||Yes|
|Alitalia||20,000 / 40,000||26,666 / 53,333||2:1.5||No|
|Avianca||7,500 – 12,500 / 25,000||10,000 – 16,666 / 33,333||2:1.5||Yes|
|Cathay Pacific||15,000 / 45,000||20,000 / 60,000||2:1.5||Yes|
|Emirates Skywards||Varies based on carrier and route||Varies based on carrier and route||2:1||No|
|Etihad||12,500 / 25,000||16,666 / 33,333||2:1.5||No|
|EVA||39,000 / 58,000||52,000 / 77,333||2:1.5||Yes|
|Finnair||27,000 / 51,000||36,000 / 68,000||2:1.5||No|
|JetBlue||Based on cash value of ticket||Based on cash value of ticket||2:1||Yes|
|Qantas||18,000 / 36,000||24,000 / 48,000||2:1.5||Yes|
|Qatar||12,500 / 25,000||16,666 / 33,333||2:1.5||No|
|Singapore KrisFlyer (United)||25,000 / 40,000||50,000 / 80,000||2:1||Yes|
|Singapore KrisFlyer (Alaska)||7,500 – 12,500 / 17,500 – 47,000||15,000 – 25,000 / 35,000 – 94,000||2:1||No|
*Uses dynamic pricing and is often higher than award charts.
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. Just keep in mind that these partners have variable transfer times, so check out our guide to Capital One transfer times so you know how long you’ll have to wait for your miles to post.
Travel eraser vs. airline transfers
Captital One’s Venture and Spark Miles cards have always offered the Purchase Eraser, which lets you redeem your miles for one cent each as statement credits towards any travel purchase that you’ve made within the last 90 days. So how do you decide when to transfer miles and when to use the Purchase Eraser to book a domestic flight, for instance?
Here are the factors you should consider:
1. Cost. The easiest way to get started looking for a domestic flight is to check the price of your favorite airline and search an online travel agency for the lowest prices (or consider Google Flights for a quick snapshot). As noted above, the least expensive domestic round-trip awards (on Avianca) will require you to transfer 20,000 Capital One miles, and most will require at least 33,000 miles. As a result, if you find any highly-discounted fares for $300 round-trip or less, you’ll probably be best to just use the Purchase Eraser.
If the flights aren’t this inexpensive, it’s still critical to know the cost in dollars, since that price will translate to the number of Capital One miles required. Just add two zeros to the end; a $500 ticket will cost 50,000 Capital One miles using the Purchase Eraser.
2. Award availability. Next, look for award availability at the lowest mileage levels using the major domestic carriers’ websites (American, Delta and United). When you find saver-level award space, you can use the chart above to see how many airline miles it will require.
3. Factor in mileage earning and upgrade opportunities. When you use the Capital One Purchase Eraser, you can book tickets the way you normally do. That means you can earn miles from the flight and credit towards elite status. If you currently hold elite status, you should still enjoy all of your elite status benefits, including being eligible for upgrades. You may not receive those benefits when you transfer your Capital One miles to an airline that books a partner award. To estimate the value of the miles you could earn, consult TPG’s latest points and miles valuations.
One additional note: If you want to enjoy your free checked bag benefits on United-operated flights through the United Explorer Card or United Club Infinite Card, remember that you have to use your card to purchase the ticket. As a result, flights in this scenario would be a poor choice for using the Purchase Eraser, as you’d still need to pay those checked bag fees.
4. Consider taxes and fees. All frequent flyer programs will add TSA taxes at a minimum, which will be $5.60 each-way on nonstop flights. However, Flying Blue has started adding additional surcharges to Delta awards, so remember this when using your miles.
5. Think about the risks and hassle factor. When you are faced with the choice of using the Purchase Eraser or transferring miles to frequent flyer programs, consider the time it could cost you, especially if the airline doesn’t offer online booking. You may have to create a new account and spend time calling the airline. There’s also the risk that the airline won’t be able to see award you want, or that the award could disappear before you receive your airline miles. For these reasons, you should probably default to the Purchase Eraser whenever you won’t save a lot of miles by transferring them, especially when you aren’t familiar with the frequent flyer program.
Maximizing airline transfer partners
TPG values Capital One miles at 1.4 cents apiece. This number is 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
Because of the wide variety of transfer partners, you can use Capital One Miles to fly all three major alliances: SkyTeam, Star Alliance, and Oneworld.
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 has high fuel surcharges (and pretty 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. If you find value in Aeromexico’s Club Premier program, you should transfer points from Amex Membership Rewards at a 1:1.6 ratio instead, to compensate for this inflated award pricing.
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 U.S. 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, D.C. 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 contend 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).
The overwhelming bulk of the value of Capital One miles comes from just three transfer partners, all of which 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 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 $825+ in taxes really hurts the value.
Related: How to maximize Aeroplan miles
Avianca LifeMiles: While Avianca LifeMiles used to be a relatively obscure program that only the points pros knew 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 Chicago (ORD) 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 ~6,800 miles.
Another great use of LifeMiles is redeeming them for domestic flights on United. Short flights, like this hop from Newark (EWR) to Washington DC (IAD), is a steal at just 6,500 miles each way.
You’ll also find slightly longer flights pricing out in the 7,500-10,000 mile range, well below the 12,500 miles Aeroplan would charge you for these same tickets and often less than United would charge if you booked directly through its MileagePlus program.
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 U.S. to Europe for only 50,000 miles each way in business class.
American is also the last of the U.S. 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). Note that Etihad recently devalued Royal Air Maroc redemptions by pricing awards by segment, but non-stop routes from the U.S. are still an incredible deal.
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.
Additional reporting by Joseph Hostetler/The Points Guy.
Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy.
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