How to use your Capital One miles for maximum value
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. This post makes reference to several flights that are not currently operating because of the coronavirus pandemic. Find ongoing COVID-19 updates on TPG’s coronavirus hub page
After many years of building a solid portfolio of fixed-value and cash-back credit cards, Capital One took a big step forward by adding airline and hotel transfer partners to its popular lineup of cards under the Venture and Spark brands. This was big news at the time, but it actually 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.
Capital One’s distinctive achievement was to combine transferable miles and fixed-value redemptions in a single low-cost card. In addition, Capital One recently increased the welcome bonus on the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
You can cash out 60,000 miles for $840 in travel credits or get up to 1.4 cents per mile in value by transferring rewards to a travel partner. 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 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Benefits: 2x miles on purchases, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100)
- Annual fee: $95
Read our review of the Capital One Venture card.
- Current bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Benefits: 1.25x miles on purchases
- Annual fee: $0
Read our review of the Capital One VentureOne Card.
- Current bonus: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Benefits: 5x miles on hotel and rental car bookings with the card through Capital One travel, 2x miles on all other purchases
- Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
The information for the Capital One Spark Miles has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Read our review of the Capital One Spark Miles for Business Card.
- Current bonus: 20,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Benefits: 5x miles on hotel and rental car bookings with the card through Capital One travel; 1.5x miles on all purchases; free employee cards
- Annual fee: $0
The information for the 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.
Read our review of the Capital One Spark Miles card.
You have two broad options for redeeming your Capital One miles: for a fixed value or by transferring them to airline and hotel partners. Transferring will usually get you a better value. Still, it’s the ability to mix and match redemptions 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.
Related reading: Should you use cash or miles to book airline tickets?
Capital One provides a few options for getting a fixed-value return when you redeem your miles. However, not all of these are created equal:
- Redeem for recent travel — You can use your miles to redeem for recent 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. You can redeem for purchases made with airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental agencies, limousine services, bus lines, cruise lines, taxi cabs, travel agents and timeshares.
- Book new travel — You can 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 that booking hotels through a third-party site (including Capital One) would likely prevent you from earning points/miles and enjoying applicable elite status perks. As a result, you’re likely better off booking travel directly and then redeem miles for recent travel.
- 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 can often be purchased on sale, redeeming miles to cover travel purchases is a better option.
- Redeem for cash back — You should do everything possible to avoid this option, as it will only provide a redemption value of 0.5 cents per mile.
If you aren’t in the mood to search for award availability or you’ve found a screaming deal for cash airfare, 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.
How to redeem Capital One miles at a fixed value
First, sign in to your Capital One account, click on your mileage balance (located below the card icon) 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 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: Redeem 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 can either approve the redemption outright or edit the number of miles used for a partial credit of the charge. Note that there is no minimum redemption amount, unless you’re redeeming for 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.
However, you’ll probably be better off booking your travel using an online travel agency (OTA) such as 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 and get even more cash back.
Option 3: Redeem miles for gift cards
Miles maintain the same fixed value of 1 cent each when redeeming for gift cards. However, gift cards can often be bought at a discount, 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 cash in the form of an account credit or a check by mail. You’d probably want to avoid this option because the miles’ value 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 is no cost 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 airline transfer partners.
|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||2:1.5||Yes|
|Qantas||18,000 / 36,000||24,000 / 48,000||2:1.5||Yes|
|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.
Redeeming miles for travel vs. airline transfers
Capital One’s Venture and Spark Miles cards have always allowed cardholders to redeem miles for travel, which lets you redeem your miles for one cent each as statement credits toward any travel purchase that you’ve made within the last 90 days. So how do you decide when to transfer miles and when to redeem for travel 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 on 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, it’s probably best to redeem miles for travel.
If the flights are more expensive than $300, 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, for example, will cost 50,000 Capital One miles if you redeem miles for travel.
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 redeem miles for travel, you can book tickets the way you normally do. That means you can earn miles from the flight and credit toward 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 use 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, redeeming miles for flights in this scenario would be a poor choice, as you would have 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. This is worth remembering before transferring Capital One miles.
5. Think about the risks and hassle factor. When you are faced with the choice of redeeming miles for recent travel or transferring miles to frequent flyer programs, consider the time it could cost you, especially if the airline doesn’t offer online booking for partner award tickets. 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 the award you want or that the award could disappear before you receive your airline miles. For these reasons, you should probably redeem miles for travel if you’re not going to save a lot of miles by transferring them. That’s especially true when you aren’t familiar with the frequent flyer program or don’t want to spend too much time on the booking process.
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
Bad transfer options
EVA, Finnair and Alitalia don’t offer enough value in their loyalty programs to consider transferring your Capital One miles to them. Although 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, and limited award availability. It isn’t worth the time.
Emirates and Singapore have much more compelling loyalty programs, but they earn a spot on the no-go list when it comes to Capital One miles, thanks to the 2:1 transfer ratio. Emirates Skywards has high fuel surcharges (and pretty high award rates), and Singapore KrisFlyer has devalued both its award chart and its Star Alliance partner chart recently. If you decide to use 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 despite 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 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, dynamic pricing makes it impossible to talk about Flying Blue redemptions in general terms because award rates can vary significantly from one day to the next.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: Asia Miles uses a distance-based award chart, so Cathay Pacific flights from the U.S. to Asia end up being expensive. Still, it might be worth paying up for one of the world’s best first-class products or nonstop flights to Asia from cities like Boston or Washington, D.C. You can also find good values on some shorter domestic American flights and on Oneworld awards from the East Coast to Europe. However, 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. 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).
Most of the value of Capital One miles comes from 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.
Although 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 reading: How to maximize Aeroplan miles
Avianca LifeMiles: Avianca LifeMiles used to be a relatively obscure program that only the points pros knew about, but Capital One and Amex have helped bring it into the limelight. One of its biggest advantages is that it doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges for any partner airlines, so you can book the 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 one-way first-class award on ANA below 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), are 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 American awards matches what AAdvantage 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 several 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 nonstop routes from the U.S. are still an incredible deal.
Transferring Miles to hotels
Capital One has continued to grow its transfer partner list, adding two hotels to the mix back in February. You can now transfer Capital One miles to the following hotel loyalty programs:
- Wyndham Rewards — 2:1.5 (1,000 Capital One miles = 750 Wyndham Rewards points)
- Accor Live Limitless (ALL) — 2:1 (1,000 Capital One miles = 500 ALL Rewards points)
If you plan on staying at an Accor property, including one of its higher-end Fairmont hotels, this can be a decent deal. ALL use a fixed-value redemption scheme, where you can redeem 2,000 points for a 40-euro discount on your hotel stay (~$44). Since you’d need to transfer 4,000 Capital One miles to get 2,000 ALL Rewards points, transferring is guaranteed to give you a better value than redeeming miles for travel.
Wyndham is a bit trickier. If 2 Capital One miles get you 1.5 Wyndham points, you must get at least 2 cents of value out of those 1.5 Wyndham points (or 1.33 cents for every one Wyndham point you redeem). This is slightly higher than our valuations here at TPG, which peg Wyndham points at 1.1 cents apiece — though it’s not impossible to get a higher value.
Capital One is the most recent program to morph into a transferable miles currency. However, 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 and the ability to combine miles 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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