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Capital One has long had one of the best loyalty programs around thanks to the solid fixed-value miles cardholders can earn with its credit cards. However, Capital One greatly improved its mileage rewards program in the last several months in a few key ways.
First, it added 15 airline transfer partners, including Air Canada Aeroplan and JetBlue TrueBlue. Capital One also launched a series of transfer bonuses to various partners, including a 20% bonus to Air France/KLM Flying Blue, a 100% bonus to Emirates Skywards, and a 25% bonus to Avianca LifeMiles.
The Capital One cards that are eligible for transfers to the program’s airline partners include:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
- Capital One Spark Miles For Business
- Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business
The sign-up bonuses and earning rates for all these cards vary. But today, we’re going to focus on the Capital Venture Rewards Credit Card and discuss whether you get more value by transferring the miles it earns to airline partners or redeeming them for travel at a fixed rate.
Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
Earning: Cardholders earn 2x miles per dollar on all purchases.
Hotels.com bonus: Now through January 2020, earn 10x miles per dollar on accommodations when booked and paid via Hotels.com/Venture.
Statement credits: Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years.
Expiration: Miles don’t expire for the life of the account. There are no caps on earning.
No foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee the first year, $95 after that.
You can find more information on the card and its perks in our full review. Now let’s discuss the different ways cardholders can redeem their miles for travel.
Redeeming Miles For Travel at a Fixed Value
Capital One miles are a type of mileage currency known as fixed-value points. Put simply, each mile is worth an exact amount when redeemed for travel: one cent. So by earning 2x miles per dollar on all purchases, you’re effectively getting a 2% rate of return on your spending. Except, of course, on those Hotels.com/Venture purchases, which provide a 10% rate of return.
Redeeming Capital One miles at a fixed value is extremely simple. After logging into your account, just click on your mileage balance and you will see choices to redeem for travel purchases, book a trip, get gift cards, receive cash as an account credit or a check by mail, or transfer your miles.
When it comes to travel redemptions, you can “erase” a previous travel purchase made within the last 90 days or book new travel directly through the Capital One portal, just as you would through another online travel agency, like Expedia or Orbitz. You’ll usually be better off booking travel as you usually would and redeeming miles for it afterwards.
Redeeming Capital One miles at a fixed rate is often easier than transferring to an airline partner to book award travel because there are no arcane award rules, blackout dates, availability issues, or high taxes and fuel surcharges.
It also opens the door to more types of redemptions since Capital One’s travel category is very broad and includes the usual things like flights and hotel stays, but also train tickets, car rentals, bus tickets, cruises, taxis, Uber and timeshares, and more.
Transferring to Airline Partners
Starting last December, Capital One began adding airline transfer partners to its rewards program. At time of writing, the partner tally stands at 15 airlines, to which Capital One miles transfer at the following ratios and time frames.
- Aeromexico Club Premier (2:1.5): Instant
- Air Canada Aeroplan (2:1.5): Instant
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue (2:1.5): Instant
- Alitalia MilleMiglia (2:1.5): Instant
- Avianca LifeMiles (2:1.5): Instant
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (2:1.5): Around five business days
- Emirates Skywards (2:1): Instant
- Etihad Guest (2:1.5): 24 hours
- EVA Air Infinity MileageLands (2:1.5): 36 hours
- Finnair Plus (2:1.5): Instant
- Hainan Airlines Fortune Wings Club (2:1.5): 36 hours
- JetBlue TrueBlue (2:1): Instant
- Qantas Frequent Flyer (2:1.5): 24 hours
- Qatar Airways Privilege Club (2:1.5): 24 hours
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (2:1): 36 hours
Of those, Finnair Plus and Hainan Fortune Wings Club are the only two mileage programs that are exclusively transfer partners of Capital One and not any of the other transferable programs like Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
There are a couple things to note from the list.
First, transfers to about half these partners are instant, but you’ll end up waiting at least a day for most of the others, which can be a serious problem if you are unable to place your award ticket on hold while you wait for your frequent-flyer account to be credited with the transfer.
Second, you’ll notice that the transfer ratios at best are two Capital One miles to 1.5 airline miles, with three notable partners – Emirates, JetBlue and Singapore Airlines – offering a paltry 2:1 ratio. You should take that into account when deciding whether to redeem miles directly or transfer them to an airline partner.
Luckily, we have several posts to help you do so and to set up some formulas by which you can calculate which option will give you the better value.
Fixed Value Versus Transfers
Let’s go through a few simple rules for getting the most value from your Capital One miles and some scenarios you might encounter.
First, if you want to redeem your Capital One miles for any travel purchases that are not airline tickets, using them to erase those purchases as a statement credit will be your obvious choice. With that in mind, let’s move on to the air-travel options, since that is where the most questions arise.
Keep in mind that by redeeming your points directly at a fixed rate for airline tickets, you not only get one cent per Capital One mile in value, but you are also entitled to any points that booking through an online travel agency nets you, as well as any airline miles you would normally earn by booking a ticket. That’s because these types of redemptions are not traditional award tickets, but rather just normal travel purchases that you “erase.” So that should put your per-mile value at closer to 1.2-1.4 cents apiece.
On the other hand, the value you get from your Capital One miles by transferring them to airline partners can vary dramatically, based both on the partner and the specific award you book. In general, you will want to get at least one cent in value per Capital One mile you transfer to a partner airline program in order to match the miles’ fixed-rate value.
By that logic, you need to get a value of 1.34–2 cents per airline mile for any award you book because of the transfer ratios. At the lower end, that 1.34 cents is for the programs to which the ratio is two Capital One miles to 1.5 airline miles, and 2 cents for Emirates, JetBlue and Singapore since you are halving the number of miles you end up with after a transfer.
If that sounds complicated, just keep this in mind: For cheap economy fares, you’ll probably be better off redeeming your Capital One miles directly at a fixed rate. For expensive tickets in premium cabins, you might get a better value by transferring your miles to a partner airline and booking the ticket as a traditional award (assuming there is award availability).
Let’s take a look at a few quick examples to see how this plays out. First, let’s price out a round-trip itinerary on JetBlue from Los Angeles (LAX) to Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) in September. The cash fare is $237, so redeeming Capital One miles directly for this purchase, you’d need only 23,700 miles.
To book the same flight as an award would require 15,800 JetBlue TrueBlue points plus $11.20. For that, you’d need to transfer 31,600 Capital One miles since the transfer ratio is 2:1 (assuming there are no transfer bonuses) and then another 1,120 Capital One miles as a direct redemption to pay the taxes and fees. In all, you’re looking at 32,720 Capital One miles.
That’s 9,020 more miles than just redeeming directly – equivalent to having spent $4,510 on everyday purchases.
Let’s say you wanted to fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Singapore (SIN) on Singapore Airlines in September. You can find paid fares for as low as $753 round-trip routing through Tokyo Narita (NRT). For that, you’d need to redeem just 75,300 Capital One miles to “erase” your purchase.
If you wanted to book this as an award using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles, though, you’d need to shell out 76,000 of those – the equivalent of having transferred 152,000 Capital One miles plus an additional $88 in taxes/fees.
Now let’s look at an example of when you’d want to redeem your miles for a premium ticket. Here’s a sample award using Air Canada Aeroplan miles to fly nonstop from New York (JFK) to Geneva (GVA) aboard SWISS business class. It would cost 110,000 Aeroplan miles plus $64.50 CAD ($49.30 USD). To get those miles, you’d need to transfer 146,667 Capital One miles to SWISS and then redeem 4,930 Capital One miles for the taxes/fees. You’re still getting a value of about 2.5 cents per Capital One mile.
By contrast, this same ticket on a paid fare would cost $3,792…or 379,200 Capital One miles redeemed directly at a fixed rate. That’s over 227,600 more miles than with the transfer option.
For one final scenario that provides the starkest contrast, let’s consider flying Air France business class from Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris (CDG) this fall. While the sometimes high taxes and fees as well as variable award pricing can make Air France/KLM Flying Blue awards a little tricky, the program can hold great value for certain travelers.
This one-way itinerary in the airline’s best business class aboard a 777-300ER would cost a jaw-dropping $9,489 (admittedly, round-trip fares are around half this for some reason). That would require you to spend 948,900 Capital One miles for a direct redemption.
Instead, you could transfer 90,000 Capital One miles over to Flying Blue thanks to the 2:1.5 transfer ratio and end up with the 67,500 Flying Blue miles necessary. Even if you then redeemed an additional 21,220 Capital One miles for the taxes and fees, you’d only be out 111,220 Capital One miles…instead of nearly a million!
Those are just some examples to show you the vast range of values you can get. There are plenty of other ways to maximize Capital One miles redemptions, too, including strategic transfers to Avianca Lifemiles, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Etihad Guest.
Capital One miles have become a very valuable points currency thanks to the ability to redeem them not only for travel at fixed rates, but also to transfer them to 15 airline partners and book awards that way.
For non-airline travel purchases and inexpensive economy fares, you will usually want to redeem Capital One miles directly at a fixed rate. That way, you’re sure to get at least one cent per mile in value. However, you can often get far more value out of your Capital One miles on premium tickets by transferring them to a favorable airline partner and redeeming them for a traditional award ticket that way.
As with all points and miles questions, consider your options, crunch a few numbers to make sure you are getting the best and highest value from your miles, and then go from there. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to maximize your Capital One miles thanks to the number of different partners the program now fields. The only difficult part will be deciding which one is right for your needs in each specific circumstance.
Featured image by JT Genter / The Points Guy.
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