Best transferable point currency of 2021 — and TPG’s Editors’ Choice award winner
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It should go without saying — not all points and miles are created equally.
At TPG, we consider transferable points — that is, points and miles programs that allow you to move one rewards currency to another — to be superior to other types of travel rewards for a number of reasons.
Transferable points are typically more versatile than traditional airline miles or hotel points since you can move them to a variety of airline and hotel loyalty accounts as you need them.
Earning transferable points also insulates you, to a degree, from unexpected award chart devaluations like we’ve seen lately from several airlines and hotel chains.
Finally, you can also redeem some types of transferable points for travel at fixed rates directly through a booking portal, which makes them easier to use in a pinch than many airline miles and hotel points.
Among the transferable points programs with affiliated rewards credit cards that we cover regularly on TPG are American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, Bilt Rewards and Brex. Each of these programs has its own unique features as well as strengths and limitations.
We took a detailed look at these programs and the value that travelers can reap from them to determine which deserved this year’s Editors’ Choice award for the best transferable points currency. Here’s how we evaluated the programs and eventually crowned a winner.
Transferable points vs. airline miles and hotel points
The uncertainty that continues to surround the travel industry only highlights the benefit of having transferable points handy versus just airline miles or hotel points.
Airline miles and hotel points
In terms of award travel, most airline and hotel currencies can only be redeemed within their specific program for travel with associated brands and partners. That means you are subject to the terms of each particular program, as well as to potential devaluations.
Take Delta’s SkyMiles program, for instance. If you want to redeem SkyMiles for travel, your options are mostly limited to Delta’s own flights as well as those on airline partners like Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM.
Earlier this year, however, Delta significantly increased the number of miles you need to redeem for partner flights with no notice and no recourse for SkyMiles members. So if you’d been diligently stocking up on SkyMiles for your next trip, you might have found the goal post moved beyond your means, and that you now need to keep earning with the program to book the same ticket you had your eye on.
By contrast, you could instead have been focusing your time and energy accruing transferable points, such as American Express Membership Rewards, which can be earned with a variety of Amex credit cards, and which transfer to many different frequent-flyer and hotel points programs at a 1:1 ratio, including Delta SkyMiles.
In other words, Amex points are not just Amex points. Instead, they have the potential to become Delta miles…or Hilton Honors points or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles (among 17 other airline and hotel transfer partners). Although you might have been planning to convert your Amex points into Delta miles, once that devaluation happened, you would still have other options for how to redeem your points for the trip you envisioned.
Therein lies the power of a transferable rewards currency: options.
By opening the door to a wide variety of other programs, you now have the flexibility to redeem with the airline or hotel partner that makes the most sense for the specific travel arrangements you need. Essentially, transferable points represent a more liquid rewards currency — and one that is less susceptible to the consequences of individual airline and hotel program changes.
While we evaluated seven transferable points currencies overall, four made our official list of finalists:
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Capital One Rewards
- Citi ThankYou Rewards
These rewards currencies come from some of the largest and most popular credit-card issuers. They are paired with a variety of card options for travelers looking to rack up points on everyday charges.
Additionally, these transferable points programs offer 1:1 transfer ratios to a majority of their travel partners, which is a big plus for consumers looking for simplicity and value. With all that in mind, here’s our analysis of the best transferable points currencies of 2021.
Amex Membership Rewards
American Express Membership Rewards has long been a TPG favorite among transferable points currencies. Membership Rewards can unlock some incredible awards, with 17 airline and three hotel transfer partners at the moment, including unique options like All Nippon Airways Mileage Club.
Although there were no major program developments this year, we did see a variety of transfer bonuses earlier this fall with a whopping 12 partners, which made these points potentially even more valuable than normal.
Here are some of the most popular cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
- American Express® Gold Card
- American Express® Business Gold Card
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
- American Express® Green Card
The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to 11 airline frequent-flyer programs and three hotel partners, all at a 1:1 ratio.
In 2021, we saw the addition of Air Canada Aeroplan to the Ultimate Rewards partner lineup, which opened up even more opportunities to book awards with its wide array of Star Alliance and non-alliance partners than previously (although United MileagePlus and Singapore KrisFlyer were already Chase transfer partners).
On the earnings front, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards underwent some notable changes, too, including the ability to earn more bonus points in select categories.
Speaking of which, here are the cards that earn fully transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points:
It’s worth noting that there are two additional personal cards (the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited) along with two small-business cards (the Ink Business Cash Credit Card and Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card) that participate in the Ultimate Rewards program and earn cash back. If you have one of the three cards above as well, though, you can combine your Ultimate Rewards points from the other cards and transfer to the program’s airline and hotel partners.
Capital One Rewards
Capital One Rewards made major moves in 2021 by adding several travel transfer partners and shifting most of them to a more simplified 1:1 transfer basis.
The issuer also launched the premium Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card in early November, providing another outlet to earn and redeem Capital One miles.
Here are all the cards that earn transferable Capital One miles:
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
- 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 information for 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.
Citi ThankYou Rewards
While Citi has suspended applications for the Citi Prestige® Card, the issuer also improved its ThankYou Rewards transfer program by adding two hotel partners: Choice Hotels and Wyndham Rewards. It also temporarily added American AAdvantage as a transfer partner — though that limited-time option has since ended.
Currently, there is only one available card open to new applicants that earns full-fledged ThankYou Rewards that transfer to all the program’s partners:
- Citi Premier® Card
- Citi Prestige® Card (no longer open to new applicants)
Certain other Citi cards participate in ThankYou Rewards in a cash-back capacity, including the Citi Rewards+® Card (you can transfer points from this card to JetBlue TrueBlue on a 5:4 basis), the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card, the Citi® Double Cash Card and the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card. If you have one of those as well as either the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige, you can combine your ThankYou points and they become transferable to the program’s travel partners that way.
The information for the Citi Prestige and Citi Rewards+ Student Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
A program to watch in 2022
While it’s not on our list of finalists for this year, we are keeping a close eye on Bilt Rewards.
Bilt launched in June 2021, but then just three months later did a complete overhaul of its earning structure, which was a nice improvement we were happy to see.
What really caught our attention is that Bilt has a unique lineup of loyalty partners that includes some rare transfer options such as American AAdvantage and World of Hyatt. Also on its partner list, you’ll find some TPG favorites such as Air Canada Aeroplan and Turkish Miles&Smiles.
As Bilt gains additional transfer partners — and we suspect it will — it’s likely to become an even more powerful rewards currency. But for now, the program is young and still gaining traction while it builds a track record. Its role in the larger rewards ecosystem is still evolving, especially since so much of the current program is tied to those who rent apartments at properties in the Bilt Rewards Alliance. But it’s unquestionably a program that we’ll continue to watch in 2022.
(Editor’s note: TPG founder Brian Kelly is a Bilt advisor and investor.)
The winner is …
Of these programs, only one can take home this year’s trophy.
Winner: Chase Ultimate Rewards
The TPG Editors’ Choice award for the best transferable currency of 2021 goes to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. While there’s a lot to like about all of the currencies noted above, Chase stands out for a couple of important reasons.
Quality, not quantity
Chase doesn’t have as many transfer partners as the other finalists, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.
Take the World of Hyatt program, for instance. As an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, Hyatt offers an extremely reasonable award chart, ranging from 3,500 points to 45,000 points (thanks to Hyatt’s new peak and off-peak pricing) for free nights.
Likewise, the program has some great unique partners not found with the other three top programs, including Southwest Rapid Rewards and United MileagePlus that many U.S.-based flyers can benefit from.
While the cost of United awards may be higher through MileagePlus than redeeming through other Star Alliance partners (such as Avianca LifeMiles), it’s easy to use and many cardholders may have United accounts they just need to supplement with a transfer to reach that award they want. When comparing, it’s also important to note that Capital One does not have a major U.S. airline transfer partner, and Citi’s only U.S. airline partner is currently JetBlue.
The addition of Aeroplan
Chase Ultimate Rewards also got a substantial boost in 2021 with the addition of Air Canada’s Aeroplan as a new partner.
Air Canada Aeroplan is a powerful program with the ability to redeem points on more than 40 airlines, including Star Alliance carriers like United and Lufthansa, as well as non-Star Alliance partners such as Etihad and Cathay Pacific. Its award chart has several sweet spots and it allows members to book stopovers for a mere 5,000 points each, which is a steal.
But stay alert: Capital One is improving quickly
Chase might have taken the crown for the best transferable currency of 2021 amidst increasing competition, but we wanted to give an honorable mention shoutout to Capital One Rewards.
Capital One substantially improved its rewards program in 2021 by adding several new partners and switching to a 1:1 transfer ratio with most airlines and hotels which increased the value of its points. The launch of the Venture X also made the program much more enticing thanks to that card’s excellent earning potential. If we handed out a most improved transfer currency of the year award, it would certainly go to Capital One.
Focusing on earning transferable points is more important than ever as the travel industry continues to face enormous uncertainty, and we’ve seen both airline and hotel loyalty programs make swift and often negative changes to their terms. By focusing your rewards strategy on transferable points rather than with a single frequent-flyer or hotel program, you can protect yourself against these upheavals. Not only that, but you will have a long list of redemption options at your disposal when the time is right.
Among the excellent transferable points programs we cover, Chase Ultimate Rewards is our pick as the best transferable currency for 2021 thanks to its versatility, excellent transfer partners and the sheer value travelers can reap from these points. But the points and miles space is ever-changing and there are certainly many exciting programs to watch as we turn the page into 2022.
Featured photo by The Points Guy.
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