The 9 transfer partners I hope Amex and Chase add this year
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It’s no secret that the TPG team loves transferable points programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. With each program having its own set of transfer partners, these programs provide the utmost redemption flexibility.
That said, we haven’t seen American Express or Chase add a new transfer partner in quite some time. That could well change before the end of the year. Airlines, hotels and other rental companies are in a tough spot right now, suffering huge losses from a drop in travel demand.
These losses should give travel companies an incentive to become transfer partners since every point transfer translates to revenue for the travel partner. This could provide an excellent opportunity for travel companies to generate extra revenue during challenging times.
No announcements have been made but we can certainly speculate about which travel programs could become transfer partners of Amex or Chase this year. I’ll cover why I’d like these banks to add these partners and why I believe they are viable candidates.
Let’s get started!
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American Express Membership Rewards
American Express has always had obscure transfer partners — especially when it comes to airlines. Some examples of this are Alitalia MilleMiglia, ANA Mileage Club and Etihad Guest. Some are more useful than others, but these are partners that you wouldn’t expect from a U.S. credit card issuer.
I think that American Express will continue down this path for years to come. They want to be seen as an international company and adding international airline partners will continue to put them in that light. With that in mind, I think we’ll see some interesting programs added — here’s a look at what we might see.
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
Turkish Airlines’ Miles & Smiles is one of the TPG team’s favorite programs. It has excellent redemption rates for Star Alliance awards, like 12,500-mile one-way business class tickets to Hawaii on United and 34,000-mile business class tickets from the U.S. to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines.
Like many other airlines, Turkish is experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic, so it needs to generate extra revenue from travelers who may not want to travel internationally at the moment.
The airline currently partners with Citi ThankYou and Marriott Bonvoy. These are solid transfer options, but Turkish should join one of the “big two” transfer partners to generate extra income through points transfers.
I foresee Amex being this partner. While Chase generally sticks with domestic airlines and hotels, I think Amex would be more likely to accept yet another international airline to its U.S. portfolio of transfer partners.
Amex adding Turkish Airlines would be a huge leg up for Amex customers too. It would open up a world of low-cost award tickets and make points even more valuable. That said, it’s still a relatively unknown loyalty program, so I don’t see a transfer partnership being overused or unprofitable for either party.
EuroBonus is a loyalty program for Scandinavian Air Systems (SAS). The TPG U.K. team has covered the program extensively, including the ins-and-outs of earning and redeeming with the program. For starters, you can redeem 100,000 points for a round-trip business class ticket between the U.S. and Europe, which isn’t too shabby.
Currently, EuroBonus is a U.K. Amex transfer partner and I can see it being added as a U.S. transfer partner in the future. The airline has a large U.S. presence and is a Star Alliance member, so it can be useful for those based in the U.S.
Like other airlines, SAS is currently in need of cash flow. The airline reportedly lost $240 million between May and July due to the coronavirus outbreak, so being added as a transfer partner could help the airline. At the same time, It’s hard to gauge how many transfers the airline would see given Amex already has a handful of Star Alliance transfer partners.
Hertz Gold Rewards
As discussed in a previous article, I think that loyalty programs can be a saving grace for rental car companies. These companies are going through challenging financial times during the coronavirus outbreak, with Hertz already filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
While Chapter 11 allows Hertz to continue operations, the company badly needs additional revenue to stay afloat. I think that opening up Hertz Gold Rewards to transfer partners is a great way to do this. Many travelers aren’t comfortable flying right now, but they would rent a car to travel somewhere closeby.
I personally fell into this camp early on during the pandemic. I took a handful of road trips in rental cars at the beginning of the summer and ended up purchasing a used car earlier this month. Regardless, I still value rental car purchases for trips where I don’t want to use my personal car or when I’m traveling by air and need a car during my trip.
Becoming an Amex transfer partner would be an excellent way for Hertz to generate revenue during the pandemic. It would play to customer wants during the pandemic, providing Amex customers another way to redeem points for non-air travel.
This could be an interesting experiment for Hertz too. Becoming an Amex transfer partner gives them the ability to test using points as a revenue source. Currently, you can only earn Hertz Gold Rewards points by renting a car. If a test goes well, we could see a Hertz cobranded credit card from American Express.
So, why Amex over Chase? For starters, Amex and Hertz already have a partnership. Those with The Platinum Card® from American Express can take advantage of a handful of benefits like discounted rates and upgrades (enrollment required). This means that Hertz has been in talks with Amex in the past, making it easier for the two companies to agree to a transfer partnership.
Like EuroBonus, Radisson Rewards is already an Amex transfer partner in the U.K. The hotel group doesn’t have any U.S. transfer partners, so earning points stateside is more difficult. Your options are mainly limited to earning through Radisson hotel stays or spending on a Radisson cobranded credit card.
I think we could see this change over the next year, though. American Express hasn’t added a new hotel transfer partner in quite some time. Its current lineup consists of Hilton, Marriott and Choice Hotels. These are great but aren’t as powerful as Chases’ Hyatt, IHG and Marriott lineup.
Radisson Rewards may not be as powerful as World of Hyatt, but the addition would make Membership Rewards more useful. The hotel group has more than 1,100 properties worldwide with solid redemption rates. Many free nights can be booked for under 30,000 at properties in big cities like Bangkok, Prague and Los Angeles.
Again, this partnership would work out for both Amex and Radisson. Amex could boast a new transfer partner while Radisson would enjoy more exposure and revenue from point transfers. Given that Radisson is already a U.K. Amex transfer partner, I like to think this would be a relatively easy deal to strike.
This one is a bit of a dream for me. Asiana Club is an incredibly lucrative program offered by South Korean airline Asiana. The Star Alliance carrier offers unbelievable award redemption rates on all Star Alliance carriers — think 40,000-mile business class tickets from the U.S. to Europe. The caveat is that earning these miles is difficult. Beyond earning miles by flying, your only options are to spend on an Asiana cobranded credit card or transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy.
Asiana currently doesn’t have any credit card transfer partners, though Amex would be a great contender. This partnership would be in line with Amex’s extensive portfolio of international travel partners and adds a ton of value for Amex cardholders. Additionally, Asiana is in some serious financial trouble right now — it’s suffered huge financial losses during the pandemic and is in the midst of a stalled acquisition.
Asiana partnering with Amex would seriously improve Amex’s transfer partner portfolio and make Membership Rewards the currency to earn for miles and points enthusiasts. At the same time, I think we could see a devaluation if the deal were to go through.
Why the devaluation? Simply put: having more points in circulation will likely lead to more redemptions, hence making it more of a liability for the company. Raising redemption rates reduces this liability, since it becomes harder to actually redeem for award tickets.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase has traditionally stuck to U.S. domestic transfer partners, with some of the big names being United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards. That said, the bank has fallen behind Amex over the years — United devalued its program and Chase lost Korean Airlines, its exclusive international transfer partner.
I reserve my Ultimate Rewards balance for Hyatt transfers these days and rarely use them for flights. Almost any award ticket I could book with my Ultimate Rewards points can be booked for the same price or less using Amex or Citi ThankYou points.
I’d love to see Chase change this, though — and I think they can, by adding a couple of key transfer partners. Here’s who I believe Chase could partner with before the end of the year.
Avianca LifeMiles is one of my favorite programs to transfer points to. It offers attractive award pricing on Star Alliance carriers and, more importantly, doesn’t add fuel surcharges to partner award tickets.
Currently, LifeMiles is an Amex, Capital One, Citi, and Marriott Bonvoy transfer partner. Chase has long been the outlier here. The only reason I can think of for LifeMiles not already being a Chase transfer partner is some sort of deal with Star Alliance partner United — LifeMiles generally offers better redemptions, so there could be some sort of exclusivity contract.
That’s just speculation though. There’s a chance we could see LifeMiles become an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner if the airline wanted to span all of the major U.S. credit card programs. There’s no reason for Avianca to not want this, especially given the airline is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
LifeMiles transfers would make Ultimate Rewards significantly more valuable for anyone that flies on Star Alliance carriers. Given that Chase is the only major program that doesn’t have a transfer partnership with LifeMiles, I think this transfer pair is the most likely to come to fruition in 2020.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Let me start this section by saying that Chase adding Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan as a transfer partner is a bit of a pipe dream. Mileage Plan has long been my favorite airline program due to its incredible list of partners, stellar redemption rates and relaxed stopover policy. That said, the airline is joining Oneworld at the end of the year, so the possibilities are endless.
If Alaska Airlines truly wants to be considered a mainline carrier, it needs a credit card transfer partnership. Don’t get me wrong — it has a great cobranded credit card, but it isn’t as ubiquitous as American AAdvantage, which can live without a transfer partner. Instead, being added as a Chase transfer partner would make Alaska Mileage Plan more accessible for the everyday traveler.
But this isn’t all good. There’s long been speculation that Alaska will devalue its program when it joins Oneworld, which could be a major loss for those of us who use the miles for high-end award tickets on Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. Becoming a Chase transfer partner may further incentivize a devaluation (although I hope I’m wrong).
An Alaska-Chase partnership would be great for Chase too. If added, the bank would again have a premier exclusive transfer partner. This would hugely incentivize Chase credit card signups and potentially encourage points and miles enthusiasts to move spend away from Amex and Citi cards.
American Express and Chase
Finally, we have programs that I think both Amex and Chase could add to their respective portfolios this year. These two programs have never had a U.S. transfer partner (beyond Marriott) and each has its own quirks and features that make them an interesting choice. Here’s a look.
JAL Mileage Bank
JAL Mileage Bank has long sat in the shadows of other major loyalty programs — mainly because these points are hard to earn. Once you have them, though, they’re super powerful.
For example, you can use 100,000 Mileage Bank miles to fly round-trip from the U.S. to Japan on Japan Airlines (JAL). This includes an open jaw, so you can see two Japanese cities on one ticket if you’d like.
You can use 190,000 miles for an Emirates first-class ticket from Asia to the U.S. with two stopovers. Emirates’ fifth-freedom Milan to New York flight makes it possible to book a ticket from Bangkok (BKK) to Dubai (DXB) to Milan (MXP) to New York-JFK.
I think JAL Mileage Bank could end up being a transfer partner of Amex or Chase. It would add value for niche redemptions — especially for those of us itching to fly Emirates first class.
LATAM has gone through a ton of changes this year. Delta purchased 20% of the airline and — just months later — it left the Oneworld alliance. Unfortunately, LATAM was subject to financial hardship during the coronavirus outbreak, forcing it to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.
With Delta’s new investment, I think that LATAM Pass could become an Amex or Chase transfer partner over the next year. It needs the revenue and exposure if it wants to make waves with Delta in the U.S. market, and partnering with Amex or Chase would help with both.
While some of these may be a long-shot, I do think that we’ll see both American Express and Chase add at least one new transfer partner before the end of 2020. Doing this would be mutually beneficial for both the bank and the travel company in question, especially considering how badly travel companies need extra revenue these days. Likewise, it would help with customer retention and generate excitement for when travel does resume.
As far as my wishlist goes, I’m hoping for Asiana, Alaska and Turkish Airlines. These programs have excellent redemption rates on their respective partners and — barring a devaluation — would make transferable points even more useful.
Feature photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock