This is an update to a post previously published in January 2019. It was time to refresh this post anyway, but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized the need to make the award redemption ratings more nuanced. These days, I suspect that people are more interested in hotels than flights, and more interested in domestic flights rather than international. So, I broke these out into separate ratings.
In my opinion, transferable points programs are the most valuable points to accumulate. In many cases, points can be used at better than 1 cent per point value to book travel. Even better, points can be strategically transferred to airline and hotel programs when valuable awards are available. If you’re at all interested in free travel or luxury travel with points & miles, then you need to understand the basics of each of these programs.
In this post, we’ll compare the following transferable points programs (click each link for a guide to that particular program):
What are transferable points programs?
Each of the credit card issuers covered here offer their own rewards programs. With each program, you can earn rewards points (which Capital One confusingly refers to as “miles”) through credit card sign up bonuses, credit card spend, and more. All four rewards programs share common traits:
- Points can be redeemed directly for travel, merchandise, or (sometimes) cash back. Points are usually worth most when redeemed for travel.
- Points can be transferred to airline and (sometimes) hotel loyalty programs. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United MileagePlus miles.
- Points never expire unless you close your associated credit card accounts
Even though the programs are similar at a very high level, they are very different when you drill down.
Transferable Points Programs, Graded by Greg
Details about all of the individual grades follow…
Amex Membership Rewards
|Earn Points||Amex offers a slew of options for earning points:
I particularly love that the no-fee Blue Business Plus card offers 2X everywhere on up to $50K spend per year (then 1X), and points earned with the card are fully functional (i.e. they can be transferred to airline and hotel partners). Amex also has the best food-related earnings with the Amex Gold Card, which earns 4X points at US Supermarkets (up to $25K in purchases, then 1X) and 4X at restaurants worldwide.
|Redeem for Cash||The only good way to redeem points for cash is with a Charles Schwab branded Amex card. That said, this is the only program in the roundup where it’s possible to get 1.25 cents per point in cash. Details here.
|Redeem for Travel||The only options to redeem for travel and get better than 1 cent per point value is to hold specific high-end cards. Even then, you only get high value for your selected airline or for premium cabin fares.|
|Hotel Awards via Transfer Partners||
Amex is the only program that supports point transfers to Choice Privileges (1 to 1) and Hilton (1 to 2). Like Chase, they also support transfers to Marriott (1 to 1).
Unfortunately, none of the supported hotel programs reliably offer better than 1 cent per point value (or half a cent per point value with Hilton), so it’s rare for these transfers to make sense.
|Domestic Flight Awards via Transfer Partners||
Amex is the only program that supports transfers to Delta SkyMiles and Hawaiian Airlines. Often Delta runs award sales that offer very good value for domestic economy flights. Hawaiian Airlines rarely has good award prices, but it’s good to at least have that option. Unfortunately, Amex charges a small fee to transfer points to any US based airline.
Via airline partnerships, Membership Rewards points can be transferred to a number of foreign airlines in order to get excellent award prices for flying domestic. Examples include Avianca LifeMiles or Singapore KrisFlyer miles for flying United; British Airways or Iberia Avios for flying American; Virgin Atlantic or Air France for flying Delta; and Singapore KrisFlyer miles or British Airways Avios for flying Alaska.
|Luxury Flight Awards via Transfer Partners||
Amex offers quite a few partners that make it possible to redeem miles for very high value international awards. These include Air Canada Aeroplan, ANA, Avianca, and more. Best of all, Amex frequently offers transfer bonuses that can great increase the value of your points.
For details on using miles for luxury flight awards, see our “Best ways to get to…” series.
Amex doesn’t allow point sharing with other people. You can indirectly share points, though: you can transfer your points to another person’s loyalty program as long as that person is an authorized user on one of your Amex Membership Rewards cards.
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