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Travel credit cards with flexible points can offer excellent value. They can also seem dizzyingly complicated. Should you use the points to book travel directly? Transfer to partners? If so, which partners offer the best value?
It’s easy to sign up for one of these cards and then balk when it comes to actually using the points, since each card carries its own array of transfer partners. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards® points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® can be transferred to 13 travel partner programs; some of these offer great value, while others should be avoided outright. Weighing the pros and cons of each program is a major task — one that most travelers don’t have time for.
If you’re looking to offload these points in order to change or downgrade a travel card but don’t have a particular redemption in mind, you might want to transfer them to a high-value partner. But which partner?
It’s hard to single out the “best” use of any of these transferable credit card points, since that depends on your own travel preferences. But in this article we’ve identified some of the best transfer partners for major travel programs, including Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points and Capital One Miles. Transferring to any of these programs will offer good value and flexibility for future redemptions.
» Learn more: How to choose a travel credit card
American Express Membership Rewards
Transfer to: Etihad Guest
Although Etihad is best known as a luxurious Middle Eastern airline, you don’t have to fly in its famous Residences or to Abu Dhabi to get good value from its Guest rewards program. In fact, most of the best redemption options are on Etihad partners like American Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Royal Air Moroc.
If you’re new to transferable credit card points, let me spell it out for you: We’re recommending you transfer AmEx Membership Rewards points to Etihad, then use those Etihad miles to book flights with its partners. So even though AmEx points can’t transfer directly to Etihad’s partners, you can still fly with them.
You’ll generally need to call Etihad Guest directly in order to search for and book partner availability. This makes it more challenging to identify availability before transferring Membership Rewards points.
» Learn more: What Royal Air Maroc joining Oneworld means for you
Runner-up: Virgin Atlantic
Although using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles to book flights to and from its native U.K. often carries prohibitively high fuel surcharges, this SkyTeam partner offers excellent value on Delta award flights. In fact, it’s almost always better to use Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta flights than Delta miles.
Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Transfer to: Hyatt
It’s hardly a secret that Hyatt offers the most valuable hotel rewards points, but it’s worth emphasizing how much more value its points offer compared to the competition.
Keep in mind that our point valuations are baseline values, based on (effectively) random bookings, which means that you can expect to get 2 cents per point in value without seeking out sweet spots or particularly valuable redemptions.
In other words, parking your points in the World of Hyatt program is a nearly foolproof way to retain value. However, transferring to Hyatt does seriously reduce the flexibility of Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, since its rewards program does not have many high-value redemption options outside booking Hyatt hotels. It’s a trade-off.
Runner-up: United MileagePlus
» Learn more: United MileagePlus: The complete guide
Citi ThankYou Points
Transfer to: Etihad Guest
For all the reasons described in the Membership Rewards section above, Etihad Guest offers a great combination of value and flexibility that mirrors or exceeds that of your original ThankYou points.
Make sure to scope out the possibilities before transferring points, especially if you’re only offloading a small cache of ThankYou points (10,000 Etihad miles won’t get you very far).
Runner-up: Avianca LifeMiles
Although it has hit some financial troubles lately, this South American airline still offers great value when redeeming miles with Star Alliance partners. The only trick is navigating its clunky website.
Capital One Miles
Transfer to: Singapore KrisFlyer
This is a tricky one. Capital One doesn’t have a clear “best” transfer partner, but Singapore’s KrisFlyer program offers decent value and good flexibility, since the airline is a Star Alliance member as well as an Alaska partner (for now).
Singapore still uses an award chart, so you’ll want to target sweet spots when redeeming. Keep in mind that using Singapore miles to book Alaska Airlines flights is not possible using the KrisFlyer award search tool. Instead, you’ll have to call Singapore directly.
Make sure to check the current transfer ratios for whichever program you choose, as these change often and are sometimes less than 1:1. In other words, make sure you’re not splitting your miles in half (or worse) by transferring them.
Runner-up: Etihad Guest or Avianca LifeMiles
As described above, both of these programs offer a good combination of flexibility and value, albeit with some technical challenges.
The bottom line
On the surface, flexible travel points seem like a great option because they offer such a range of opportunities for the rewards travel enthusiast. Actually buckling down to make a decision about how to use or transfer these points, however, can feel overwhelming.
Consider the suggestions we’ve provided merely that: suggestions. Like a waiter offering a recommendation from the menu, we’re just trying to help pare down the options.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card