Beginner’s Guide to Using Flexible Points for Big Travel With Small Money

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In our interview series, we always ask, “What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?”

The most common answer interviewees give is that they wish they would have started sooner.  Even if you’re unsure of your travel goals, starting to earn transferable points now will give you lots of options for your future trip plans.

Because transferable points programs have dozens of airline and hotel partners, you’ll have the flexibility to choose where to move your points when you’re ready to use them.

Beginner's Guide To Using Flexible Points For Big Travel With Small Money
Dreaming of Big Travel? Transferable Points Give You the Most Flexibility When You’re Ready to Plan Your Trip!

Let’s take a detailed look at the 4 major transferable points programs.

1.   Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase Ultimate Rewards is my favorite flexible points program.  And it’s the best place to start if you’re new to miles & points!

That’s because if you have certain cards, you can transfer points directly to terrific travel partners, like British Airways, United Airlines, Hyatt, and Southwest.  There are never any transfer fees and most transfers are instant.

Or use points to book paid travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point with no blackout dates!

Beginner's Guide To Using Flexible Points For Big Travel With Small Money
We’ve Transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to Hyatt for Amazing Stays at Hotels Like the Grand Hyatt Kauai

Cards that Earn Chase Ultimate Reward Points

You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points with these cards:

Personal CardsBusiness Cards
Chase Sapphire ReserveChase Ink Business Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred CardChase Ink Business Cash Credit Card
Chase Sapphire (No Longer Available to New Applicants)
Note: Points earned from the Chase Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Sapphire, and Ink Business Cash cards can only be transferred to travel partners if you also have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold card.

Keep in mind, you can only transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to airline and hotel partners if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Ink Bold (no longer offered) card.

And to redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points through Chase’s portal for 1.25 cents per point, you’ll also need one of the cards above. Otherwise, your points are worth 1 cent each toward paid travel or cash back.

You’ll also earn Ultimate Rewards points when you use your Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited or Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card, but you can’t move them to airlines and hotels directly.  You’ll have to first transfer them to your Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Ink Bold account!

Chase Ultimate Rewards points do NOT expire.  But once you’ve moved them to an airline or hotel partner, you can NOT transfer them back!

Airline & Hotel Partners

Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to the following partners:

 Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
Aer LingusBritish AirwaysFlying Blue (Air France/KLM)
IberiaJetBlueSingapore Airlines
SouthwestUnited AirlinesVirgin Atlantic
 Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 
HyattIHGMarriott
Ritz-Carlton

Things to Consider

2.  American Express Membership Rewards

American Express Membership Rewards points are not as straightforward as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but they’re a good option if you prefer American Express’ airline and hotel partners.

Some of their partners, like British Airways and Singapore Airlines, are also Chase Ultimate Rewards partners.  But many, like Delta, Air Canada, or Etihad, are NOT.

Beginner's Guide To Using Flexible Points For Big Travel With Small Money
Transfer AMEX Membership Rewards Points to Etihad for Flights to the Middle East and Beyond – or Book Partner Flights Like American Airlines

Transfers take ~1 to 2 days.  And you’ll pay an excise fee of 0.06 cents per point (to a maximum of $99) when you move your points to US airlines, like Delta or JetBlue.

And you can get an especially good deal when AMEX runs transfer bonuses to certain partners.

Cards That Earn AMEX Membership Rewards Points

Like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, once you’ve transferred points to an airline or hotel partner, you can NOT get them back!

Airline & Hotel Partners

You can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to these airlines and hotel chains:

 American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
AeroMexicoAir CanadaAlitalia
ANAAsia MilesBritish Airways
DeltaEl AlEmirates
EtihadFlying Blue (Air France / KLM)Hawaiian Airlines
IberiaJetBlueSingapore Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
 American Express Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 
ChoiceHiltonStarwood

Check out my posts on how to use American Express Membership Rewards points to get to Europe and India.

Things to Consider

3.   Starwood Preferred Guest

Starwood points aren’t just useful for hotel stays Starwood Preferred Guest is another great flexible option because you can transfer points to more than 30 different airlines, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Delta.

For each transfer of 20,000 Starwood points to airlines with a 1:1 transfer ratio, you’ll earn an extra 5,000 airline miles.  That’s like getting a 25% bonus!

Note:   Transfers of Starwood points to airlines can take up to 4 weeks!  But in my experience, it usually takes ~2 to ~12 days.
Beginner's Guide To Using Flexible Points For Big Travel With Small Money
Transfer Starwood Points to Airlines Like American Airlines and Earn 5,000 Bonus Miles for Every 20,000 Points You Transfer!

If you prefer using Starwood points for hotel stays, you can stretch your points with perks like:

Cards That Earn Starwood Points

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (Personal)

Link:   Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

You can earn Starwood points directly from the AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest personal and small business cards.  The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express currently offers 25,000 Starwood points after you meet the minimum spending requirements.

Starwood is also an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner.  But the transfer ratio isn’t good (3 AMEX Membership Rewards points = 1 Starwood point).  So I’d only recommend this if you just need a few Starwood points to top-off your account for an award.

Remember, once you transfer Starwood points to an airline, you can NOT transfer them back!

Airline Partners

Transfer your Starwood points to these airline partners:

 Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Transfer Partners 
AegeanAeroMexicoAir Canada
Air ChinaAir New ZealandAlaska Airlines
AlitaliaANAAmerican Airlines
Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)Asiana AirlinesBritish Airways
China EasternDeltaEmirates
EtihadFlying BlueGol Smiles
Hainan AirlinesHawaiian AirlinesIberia
Japan AirlinesJet AirwaysKorean Airlines
LifeMiles (Avianca)Miles & More (Lufthansa)Qatar Airways
Saudi Arabian AirlinesSingapore AirlinesThai Airways
United AirlinesVirgin AtlanticVirgin Australia

Keep in mind, most (but not all) airlines have a 1:1 transfer ratio.  The exceptions are:

  • Air New Zealand – 65 Starwood points = 1 Air New Zealand point
  • Gol Smiles – 2 Starwood points = 1 Gol miles
  • LAN – 1 Starwood point = 1.5 LAN kilometers
  • United Airlines – 2 Starwood points = 1 United Airlines mile

Things to Consider

  • Starwood points expire after 12 months of not earning or spending points
  • You can transfer up to 79,999 points per airline within 24 hours.  However, due to the transfer bonus increment of 20,000 points, you should consider the effective transfer limit to be 60,000 points
  • Minimum transfer of 2,500 Starwood points to airlines for regular members 1,500 Starwood points for Starwood Gold members, and no minimum (with most airlines) for Starwood Platinum members
  • If you don’t have enough points for a transfer, you can transfer points for free between accounts as long as the accounts share the same address

4.   Citi ThankYou

You can transfer Citi ThankYou points to airline partners.  And while they don’t have any US airline partners, Citi ThankYou points are still useful in certain situations!

For example, transferring to partner Singapore Airlines is a terrific deal if you want to experience a First Class suite on the A380.  Or pay fewer miles to Hawaii using Singapore Airlines miles to fly on United Airlines with no fuel surcharges.

Beginner's Guide To Using Flexible Points For Big Travel With Small Money
Transfer Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore Airlines and Treat Yourself to a Flight in a First Class Suite

Citi ThankYou points transfers to partners can take up to 2 weeks.  But in my experience, your points will post within a few days.

Like all flexible points programs, once you transfer Citi ThankYou points to a partner, you can NOT transfer back!

Cards That Earn Citi ThankYou Points

You can only transfer Citi ThankYou points to airline partners if you have the Citi Prestige, Citi ThankYou Premier, or Citi Chairman (no longer offered) card.

But if you have one of the cards mentioned, you can combine points from other Citi ThankYou point-earning cards, then transfer to travel partners!

Cards With Points That Directly Transfer to Travel PartnersCards With Points That Transfer ONLY If You Have a Card From First Column
Citi Prestige® CardCitiBusiness ThankYou (No Longer Available)
Citi ChairmanCiti AT&T Access More (No Longer Available)

Here are my reviews of the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier!

Remember, if you have the Citi Prestige, you can use Citi ThankYou points at a rate of 1.6 cents per point to book paid travel on American Airlines and oneworld partners through July 23, 2017.  Or 1.33 cents per point on other airlines through July 23, 2017.

And Citi ThankYou Premier cardholders can use points to book paid travel, including airfare, hotels, car rentals, and cruises, at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.

That’s great flexibility if you don’t want to worry about blackout dates or finding available award seats.

Airline & Hotel Partners

You can transfer Citi ThankYou points to these airlines at a 1:1 ratio (except JetBlue, which is 5:4):

 Citi ThankYou Points Airline Transfer Partners 
AviancaAsia Miles (Cathay Pacific)EVA Air
EtihadFlying Blue (Air France/KLM)Garuda Indonesia
Jet AirwaysJetBlueMalaysia Airlines
QantasQatar AirwaysSingapore Airlines
Thai AirwaysTurkish AirlinesVirgin Atlantic
Note:   Transfers must be made in 1,000-point increments.

Remember, once you transfer points to an airline, you can use those points for award tickets on any airline within their alliance.

Things to Consider

  • You can only transfer points to your own frequent traveler account (names have to match)
  • There’s no fee to transfer points
  • It can take up to 14 days for points to post to your frequent flyer account, but they’ll deduct the points from your ThankYou account immediately.  So you might want to have several award redemptions in mind in case your first choice vanishes while waiting for points to transfer!
  • Not all ThankYou points can be transferred (even if you have an eligible card) – for example, points earned from a Citi checking account or for opening a new account aren’t eligible
  • You can move a maximum of 500,000 ThankYou Points per transfer

Bottom Line

Even if you’re not sure of your travel goals, you can start collecting transferable points now – and have the flexibility to transfer them to dozens of airline and hotel partners in the future.

You can earn lots of points from programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest from credit card sign-up bonuses and spending.

And when you’re ready to plan a trip, transfer them to your favorite airline or hotel partner.  You’ll have plenty of options!

What’s your favorite transferable points program?

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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