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The best flexible rewards programs: Comparing Amex, Chase, Citi and more

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The best flexible rewards programs: Comparing Amex, Chase, Citi and more

Joseph HostetlerThe best flexible rewards programs: Comparing Amex, Chase, Citi and moreMillion Mile Secrets Team

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One of the best tricks miles and points enthusiasts use is concentrating their efforts on collecting transferable points to use for award tickets, hotel stays and more. Instead of focusing on earning points in a specific frequent flyer or hotel guest program, those who collect transferable points have many more options for how they use them. That’s because you can choose to transfer your points to dozens of different rewards programs.

Flexible points programs include:

Many of the best travel credit cards won’t lock you into one particular airline or hotel. Let’s look at why transferable points are a great deal, and figure out which currency best fits your travel style.

Cathay Pacific business class — easily attainable by transferring Marriott points to Alaska Airlines. (Photo by Zach Honig)

Which flexible points program is best?

Here’s a quick look at each program.

The information for the Capital One Venture and Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Pros

Where to start?! If you’re new to miles and points, Chase Ultimate Rewards is a terrific place to start collecting transferable points. I’m talking about this one first because it’s the most likely to be a fit for you.

First, it’s extremely easy to earn Chase points. The cards offer great bonus categories, and the welcome bonuses are generous, too. For example:

The information for the Ink Business Preferred card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The program has excellent transfer partners that can net you a relatively effortless return per point of 1.7 cents. You can stay at amazing Hyatt properties, fly business class to Europe on United Airlines or hop around the country with Southwest. It offers the best mix of travel styles. Whether you’re looking for a stay in five-star hotels or just need a coach ticket to visit the family for Thanksgiving, Chase points will serve your needs.

Transfer Chase points to Hyatt and book properties like the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar. (Image courtesy of Hyatt)

These points are especially good for newbies because you can choose to redeem them at a flat rate through the Chase Travel Portal. The value you’ll get depends on the card you have (between 1 and 1.5 cents each), but there’s no transferring points or anything else remotely complicated. You just reserve your airfare or hotel through the portal (just like you would an online travel agency like Expedia or Orbitz), and at checkout, you can choose how many points you want to use to offset the final bill. If you have either of the top-tier Chase Sapphire cards, Chase’s travel portal offers much value for your points than compared to other bank’s travel portals.

Another great thing about this program is that the travel protection benefits that come with Ultimate Rewards-earning cards make them go-to travel credit cards for booking flights, anyway. Earning insanely valuable points is just a bonus!

Cons

There are very few cons to this program. Perhaps the only downside is that it doesn’t include some of the best airline transfer partners for jaw-dropping business class sweet spots around the world (which other programs do). We’ll cover that soon.

Top transfer partners

The best Chase transfer partners depend on your goals. But it’s possible to receive the best value by transferring to:

Note: Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are also fantastic options for niche premium cabin sweet spots.

Read our post on the best ways to use Chase points.

Top cards

Below are all the cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, as well as whether you can transfer them to travel partners. If a card cannot transfer to a travel partner, you can simply transfer those points to one of your cards that does have this ability, and then onto a transfer partner.

Chase Ultimate Rewards CardDo Points Transfer to Travel Partners?
Chase FreedomNo
Chase Freedom UnlimitedNo
Chase Sapphire (no longer available)No
Chase Sapphire Preferred CardYes
Chase Sapphire ReserveYes
Chase Ink Business Cash Credit CardNo
Chase Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit CardNo
Chase Ink Bold (no longer available)Yes
Chase Ink Plus (no longer available to new applicants)Yes
Chase Ink Business Preferred® Credit CardYes
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.

The information for the Chase Freedom, Ink Business Unlimited, Ink Business Cash has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Amex Membership Rewards points

Pros

Amex Membership Rewards is hands-down the best program if you’re looking for premium airline seats. You can book aspirational seats like a first class Lufthansa seat to Europe, business class to Japan on ANA, business class to Europe on multiple Star Alliance carriers, first class to Australia on Etihad, and much more — for comparatively rock-bottom award prices. And not only are the prices cheap, but these are some of the best first and business class products on the planet. Lap-of-luxury, $10,000+ cash priced, onboard bar, top-shelf champagne kinds of flights.

Transfer Amex points to ANA or Virgin Atlantic and book ANA first class at amazing rates. (Photo courtesy of ANA)

Another huge win for Amex Membership Rewards is that the points are easy to earn. Amex issues tons of Membership Rewards earning cards, and many of them have good welcome bonuses and are good for ongoing earning due to bonus categories, too. Here are some examples:

Cons

Amex points are all-stars, and it’s hard to knock them for much. However, the program does possess many “fluff” transfer partners that serve very little purpose in the miles and points game. Yes, they’ve got 22 partners in all, but the majority of them aren’t good deals. They’re either too obscure to be valuable, or their award flights are too expensive.

These points also aren’t quite as valuable as Chase points outside of transferring to partners. Amex has their own travel portal, but you’ll only receive a value of 1 cent per point. The exception is if you have The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers a 35% points rebate when booking with your selected airline or if you’re buying a business class ticket (up to 500,000 points per calendar year).

One big rule to remember is that you can only earn the welcome bonus on each specific Amex card one time, per person, per lifetime. So, for example, if you’ve had The Business Platinum Card® from American Express in the past, you cant earn its bonus again. However, you’d still be eligible to earn the intro offer on The Platinum Card® from American Express, since they’re different products (and assuming you’ve never had that particular card before either).

Top transfer partners

If you’re looking for a first or business class seat to Japan, Australia, Spain, Greece, or many other bucket-list destinations, this is your program. Here are the top Amex transfer partners:

  • Air Canada
  • ANA
  • Iberia
  • Delta
  • Etihad
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

Read our post on the best ways to use Amex points.

Top cards

There are several cards that earn Amex Membership Rewards points, both personal and small-business.

Personal cardsBusiness cards
American Express® Gold CardThe Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressAmerican Express® Business Gold Card
American Express®️ Green CardThe Business Platinum Card® from American Express
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
The information for the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Citi ThankYou points

Pros

Citi ThankYou points aren’t the best flexible points out there for most travel goals. But it’s got one mother of a transfer partner that makes the program worth investing in: Turkish Airlines. Turkish is part of the Star Alliance, so you can book flights on other Star Alliance carriers like United, ANA and Lufthansa with Turkish miles.

You can fly to anywhere within the U.S. on United Airlines for 7,500 miles each way in coach — and 12,500 miles in business class. Turkish also defines “domestic” as Hawaii. Yeah, you can fly to Hawaii in coach for 15,000 Turkish miles round-trip or 25,000 miles in business class round-trip. If you don’t know anything about award flights to Hawaii, just know that those are some stellar rates. I just booked a one-way flight from Honolulu to Newark in business class for later this year (transcontinental lie-flat seats, too). You can also get some killer deals to Europe.

If your travel goals lie primarily in the U.S. and Hawaii, you should be collecting Citi ThankYou points — perhaps exclusively.

Fly in United’s lie-flat Polaris seats across the U.S. for just 12,500 Turkish miles. (Image courtesy of United).

Cons

In general, you won’t be eligible for the sign-up bonus on a Citi ThankYou points-earning card if you’ve opened or closed a card within the same brand of cards (i.e., another ThankYou points card) within the past 24 months. But the terms vary for each card, so be sure to read the fine print on the application before you submit it. For example, you aren’t eligible for a Citi ThankYou points bonus you’ve earned a sign-up bonus with or opened or closed any of these cards in the past 24 months:

  • Citi Rewards+℠ Card
  • Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card  (no longer available)
  • Citi Premier℠ Card
  • Citi Prestige® Card

The information for the Citi Premier card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

These rules are more stringent than Chase, but at least there isn’t a once-per-lifetime rule. Read our guide on earning the same sign-up bonus more than once on how to navigate the rules.

Top transfer partners

If you earn Citi ThankYou points, stick with these airlines when transferring your points:

  • Turkish Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)

Again, for niche routes, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are good options for your ThankYou points.

Top cards

Below are the cards that earn Citi ThankYou points. Note that the Citi® Double Cash Card also earns rewards that can be converted into ThankYou points if you have a Citi ThankYou points earning card with an annual fee. Just transfer your rewards to that card, and they instantly become ThankYou points.

CardIntro bonusAnnual fee
Citi® Double Cash CardNone$0
Citi Premier℠ CardEarn 60,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.$95
Citi Prestige® CardEarn 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.$495
Citi Rewards+℠ CardEarn 15,000 ThankYou points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.$0
AT&T Access Card from CitiEarn 10,000 ThankYou points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.$0
Citi Rewards+ Student CardEarn 2,500 ThankYou points after spending $500 in the first three months.$0
The information for the Citi Premier, Citi Prestige, AT&T Access card, Citi Rewards+ Student card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Capital One miles

Pros

In respect to transferring your rewards to other loyalty programs, there aren’t many bright spots within the Capital One miles program. If you work hard, you may be able to find a deal. But get this — that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

See, Capital One miles originally didn’t transfer to any programs. They were created to work similarly to cash back: purchase travel on your Capital One card and simply erase it from your balance without ever having to pay it. Fortunately, you can still do this with the Capital One Purchase Eraser. Redeeming your miles with this method will give you a return of 1 cent per point. This is still (almost always) the best way to use Capital One miles. It’s by far the simplest rewards currency to redeem if you take the Purchase Eraser route.

That being said, if you try a bit you can get solid value when transferring to the right partners and booking flights that are in a rewards program’s sweet spot.

Cons

The reason Capital One miles are harder to redeem for good value is because all transfer ratios are lousy — you won’t do better than a rate of 3:2 (3 Capital One miles = 2 airline miles). It’s not easy to get a value above 1 cent per mile.

Also, there are fewer ways to earn Capital One miles than with most other currencies. They have just four cards that earn miles, and they have no bonus categories. You’ll never earn more than 2 miles per dollar.

Top transfer partners

If you must transfer Capital One miles, here are the best value propositions:

  • Accor
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Avianca
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Qantas

Read our post on the best ways to use Capital One miles.

Top cards

Here are the cards that earn Capital One miles.

Credit cardSign-up bonusAnnual feeEarning rateReview
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening$952 miles per dollar on every purchaseCapital One Venture review
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card20,000 miles after spending $1,000 on purchases within 3 months of account openingNo annual feeUnlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchaseCapital One VentureOne credit card review
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business50,000 Capital One miles after spending $4,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening$95, waived the first year2 miles per dollar on every purchaseCapital One Spark Miles review
Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business20,000 Capital One miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of account openingNo annual fee1.5 miles per dollar on every purchase

The information for the Capital One Venture, VentureOne, Spark Miles, Spark Miles Select has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Marriott points

Pros

Marriott points are easy to earn. If you stay at Marriott hotels with any regularity, you realize how quickly you can earn hundreds of thousands of points. And if you don’t, the cards have solid bonus categories to help you establish a stash in no time. The cards also have healthy welcome bonuses, such as:

The biggest strength of transferring Marriott points is this: You’ve got exponentially more airline transfer partners than any other program to choose from. Like, 43 airlines. Airlines that no other program can transfer to, such as Alaska Airlines and American Airlines. This means that collecting Marriott points is like collecting every single useful airline currency.

Transferring Marriott points to American Airlines and booking Qatar Qsuites business class is an amazing use of points. (Photo by Eric Rosen.)

Cons

Here’s the bad news. Marriott points offer the worst transfer ratio on the list. Nearly all airlines require a 3:1 ratio (3 Marriott points = 1 airline mile). But the rapidity in which you can earn them might make it bearable.

Also, if you transfer your Marriott points in increments of 60,000, you’ll get an extra 5,000 airline miles deposited into your account. This is huge! That means if you transfer 60,000 points to Delta, you’ll receive 25,000 miles. That greatly improves the transfer ratio.

Top transfer partners

These are the best Marriott transfer partners, in part because their miles are hard to get anywhere else:

  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Japan Airlines
  • Turkish Airlines
  • American Airlines

Read our post on the best ways to use Marriott points (spoiler: it’s not necessarily transferring them to airlines).

Top cards

These are the cards that earn Marriott points.

Marriott Bonvoy credit cardWelcome bonusBest card for
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card50,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three monthsBest no annual fee Marriott card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.Best mid-tier Marriott credit card
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms ApplyBest Marriott card for benefits and perks
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms ApplyBest Marriott card for small businesses

Handy chart for converting flexible points to airline miles

AirlineAmerican Express Membership Rewards pointsChase Ultimate Rewards pointsCiti ThankYou pointsCapital One milesMarriott points
Aegean Airlines3:1
Aer Lingus1:11:13:1
Aeroflot3:1
Aeromexico1:1.61:12:1.53:1
Air Canada Aeroplan1:12:1.53:1
Air China3:1
Air New Zealand200:1
Alaska Airlines3:1
Alitalia1:12:1.53:1
Al Nippon Airways (ANA)1:13:1
American Airlines3:1
Asiana Airlines3:1
Avianca1:11:12:1.53:1
British Airways1:11:13:1
Cathay Pacific1:11:12:1.53:1
China Eastern3:1
China Southern3:1
Copa3:1
Delta1:13:1
El Al1,000:20
Emirates1:11:11:12:13:1
Etihad1:11:12:1.53:1
Flying Blue (Air France & KLM)1:11:11:12:1.53:1
EVA Air1:12:1.5
Finnair2:1.5
Frontier3:1
Hainan Airlines2:1.53:1
Hawaiian Airlines1:13:1
Iberia1:11:13:1
Japan Airlines (JAL)3:1
Jet Airways1:13:1
JetBlue5:41:11:12:1.56:1
Korean Air3:1
LATAM3:1
Lufthansa
Malaysia Airlines1:1
Qantas1:11:12:1.53:1
Qatar Airways1:12:1.53:1
Saudia3:1
Singapore Airlines1:11:11:12:13:1
Southwest1:13:1
TAP Portugal3:1
Thai Airways1:13:1
Turkish Airlines1:13:1
United Airlines1:13:1.1
Virgin Atlantic1:11:11:13:1
Virgin Australia3:1

Again, the conversion rate for Marriott points becomes 3:1.25 when you transfer in increments of 60,000. That’s because you will receive a 5,000 mile bonus when transferring 60,000 Marriott points at a time.

Bottom line

If you’re looking for the most flexibility when redeeming points for free travel, you should invest in transferable points. They transfer to dozens of hotel and airline programs, and you don’t need to move them until you’re ready to book a trip.

Transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards pointsAmex Membership Rewards points, and Citi ThankYou points give you lots of options for how to use your points. It’s easy to earn these rewards through credit card spending because most cards in these programs have category bonuses that can get you extra points for every dollar you spend.

Which is your favorite transferable points program? Let us know in the comments below. And subscribe to our newsletter for more miles and points info delivered to your inbox once per day. You’ll be a pro in no time!

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • One Year Complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21.

More Info

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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Cap1 is great, but it helps to know that you’ve pointed out on older posts that they pull credit checks from all 3 bureaus. And with American Express, I haven’t been able to get a card with them because whenever I apply a pop up box states I’m not eligible from having too many cards. I got 3 cards in past 24 mo (spaced out 6 mo apart) so I feel I’m on the conservative end…

I had an American Express Platinum Optima card for years, but over time the transfer partners dwindled down to nothing. Now, I rarely use the card. There is no incentive.

Need to correct my post…every DOLLAR spent is worth a minimum of 1.5 miles on the airlines with a 3:2 transfer ratio.

GetToThePoints

It seems like I always have to point this out in articles such as this. Cap1 is better than the article outlines. Cap1 earns 2 cents per dollar of spend so the cost is really half of what most other cards cost. I define cost as the amount of spend it takes to earn the necessary points. If for example you use 30,000 points for a ticket, with most cards that would require $30,000 of spend to earn those points. Not so with Cap1, it takes only $15000 of spend at 2 cent earned per dollar. So, in essence you are getting 2 cents of value per your dollar of spend thus doubling your value.

“The reason Capital One miles are harder to redeem for good value is because all transfer ratios are lousy — you won’t do better than a rate of 3:2 (3 Capital One miles = 2 airline miles). It’s not easy to get a value above 1 cent per mile.”

Wrong. You earn 2 Venture Points per $ with the Venture card for ALL spend, so every point is worth a minimum 1.5 miles on the airlines that have a 3:2 transfer ratio. OR you can cancel out travel charges on the card 1:1 with Venture points, which is 2 cents redemption per $ spent.