When should you transfer points to hotel rewards programs?

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Did you know that transferring flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards to hotel loyalty programs can often be a terrible idea?

Having a load of transfer partners looks good on paper, but a handful of them are often fluff — impotent at best, and even wasteful. With few exceptions, hotel transfer partners like IHG and Marriott are generally categorized as poor redemptions. I’ll explain why, and highlight a few very important exceptions.

This is not to say that hotel points aren’t valuable. They are! But because they’re so easy to collect through hotel credit cards, your flexible points are usually more valuable for other travel pursuits.

Most hotel points are easy enough to collect that you don’t need to transfer valuable bank points like Amex Membership Rewards points. (Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

When should you not transfer points to a hotel program?

The premise of this cautionary post is that hotel loyalty programs tend to net you the smallest return per point. Here are our points valuations for the top hotel rewards programs:

  • Marriott – 0.8 cents each
  • Hilton – 0.5 cents each
  • IHG – 0.5 cents each
  • Choice – 0.7 cents each
  • Wyndham – 0.9 cents each
  • Hyatt – 2 cents each (Hyatt is the one huge exception to this thesis, we’ll talk about this soon)

If you’re not getting at least 1 cent per point in value from your flexible points, you’re getting ripped off. You can squeeze significantly more from them with minimal effort. Getting 1 cent per point is extremely low.

For example, let’s say you recently opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and earned its welcome bonus of 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. What they’re worth depends on how you redeem them. If you don’t want the hassle of learning to maximize them, you can cash them out at a rate of 1 cent each. Go to your online account, and Chase will immediately cut you a check for $800 with a few clicks of your mouse.

In other words, if you’re considering transferring your 80,000 Chase points to IHG, you can expect to receive a value around $400 towards IHG hotel stays. If you simply cash your Chase points out, you could simply use that cash to book $800 in IHG hotel stays. Transferring your points to IHG would be a bad idea.

You can get even more value with Chase points with its new Pay Yourself Back feature or through the Chase Travel Portal. Through Sept. 30 you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points at a rate of 1.25 to 1.5 cents each for purchases made at grocery stores, home improvement stores and dining. You can redeem your points at the following rates:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card  – 1.25 cents each. (i.e. 100,000 Ultimate Rewards could cover $1,250 in groceries)
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®:  – 1.5 cents each (i.e. 60,000 Ultimate Rewards could cover $900 in groceries)

You’ll enjoy the same 1.25 to 1.5 cent per point value when booking travel directly through the Chase Travel Portal.

Transferring to airlines will usually give you a better value per point

Flexible rewards program offer a wide variety of airlines to which you can transfer your points, such as:

  • Southwest
  • United
  • Delta
  • JetBlue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Avianca

…and dozens more. Simply select your desired airline, and your points will be converted into airline miles. If you’re interested in learning about this, read our post on which points transfer to each airline.

With many of these airlines, you can expect to receive a value of at least 1.3 cents per mile — and that’s on the low end. I personally find that I average a value above 2 cents per mile when I transfer my points to airlines. My crowning achievement was getting a value of 26 cents per mile flying business class from Brazil to Detroit. I mention this for two reasons:

  1. To brag
  2. To illustrate that it’s possible to get way more than 1.3 cents per mile. Again, it just depends on how you use them

Here’s the point: Transferring your points to airlines practically guarantees that you’ll get more value for your points. Even if you get a so-so value by converting your points into airline miles, it’ll likely still be twice as good as the value you’d get by converting them into hotel points.

Economy class redemptions usually net a value of 1.2 to 1.5 cents per point, while business class redemptions can consistently get you more than 2 to 3 cents per point.

Booking through your card issuer’s travel portal is often a better deal

I’m mostly talking about the Chase Travel Portal here.

Some flexible points programs, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, have their own proprietary search engines where you can book travel. Depending on the card you have, you’ll receive between 1 cent and 1.5 cents in value by redeeming your points for travel through these websites. And they’re almost always a better deal than transferring hotel points.

For example, a free night at the InterContinental Kansas City at The Plaza costs 30,000 IHG points per night. You could convert 30,000 Chase points into IHG points and book this room for free.

However, the exact same room on the exact same night through the Chase Travel Portal costs about half that price. That’s because I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which gives me a flat value of 1.25 cents each toward travel. It would be crazy for me to transfer points to IHG instead of simply booking it through the portal.

Note: When booking through an online portal instead of directly with a hotel, any hotel elite status you have will not be recognized. You won’t earn hotel points on your stay, and you won’t earn elite night credits. The one exception appears to be IHG Ambassador status, which data points show is recognized no matter how you book your room.

When does it make sense to transfer points to a hotel program?

Hyatt redemptions

Hyatt, a Chase transfer partner, is not only the exception to the rule, but it’s one of the best ways to use Chase points. It’s not very difficult to consistently receive a value of 2 cents per point in this program. For example, my wife and I stayed at the all-inclusive Hyatt Zilara Cancun for 25,000 points per night. Rooms sold for $500+ per night. I also booked a stay at the Andaz Maui for 30,000 points per night. Rooms sold for $650+ per night.

Hyatt is a surefire good value for your points, while all other hotel points are a mediocre value at best.

Transfer bonuses

Banks will occasionally offer transfer bonuses to their travel partners. We see this most often with Amex Membership Rewards. If the bonus is high enough, it could be worth transferring your points to a hotel partner.

For example, Amex points normally transfer to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio (1 Amex point = 2 Hilton points). However, Amex sometimes publishes a 50% bonus to Hilton, making the transfer ratio 1:3. We estimate Hilton points to be worth an average of 0.5 cents each (though again, that number can be higher if you know the best use of Hilton points). Thus, 1 Amex point could be worth 1.5 cents each. Not the highest value, but not too shabby, either.

Topping off your account

If you’re a few thousand points away from the figure you need to book a hotel stay, it could be worth sacrificing a small amount of flexible points to meet your goal. If you’ve got 297,000 Marriott points, and you need 300,000 points to book your dream trip, it’s not shameful to make a transfer.

Redeeming points for four or five consecutive nights

Marriott, Hilton, and IHG will tack an additional free night onto your award stay if you stay a certain number of consecutive nights:

  • Marriott – 5th night free
  • Hilton – 5th night free
  • IHG – 4th night free

For a full explanation, read our post on which hotels give you additional free nights on award stays.

Staying long enough to trigger this extra free night can give your points a big boost in value (from 20 to 25%). Likely not enough to convince you to transfer hundreds of thousands of flexible points, but this could work well in tandem with a transfer bonus.

Bottom line

If you’re ever questioning whether it’s a good idea to transfer your flexible points to hotels, it’s usually not the best bet. The odds are that it’s a bad deal, other than the one unignorable exception being Hyatt.

Let us know if you’ve got any questions on when to transfer points. And subscribe to our newsletter for more miles and points guidance like this delivered to your inbox.

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

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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