In this article we will discuss three different kinds of points you can earn by signing up and using different types of travel rewards credit cards:
- Airline points and miles
- Hotel points
- Flexible or transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points
Airline Points and Miles Credit Cards
Many airlines and hotel chains have their own co-branded credit cards, such as Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or United Explorer Card. These cards offer sign-up bonus miles that can be used to fly on the airline whose name is on the card as well as its partner airlines.
To book flights using your airline miles or points, you’ll need to use that specific airline’s website and reward program.
You can’t transfer these miles to another airline or to a flexible currency, such as Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards (see below). But that doesn’t mean you always have to fly on the airline whose miles you have. You can book flights with airline partners.
For example, United Airlines miles can be used on any Star Alliance partner.
You will have to find the flight availability on United’s website first and then book your award ticket. I have booked partner reward flights many times with United miles. For instance, you can fly from Chicago to Europe on Austrian Airlines. Head over to United.com, plug in your destination and travel dates and you will see results for multiple itineraries. Some itineraries will be on United, some will be on Star Alliance partners and some will be a combination of the two.
Some airlines, such as Southwest, don’t have partner airlines, so you can only use their points and miles on their own flights.
Knowing which airlines you are likely to fly, and if they have partner airlines, is important when choosing an airline rewards credit card.
Hotel Rewards Credit Cards
If you get a hotel co-branded credit card you will earn points and miles that, with one notable exception, can only be used to book award stays at one hotel chain.
Marriott partnered with Chase to offer Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card. If you got a sign-up bonus from this card, you can only use these points at Marriott hotels. You can’t transfer the points to another hotel chain and can’t convert them to Ultimate Rewards points.
Marriott’s reward program is pretty unique. It’s the only hotel program where converting hotel points to airline miles makes sense. Marriott has great airline transfer partners, so you don’t have to use the points on hotel stays. You can transfer your points to one of more than 20 airline partners and Marriott will even give you a 5,000 points bonus for transferring your points to a partner airline.
IHG or Hilton
Points from other hotel chains, such as IHG or Hilton, can also be transferred to airlines, however, it is never a good idea to convert them to airline miles. You won’t get a good conversion rate and it’s better to just use them as intended, on your hotel stays.
Flexible Currency Cards
The best credit cards, in my opinion, are credit cards that earn so-called flexible currency: Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Membership Rewards points.
You can transfer these points to airlines and hotel programs. If you have a good stash of one, or all of these flexible currencies, then the sky is the limit. As far as redemptions, you are limited only by your own imagination.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® Points with several Chase personal and business credit cards:
- (Reserve Line) Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- (Reserve Line) Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- (Freedom Line) Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- (Business Line) Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
- (Business Cash Line) Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
- (Unlimited Business Line) Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card
Personally, Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are my favorite currency. They can be transferred to many airline partners, such as United, Southwest, and many more.
You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards® to hotel partners. However, the only hotel partner I would recommend transferring Ultimate Rewards to is Hyatt. Hyatt has a great rewards chart and you can book really amazing hotels without using a ton of points.
Because of Chase’s 5/24 rule (you can’t have more than five cards opened in the last 24 months), I would recommend you start your travel rewards journey by getting one of Chase’s cards. In my opinion, the best card to start with is Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. If you plan on traveling a lot in the next 12 months, then consider Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Don’t be scared by the high annual fee on the Reserve, the card has lots of great benefits.
Ultimate Rewards travel portal is another great way to use your points. You can book flights and hotels directly on the portal.
If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, your points are worth 1.25 cents each.
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, your points are worth 1.5 cents each.
If you have the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Ink Business Cash® Credit Card or Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, you’ll have to transfer the points from one of these cards to one of the Sapphire cards or to Ink Business Preferred Credit Card before you can use them to book travel.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express has many cards that earn Membership Rewards points you can use for travel, too many to list here. Membership Rewards are also a great flexible currency. The best way to use Amex Membership Rewards points is to transfer them to airline partners. Usually, it is not recommended to transfer these points to hotel partners because of the bad conversion rates.
You can redeem Membership Rewards for flights through American Express travel portal, each point is worth one cent.
It’s always a good idea to check if the cash price equivalent will cost you less in points than transferring to a partner. It makes no sense to transfer 30,000 to a partner when you can just buy the ticket through American Express Travel portal for 20,000 points. You will also earn miles if you book directly on the portal.
Amex has some really great airline transfer partners, like Aeroplan, ANA and Virgin Atlantic among others. You can travel far and wide without spending a ton of points if you transfer to partners that offer the best redemptions for international flights.
Membership Rewards are harder to earn that Ultimate Rewards because of “once a lifetime” bonus rule (can only get the sign up bonus once per card) and fewer bonus spend categories.
Citi ThankYou Points
Citi ThankYou Points often get overlooked in our quest to earn Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards points. They can, however, be very useful for certain award redemptions.
You can earn Citi ThankYou Points with the following cards:
- Citi Premier Card
- Citi Rewards+ Card
- For students: Citi Rewards+ Student Card
Sign up bonuses on these cards vary, so if you are interested in earning ThankYou Points, wait till a good sign up bonus comes around.
You will get the best value out of your ThankYou points by transferring them to partners. In order to transfer the points to the travel partners you need to have either Citi ThankYou Prestige or Citi ThankYou Premier. You can combine points from lower tier cards with points from higher tier cards and then transfer them to one of the partners.
If you have one of the upper tier Citi cards, you can use ThankYou points to book airfare. Each point is worth 1.25 cents. Some of the best transfer partners include Asia Miles, Avianca, Singapore KrisFlyer and Flying Blue. All of these programs offer great redemption opportunities for domestic and international flights.
The Bottom Line
Having a good stash of one or more transferrable points will give you a lot of flexibility. Because of Chase’s 5/24 rules, I always recommend people start their travel rewards journey with Chase Ultimate Reward® earning cards, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Ink Business Preferred®.
Membership Rewards points are also a great currency to have in your stash of points. Sometimes Amex offers a 30% bonus for transferring Membership Rewards points to a certain airline, which makes these points even more valuable.
Citi ThankYou points can also offer great opportunities for travelers, especially when they have transfer bonuses to partner airlines, usually 15% or 30%.
If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI’s free travel rewards course.