ChooseFI Logo

3 Different Types Of Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.

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. These types of cards offer sign-up bonus points that can be used to fly on the airline as well as its partner airlines or stay in the hotel chain whose name is on the card .

Booking Flights

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 hotel’s program, but that doesn’t mean you always have to fly on the airline whose miles you literally 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 on United’s site (or a phone call).

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

If you get a sign-up bonus from a Marriott card, you can only use these points at Marriott hotels. You can’t transfer the points to another hotel chain.

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 (but be mindful of the value you’re getting!), so you don’t have to use the points just on hotel stays.

IHG or Hilton

Points from other hotel chains, such as IHG or Hilton, can also be transferred to airlines, however, it is almost 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: Chase 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

Personally, Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are my favorite currency. They can be transferred to many airline partners, such as United, British Airways, Southwest, and many more.

You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards® to hotel partners. However, the only hotel partner I would recommend transferring Chase 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.

You can find our current Top 10 Recommended Credit Cards list here.

Redeeming Rewards

Chase Travel℠ 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 for travel booked on through Chase Travel℠.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, your points are worth 1.5 cents each for travel booked on through Chase 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. 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 than Chase 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 often get overlooked in our quest to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® or Membership Rewards® points. They can, however, be very useful for certain award redemptions.

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 one of the top tier Citi credit cards. You can combine points from lower tier cards with points from higher tier cards and then transfer them to one of the partners.

The Bottom Line

Having a good stash of one or more transferable 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 Rewards® earning cards.

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 travel rewards Ultimate Guide.

Top Travel Rewards Offers

card_name

Top Travel Card

Ready to unlock a world of free travel? Start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
Details: $95 annual fee | Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
card_name

Most Flexible Travel Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card can be used to offset almost any travel expense.
Details: $95 annual fee | Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 Miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
card_name

Best Card for Side Hustlers and Business Owners

Side hustlers! With the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card you can earn free travel from your business expenses.
Details: $95 annual fee | Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.
More To Explore