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Travel Rewards 101: The Ultimate Guide to Credit Card Travel Rewards | Part 2

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 part 1 of our Ultimate Guide to Credit Card Travel Rewards series, we laid out the basics of travel rewards and what this strategy is all about.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll tackle the essential nature of the “transferable” points currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards® and American Express Membership Rewards, the best credit cards for travel rewards, and the importance of flexibility.

But first we need to lock in on what airlines we might use in the future to help determine what points & miles we want to pursue.

What Airlines Serve The Airports Around You

You probably already know your nearest major airport, but you should also figure what other airports are plausibly close enough that you may consider driving to for an almost free ticket. Remember, flexibility is key to maximizing your miles.

Our favorite tool for finding the closest airports is the Travel Math Closest Airport Calculator. Just put in your city and hit “calculate” then scroll down and see the list of international and domestic airports and the distance from your home city.

As we mentioned previously, the Wikipedia page for your airport is really useful; scroll down to the “Airlines and Destinations” section and you’ll see every airline and direct flight flown from that airport.

As you move further into your planning, you should use Google Flights or a search engine like Travelocity to get a sense of how much the flight would cost if you were paying cash. This is good info to have as you try to determine if it makes sense to use your valuable points & miles on a particular trip or if you’re better off just paying for this one and saving your miles for another day.

A rule of thumb we like to use is getting 2 cents per point in value. If you’re vastly below this 2 cents per point (for instance you’re using 100,000 miles to save $1,000, which would be 1 cent per point), then it might not make sense to redeem your miles in many (but not all!) cases. This is just a rule of thumb.

Another helpful detail you should know about the airlines that serve your airports is if they belong to any of the three major airline alliance networks. We’ll cover this in greater detail in a future section, but again the three major alliances are Star Alliance, Sky Team, and One World.

And the shorthand is:

  • Star Alliance: United Airlines
  • OneWorld: American Airlines
  • Sky Team: Delta

This is useful to know because you can redeem your miles from one airline on an alliance partner’s flights (but remember that you’re booking with the miles you have on that airline’s website).

One example might be using Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles (as you’ll see below, all the major transferable points currencies transfer to Singapore miles, so these are EASY miles to accumulate) to redeem for a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu on a United Airlines airplane — even if you have no United miles!

Once you have all this information, you can start to hone in on the airline loyalty programs that will serve your travel plans, as well as the type of miles and points to focus on earning

Best Ways to Earn Travel Rewards Points

Once you’ve figured out the airlines you’re targeting, it’s time to decide how to amass the points & miles necessary and what credit cards to focus on.

Here are the main ways we’ve identified to earn significant amounts of miles:

Earn Points & Miles From Credit Card Signup Bonuses

While it’s technically possible to follow this travel rewards strategy without opening up a credit card, the best and most efficient way to amass huge quantities of miles & points is definitely through ‘credit card signup bonuses’ that the credit card companies offer on their top-tier travel rewards cards.

As we mentioned in the first article, an example might be: “Earn 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.”

This means the ‘signup bonus’ is 50,000 miles in this example, but you need to reach a cumulative minimum spend of $3,000 over those first 3 months from the date you’re approved for the card.

You’re paying the card on time and in full each month, so there’s no interest expense for you, and that means that $3,000 of your normal spending, when applied to this very targeted travel rewards card can be worth far more than the 1%-2% cash back you’re used to.

If we go with our “2 cents per point” rule of thumb, you can expect 50,000 miles to be worth about $1,000 when well redeemed.

That means the $1,000 in value essentially gave you a 33.3% rebate on that $3,000 of spending! That sure beats 1%, right?

You see why these signup bonuses can be powerful, so let’s look at the broad categories of travel rewards cards:

Option 1 (Best): Earn Flexible Points And Transfer Them To The Airline You Need

Chase Bank, American Express, Citibank, and Capital One all have their own travel rewards “currencies” that are highly flexible in how you use them for travel.

The best option is to build a significant stash of these flexible currencies. These can transferred out of your credit card account to an airline or hotel transfer partner, which is usually the best way to extract the most value from your points.

Each currency has different transfer partners, so having a lot of each of these currencies gives you options galore, and the ability to transfer them out at a moment’s notice when you’re ready to book your flight/hotel.

These points actually live in your credit card account and you actually transfer them to the airline/hotel transfer partner and at that moment they become those miles/points and are no longer part of your credit card point balance.

We’ll dive into these flexible currencies in the next section, but remember that these are the essential building blocks for a highly successful travel rewards strategy.

For now, the key takeaway is that these flexible points are the preferred currency to have. Of the four, Chase Ultimate Rewards® is our favorite currency, followed by American Express Membership Rewards.

Option 2: Earn Bonus Miles Directly With That Airline Using A Co-branded Credit Card

This is the second-best option since the miles earned with a “co-branded” card cannot be transferred to multiple partners, so you have less flexibility.

For instance, if you have an American Airlines credit card, you earn AA miles each month from that credit card and they are sent at the end of every statement to your AAdvantage frequent flyer account.

These points are never part of your credit card account and are sent directly to your frequent flyer account to become those miles right away.

There’s no flexibility for these miles as you have to use them through American Airlines. Though as we’ve discussed and it’s critical you understand, having AA miles means you can fly on all their OneWorld Alliance partners, so there’s a ton of flexibility in that respect.

Here are the banks the big US airlines currently partner (“co-brand”) with for their credit cards:

  • United Airlines and Southwest Airlines are partnered with Chase
  • American Airlines is partnered with Citibank and Barclays
  • Delta is partnered with American Express
  • JetBlue is partnered with Barclays.

Option 3: Earn Bonuses That You Can Use As A Fixed Value Currency

These fixed value currencies tend to be worth one cent per point and basically let you wipe out travel expenses from your statement. 

They are useful for paying travel expenses not covered by major travel reward programs, such as cruises, trains, and taxis, and Airbnb, or when redeeming miles is just impossible due to peak travel periods.

One example is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Another great feature of fixed value currencies is that they are simple to use, and you do not need to wait until you have amassed enough points or miles and then transfer them to your desired airline program. 

Instead, just buy the ticket, and then take your time to earn enough points to erase that spend up to roughly three months later.

Make Use Of Category Bonuses To Get More Points And Miles

It’s common for cards to offer a large number of points when you sign up for a new card and follow specific requirements, such as spending a certain amount in a particular time frame. 

But category bonuses should not be overlooked.

Category bonuses are when cards offer extra points on certain categories, such as 2x points at restaurants and gas stations or 5x at grocery stores.

You will not be able to amass miles in the same large amounts as signup bonuses, but category bonuses will add to the stash faster than normal spending at regular earning levels.


Your actionable takeaway for this section is to check out your local airport’s Wikipedia page and take Google Flights for a test flight, get good at using it to figure out which airlines serve the destinations you want and the cash price of those flights.

You’ll need to know these to start checking out redemption flights and determining if those are a good use of your miles and points.

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork of figuring out which airlines we want, let’s find out a bit more about the various flexible currencies so we can lock in on the credit cards we want to start with.

How to Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards

All the Chase “premium” credit cards allow transfers of Ultimate Rewards points to certain airline & hotel partners, and you can make transfers as small as 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points (so in any round number to the thousand).

These premium cards are:

Important Note: The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card, Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, and Chase Freedom Flex℠ all earn UR points as well but the Ultimate Rewards points from these cards cannot be transferred directly to an airline/hotel transfer partner.

That said, there is a workaround if you have one of the 3 premium Chase cards open to make those points the much more valuable transferable points.

You would simply combine your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points into one of the premium cards which you can do this easily from your Chase login, and then just like that they are the more valuable transferable UR points.

You will also be able to transfer points between other Chase cardholders in the same household, so you’ll be able to easily pool points before sending those points to a transfer partner.

Essential Note: Transfers to a partner airline or hotel are permanent and irreversible. Once you transfer the points out of your Chase account to an airline/hotel transfer partner, you cannot transfer them back to Chase for that flexibility. So you only want to make the transfer when you are certain you are going to use those points/miles to make a redemption.

When Should You Use Chase Travel℠?

You’ll get a bonus of between 25%-50% if you book travel directly through Chase Travel℠. This bonus is 50% for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and 25% for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.

If a flight is listed at $240, you would normally need 24,000 Ultimate Rewards to pay for it with points. 

But with a 50% bonus, you would only need 16,000 points when booked through Chase Travel℠. Similarly, you would only need 19,200 with the 25% bonus through Chase Travel℠

Although these usually represent poorer redemption values than transferring to airlines, bookings using Chase Travel℠ are treated like booking trips with cash, which means far greater flight availability, even during peak travel periods.

It also means these flights that you book with Chase Travel℠ will earn you miles since it’s usually considered a revenue flight. 

You can also use the portal to book hotels, car rentals, excursions, and even cruises, although those might not always be the best use of your Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Who Are the Chase Airline Transfer Partners?

Potential For Good Value:

  • Aer Lingus AerClub
  • British Airway Avios
  • Iberia Avios
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • United Airlines MileagePlus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Potential For Decent Value:

  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • JetBlue TrueBlue

Chase Hotel Transfer Partners:

  • World of Hyatt (Best value!)
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Rewards

How to Use American Express Member Rewards

All your American Express Member Rewards points are pooled and deposited into a single rewards account, so unlike Chase, there is no need to transfer them between different cards. However, you cannot transfer your Member Rewards to another person in the same household, which is an allowance Chase permits.

There is a limited workaround, though, if you want to transfer your Member Rewards points to a person who is an authorized user on one of your American Express cards. First, link the loyalty programs of your authorized user to your Member Rewards account, and transfer away.

Transfers are at 1,000 MR increments and may take from two days to over a week.

How To Transfer American Express Member Rewards:

Periodically, Amex gives a transfer bonus to select partners. I would not transfer these points unless you are sure it will be redeemed it in the coming months because some of these airline loyalty points, like British Airways Avios, expire after a period of inactivity.

When I was new to travel rewards, I saw an excellent transfer bonus to British Airways Avios and transferred ALL my points. I ended up not using the Avios for more than three years, and if I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have lost them all since Avios expire after 36 months. I was able to reset the counter by transferring a token 1,000 Member Rewards to give the Avios a new lease on life, but that was a close call!

How to Get Maximum Value from the American Express Travel Site

American Express also has a travel portal where you can book flights. I would not bother with hotels, car rentals, and cruises because you lose 30% of your point value right off the bat.

Using your Member Rewards points to book a revenue flight on Amex Travel might be worth it if you have one of the Amex Platinum cards that earn you a 35% rebate. This benefit only kicks in if you fly business class or in economy on your designated airline.

The times to do this would be when an award flight is eluding you, and you have given up trying to find an award redemption and just want to get the flight booked. You would pay for the flight in full using your Member Rewards points at 1 cent per Member Rewards, and a few days later, you will get the 35% point rebate. 

Amex Airline Transfer Partners:

Potential For Good Value:

  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • All Nippon Airways
  • British Airways (Mostly on partner metal to avoid hefty BA fuel surcharges).
  • Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles)
  • Delta Air Lines (SkyMiles)
  • Etihad Guest (Mostly on alliance partner metal)
  • Iberia Guest (Mostly on American Airlines metal)
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways (on Delta metal)

Potential For Decent Value:

  • Air France KLM (Flying Blue)
  • JetBlue Airways

Poor Value:

  • Aeromexico
  • Alitalia (Millemiglia)
  • El Al Israel Airlines
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Hawaiian Airlines

Amex Hotel Transfer Partners:

  • Choice Privileges Rewards
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • Hilton Honors

How to Earn Citi ThankYou Points

The Citi Prestige (no longer available) and Citi Premier® are two cards from Citibank that allow the transfer of Citi ThankYou points to partners.

Many other credit cards from CitiBank will earn you ThankYou Points, but these points cannot be transferred to airline loyalty programs unless combined with either the Citi Prestige or Citi Premier®.

How To Transfer Citi ThankYou Points:

Transferring Citi points is relatively easy. They have the step-by-step process online, but we’ll summarize it here:

You can either transfer your points through or by calling the service center. If you choose to transfer points online, you’ll need to be enrolled in an airline loyalty program. So choose which airline you want to fly with and then enroll on their site.

Then all you’ll need to do is choose how many points you want to transfer, select the airline, and Citi will process your request. 

Note: you’ll need at least 1,000 points to start transferring.

Citi Airline Transfer Partners

Potential For Good Value:

  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • Etihad Guest (Mostly on alliance partner metal)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways (on Delta metal)

Potential For Decent Value:

  • Air France-KLM Flying Blue
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles

Poor Value:

  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Jet Airways JetPrivilege
  • Malaysia Enrich
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus

Citi Hotel Transfer Partners: None

How to Earn Capital One Miles

Note that transfers to airline partners are not a 1:1 transfer. Instead, it is 0.75 airline miles for most partners for each Capital One mile and 0.5 airline miles for Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

So this might not be the best value for your bonus miles. 

But if you need to put regular spending on the card, note that you earn 2x for every $1, which means you would effectively earn 1.5 mile/$1 for most Capital One Partners except Emirates and Singapore Airlines, which would be 1 mile/$1 spent.

How To Transfer Capital One Miles:

As you’ll see below, Capital One makes it easy to transfer your points. On your Capital One dashboard, select “Transfer Your Rewards”.

You’ll be led to the screen below, where you’ll need to confirm your membership number and your name.

Then all you’ll need to do is select how many points you want to be transferred and hit complete!

Capital One Airline Transfer Partners:

Potential For Good Value:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • Etihad Guest (Mostly on alliance partner metal)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Potential For Decent Value:

  • Air France-KLM Flying Blue
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer

Poor Value:

  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia
  • EVA Infinity MileageLands
  • Finnair Plus
  • Hainan Fortune Wings Club
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club

Capital One Hotel Transfer Partners: None

How To Earn Marriott Bonvoy Points

The exchange ratio is generally an unfavorable 3:1 with some exceptions, with a 5,000 bonus if you transfer 60,000 Marriott points. If you transfer 60,000 Marriott points to your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account, you’ll get 20,000 + 5,000 = 25,000 Alaska miles. 

How To Transfer Marriott Bonvoy Points:

With the completion of the acquisition with Starwood and Ritz-Carlton, you can now transfer your Marriott Bonvoy miles online, which is a welcome change.

Like Capital One, Marriott makes it simple to transfer your points.

Once you’ve clicked “Transfer Points,” you’ll be brought to this screen where you choose your frequent flyer program and number. You enter how many points you want to convert, and you’re done!

Marriott Airline Transfer Partners:

Potential For Good Value:

  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Potential For Decent Value:

  • Japan Airlines JAL Mileage Bank
  • Korean Air SKYPASS
  • United MileagePlus

Poor Value:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aeroflot Bonus
  • AeroMexico ClubPremier
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air China Phoenix Miles
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Air New Zealand Airpoints
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia
  • ANA Mileage Club
  • American Airlines
  • Asiana Airlines Asiana Club
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • China Eastern Airlines Eastern Miles
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Copa Airlines ConnectMiles
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest
  • Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
  • Iberia Plus
  • Jet Airways JetPrivilege
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Lufthansa Miles & More
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Saudia Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • South African Airways Voyager
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • THAI Airways
  • Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer

Hotel Transfer Partners:

Since these are Marriott points, the hotels are all going to be Marriott properties, of course.

The Rewards to Airline Transfer Matrix

Woah, that was a lot to take in, So many programs, so many airlines, so little time!

We get it. It took us a long time to learn this, and every once in a while we forget something. So we created a chart to help us track which airlines our travel reward currencies can transfer to. 

 Chase Ultimate Rewards®American Express Member RewardsCiti ThankYou PointsCapital One MilesMarriott Bonvoy Points
Aegean AirlinesX
Aer LingusX
Air CanadaXXX
Air ChinaX
Air New ZealandX
Alaska AirlinesX
All Nippon AirwaysXX
American AirlinesX
Asiana AirlinesX
British AirlinesXXX
Cathay PacificXXXX
China Eastern AirlinesX
China Southern AirlinesX
Copa AirlinesX
Delta AirlinesXX
Frontier AirlinesX
Garuda IndonesiaX
Hainan AirXX
Hawaiian AirlinesXX
Japan AirlinesX
Jet AirwaysXX
Korean AirX
LATAM AirlinesX
Malaysian AirlinesX
Qantas AirwaysXXX
Qatar AirwaysXXX
Saudia AirlinesX
Singapore AirlinesXXXXX
Southwest AirlinesXX
TAP Air PortugalX
Thai AirwaysXX
Turkish AirlinesXX
United AirlinesXX
Virgin AtlanticXXX
Virgin AustraliaX


So what was the whole point of reviewing the programs?

Well, to start with, if you identified that your preferred airline is Southwest Airlines, then the only cards you’re going to be focused on are those that let you earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® as well as the co-branded Southwest cards through Chase.

On the other hand, if your travel plans take your family of five to international destinations served by Singapore Airlines and its Star Alliance partners, do not despair.

You may need a ton of Singapore Airlines Krisflyer points, but you and your significant other will also have multiple opportunities to earn them with various cards from all 5 programs!

Now that you know the following:

  1. Where you want to go, and which airlines will take you there
  2. How many people you will be traveling with
  3. Which flexible card programs and co-branded cards will help you earn the points

It’s time to map out which cards to apply for. Which, you guessed it, is what we’ll do that in the next section!

Start With Chase Credit Cards

There are various perspectives on the ideal card application strategy, but most agree that Chase credit cards should be your starting point.

The 5/24 Rule

A Chase credit card should be your first pick for two reasons.

The first reason is how valuable and versatile Chase Ultimate Rewards® are, and the other reason is the vast number of cards they offer.

But the biggest reason to start with the Chase cards is the 5/24 rule.

The 5/24 rule is whereby Chase will usually decline any credit card applications if you’ve had more than five new personal (and some business) credit cards from any financial institution in the last 24 months (including authorized user cards on someone else’s account).

If it shows up in your credit report, it counts towards 5/24.

Since Chase business credit cards do not show up in your credit report, they do not count towards the 5/24 rule, but the 5/24 rule is used as an initial filter when you apply for a business card.

If you’re reading this guide, then chances are you’re new to travel rewards and are well under any 5/24 limitations. It’s still important information to know from the outset as it will help determine your strategy moving forward.

Remember, this is a long-term strategy, and you want to make sure you give the bank a reason to want to keep your business.

Match Up Your Travel Objectives With The Chase Cards

Earlier, we mapped out:

  • Where you want to go and which airlines will take you there
  • How many people you will be traveling with
  • Which flexible card programs and co-branded cards will help you earn the points you need

Now pair your travel plans with these Chase partner airlines, all of which are good redemption values:

  • United and Southwest in the US
  • British Airways
  • Iberia Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

As a side note, even if your chosen airline is not a direct Chase transfer partner, chances are, there is still an indirect way to get free flights.

For instance, you could get award flights on Delta through Virgin Atlantic, sometimes at better values than on Delta’s program itself.

Rules Of The Other Card Issuers

We’ve spent a lot of time on the Chase 5/24 rule, but we should also note that the other banks have rules as well:

American Express

American Express has a ‘one bonus per lifetime’ policy on both their personal and business cards.

Once you earn that bonus, you will likely not get it again even if you close and open the card years later.

Occasionally, some offers are made without the “one bonus per lifetime” language. If you choose to try for a second bonus on a card you’ve had before, watch out for notification by American Express during the application process.


Citibank has an interesting rule where you have to wait 24 months after opening or closing a card to get a bonus on any card of the same brand, like ThankYou point-earning cards or American Airlines.

However, in June 2019, the bank changed the rules on some of its co-branded cards with American Airlines, extending the wait to 48 months on some cards, but also simplifying the terms by removing reference to wait times being tied to when an account is closed for some cards.

It is likely that Citibank will be extending these rules to more cards – we’ll update when we get more clarity on how things go.

Capital One

Capital One has the strictest rules of all, and you are only allowed two personal Capital One cards at any time.

Also, you’ll only be able to apply for one personal or business card every six months.

Travel Card Suggestions

A list of ChooseFI’s Top Recommended Travel Rewards Cards details the cards we recommend and summarizes their use cases.

Key Points

There is no one perfect way to earn travel rewards. Everything we discuss is just a suggestion. You can use some, none, or all of it to build your own plan.

You may not be approved for every application (you typically need good to excellent credit to qualify for these cards).

You should adjust the timeline and sequence if an increased bonus offer on a card you want becomes available.

If you cannot meet a minimum spend unless you carry a balance and owe money, adjust the timeline and give more time between applications.

Next, in part 3, we’re going to dive into the nuts and bolts of applying for cards, applying for business cards, and how to maximize your return on travel rewards.

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.
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