Reward Programs with the Best Flexibility and Transfer Options

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In my mind there are three reward programs that really give you the most flexibility with good transfer opportunities: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. You are probably wondering how the heck I am clumping the SPG program with the other two, but you will see…

With most of the reward programs out there, you get the best redemption when using your points for their specific brand. While some do allow you to transfer points to other loyalty program, you get a HORRIBLE redemption ratio. For example, Hilton HHonors lets you transfer 10,000 Hilton points for 850 US Airways miles – that must be the worst transfer ratio ever! That means that to get the best usage of your Hilton points you better be planning on staying at Hilton hotels, or else they are worth pretty close to nothing! So now you have all your points in one reward program, but you want to stay elsewhere or fly another airline – you are stuck, right?

I personally like the flexibility of being able to use my points based on my travel patterns. Originally I was only a Marriott girl. I racked up close to a million points in Marriott and then when it came time for my honeymoon there were hardly any hotels for the places I wanted to go. I quickly changed my habits and started racking up programs elsewhere. While I still love my Marriott hotels, they did not suffice for this travel need.

To be able to travel wherever and whenever I want, having a rewards program with the most flexibility is key. While the three programs mentioned before (Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and SPG) all have good and flexible transfer opportunities, they all offer something different. Based on what you foresee yourself using the most in the future should determine the program that best suites your needs.

Chase Ultimate Rewards:

  • Transfer partners:
    • Airlines: United, British Airways, Korean Airways, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines
    • Hotels: Hyatt, Priority Club, Marriott, Ritz Carlton
    • Other: Amtrak
  • Pros:
    • All points transfer to partner programs a 1:1 ratio
    • The “Pay with Points” option gives Preferred Card Holders a 25% bonus when using this option. This allows you to book any flight through their travel system without any black out dates and miles will still be earned as if you were paying with cash.
    • Unlike Membership Rewards, you do not have to pay a conversion fee when transferring your points to a partner program (for US domestic airlines only)
    • The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card has no foreign transaction fees, and word on the street is that the Chase Ink Bold card might eliminate as well!
    • Online shopping mall where you can get bonus points for many of your online purchases
  • Cons: 
    • Still limited on the number of transfer partners, but they continue to add airline partners
    • We have yet to see any bonus transfer promotions (which Membership Rewards has often)
  • Related Blog Posts:
  • Final Thoughts: Assuming more partners (specifically airline partners) this program will be extremely valuable and allow you to transfer at a great rate to many partners out there. This will be the next credit card I sign up for – just need to wait a few months since it is a Chase card and there have been many offers with them lately that I have taken advantage of!

American Express Membership Rewards:

  • Transfer Partners: 
    • Airlines: Delta Skymiles, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, AeroMexico Club Premier, Air Canada Aeroplan, AirFrance KLM Flying Blue, Hawaiian Airlines, Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns, British Airways Executive Club, ANA Mileage Club, Alitalia Airlines MilleMiglia, El Al Israel Airlines, Iberia Plus, JetBlue Airways TrueBlue Points, Virgin America
    • Hotels: Best Western Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Starward Preferred Guest, Choice Privileges, Priority Club, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts
  • Pros:
    • Many partner programs, more than Ultimate Rewards
    • Bonus promotions every now and then for transferring points to certain loyalty programs
    • Points transfer immediately to partner program
    • Online shopping mall where you can get bonus points for many of your online purchases
  • Cons:
    • The transfer ratio for hotels is pretty low and a pretty bad redemption where the Ultimate Rewards is a 1:1 ratio for all partner hotels
    • Many partners have been leaving the program recently (i.e., Southwest, United)
    • When transferring points to a partner program you have to pay a conversion rate
  • Related Blog Posts:
  • Final Thoughts: If you are savvy with using the international airline routing, then transferring to some of the more obscure partners (ANA Mileage Club, Alitalia Airlines, and Iberia Plus) can prove to be a great redemption option. This program gives you the widest range of redemption options, but has a pretty poor rate for hotel transfers.

Starwood Preferred Guest

  • Transfer Partners: 
    • Airlines: Aeroplan/Air Canada, Air Berlin, Air China Companion, Air New Zealand & Air Points, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Alitalia MilleMiglia, All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club, American Airlines AAdvantage, Asia Miles, Asiana Airlines, British Airways Executive Club, Continental Airlines(R) OnePass, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles, Emirates Skywards, Flying Blue, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank, King Club Miles, LAN LANPASS, Mexicana Frecuenta, Lufthansa Miles and More, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus, US Airways Dividend Miles, United Mileage Plus, VARIG Smiles, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
    • Hotels: None – can only redeem at Starwood properties
  • Pros:
    • More airline partners included than Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards
    • Almost all partner airlines transfer at a 1:1 ratio (United, Continental, and Varig Smiles transfer at 2:1; LAN LANPASS transfers at 1:2; Air New Zealand & Air Points transfers at 65:1)
    • For every 20,000 SPG points transferred in one transaction, you will get 5,000 bonus points into the transferred airline partner – this is a 25% bonus!
    • Unlike Membership Rewards, you do not have to pay a conversion fee when transferring your points to a partner program
  • Cons:
    • No transfer options to other hotels; for hotels, points can only be used at Starwood properties
    • If your airline of choice is United or Continental, you will only receive half the number of miles as you would transferring to other airlines – the redemption ratio is 2:1, where most of the other airlines is 1:1
    • Points take up to 24 hours to post to a partner program – not immediate like American Express
    • No online shopping mall where you can get bonus points for many of your online purchases (Chase and Amex both have this)
  • Related Blog Posts:
  • Final Thoughts: If your main goal is to redeem for free flights and you do not care about the perks that come with the partner specific credit cards (i.e., checked baggage, priority boarding, double points, etc.) then this card is far better than an airline specific credit card for maximum redemption and flexibility. You have the option to redeem at Starwood hotels plus a wide array of airlines, plus a 25% bonus always when transferring in increments of 20,000 points!

To check out the bonus point offer when applying for when of these cards, check out the Promotions page here.

Pingbacks

  1. […] My Thoughts: I would only apply for this card if you are looking to get companion pass status. Currently, the 50,000 bonus points are counting towards companion status, and if you get both the personal and business credit card that will get you 100,000 points. To earn the companion pass, you only need 110,000 points. To learn more about the Southwest companion pass, read this prior blog post. If you are not applying for both cards and wont be able to get to the 110,000 points, I’d suggest instead applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card also has a 50K offer and allows you to transfer your points to Southwest. This will give you much more flexibility. […]

Comments

  1. What about Diners Club? It used to be the darling for everyone but then certain “enhancements” left it to dust. But still if we keep aside the past and take a fresh look, I still think it has wonderful transfer options.

  2. As a beginner to this new method of travel, I so appreciate this post. There is an enormous amount of information to read (and abbreviations to understand), so this helps make choosing a card and program much easier. Thank you!

    • @Erin – Glad this was helpful! You are correct, there are so many different programs, credit cards, airline/hotel-specific programs, it all gets jumbled together!

    • @yyyccclll – Unfortunately AA does not partner with Chase nor Amex (which I am bummed about). They do partner with SPG though, which is great if you are looking for AA redemptions.

  3. Thanks for a great comparison listing! I have all three cards and think they all have their strong points. Lately however, I have been using Amex Rewards more due to signup bonuses and I have found a couple of things I really like about it that I am not finding anyone mention. (Unless maybe I am just missing something here.)

    1. You can transfer to Hilton Honors at 1:1.5 or 1000 Amex Rewards = 1,500 Hilton Honors. I just did this and it made the difference in making my award nights.
    2. Amex Rewards have been posting my bonus points as soon as they have been earned or qualified for. I recently got an Amex Plat card, made the $1000 spend and received my 50K bonus points within a couple days. The 1st billing cycle has yet to complete. Sapphire card has yet to post my bonus points even though I qualified weeks ago. The rep said it should post this billing cycle or next (excuse me, next?). To me this is huge as I am waiting for points to post so as to finish booking hotels for an upcoming trip.

  4. Keep in mind that for Amex MR transfers to airlines, the payment for a conversion rate applies only to domestic airlines. Transfers to BA come without a fee (and coincidentally, are the backdoor way to get AA travel through Amex).

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