Which Transferable Points Program is Best?

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Arguing which is the best transferable points currency, between Chase, American Express, Citibank, and Capital One, is a bit like arguing whether Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams was a better baseball player. As frequent flyers we’re incredibly fortunate to have been a part of the rise in transferable currency competition.

For years American Express Membership Rewards (née Membership Miles) stood alone, at least after Diners Club self-immolated about fifteen years ago.

Chase poached talent from American Express to compete in the space. Citibank spun up their own program to bolster their premium rewards products. And just this past fall Capital One aggressively entered the game and has been belting out transfer bonuses month-after-month.

What I’m going to look at in this post is which program has the best points transfer partners. That alone doesn’t answer the question which program is best, because earn rates and transfer rates (including frequency of bonuses) come into play here as well.

Come along with em. I’m going to argue that American Express has the best transfer partners, and that makes earning 5 points per dollar on airfare with the The Platinum Card® from American Express and 4 points per dollar at restaurants and on the first $25,000 each year at US supermarkets with the American Express® Gold Card exceptionally rewarding.

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has gained more value than any other product, now that its miles transfer to various airlines. It’s the best personal card for unbonused spend since you earn either a 2% effective rebate towards paid travel or 1.5 airline miles per dollar when transferring to most of their partners.

Who Has the Most Transfer Partners?

Chase has 12 transfer partners. American Express has 22 transfer partners. Citibank has 14, and Capital One has 15. That alone tells you nothing — each of the bank transfer programs has transfer partners that are useless, seemingly added just to run up the score.

For instance, there’s virtually no reason outside of upgrades on Aer Lingus to offer Aer Lingus as a transfer partner. But they’re basically a throw-in with British Airways and Iberia. Similarly, I struggle to find use for transfers to Finnair.

Programs That Partner With (Almost) Everyone

Singapore Airlines, JetBlue and Air France KLM are transfer partners of all four points currencies. That makes points with these three airlines exceptionally easy to get.

Last fall Bank of America launched an Air France KLM credit card but didn’t get exclusivity. It’s tough to make money on credit cards in Europe but partnering with all of the bank transfer programs here lets them earn some of that U.S. credit card cash. Air France KLM both offers great availability to their own members that isn’t accessible to partners, and offers it at good pricing — connect in Europe beyond Paris and Amsterdam and award prices drop.

Singapore has some sweet spots, like premium cabin United domestic and Hawaii awards for less than United charges, but mostly the value in this program is that the airline releases premium cabin award seats to their own KrisFlyer members that are not bookable through partner programs. If you want to fly Singapore Airlines long haul up front, need need points in Singapore’s own program. Fortunately partnering with everyone makes their points easy to get.

JetBlue I only see as useful if you need to top off your account for an award. TrueBlue is a revenue-based program and each point isn’t worth enough to make transfers worth it for an entire ticket.

Meanwhile Etihad, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and Avianca LifeMiles partner with everyone but Chase.

  • Etihad is useful for redeeming travel on their own flights, and if you ever find saver award space on American Airlines Etihad charges what American used to charge before AAdvantage devalued their award chart in March 2016. They have a number of other useful partners as well, such as Royal Air Maroc who in my experience always has business class award space for two passengers between the US and Casablanca (and beyond).

  • Cathay Pacific is useful for their distance-based award chart redeeming for travel on oneworld airlines as well as Cathay itself. I generally find more value for long haul premium cabin travel in the Asia Miles program than I do with British Airways.

  • Qantas has limited usefulness but you can use their miles to redeem on El Al and for travel on partners within the South Pacific, as well as on Emirates. Their short-distance awards on American and Alaska can be useful as well.

  • Avianca LifeMiles is a real winner, a Star Alliance program with a solid award chart and no fuel surcharges. While Chase has United, all of the other points transfer programs have access to Star inventory also and without the co-pay.

Virgin Atlantic partners with everyone except Capital One and while I would never view Virgin Atlantic’s program as a store of value — it really just has a couple of great redemptions, which might not last — I find they’re really strategically useful for American Express, Chase, and Citibank.

Who Has the Best Hotel Transfers?

Let’s knock this one out early, it’s easy. Hyatt points are worth more than any of the other hotel currencies, so when you’re talking about 1:1 transfers or even 1:2 transfers you’re going to get more value out of Chase’s transfers to Hyatt than any other points transfers.

A single Hilton point is worth less than half a cent, a single Marriott point less than three-quarters of a cent, so these transfers should be avoided whenever possible.

Hyatt’s footprint is limited but most of their redemptions are reasonable and their points give access not just to any standard room at their properties but to reasonably priced suites and even to premium suites, as well as to redemptions with SLH and MGM hotel properties.


Park Hyatt Sydney

Winner: Chase Ultimate Rewards

Who Has the Best Star Alliance Transfers?

Chase gets a lot of credit for their United partnership because it’s familiar to people and easy, but MileagePlus is headed in the wrong direction and is really only useful for redemptions on Star Alliance partners without fuel surcharges anyway — something the other programs have through Avianca LifeMiles.

What’s more, Citi and Capital One transfer partner EVA Air offers great value premium cabin awards to Europe and Asia. And fuel surcharges are de minimis on EVA’s own flights.

  • Flying business class between the US and Asia on EVA Air costs a reasonable 75,000 or 80,000 miles each way depending on the US gateway used.
  • One real hidden gem is that they charge just 25,000 miles each way for business class intra-Asia awards.
  • US-Europe Star Alliance awards in business class is 65,000 miles each way, 85,000 miles in first class
  • US-Mideast Star Alliance awards in business class is 67,000 miles each way

Aeroplan, an American Express and Capital One transfer partner, is easy to work with and has a reasonable award chart. They add fuel surcharges only to about half their redemption partners. And when I’ve run into glitches with redemptions after transferring American Express points they’ve even been good about sending the points back.

American Express transfer partner ANA, which limits redemptions to family members and only offers roundtrip redemptions (there are workarounds) has some of the best award pricing out there.

Citi transfer partner Turkish can be a pain to work with, but they have great pricing especially for redemption on their own flights. Citi’s partner Thai Airways is next to useless for transfers.


ANA First Class

It’s fairly clear that Chase isn’t the Star Alliance winner. For American Express vs. Capital One there’s a lot of duplication, what’s different is ANA (American Express) vs EVA (CapOne) and while both is useful ANA has better pricing. I’d take Amex (Aeroplan, ANA) over Citi (EVA, Thai, Turkish) a well.

Winner: American Express Membership Rewards

Who Has the Best oneworld Transfers?

Chase has British Airways and Iberia. BA is good for short-distance coach redemptions. Iberia is good for redemptions on their own flights, since they charge less for those than BA does and they add lower surcharges. Neither is good for long haul premium cabin travel across the alliance.

The other three programs all partner with Cathay Pacific and Qantas, which alone are marginally better than BA and Iberia in my opinion, and American Express partners with both of those too. So Chase clearly isn’t the winner here.


Cathay Pacific First Class

American Express has BA and Iberia, while Capital One and Citibank do not. Those beat Citibank’s Malaysia Airlines and Qatar. Malaysia is only useful to the extent there are some routes where premium cabin awards still post as revenue-earning tickets when credited to British Airways. Qatar’s program is beyond weak. BA and Iberia also give Amex the edge over Capital One whose unique partnerships are with Finnair and Qatar.

Winner: American Express Membership Rewards

Who Has the Best SkyTeam Transfers?

Aeromexico, while they have a good round the world award chart, isn’t useful in practice. I don’t know anyone that has successfully managed to book an Aeromexico round the world award in business class. Their customer service is too frustrating to work with, even for program members who speak Spanish.

Alitalia keeps raising redemption prices and is no peach to book through either. If you want to upgrade on Alitalia or spend extra miles for additional award space, it’s possible to do, but actually using their miles is enough of an edge case that I write them off as a transfer partner as well.

Garuda Indonesia runs award sales. That’s the only time you’re likely to want to transfer to Garuda, but bear in mind booking through them presents challenges as well (though the online interface has gotten better).

That leaves Delta (American Express) and Air France KLM (Everyone). The winning transfer partner is Air France KLM, but that doesn’t set any one program ahead of the others. So the fact that American Express has Delta pushes them ahead. That said, Air France KLM almost always offers better award pricing for premium cabin redemptions to Europe and domestic SkyMiles awards rarely give you enough value to be worth transferring Amex points.

Winner: American Express Membership Rewards

Who Has the Best Non-Alliance Transfers?

JetBlue partners with everyone, they aren’t a distinguishing carrier here. Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have a great program but they do offer great redemptions on ANA and on Delta. They partner with three of the four transferable points currencies. Etihad partners with everyone but Chase. Both Citi and American Express have both Etihad and Virgin Atlantic


Etihad First Class Airbus A380

The only Citi non-alliance transfer partner that American Express doesn’t have is JetPrivilege, the loyalty program associated with defunct carrier Jet Airways. That means they aren’t a contender for the title.

The only unique non-alliance partner that Chase has is Southwest, but Southwest points transfers don’t count towards the airline’s Commpanion Pass. The four non-alliance partners American Express has but Chase doesn’t tilt things in Amex’s favor.

Capital One has Hainan Airlines as a unique partner. American Express has Hawaiian, and as mentioned Capital One lacks Virgin Atlantic. I give American Express the edge here.

Winner: American Express Membership Rewards

Which Program Has the Best Transfer Partners Overall?

American Express has the best stable of airline transfer partners. Chase has the best hotel transfer overall in Hyatt. None of the other programs give you good hotel transfer partners at all.

List of All Transfer Partners By Program

Here are the transfer partners for each of the four US bank transferable points currencies:

      Chase  
Amex
  Citibank   Capital One
Star Alliance                
  Aeroplan       X       X
  ANA       X        
  EVA Air           X   X
  LifeMiles       X   X   X
  Singapore   X   X   X   X
  Thai           X    
  Turkish           X    
  United   X            
                   
oneworld                
  British Airways   X   X        
  Cathay Pacific       X   X   X
  Finnair               X
  Iberia   X   X        
  Malaysia           X    
  Qantas       X   X   X
  Qatar           X   X
                   
SkyTeam                
  Aeromexico       X       X
  Air France KLM   X   X   X   X
  Alitalia       X       X
  Delta       X        
  Garuda           X    
                   
Non-Alliance                
  Aer Lingus   X   X        
  El Al        X        
  Emirates       X       X
  Etihad       X   X   X
  Hainan               X
  Hawaiian       X        
  JetBlue   X   X   X   X
  JetPrivilege           X    
  Southwest   X            
  Virgin Atlantic   X   X   X    
                   
Hotels                
  Choice       X        
  Hilton       X        
  Hyatt   X            
  IHG   X            
  Marriott   X   X        

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m surprised Citibank doesn’t leverage its partnership with American Airlines in this space. Same for BofA and Alaska/Asiana/Sonesta/Amtrak/Spirit. Also Barclay and Uber/Lufthansa/Wyndham. So many missed opportunities!!!

  2. Nice summary!
    – Points transfer times an underrated feature which should be included in analysis for programs not permitting award holds on insufficient balances
    – Although paltry, Aer Lingus reserves space on its own metal that it does not release to partners, from my experience
    – Avianca LifeMiles only has access to subset of *A inventory

  3. @Miles Husband re: Aer Lingus but the point is that you can transfer points internally between Aer Lingus, BA, and Iberia. So while those appear as 3 transfer partners, they’re really just 1.

  4. I think that the most important factor regarding which program is “best” is miles per dollars spent (recognizing that there are large and growing differences in redemption rates). On that basis, I think that Amex is best, because Blue for Business Plus gives you two points per dollar, and transfer bonuses make that 2.8 miles per dollar on BA or Iberia, 2.6 miles per dollar on Virgin Atlantic, and 2.5 miles per dollar on Emirates — all of which are useful enough for me actually to have used them. Spend $30,000 on Chase’s BA Visa, and $50,000 on Amex Blue for Business Plus, and you’ve got yourself two round-trip first class transatlantic tickets on BA, with the transfer bonus and BA 2-for-1.

  5. @Anon – Gary passed on going into Diners Club because apparently you and I represent about ten percent of the US cardholders. The rest of the companies are still taking applications, while Diners is not. Among the better transfers for DC are Aeroplan, Alaska, and Korean Air.

  6. I don’t know if it’s legally possible, but I hope AMEX weaves their savings program into Membership Rewards. It would be incredibly useful to toggle between earning cash interest and Membership Rewards points on a monthly basis.

  7. Increasingly, it seems like the Chase portal at 1.5 cents per point is the unique differentiating feature of the program (along with Hyatt). Useful for Four Seasons and other such bookings. I did get value out of this mont’s BA transfer bonus though.

  8. Which awards program is best? All of them. No need to choose. For me, I use my UR exclusively for Hyatt, my TYP mainly for EVA, and my MR for everything else.

  9. Gary, I really do wish to thank you for providing much-needed info we aren’t getting elsewhere. The Program List you ended with is a keeper. Thanks again

  10. Thank you for an excellent and comprehensive article. Very useful!

    Virgin Atlantic miles are great for round-trip redemptions on Delta especially from secondary markets to Europe. If you book a round trip you can lower the cost on return charges. For example, RDU-CDG-RDU is 100K plus $128.13. Excellent and the fees are much lower since the originating flight began in the USA. One way RDU is 50K plus $5.60. The CDG-RDU segment on a one-way has fees of over 233 Euros. Other markets have similar sweet spots.

  11. @Dan Bowman – nbecause they are not a transfer partner of American Express, Citibank, Chase or Capital One.

    Citi had an opportunity to do a deal that gave them exclusivity issuing American cards (they now split the portfolio with Barclays) and also do ThankYou transfers, but they balked at the price.

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