For the infrequent traveler — and even some of the most frequent travelers — it makes sense to accumulate points with a generic bank rewards program rather than a specific loyalty program affiliated with an airline or hotel. What I’m referring to are programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards. Yes, they do say that you can redeem them for any flight at any time — they simply convert the points to a cash value. But they also have a variety of hotel and airline partners to which you can transfer your points, giving you many options to maximize their value if you are willing to tolerate limited award availability.
As these programs have grown, some partners are now working with more than one bank. For example, one of the great attractions of Membership Rewards was that it was the only easy way to get Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles and thus access to greater award space on this excellent carrier. Now Ultimate Rewards is also a partner, and those points can be easier for some people to earn. For another example, one point ThankYou Rewards had only Hilton as a partner, but it has steadily added more (albeit many with which you are likely not familiar).
Having options is important for four main reasons:
More opportunities to earn points, sometimes at better rates than before. (What I just discussed.)
More opportunities to redeem points, sometimes at greater value than before. Hyatt is generally a much better transfer partner for Ultimate Rewards than is Marriott because its award chart is half as expensive. And hotels typically have fewer blackout dates than airlines (so you can choose to book an award stay and just pay for the tickets).
More flexibility to preserve the value of your points when program rules change. If one partner devalues its program, you aren’t locked in and have the option to transfer to someone else.
More flexibility to choose the best path to the same reward. There are sometimes situations where multiple partners have access to the same reward because they have a separate relationship. But each likely has a different award chart — for certain routes, one may charge less than the other.
Earning Ultimate Rewards Points
I’m a big fan of Ultimate Rewards and have multiple Chase Freedom, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Plus credit cards that I use to earn them. Freedom has rotating categories that earn 5X points. Sapphire Preferred earns 2X points all the time on dining and travel expenses. Ink earns 5X at office supply stores and 2X on telecom and hotels.
Adding to these earning opportunities, Chase makes it easy to combine points across multiple cards, including those held by a spouse.
Earning Membership Rewards Points
I earn the bulk of my Membership Rewards points with my Premier Rewards Gold card, which gets 3X points on airfare and 2X points on groceries. I’ve also been considering a business version of this card that allows me to pick from a variety of categories to earn bonus points. There are some lower-cost cards under the “Everyday Rewards” moniker, but I’ve passed on these so far since I have so many other cards that offer good benefits on generic purchases.
You can transfer Membership Rewards points to a loyalty program account other than your own, but only if it’s owned by someone listed as an authorized cardholder.
Earning ThankYou Rewards
Citi has a variety of ThankYou cards, and two that deserve the most mention are the ThankYou Premier and ThankYou Prestige. These both earn 3X points on travel and 2X points on dining and entertainment. (The categories are reversed for ThankYou Premier until mid-April.) In addition to decent bonuses that seem to provide competition to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Devil’s Advocate recently explained why it might make more sense to not transfer ThankYou points.
You can consolidate ThankYou points earned across multiple eligible accounts, as well as transfer them to other members.
Which Programs Are the Best Transfer Partners?
When it does come time to use your points, I’ve prepared the table below so you can sort by the points/miles you want, if you have a particular one in mind, or sort by the points you have (Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, or ThankYou Rewards) if you want to compare your options.
|Loyalty Program||1,000 UR =||1,000 MR =||1,000 TY =|
|JetBlue Airways TrueBlue Points||800|
|Virgin America Elevate||500|
|Starwood Preferred Guest||333|
|EL AL Israel Airlines Matmid Points||20|
|Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||1,000|
|British Airways Executive Club (Avios)||1,000||1,000|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1,000||1,000||1,000|
|Air France/KLM Flying Blue||1,000||1,000|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1,000||1,000||1,000|
|AeroMexico Club Premier||1,000|
|Aeroplan (Air Canada)||1,000|
|All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club||1,000|
|Best Western Rewards||1,000|
|Delta Air Lines Skymiles||1,000|
|Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)||1,000||1,000|
|Frontier Airlines Early Returns||1,000|
|Iberia Plus (Avios)||1,000|
|United Airlines MileagePlus||1,000|
|Malaysia Airlines Enrich||1,000|
|EVA Air Infinity MileageLands||1,000|
|Korean Air SKYPASS||1,000|
|Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards||1,000|
|Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer||1,000|
|Thai AIrways Royal Orchid Plus||1,000|
|Hyatt Gold Passport||1,000|
|The Ritz-Carlton Rewards||1,000|
|Amtrak Guest Rewards||1,000|
|Qatar Airways Privilege Club||1,000|