Flexible Rewards Points
Types of Flexible Rewards
There are 3 major players in the flexible rewards space. There’s an argument to be made for the new Marriott program to be considered a fourth, but we want to focus on the three most obvious for now. If you don’t already know, the major programs are Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi Thank You. There are many similarities and some very important differences in these programs, but first, let’s go through a basic summary.
Chase Ultimate Rewards is possibly the most valuable points program in existence. Cards currently available that earn Ultimate Rewards are:
With earning structures ranging from 1.5x on everything to 5x on certain categories, as well as some very generous welcome offers, these cards can rack up high points balances very, very quickly. Additionally, Chase will occasionally offer large points bonuses for bringing assets to their bank or taking out a mortgage. They can be transferred to a wide variety of programs, and their portal booking currently has the highest fixed-value redemption rate for any travel redemption available out of these transferable points at 1.5 cents per point.
American Express Membership Rewards may be the most widely known program around, with the company having worked hard to make “membership” a status symbol for many, many years. The program itself is excellent; the points are transferrable to some of the most useful partners in the industry, with absurdly cheap award rates available. They do, however, take a little more expertise to extract value from, and for this reason, many novices gravitate towards the Chase program, sometimes to the level of exclusively using Chase. This is a mistake for a whole slew of reasons. AmEx, as it’s commonly known, is an extremely valuable program. In addition to its transferability, some of their more premium cards allow for extra benefits through their Fine Hotels and Resorts program, as well as the highest fixed-value airline redemption rate at an effective 1.54 cents per point. The currently available cards that earn Membership Rewards are:
-Premier Rewards Gold
-Business Gold Rewards
-Blue Business Plus
Their earnings vary from 1x to 5x, and the AmEx Offers program often has additional bonuses for using your cards at certain merchants.
Citi Thank You is the underdog here. It’s seriously underrated, and sometimes looked down upon as a less valuable program. This is largely because the value of their transfer partners isn’t as glaringly obvious as the other programs. I mean, really, Avianca LifeMiles? What could you do with that? (Answer: 63,000 LifeMiles is a ticket from the US to Europe on Lufthansa business class). Their programs offer extremely great deals, if you know how to use them. Dig in, learn the programs, and extract wild value. Additionally, their points are pretty easy to come by, and they have a unique circumstance which allows for 1.66 cents per point when booking with hotels through their portal! The currently available cards earning Thank You Points are:
-ThankYou Preferred for College Students
Best Uses of Flexible Rewards
While the easiest use of these points is to go through their respective travel portals and book the way you would normally book a paid flight, you won’t extract anywhere near the most value from your points by doing so. That said, the portal-booking value may often be a better use of your points than transferring to an airline program to book an economy ticket thanks to the ultra-low fares we’re seeing on a regular basis from the airline industry.
In terms of pure cent-per-point value, there is no comparison to transferring to partners to book premium cabin award flights. Since business class tickets routinely go for over $3,000, a 60,000 point redemption gets a 5 cent per point value; far superior to a portal booking or economy ticket. However, value is subjective; at the end of the day, the best use of your points is the one that gets you where you want to go, with who you want to go, for as little money as possible. Remember that award travel is ultimately about the destination, not how much dollar value you can get from your points.
Hotel transfers are not generally a great value, though there are a few exceptions. Hyatt, a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, routinely gets values north of 2 cents per point, while others will rarely break 1. We generally don’t recommend transferring points to hotels, but again, if you have the points and don’t want to spend the money, do what you need to do. Be careful with your calculations though, as it’s likely cheaper to book via the travel portals on any of these (especially Citi, if you have the Prestige card).
Booking Travel with Flexible Rewards
Booking travel with these unique points is a lesson in arithmetic. If done right, you’ll need to check all of the following before booking:
How much does my flight/hotel/train ticket cost in dollars?
How much would it cost if I booked through the travel portal?
Is there availability for award seats or nights on the flights/nights I want?
Is it fewer points for me to transfer to the airline/hotel/train program to book, or cheaper to book through the portal?
Are there partner airline programs that would allow me to book the same seat for much fewer points?
Is THAT program cheaper to transfer to than using the travel portal?
In order to answer some of those questions, you’ll want to refer to our section of booking award seats on airlines here. Do the legwork; it’s worth it in the end. Remember – if it was easy, everyone would do it!
There are some restrictions and requirements on whether or not you’re able to transfer to rewards partners, and they all circle around what credit cards you have. Each program allows you to transfer to partners provided you have one of their mid-level or above credit cards. There are different rules for each of the partners as far as who you can transfer the points to, as far as account ownership in concerned, and whether or not you can consolidate points.
In the case of Chase, you’ll need to have any of the following cards to move your points to a travel partner:
-Ink Bold (discontinued)
-Ink Plus (discontinued)
You may only move your points to your own partner account, or ONE additional household member’s account, who must be listed as an authorized user on your card. Authorized users are free on all but the Sapphire Reserve, so this isn’t much of a hurdle to transferring to a spouse. Additionally, Chase allows you to transfer Ultimate Rewards points between spouses, which makes accumulation much, much easier.
Once you’ve gotten the points accumulated under one of the above-mentioned cards, it’s pretty straightforward. Chase keeps things simple in that ALL partnerships are 1:1 transfer rates, so no calculations are requirement when transferring. To transfer, open your Ultimate Rewards account, select any of the cards listed above, and click “Transfer to Travel Partners” at the top of the page. From there, select the program you want to transfer to, and click “Transfer Points.” Enter the information in the resulting boxes, and the rest is pretty self-explanatory!
Citi has a similar requirement to Chase in terms of what cards allows you to transfer to partners, meaning you need one of the following two cards to transfer to partners:
That said, Citi is by FAR the most flexible in terms of who you can transfer or share your Thank You Points with: literally anyone with a Thank You account! However, they also limit how many you can transfer in a calendar year to 100,000, so be aware that there are still limitations. Additionally, any points shared with/from another member will expire within 90 days, so don’t transfer unless you have a use in mind! In terms of transferring to partners, you may only transfer to your own loyalty accounts, so it’s a little less flexible in that regard than others. All partners, with the exception of TrueBlue, are 1:1 transfers, but be aware of potential bonuses on transfers – they can provide really amazing rates.
The mechanics are pretty simple once you’ve decided where you’re transferring. Open your Citi online account and select “Points Summary” to open your Thank You account. Select the account with the points you want to transfer and click “Transfer Now” on the program you want to transfer to. From there, it’s a relatively straightforward process to enter the amount of points you want to transfer, enter your loyalty account number, then click continue!
Finally, AmEx has the distinction of allowing transfers to their partners regardless of which Membership Rewards earning card you have, making them the only partner that allows for transfers with a no-annual fee card (EveryDay). However, they are the most restrictive in terms of sharing points with another person: as of the writing of this guide, there is no way to directly share Membership Rewards with another member. That said, AmEx allows you to transfer their points to their partners to the cardholder’s loyalty account, as well as any authorized user. For most issues, this makes the ability to share points directly with a spouse pretty irrelevant, since there are plenty of ways to get free authorized users on AmEx cards (and therefore transfer from both spouses into the same loyalty account.)
As with Chase and Citi, the mechanics of transferring are pretty straightforward. Once in your AmEx online account, select “Explore Rewards” on any Membership Rewards earning card “Home” page. From here, you’ll see a button for “Transfer Points,” which opens the option to “View All.” Once you’ve selected “View All,” you’ll see all of their partners listed underneath. Select whichever one you want to transfer to, and you’ll be prompted to verify one of the Membership Rewards earning cards you hold. Once you verify and enter your loyalty account number, your accounts will be linked. When an account is linked, you’ll have the option to select “Transfer Points.” Note that the font is pretty small, so you may miss it on first glance! From there, everything is pretty straightforward, and once you click “Confirm and Transfer,” they’ll be on their way.
For all programs, transfers must be in increments of 1,000 and are technically irreversible. Additionally, different partners have different transfer times, so make sure you put that award on hold if you can! While there’s a LOT more to learn about the ins and outs of these programs, this guide should tell you what you need to get out and make your first booking! Happy travels!
Transferring to Travel Partners
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Chase Ink Preferred