Since I’m a points hoarder, I’m a huge fan of transferable points programs. These are programs that allow you to transfer points to multiple loyalty programs at a fair exchange rate (often 1 to 1). By collecting points in these programs, you have the ability to book travel opportunistically. For example, suppose you’re finally ready to book that dream trip to Asia and you find (gasp) that Delta has the best award availability, but you don’t have a big stash of Delta miles. That’s not a problem if you do have a big stash of Amex Membership Rewards points since Amex points transfer 1 to 1 to Delta. Even better, you may be able to book the same flights for significantly fewer miles by booking through one of Delta’s partners. Both Air France and Virgin Atlantic are Delta partners, and both types of miles are available through multiple transferable points programs.
Further, while individual loyalty programs devalue regularly, transferable points programs provide protection against devaluation since you always have the option to transfer to other programs.
What follows is a resource: the high level basics needed for collecting, using, and preserving transferable points. For complete details about each of the top transferable points programs, please see our guides:
- Amex Membership Rewards Complete Guide
- Capital One “Miles” Complete Guide
- Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide
- Citi ThankYou Rewards Complete Guide
- Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide
Transferable points are primarily earned through credit cards. Points can be earned with credit card welcome offers, credit card spend, and often through promotions such as “refer a friend” or shopping with various merchants. Marriott Bonvoy points can also be earned through hotel stays and through various Marriott hotel partnerships.
Please see our complete guides to each program for full details about how to earn points.
- Amex Membership Rewards: Points transfer to most airline partners 1 to 1. Amex frequently offers transfer bonuses to various programs.
- Capital One “Miles”: Points transfer to most airline partners 2 to 1.5 (1,000 to 750), but to a few at a worse ratio: 2 to 1 (1,000 to 500). Capital One frequently offers transfer bonuses that improve the transfer ratio.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: Points transfer to airline and hotel partners 1 to 1. Chase rarely ever offers transfer bonuses.
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: Points transfer to most airline partners 1 to 1. Citi frequently offers transfer bonuses to various programs.
- Marriott Bonvoy: Points transfer to most airline partners 3 to 1, but with a 5,000 point bonus for transferring 60,000 points at a time. Best bet: transfer 60,000 points into 25,000 airline miles. They also offer a 10% bonus for transferring to United.
A full list of all transfer options, including current transfer bonuses, can be found in the Frequent Miler Transfer Partner Master List. For details about transfers available from each program (along with recommendations), see:
- Amex Transfer Partners
- Capital One Transfer Partners
- Chase Transfer Partners
- Citi Transfer Partners
- Marriott Transfer Partners
Redeeming points for paid travel at better than 1 cent per point value
- Amex Membership Rewards: Requires Business Platinum to get ~1.5 cents per point value for eligible flights thanks to card’s “35% Airline Bonus”: Get 35% of your points back when you redeem points through Amex Travel for either a First or Business class flight on any airline, or for any flights with your selected airline.
- Capital One “Miles”: N/A
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: 1.5 cents per point value with Sapphire Reserve. 1.25 cents per point value with Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred.
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: 1.25 cents per point value towards airfare, hotels, cruises, and car rentals with the Citi Premier card. With the Citi Prestige card: Redeem points for prepaid 4th Night Free hotel reservations. If you have both the Premier and Prestige card then you call combine ThankYou accounts in order to get both 1.25 cents value for hotels and 4th Night Free. Be careful, though: the Citi ThankYou travel portal often shows higher prices than other websites.
- Marriott Bonvoy: N/A
Other not-horrible uses for points
- Amex Membership Rewards: Cash out points at 1.25 cents each with the Schwab Platinum Card.
- Capital One “Miles”: If you’re lucky enough to have the offer to redeem 64,250 “miles” for a $900 hotel gift card, then this is an awesome use for your points! Details here.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: Bid on experiences; Redeem for gift cards when they offer a significant discount on those gift cards; Redeem for cash at 1 cent per point value.
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: With the Citi Prestige card: cash out points for 1 cent per point. With other cards, redeem for mortgage or student loan payments at value of 1 cent per point.
- Marriott Bonvoy: The best use of points is usually to book Marriott hotels, especially when the paid prices are high, but the point prices are relatively low. Take advantage of Marriott’s 5th Night Free Awards (Stay for 5, Pay for 4) in order to get even better value.
Moving points to another person’s account
- Amex Membership Rewards: United States cardholders cannot move their Membership Rewards points to other accounts. However, it is possible to transfer points to another person’s frequent flyer program if the recipient has been an authorized user on your Membership Rewards credit card account for at least 90 days.
- Capital One “Miles”: Capital One allows members to freely move “miles” to anyone else’s account without limits.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase allows cardholders to freely move points from/to a household member. The recipient must also have a Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards points.
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: Citi allows ThankYou members to move points to anyone’s ThankYou account, but points then expire 90 days after transfer. Citi limits you to transfer no more than 100,000 points per calendar year..
- Marriott Bonvoy: Marriott allows program members to move their points to any other person’s account. You can share at most 100,000 points per calendar year (but you can receive more than that if multiple people share points with you). Cost: Flat $10 fee per transaction for basic members and Silver Elite members. Free for Gold Elite and higher.
Keeping points alive
- Amex Membership Rewards: Points do not expire as long as you have an open credit card that earns Membership Rewards points.
- Capital One “Miles”: If you cancel a card account that has Capital One “miles”, you will lose those points. Move points first to another account held by you or someone in your household. Alternatively, product change to a no-fee Capital One Miles card such as the VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: If you cancel a card account that has Ultimate Rewards points, you will lose those points. Move points first to another account held by you or someone in your household. Alternatively, product change to a no-fee Ultimate Rewards card.
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: Points earned from a particular credit card will expire 60 days after cancelling the card. I recommend downgrading to the no fee Rewards+ or ThankYou Preferred card instead of cancelling.
- Marriott Bonvoy: Points expire after 24 months of inactivity. Fortunately, almost all points activity will reset the clock. Points remain alive and available as long as you earn or use points at least once every 24 months.