Transferable Points Programs: Amex vs Chase vs Citi vs Capital One

Amex Transfer PartnersIn my opinion, transferable points programs are the most valuable points to accumulate.  These points can often be used at better than 1 cent per point value to book travel.  Even better, points can be strategically transferred to airline and hotel programs when valuable awards are available.  If you’re at all interested in free travel or luxury travel with points & miles, then you need to understand the basics of each of these programs.

In this post, we’ll compare the following transferable points programs (click each link for a deep dive into that particular program):

What are transferable points programs?

Each of the credit card issuers covered here offer their own rewards programs.  With each program, you can earn rewards points (which Capital One confusingly refers to as “miles”) through credit card sign up bonuses, credit card spend, and more.  All four rewards programs share common traits:

  • Points can be redeemed directly for travel, merchandise, or (sometimes) cash back.  Points are usually worth most when redeemed for travel.
  • Points can be transferred to airline and (sometimes) hotel loyalty programs. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United MileagePlus airline miles.
  • Points never expire unless you close your associated credit card accounts

Even though the programs are quite similar at a very high level, they are quite different when you drill down.

Transferable Points Programs, Graded by Greg

Amex Capital One Chase Citi
Earn Points
Redeem for Cash
Redeem for Travel
Transfer Partners
Ease of Use
Transfer Partners
Potential Value
Share Points
Keep Points Alive
Amex Capital One Chase Citi
Summary Grade

Details about all of the individual grades follow…

Amex Membership Rewards

Amex Grade Details
Earn Points Amex offers a slew of options for earning points:

I particularly love that the no-fee Blue Business Plus card offers 2X everywhere on up to $50K spend per year (then 1X), and points earned with the card are fully functional (i.e. they can be transferred to airline and hotel partners).

Redeem for Cash The only good way to redeem points for cash is with a Charles Schwab branded Amex card.  That said, this is the only program in the roundup where it’s possible to get 1.25 cents per point in cash. Details here.
Redeem for Travel The only options to redeem for travel and get better than 1 cent per point value is to hold specific high-end cards. Even then, you only get high value for your selected airline or for premium cabin fares.
Transfer Partners
Ease of Use

Delta and JetBlue are very easy to use, but Amex transfers to JetBlue are less than 1 to 1. And booking awards with Delta can be frustrating due to the insanely high award prices that they sometimes charge (but not always). Plus, Amex charges a small fee to transfer points to any US based airline.

Details about Amex transfer partners can be found here.

Transfer Partners
Potential Value

Amex offers quite a few partners that make it possible to redeem miles for very high value awards. These include Air Canada Aeroplan, ANA, Avianca, and more. Best of all, Amex frequently offers transfer bonuses that can great increase the value of your points.

Details about Amex transfer partners can be found here.

Share Points

Amex doesn’t allow point sharing with other people. You can indirectly share points, though: you can transfer your points to another person’s loyalty program as long as that person is an authorized user on one of your Amex Membership Rewards cards.

More details can be found here.

Keep Points Alive

All you need is one Membership Rewards card open in order to keep all of your points intact. Even better, Amex has a couple of no-fee cards that give you full power to transfer points as needed.

Details here.

Capital One “Miles”

Capital One
Grade Details
Earn Points Capital One points can be earned through credit card signup bonuses and through spend.  Unlike their competitors, Capital One doesn’t offer category bonuses for earning increased rewards. They do offer 2 “miles” per dollar with some of their cards, but this translates to only 1.5 airline miles per dollar, at best.
Redeem for Cash Whereas points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for travel, they’re worth only half a cent each for cash back.
Redeem for Travel Even though Capital One only offers 1 cent per point value for travel, the way they do so is great.  With competing transferable points programs, you must book travel through the bank’s portal in order to use your points for travel.  With Capital One you can purchase any travel with your credit card and then use their “purchase eraser” feature to redeem points for those purchases. This is great because you actually earn points on these purchases as well.  Even better, you can take advantage of sales, promo codes, portal rewards, members-only deals, etc.
Transfer Partners
Ease of Use

Unfortunately Capital One doesn’t (at the moment) support transfers to any super easy to use partners.  Air Canada Aeroplan may be the best and easiest to use of the bunch currently supported.

Details about Capital One transfer partners can be found here.

Transfer Partners
Potential Value

Capital One offers point transfers to a number of valuable programs, but transfer ratios below 1 to 1 reduce the potential value considerably.

Details about Capital One transfer partners can be found here.

Share Points

Capital One lets you share points with anyone, anywhere.  Awesome.

More details can be found here.

Keep Points Alive Points don’t expire as long as you keep your account open. Capital One gets an A here because they make it easy to transfer points to another card (such as the no-fee Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card which supports transfers to airline programs) or to another person.  So, if you want to cancel a premium card, you can keep your points alive by moving points to a family member or to a no fee card.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase Grade Details
Earn Points With Chase, you can earn Ultimate Rewards points through credit card signup bonuses, spend-category bonuses, friend referrals, and even through bank account and/or mortgage promotions.  Chase consistently has very high signup bonus offers for their cards, especially their business cards.  Plus, they have great category bonuses.  The best may be from the Chase Ink Business Cash card which earns 5X for 5X for cell phone, cable, and internet service and 5X at office supply stores, and 2X at gas stations and restaurants.  Office supply stores such as Staples, Office Depot, and OfficeMax sell gift cards for other merchants, as well as bank gift cards. By purchasing gift cards from these stores, you can earn 5X rewards in far more categories of spend.
Redeem for Cash Chase makes this simple.  Points can be redeemed for a penny each.
Redeem for Travel With a premium Ultimate Rewards card (Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred), points are worth 1.25 cents each for travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  With the ultra-premium Sapphire Reserve card, though, points are worth 1.5 cents each for travel booked through Chase.
Transfer Partners
Ease of Use

Chase offers a number of transfer partners that a both very easy to use and tend to offer good value for their points: Hyatt, United, Southwest, and JetBlue.

Details about Chase transfer partners can be found here.

Transfer Partners
Potential Value

Chase has very good value transfer partners, but not as extensive of a list as Amex or Citi.

Details about Chase transfer partners can be found here.

Share Points

Chase allows you to share points, but only with a person in your household.

More details can be found here.

Keep Points Alive Points don’t expire as long as you keep your account open. If you want to cancel a premium card, you can keep your points alive by downgrading to a no fee card or by moving points to a no fee card.  Or, you can move points to a household member.  Chase didn’t get an A here because their no-fee cards don’t allow point transfers to airline and hotel programs.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

Citi Grade Details
Earn Points

Citi hasn’t had many signup bonuses up for grabs lately, and their card lineup is strangely missing a 1.5X everywhere or 2X everywhere card like their competitors have.  That said, they do have cards that earn 3X to 5X rewards within certain categories of spend: Citi Premier (3X travel & gas, 2X dining & entertainment), AT&T Access More (3X online retail), and Citi Prestige (5X airfare, travel agencies, and dining).  Unfortunately the AT&T Access More card is no longer available for new applicants.  That’s true of the Prestige card too, but it’s expected to re-open for applications any day now.

Citi frequently offers targeted spend bonuses and, even better, will often offer great retention bonuses if you simply call and ask.

Redeem for Cash Citi Prestige cardholders can redeem points directly for cash at a value of 1 cent per point. Other Citi cards offer far worse value.
Redeem for Travel Citi Premier cardholders can redeem points for travel through the Citi ThankYou Rewards portal at a value of 1.25 cents per point.  Unfortunately the Prestige card doesn’t offer the same capability, so it’s strangely necessary to hold both cards in order to get the best reward earnings (via Prestige 5X categories) and best travel value (via Premier).
Transfer Partners
Ease of Use

JetBlue is the only super-easy transfer partner.

Details about Citi transfer partners can be found here.

Transfer Partners
Potential Value

Citi offers quite a few partners that make it possible to redeem miles for very high value awards. These include Avianca, Etihad, and more.  Like Amex, Citi sometimes offers transfer bonuses, but Amex seems to offer them more often.

Details about Citi transfer partners can be found here.

Share Points

Like Capital One, Citi lets you share points with anyone, anywhere.  That’s great.  Unfortunately, shared points expire after 90 days, so don’t transfer until you have a plan for how to use the points.  Also, Citi has a 100K per year sharing limit.

More details can be found here.

Keep Points Alive

With Citi, if you cancel a card you’ll lose all associated points even if you had pooled together your points with a card you still have open.  This is extremely confusing and counter-intuitive.  Instead, the only good way to keep points alive when you want to avoid an annual fee is to downgrade to a no-fee ThankYou card such as the ThankYou Preferred.

Details here.

For more details about each of the above transferable points programs, please visit our online guides:

Last updated on September 9th, 2019

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Bill
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Bill

Great summary Greg. Any consideration to Chase’s increasing Draconian rules for getting their cards when assigning the ‘A’ for points earning? Seems like it should only be an ‘A’ if you got in when the getting was good.

Biggie F
Guest
Biggie F

Great summary. Double-check copy-and-paste error in last (Citi) cell.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Another great article this year Greg!

Bob
Guest
Bob

Now that Capital One has a transferable point program, would you care to make a guess as to whether US Bank might also move FlexPerks in that direction to keep up? Is it there anything about that program that you feel would make it or not make it a possibility?

Blue
Guest
Blue

Citi cash is a little better than described because you can get 1x to pay down a mortgage or student loan.

Sam
Guest
Sam

@Greg- If you had a choice would you put daily spend on Marriott/SPG cards to create Airline Miles or use the Capital One Sparks Miles to create Airline Miles?

Pam
Guest
Pam

Well again, Greg, am pretty much with you til I
get to the “B” assigned to Chase for Transfer Partners Potential Value. HVB spelled out yesterday exactly WHY Chase is clearly an “A,” but your blog, your prerogative. I do bet, however, you wouldn’t much like Chase taking Hyatt from your usage & their program (which would then more closely align TPs with Citi & truly earn the B you have assigned).

Otherwise I would probably also include mention of the ability to use URs, MRs, & TYPs on Amazon. My own TYPs go towards the super great deals thru the year you guys show us for using only 1 point to save $30 – $65 on Amazon purchases (& not on Malaysia airlines utilizing an ever-changing points transfer manual!). Most of us like Amazon. but each currency runs their own promos making each bank that participates more valuable with usage.

Nice breakfown, though, of the main attributes & functionalities of each currency. At least we can each go into these cats ourselves & assign our own rankings, very helpful tool.

Dan
Guest
Dan

I think the grade given on earning points with Chase and amex are overly generous. While they have point earning cards, they are hard to get approved for.

Chase has 5/24 and Amex simply tells you, you won’t get a bonus. I only have 3 Amex credit cards and one charge, and already get this message.

Also, you didn’t mention the awesome 60k point Sapphire banking option. If you own investments, JP Morgan YOU INVEST makes it very easy to do a complete a count transfer online. Woot woot for chase. (My wife and I doing this is the equivalent of two large chase credit card sign up bonuses.

Pam
Guest
Pam

(a brokerage account transfer is called an ACAT transfer)

frugalman
Guest
frugalman

Agree with the conclusion. No matter you are a routine everyday shopper or a MS player, Chase UR and Amex MR are the top 2 program you should consider. I really don’t feel Capital one’s “mile” deserve a column in the table at all. Future maybe, but a far distance I guess.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

U can use the one by their CO link for Hotels.com I’ll be applying in Mar . I’ll take that 10%. and hopefully it will b a 75K sign up too .CHEERs.

tro
Guest
tro

Another great synthesis article, and I think the letter grades work well.

To me, it looks like you based “potential value” on advanced redemptions. I understand why, since you have the separate “Transfer Partners Ease of Use” category. However, there’s really no way from that to tell what value to expect if you are more in the intermediate category and/or not willing to spend a lot of time on the phone, etc. The “dropoff” in value, from advanced to intermediate strategy, is not the same between the various currencies.

So, for me, I think a more useful organization would have been “Potential Value, advanced” and “Potential Value, intermediate”. Based on the recent Citi vs Chase transfer partners discussion (which I found to be really useful), it does seem there is a segment of your blog readers, myself included obviously, who just aren’t going to do the complicated redemptions that would make Citi transfers useful. Citi would get a C at best for intermediate transfer redemptions from me.

Anyway, maybe that’s overly complicated or just not realistic for you to estimate since everyone is going to have their own definition of how many hoops is too many hoops to jump through. But for me, intermediate is really what I should be basing my earn decisions on.

Pam
Guest
Pam

+1

Jim
Guest
Jim

Based on my experience, to obtain economy tickets, good cash back cards or Chase ultimate rewards are better choices. However, people heavily investing in the miles world often target business or first class tickets, so AMEx or Citi often works better, especially with their frequent transfer bonus to high value programs like virgin, avianca, flying blue.

Just SayIng
Guest
Just SayIng

My sense says AMEX rated too high and Citi too low

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