Which points should you transfer to miles? How much does the transfer cost?

Panorama of Sydney Harbour.  This is not quite the view from the Park Hyatt Sydney, but it’s close.

Last year, a friend was going to Australia and so I told her about the highly rated Park Hyatt Sydney.  Rooms at the hotel often go for $800 per night, or more, but she could instead use 30,000 Hyatt points per night transferred from her Ultimate Rewards balance.  After looking into it, she did exactly that and booked a night at the Hyatt.  She excitedly said to me something like “the going rate was $850, but I got it for only $450!

Um… what?  Didn’t she use 30K points?

It took me a few heartbeats to get her meaning.  She has the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which lets you book travel through their portal at a rate of 1.5 cents value per point.  In other words, she could have used 30K points to book $450 in travel through the Chase portal, but instead booked a $850 room by transferring points to Hyatt.  To her, this meant that she paid $450 for her $850 hotel room.

We’ve written before about the opportunity cost in acquiring points rather than cash back (see, for example: How much do you pay for your miles and points?).  The Park Hyatt Sydney example is a different concept.  This story highlights the opportunity cost when transferring points to loyalty programs.  Given that you already earned transferable points, what are you giving up by transferring those points to a hotel or airline program?  In my friend’s case, she was giving up $450 in travel.

Card Specific Opportunity Cost

The opportunity cost in transferring points to loyalty programs is dependent upon the options you have.  If my friend had a Sapphire Preferred card instead of a Sapphire Reserve, the opportunity cost of transferring 30K points would have been only $375.  That’s because the Sapphire Preferred offers only 1.25 cents value towards travel compared to the Sapphire Reserve which offers 1.5.

Buying miles and hotel points

The more I thought about the opportunity concept of transferring points, the more I realized that this is a useful construct.  Let’s describe the transfer as a financial transaction.  With the Sapphire Reserve card, we’ll say that transferring points to miles or hotel points “costs” 1.5 cents per mile.

The cost of transferring points is a little more complicated when the transfer ratio isn’t 1 to 1.  For example, Capital One allows transferring points to a number of airline programs at a rate of 100 points to 75 miles.  If you don’t transfer your points, they’re usually worth exactly 1 cent each towards travel.  So, we can calculate the cost of transferring points to miles: 100 points = $1, so you are “paying” $1 per 75 miles or 1.33 cents per mile.

If you had points in both programs (Chase and Capital One) and the Sapphire Reserve card, then it helps to know the above “costs”.  If you want Air France Flying Blue miles (supported by both programs), you’d be better off transferring from Capital One at their 100 to 75 transfer ratio rather than from Chase at the 1 to 1 ratio.

Programs with multiple transfer partners

This table shows all of the programs supported by the top transferable points programs (Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, and Marriott/SPG).  Programs are sorted with the most “promiscuous” on top (i.e. those that partner with the most transferable programs are on top).

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer RatioChase Transfer RatioCiti Transfer RatioMarriott Transfer RatioCapital One Transfer Ratio# Transferable Points Programs
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 5005
Air France KLM Flying Blue1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 7505
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K4
Etihad Guest1 to 11 to 1
(~1 week)
60K to 25K1000 to 7504
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 7504
JetBlue250 to 200 plus excise tax1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 12.5K4
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 7504
Qatar Privilege Club1 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 7503
Hilton1 to 22 to 3*60K to 37.5K*3
Emirates Skywards1 to 160K to 25K1000 to 5003
IHG1 to 1*1 to 160K to 25K*3
Avios1 to 11 to 160K to 25K3
Alitalia MilleMiglia1 to 160K to 25K1000 to 7503
AeroMexico ClubPremier1 to 1.660K to 25K1000 to 7503
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 160K to 25K1000 to 7503
Qantas Frequent Flyer1 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 7503
Jet Airways JetPrivilege1 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K2
Hawaiian Miles1 to 1 plus excise tax60K to 25K2
Wyndham2 to 1*60K to 12.5K*2
Delta SkyMiles1 to 1 plus excise tax60K to 25K2
ANA Mileage Club1 to 160K to 25K2
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands1 to 1
(~2 days)
1000 to 7502
Marriott Rewards1 to 11 to 12
Hainan Airlines60K to 25K1000 to 7502
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus1 to 1
(~1 week)
60K to 25K2
United MileagePlus1 to 160K to 25K2
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles1 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K2
Southwest Rapid Rewards1 to 160K to 25K2
South African Airways Voyager60K to 25K1
Choice1 to 11
Copa Airlines ConnectMiles60K to 25K1
China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club60K to 25K1
China Eastern Airlines60K to 25K1
TAP Air Portugal60K to 25K1
Malaysia Enrich1 to 1
(~2 days)
1
Asiana60K to 25K1
American AAdvantage60K to 25K1
Alaska MileagePlan60K to 25K1
Air New Zealand Air Points60K to 3851
Air China Phoenix Miles60K to 25K1
Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer60K to 25K1
EL AL Israel Airlines1000 to 201
Shop Your Way Rewards1 to 121
Aegean Miles + Bonus60K to 25K1
LATAM Pass60K to 25K1
Korean Airlines60K to 25K1
Finnair Plus+1000 to 7501
Frontier Miles60K to 25K1
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer1 to 1
(~2 days)
1
Miles & More60K to 25K1
JAL (Japan Airlines) Mileage Bank60K to 25K1
Aeroflot Bonus60K to 25K1
Multiplus60K to 25K1
Saudia Airlines60K to 25K1
Hyatt1 to 11
Radisson Rewards0
Merrill0
Amtrak Guest Rewards0
Ultimate Rewards0
Arrival0
PenFed Rewards0
Penny Points0
Best Western0
Capital One Miles0
Go Far Rewards0
FlexPerks0
Membership Rewards0
Expedia+0
ThankYou Rewards0
CNB Rewards0
* A starred transfer ratio means that it is possible to transfer to this program indirectly by first transferring to another program and then from there to this program.

Which points should you transfer?

As shown above, many airline programs are available to be transferred from multiple transferable points programs.  When all else is equal, the transfer “cost” can be useful to help decide which points to transfer.

Given the above insight, we can calculate the opportunity cost of moving transferable points to loyalty points for a number of different transferable points programs.

If you have this card… Then cost per mile is…
Amex Membership Rewards
1 to 1 transfer partners Business Platinum with 35% airline bonus 1.54 cents per mile
Business Gold with 25% airline bonus 1.33 cents per mile
Platinum card for Schwab with “invest with rewards” 1.25 cents per mile
Transfer to Hilton 1 to 2 Business Platinum with 35% airline bonus 0.77 cents per Hilton point
  Business Gold with 25% airline bonus 0.67 cents per Hilton point
  Platinum card for Schwab with “invest with rewards” 0.63 cents per Hilton point
Capital One Miles
100 to 75 transfer partners
Any “miles” card (Capital One Venture, Venture One, Spark Miles, or Spark Miles Select) 1.33 cents per mile
100 to 50 transfer partners Any “miles” card 2 cents per mile
Chase Ultimate Rewards
All transfer partners are 1 to 1
Chase Sapphire Reserve 1.5 cents per mile
Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred, or Ink Plus 1.25 cents per mile
Citi ThankYou Rewards
1 to 1 transfer partners
Citi Premier 1.25 cents per mile
  Citi Prestige (as of September 2019) 1 cent per mile
Marriott Rewards
Transfer 60K to 25K miles
No credit card required 1.73 cents per mile
Transfer 60K to 27.5K United miles No credit card required 1.57 cents per mile
Transfer Bonuses
25% Bonus
Divide the above cost per mile results by 1.25 Ex: 1.5 / 1.25 = 1.2
30% Bonus Divide the above cost per mile results by 1.3 Ex: 1.5 / 1.3 = 1.15

Here’s more detail about each of the cards listed above…

Amex Membership Rewards

See: Amex Membership Rewards Deep Dive.

  • The Business Platinum Card from American Express: 1.54 cents per mile.This card offers a 35% airline bonus: “Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of an eligible fare and get 35% of those points back, up to 500,000 points back per calendar year.”  This bonus means that you can book certain flights for 1.54 cents per point after the rebate.
  • Amex Business Gold Card: 1.33 cents per mile.  This card offers a 25% airline bonus: “Get 25% points back after you use Pay With Points for all or part of a flight booked with American Express Travel if the flight is either on your selected qualifying airline or First or Business class, up to 250,000 points back per calendar year.”  This bonus means that you can book certain flights for 1.33 cents per point after the rebate.
  • Amex Platinum Card for Schwab: 1.25 cents per mile.This Amex card lets you move points into a Schwab investment account at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. Since it is then possible to use those investment funds to pay for travel, there’s an opportunity cost of 1.25 cents per mile when transferring Amex Membership Rewards points to miles.

Capital One Miles

See: Capital One “Rewards miles” Complete Guide.

  • Capital One Venture, Venture One, Spark Miles, and Spark Miles Select: 1.33 cents per mile (or 2 cents per mile with some partners). Capital One points are worth 1 cent per point towards travel.  Alternatively, it is possible to transfer points to airline partners at a rate of either 100 points to 75 miles or 100 points to 50 miles.  When transferring 100 to 75, your “cost” is 1.33 cents per mile.  When transferring 100 to 50, your cost is 2 cents per mile (try to avoid those transfers!).  See also: Capital One Transfer Partners.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

See: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide.

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 1.5 cents per mile. This card offers 1.5 cents per point value towards travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  When you transfer points to airline miles or to hotel programs, you are giving up 1.5 cents in travel per resulting mile.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred, or Ink Plus: 1.25 cents per mile.  Each of these Chase cards offer 1.25 cents per point value towards travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  When you transfer points to airline miles or to hotel programs, you are giving up 1.25 cents in travel per resulting mile.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

See: Citi ThankYou Rewards. Deep Dive.

  • Citi Premier: 1.25 cents per mile. The Citi Premier card offers 1.25 cents per point value towards travel booked through the Citi ThankYou Rewards portal.  When you transfer points one to one to airline miles, you are giving up 1.25 cents per mile in travel.
  • Citi Prestige: 1 cent per mile (or 1.25 if you or a friend has Citi Premier card). Beginning September 2019, the Prestige card will lose it’s ability to get 1.25 cents value towards flights.  At that point, you’ll get only 1 cent per point value towards travel.  That said, the Citi Premier card is expected to retain its 1.25 cents per point value towards travel.  And, since Citi allows moving points for free to others, you can get 1.25 cents per point value by moving your Citi ThankYou points to a friend with the Premier card and ask them to use the points to book travel.

Marriott / SPG: 1.7 cents per mile (1.57 for United)

See: Marriott Transfer Partners.

  • Marriott has a huge selection of transfer partners.  In most cases the transfer ratio is 60,000 Marriott points to 25,000 airline miles.  With United, you get 10% more, so 60,000 points should transfer to 27,500 United miles.

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.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

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CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

I just got back from SYD a month ago I almost didn’t Go but booked it anyways and stayed @ 4 and 5* hotels. . TO Cheap what’s wrong NUTTHING !!! Super place Great Value for ur USA dollars . Every thing is like A$9 for food ,drink ect but A$9 is $6 usa ..I was in Carins stayed @ Double Tree there one card as in almost Free .
Can’t wait to Go Downunder Again !!
Merry Xmas

CHEERs

Tom
Guest
Tom

“you’d be better off transferring from Capital One”
This is confusing.
If I everyday spend $1 using C1 and only get 75 miles but spend $1 using UR I get 100 miles why isn’t the UR transfer always better

Giovanni
Guest
Giovanni

I am thinking the same Tom, sounds confusing..I hope we get a response.

Nick Reyes
Editor

It’s about the opportunity cost – let me take a swing at explaining it, too.

First, you don’t get 75 miles when you spend $1 on the credit card. You earn 2 miles for each dollar you spend on the Capital One “miles” cards. Your earnings vary on the Chase cards.

But here’s what Greg meant:

Capital One “Rewards miles” are worth $0.01 each if used towards travel. If you have 100 Capital One “miles”, you can either redeem them for $1 towards travel or you can transfer to an airline and have 75 airline miles (in most instances). So if you choose to take 75 airline miles for your 100 points instead of taking $1 towards travel, you’re deciding that the miles are worth 1.33c each to you. You’re giving up the chance to use them towards hotels, cruises, etc — so the “cost” is that you lose 1.33c each (but of course the airline miles you’re gaining are probably worth more than that to you).

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth $0.015 each if used towards travel. If you have 100 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can either redeem them for $1.50 towards travel or transfer them and have 100 airline miles. Again, if you choose to take 100 airline miles, you’re choosing to lose the opportunity to buy $1.50 towards travel – in other words, each mile is costing you 1.5c.

Does that make more sense?

RS_WI
Guest
RS_WI

Tom,

This article was about opportunity cost of redemption, not about earning.
C1 doesn’t earn 75 miles for $1 of spend. Nor does UR get earned at 100 miles /$1.
Rather, they EARN at different rates. e.g. C1 “miles” are generally 2/$1. UR are anywhere from 1/$1, 1.5/$1, 3/$1, or 5/$1 depending on your cards.

Redeeming them they have different values, but the calculations can be normalized (this is the focus of this article).
C1, redeemed specifically for travel expenses (reimbursing a booking) are worth $0.01 per point. (1c)
UR, redeemed specifically for booking travel (through their portal) are worth $0.015 (1.5c) if you have Sapphire Reserve.

So, by transferring C1 points you are giving up on 1c / pt in alternative redemption.
Transferring UR you are giving up 1.5c / pt in alternative redemption.

Another way to think of this is:
Let’s say you need 10,000 miles transferred to Singapore.Airlines. You have both 10k C1 points and 10k UR points available.
If you transfer the C1 points, you use 10k C1 points, and you still have potentially $150 of purchasing power left with your URs (10,000 x $0.015 = $150).

If you transfer your UR points, you use the 10k UR points and you still have potentially $100 of purchasing power left with your C1 points.

Either way you used 10k points… but which would you rather use (and thus be “left” with as your remaining option).

This gets further complicated, though, by WHAT they can be redeemed for. To get that $150 from your leftover 10k UR points, you have to book through their portal. C1 points, however, could be used to reimburse a train ride, or other incidentals that aren’t necessarily booked in advance.
The dollar amount of potential is indisputable, but flexibility is a factor I keep in mind with how I use my points…

Carol
Guest
Carol

Does it make sense to have the Amex Business Platinum instead of the regular Platinum? We also have three stub cards.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Hi Greg,

Good post, I am going to Sydney next year and booked the Park Hyatt at a Cash and Points rate (before that changed) of 15000 points + $300. But some would say it’s better to just use 30000 points. Standard room rate that date is over $1100. What do you think?

Also, will we be getting a review of your Air France business class flight to LHR? I’m booked in that next year on the 777 and kind of looking forward to it.

Thanks!

TomT
Guest
TomT

I think something is backwards here. The Amex Business Platinum card’s 35% airline bonus is BETTER than the Amex Business Gold Rewards card’s 25% airline bonus, yet you have a column labeled “Then cost per mile is…” where the COST for the Platinum at 1.54 is MORE than the COST for the Gold at 1.33. The Value of the Platinum’s points are more, so that means the COST would be lower, not higher.

Lrdx
Guest
Lrdx

No.
If you spend $1.53 or $1.33, both in theform of 100 MR points, which one cost you more?

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

You should write a post showing how someone might link in the Chase website to either booking with UR or transferring directly to Hyatt and book. And another one might be exploring a booking on Small Luxury Hotels and comparing points for those bookings. Your examples above lead me to think that all redeeming should use Citi first then AMEX then UR.

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

Always good to have someone remind me that the Hyatt really did cost $450. I don’t like to think about it that way!

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