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

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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
Air France KLM Flying Blue1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 7505
Emirates Skywards1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
1 to 160K to 25K1000 to 5005
JetBlue250 to 200 plus excise tax1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 12.5K1000 to 7505
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 5005
Hilton1 to 22 to 3*2 to 3*60K to 37.5K*4
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 11 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K4
AeroMexico ClubPremier1 to 1.61 to 160K to 25K1000 to 7504
Avianca LifeMiles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 7504
Avios1 to 11 to 160K to 25K6000 to 3000*4
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles1 to 11 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K1000 to 7504
Etihad Guest1 to 11 to 1
(~1 week)
60K to 25K1000 to 7504
IHG1 to 1*1 to 11 to 1*60K to 25K*4
Qantas Frequent Flyer1 to 11 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K1000 to 7504
Air Canada Aeroplan1 to 160K to 25K1000 to 7503
Alitalia MilleMiglia1 to 160K to 25K1000 to 7503
Wyndham2 to 1*60K to 12.5K*1000 to 7503
United MileagePlus1 to 1
(instant)
60K to 27.5K2
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands1 to 1
(~2 days)
1000 to 7502
Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer60K to 25K8000 to 4000*2
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus1 to 1
(~1 week)
60K to 25K2
Qatar Privilege Club1 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K2
Southwest Rapid Rewards1 to 160K to 25K2
Hawaiian Miles1 to 1 plus excise tax60K to 25K2
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles1 to 1
(~2 days)
60K to 25K2
Jet Airways JetPrivilege1 to 1
(instant)
60K to 25K2
Delta SkyMiles1 to 1 plus excise tax60K to 25K2
ANA Mileage Club1 to 160K to 25K2
Marriott Bonvoy1 to 11 to 12
Copa Airlines ConnectMiles60K to 25K1
South African Airways Voyager60K to 25K1
EL AL Israel Airlines1000 to 201
Choice1 to 11
China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club60K to 25K1
Asiana60K to 25K1
Finnair Plus+1000 to 7501
American AAdvantage60K to 25K1
Alaska MileagePlan60K to 25K1
Air New Zealand Air Points60K to 3071
Vueling Club60K to 25K1
Air China Phoenix Miles60K to 25K1
Aeroflot Bonus60K to 25K1
China Eastern Airlines60K to 25K1
Frontier Miles60K to 25K1
Accor Live Limitless1000 to 5001
JAL (Japan Airlines) Mileage Bank60K to 25K1
Shop Your Way Rewards1 to 121
Saudia Airlines60K to 25K1
Hainan Airlines60K to 25K1
Aegean Miles + Bonus60K to 25K1
Hyatt1 to 11
TAP Air Portugal60K to 25K1
Malaysia Enrich1 to 1
(~2 days)
1
Korean Airlines60K to 25K1
LATAM Pass60K to 25K1
Multiplus60K to 25K1
Miles & MoreSuspended1
Amtrak Guest Rewards0
Merrill0
Ultimate Rewards0
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer0
Penny Points0
Radisson Rewards0
PenFed Rewards0
Membership Rewards0
Uber Cash0
UBS My Choice Rewards0
FlexPerks0
Best Western0
Capital One Miles0
Spirit0
CNB Rewards0
ThankYou Rewards0
Go Far Rewards0
Sonesta Travel Pass0
Arrival0
Expedia+0
* 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.
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