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 Program||Amex Transfer Ratio||Chase Transfer Ratio||Citi Transfer Ratio||Marriott Transfer Ratio||Capital One Transfer Ratio||# Transferable Points Programs|
|Air France KLM Flying Blue||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750||5|
|JetBlue||250 to 200 plus excise tax||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 12.5K||1000 to 750||5|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 500||5|
|Emirates Skywards||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 500||4|
|IHG||1 to 1*||1 to 1||1 to 1*||60K to 25K*||4|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1 to 1||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||4|
|AeroMexico ClubPremier||1 to 1.6||1 to 1||60K to 25K||1000 to 750||4|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750||4|
|Avianca LifeMiles||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750||4|
|Avios||1 to 1||1 to 1||60K to 25K||6000 to 3000*||4|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750||4|
|Hilton||1 to 2||2 to 3*||2 to 3*||60K to 37.5K*||4|
|Etihad Guest||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750||4|
|Qatar Privilege Club||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||1000 to 750||3|
|Wyndham||2 to 1*||60K to 12.5K*||1000 to 750||3|
|Alitalia MilleMiglia||1 to 1||60K to 25K||1000 to 750||3|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||1 to 1||60K to 25K||1000 to 750||3|
|Hawaiian Miles||1 to 1 plus excise tax||60K to 25K||2|
|Delta SkyMiles||1 to 1 plus excise tax||60K to 25K||2|
|ANA Mileage Club||1 to 1||60K to 25K||2|
|Jet Airways JetPrivilege||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||2|
|EVA Air Infinity MileageLands||1 to 1|
|1000 to 750||2|
|Marriott Bonvoy||1 to 1||1 to 1||2|
|Hainan Airlines||60K to 25K||1000 to 750||2|
|Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer||60K to 25K||8000 to 4000*||2|
|Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||2|
|Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles||1 to 1|
|60K to 25K||2|
|United MileagePlus||1 to 1|
|60K to 27.5K||2|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards||1 to 1||60K to 25K||2|
|Shop Your Way Rewards||1 to 12||1|
|South African Airways Voyager||60K to 25K||1|
|EL AL Israel Airlines||1000 to 20||1|
|American AAdvantage||60K to 25K||1|
|Accor Live Limitless||1000 to 500||1|
|Choice||1 to 1||1|
|Copa Airlines ConnectMiles||60K to 25K||1|
|China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club||60K to 25K||1|
|China Eastern Airlines||60K to 25K||1|
|TAP Air Portugal||60K to 25K||1|
|Alaska MileagePlan||60K to 25K||1|
|Asiana||60K to 25K||1|
|Finnair Plus+||1000 to 750||1|
|Frontier Miles||60K to 25K||1|
|Miles & More||Suspended||1|
|Malaysia Enrich||1 to 1|
|LATAM Pass||60K to 25K||1|
|Korean Airlines||60K to 25K||1|
|Multiplus||60K to 25K||1|
|JAL (Japan Airlines) Mileage Bank||60K to 25K||1|
|Aeroflot Bonus||60K to 25K||1|
|Air China Phoenix Miles||60K to 25K||1|
|Saudia Airlines||60K to 25K||1|
|Aegean Miles + Bonus||60K to 25K||1|
|Air New Zealand Air Points||60K to 307||1|
|Hyatt||1 to 1||1|
|Amtrak Guest Rewards||0|
|Capital One Miles||0|
|Sonesta Travel Pass||0|
|Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer||0|
|Go Far Rewards||0|
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|
|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|
||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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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.