A growing number of issuers are adding U.S. airlines to their rewards programs. The programs don’t always have the most generous transfer rates, but they could be useful to frequent flyers who need to top off a rewards account to purchase a free flight.
If you’re a frequent flyer who mostly travels stateside, it can be tough to find a card for everyday spending that also lets you transfer your points to the air carriers you fly most.
Most of the airlines travelers have to choose from are foreign carriers that cater to international travelers, putting domestic travelers at a disadvantage. If you frequently fly a budget carrier, for example, you may only have a handful of cards to choose from. Or, depending on your favorite airline, you may not be able to transfer your points at all.
Travelers who prefer to stick to budget airlines are beginning to have more options, though, as a growing number of issuers add U.S. airlines to their rewards programs. The programs don’t always have the most generous transfer rates; however, they could be useful to frequent flyers who need to top off a rewards account to purchase a free flight.
That’s good news for frequent flyers looking for more flexible ways to earn free travel.
Rewards cards that let you transfer your points to other airline and hotel loyalty programs are coveted in rewards circles because they often allow you to squeeze more value from your points.
For example, a credit card rewards point that’s typically worth a penny by itself may be worth as much as 2 cents each if you transfer it to another loyalty program. (To get a sense of how much the value of a single point can grow, depending on how you redeem it, see The Points Guy’s valuation estimates.)
Cards with flexible redemption programs also make it easier to collect a lot of miles in a relatively short period since – unlike the average airline credit card – they typically offer bonus points on a wide variety of everyday purchases.
See related: 5 times you should transfer your points to card partners
More cards now allow consumers to transfer their points to U.S. airlines
Earlier this month, Capital One became the latest credit card issuer to add a U.S. airline to its limited mix of airline transfer partners for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One Spark Miles for Business cards.
It added the budget air carrier JetBlue, which also partners with three other card issuers. Previously, the only air carriers on Capital One’s months-old list of transfer partners were foreign airlines, such as Air France, Air Canada, Avianca, Emirates and Finnair.
Last fall, Chase also added JetBlue to its list of airline transfer partners. In addition, Chase lets you transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to the popular budget airline Southwest Airlines and to United.
Citi and American Express let cardholders transfer their points to domestic airlines as well. However, travelers’ options are limited – especially if they prefer low-cost airlines.
Citi, for example, lets cardholders transfer their points to JetBlue. But like Capital One, JetBlue is the only domestic airline that’s included on Citi’s list of transfer partners.
American Express’ transfer program is more extensive. It lets you transfer your membership rewards points to Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Blue or Delta.
Meanwhile, Barclays doesn’t partner with any U.S. airlines.
For now, frequent flyers on other U.S. airlines, such as Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines and American, are out of luck: None of the major card issuers list those airlines as transfer partners (though cardholders with a Marriott credit card can transfer their points to American).
See related: How to transfer reward points to airlines
Domestic travelers may be better off seeking a statement credit instead
The growing number of U.S. airlines included in card issuers’ transfer programs is good news for consumers who want more flexibility with their credit card rewards programs.
However, cardholders looking to get more value from their points may not find as many good options as they would if they flew internationally.
The new Capital One-JetBlue partnership, for example, has a less-than-ideal transfer rate. You’ll have to give up two Capital One miles that you earn on the Venture or VentureOne card in order to receive one JetBlue mile. (Capital One is currently offering a 50 percent redemption bonus on miles that have been transferred; however, the promotion only lasts until May 31.)
Unless you already have a ton of JetBlue TrueBlue points and just need a little more to redeem a free flight, you may be better off instead banking your miles with Capital One and redeeming them for a penny each. When you redeem a flight using Venture miles, Capital One pays you back with a statement credit, allowing you to purchase the cheapest flight you find.
Capital One is more generous, by contrast, to cardholders who want to fly with international airlines. For example, cardholders who want to transfer their miles to Air Canada, Aeromexico, Alitalia, Avianca or Finnair will get 1.5 miles back in exchange for 2 Capital One miles.
Citi also offers a better deal to international travelers than it does to cardholders who typically fly on domestic carriers. If you transfer 1,000 Citi ThankYou points to Jet Blue, for example, you’ll only get 800 TrueBlue points in return. If you transferred the same amount to an international air carrier, by contrast, such as Cathay Pacific, Virgin America, Air France or Qatar Airways, you’d get 1,000 points back.
American Express will transfer points on a one-to-one basis to Delta and Hawaiian Airlines. However, it also transfers points to Jet Blue at a reduced rate.
Meanwhile, Chase appears to be the only issuer that lets you transfer your points on a one-to-one basis to a U.S. airline, such as JetBlue, Southwest and United.
See related: When you can, can’t transfer rewards points
If you frequently fly on domestic airlines, a card that lets you transfer your rewards points to your favorite airline’s loyalty program could be a useful addition to your wallet. But, depending on the airline you fly, your options will be limited.
American Express and Chase offer the best domestic transfer programs, allowing you to transfer your points to a select group of U.S. airlines (Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, United and JetBlue) without giving up any rewards value.
However, keep your eye out for more airline partnerships as card issuers grow their card rewards programs. Although Capital One’s newest partnership with JetBlue may not offer the best transfer rate, it’s a good sign that budget travelers who want more flexibility with their rewards cards are beginning to see more options.