Expert Q&A

How to transfer your miles and points into other reward programs


Sorting through different reward currencies can become complicated but give you additional options to redeem

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QuestionDear Cashing In,
Is it possible to transfer American Airlines miles to points on a Capital One Venture card? — Kenneth


AnswerDear Kenneth,
A lot of confusion surrounds reward cards and transferring miles and points. It reminds me of that commercial for in which a haggard man stands in front of a bulletin board and tries to plot a way to use the points he has accumulated. He then sobs: “There’s got to be a way to redeem our hotel points! I just want to take a vacation!”

There’s no doubt some of these programs can be complicated. Here’s a breakdown of how different kinds of cards typically work:

See related: Unaffiliated travel reward cards give you choices, bonuses, Using points when holiday award seats are full

Airline cards

Cards offered jointly by banks and airlines.

Examples: Citi AAdvantage cards (American Airlines), American Express Delta SkyMiles cards, Chase’s United MileagePlus card.

Transfer options: Points are automatically added to your frequent flier account as you earn them. You can’t typically transfer the credit card points into any other currency, nor can you transfer the miles from these airlines’ reward programs anywhere else.

You can, however, use these miles to book travel on a partner airline, usually only for international travel. For instance, you can use United miles to book travel on Star Alliance partners such as Air Canada and Lufthansa. You might also be able to redeem these miles for merchandise from the airline’s online mall. Some low-cost airlines are not part of travel alliances.

Bank reward programs

Cards connected to a bank’s home-grown rewards program.

Examples: American Express Green card, which earns AmEx Membership Rewards points; Chase Sapphire Preferred, which earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Transfer options: In terms of flexibility, these programs offer the most transfer partners at the best ratios. For instance, Membership Rewards points can be transferred to 16 airlines and four hotels, and Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to six airlines and four hotels.

Bank travel cards

Cards that earn points that can be redeemed for statement credits on travel expenses.

Examples: Capital One Venture, Barclaycard Arrival Plus, BankAmericard Travel Rewards.

Transfer options: These are flexible, too, in the sense that the points in these programs can be used to defray the cost of almost any kind of travel, such as rental cars, flights, hotels and cruises. But you can’t transfer the points into other loyalty programs.

Hotel cards

Cards offered jointly by banks and hotels.

Examples: Citi Hilton HHonors card, American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card and Chase Marriott Rewards card.

Transfer options: Generally, the best value is going to come from using the points accrued at the hotel that has its name on the card. In some cases, you might be able to transfer hotel points to airline programs and other uses, but the transfer ratios are typically so poor that that option tends not to be a wise use. The exception in the hotel category is Starwood, which operates more like a bank reward program and has favorable transfers to 33 airlines, nearly all on a 1:1 basis.

Now, there are always exceptions. For instance, a lot of travel reward programs have search engines that allow you to use your points or miles to book travel on almost any flight by any airline, with the number of points dependent on the fare. Southwest, for instance, has such a portal for those who want to use their miles for international travel.

Because of features like that, it makes sense to look on the “redeem points” section of your reward program’s website to see all your options. In the case of American AAdvantage miles, no, you cannot transfer them to a bank travel card such as Capital One Venture.

However, you do have options besides plane tickets, such as gift cards, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, rental car and hotel awards and donating to charity.

You probably have fewer choices than you want, but more than you think.

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