5 times you should transfer your points to card partners
Maximize point redemptions by booking directly with airlines or hotel programs
Travel expert who writes the "Have Cards, Will Travel" column for CreditCards.com
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Want to redeem fewer miles for travel? Take advantage of your flexibility when booking awards? Or land yourself in a lie-flat bed in the sky for as few points as possible?
Transferring your credit card reward points to an airline or hotel partner can sometimes be your secret weapon to unlock maximum value.
Following up on last month’s lesson on when it’s most sensible to redeem your points by booking directly through your bank’s own travel program, here are five scenarios when it’s smarter to do the opposite – transfer your points for maximum redemption value.
1. When you book expensive flights – or fly first-class
If you’re flying during a pricey holiday season or want to sit in the front of the plane, then transfers and direct bookings through an airline are the way to go.
While most bank travel programs base the number of points you’re charged for a “free” ticket on what the purchased cost would be, most airline programs have set award prices according to destination.
Eyeing a fancy lie-flat seat for your trans-Pacific dream trip to Asia? A bargain business-class return trip on Singapore Airlines would cost approximately $5,000 cash or 400,000 points when booked through a bank portal (at a 1.25-cent-per-mile redemption value), yet the cost is only 176,000 when booked directly through Singapore Airlines. That’s a more than 50-percent savings for the exact same ticket!
Even if you’ve never flown Singapore Airlines before, you can set up an account in the Kris Flyer miles program online and transfer points 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Citi Thank You Points.
See related: When flying first-class make sense for your family
2. If you want to leverage partner airlines to get better flights
When you transfer flexible points to a credit card partner to purchase tickets directly from an airline you aren’t limited to flying only on that airline.
As long as award tickets are available, you can use points to purchase a ticket to fly on any of that airline’s partners who belong to the same alliance – even if they aren’t your credit card’s partners.
This exponentially multiplies your ticket options and give you access to fly some of the world’s best airlines.
For example, want to purchase a ticket to Germany on Lufthansa but none of your award programs transfer to their Miles & More program?
3. When you want to redeem fewer points with transfer bonuses
Every so often bank transfer programs offer you extra points when you transfer to a specific partner.
Instead of getting 1 mile for every point you transfer, you might get 1.25 or even 1.5 miles. When you find a bonus that pays out 50 percent you get an extra 5,000 points for a transfer of 10,000. This gets you to free travel much faster.
While transfer bonuses aren’t always predictable, it’s worth watching out for them quarterly – especially if you’re collecting Membership Rewards points from a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express as Membership Rewards is the bank program where transfer bonuses seem to most regularly come around.
See related: What are American Express points worth?
4. When you want to take advantage of and earn hotel elite status
If you want to double-dip to take advantage of – or earn – elite hotel status and benefits while also sleeping in hotels for free, booking through the hotel’s points program is a must.
Hotel stays booked directly through the hotel group are eligible for benefits – like upgrades and late checkout – and count toward your status requalification. Stays booked through a third-party like a bank booking portal do not.
I personally like to stay at Hyatt properties and am a proud carrier of the World of Hyatt Credit Card that gives complimentary Discoverist status benefits.
This card makes it easy for me to earn points to book award nights directly through Hyatt, plus I can top off the account with point transfers from my Ultimate Rewards when my balance gets low.
See related: Third-party travel site mistakes you should avoid
5. When you want to jump on a last-minute deal
If you’re a traveler like me who loves to hop on a plane at a moment’s notice or make your hotel booking from the lobby before you check in, direct bookings through airlines and hotels are for you.
When airplanes are empty, airlines often open up their inventory, making more seats available for awards at the last minute. If you can move points to an airline quickly you can jump on redemptions through the airlines that would otherwise be very pricey last-minute bookings.
Of course, since you can’t plan for last-minute fares, these bookings are most advantageous for flexible flyers – especially solo flyers. It’s much easier to find a single seat at the last second than it is to try to fly a family of four.
Favorite reward currencies
Interested in earning in a flexible reward program that allows transfers to a variety of hotel and airline partners? Here are my four favorites:
- SPG/Marriott points earned from the Marriott cards by Chase and the Starwood Preferred Guest cards from American Express transfer 3:1 to more than 30 airline partners. Plus, there is always a transfer bonus of 5,000 miles when you transfer 60,000 Marriott points to any transfer partner (60,000 equal 25,000 miles).
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to nine airlines and several hotel chains. The options cover all three major airline alliances – a useful portfolio for transfers if you’re looking to leverage partner airlines to get better flights.
- Citi Thank You points earned from the Citi Prestige or the Citi Premier℠ Card transfer to a variety of airlines including many international such as Etihad, Cathay Pacific and Qatar. Transfer directly to these airline programs – rather than an alliance partner – if you’re looking to book a premium-class ticket on a hard-to-get flight they operate. Many airlines will open up award availability to their own mileage program members before they make it available to partners – giving you even more options.
- Amex Membership Rewards has 16 airline and three hotel partners, and provides lots of options for points earned on your Platinum Card from American Express or any of the handful of the Amex Membership Rewards-earning cards. Keep an eye out for quarterly transfer bonuses here and note that there is a transfer fee for some domestic airlines, which can sometimes devalue your award.
Note that credit card points transfers are one-way only – once you’ve moved them to a partner you can’t put them back.
However, if you play your flexible-point earning cards right, you’ll be able to stretch your reward dollars a long way!
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