How to transfer reward points to airlines

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

Ask Tony a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Cashing In answer archive.


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What airlines can I transfer rewards to? 

Depending on the card you have, there are generally several airlines you can transfer rewards to. Some of the different categories of rewards cards include:
  1. Airline cards
  2. Travel reimbursement cards
  3. Bank travel cards.
Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Cashing In,
What airlines can I transfer rewards to? – Vicki

Dear Vicki,
Using credit card reward points for flights can represent one of the best values in redeeming rewards. It is not always the case that using frequent-flyer miles gives you the best return, but in many cases, you can receive hundreds of dollars worth of flights for relatively few reward points.

There are a variety of credit cards that have travel rewards. They operate in a number of different ways. Some give you statement credits for travel expenses. Others allow you to book travel using their points. Some feed frequent flyer miles directly into your account. Others allow you to transfer frequent flyer miles.

Types of rewards cards

It can all get very complicated, so make sure before signing up for a card that you understand how you earn rewards and how you redeem them. In addition, most travel rewards cards come with healthy sign-up bonuses that help offset the annual fees. Some cards are very flexible in how they allow you to redeem rewards. Others are much more restrictive. Let’s look at some categories of travel reward cards:

Airline cards
Co-branded airline cards – such as the American Express Delta SkyMiles,

Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, Barclaycard American AAdvantage Aviator, and Chase United MileagePlus, Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards – tend to have the fewest redemption options.

When you use the cards, you earn miles in that airline’s frequent flyer program. You can’t transfer those miles to another airline’s program, though in some cases you can use the miles to book flights on partner airlines. For instance, if you have American miles, you can sometimes book British Airways flights through the American website.

Travel reimbursement cards
Cards such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card tend to offer a lot of flexibility. You go online and can receive statement credits for just about any travel expense, including flights on any airline. You won’t necessarily get the best deals, but in terms of flexibility, it is hard to beat this type of card.

Bank travel cards
A few major credit card issuers have their own reward programs that allow you to book flights on their portal or to transfer points to a variety of airlines. The best-known are cards that give you Chase Ultimate Reward points, American Express Membership Reward points, and Citi ThankYou points. You can’t transfer the points to any airline, only the ones that are partners with that card issuer.

Tip

Tip: With some cards, you can only transfer points to the airline that partners with the card issuer. So, before applying for a card make sure your preferred airline is a partner. 

How to transfer points to airlines

To transfer them, you typically have to go to your credit card account online. For instance, to transfer American Express points to Delta, you would go to American Express’ website, log in, and go to rewards. From there, you would choose “transfer points” and then choose Delta. If you haven’t done so already, you would need to enter your Delta frequent flyer number, so the accounts are linked, then tell American Express to send the miles to Delta. Usually, the transfers cannot be undone: You can’t move Delta miles back to American Express, so don’t move more than you need. Typically, the transfer is instant, though with some airlines it might take a few days.

In the case of American Express, you can transfer points to the frequent flyer programs of 12 different airlines. You can then use those miles to book trips on those airlines as well as the partners of those airlines, which American Express says totals around 100 carriers.

On transfers to airlines, it helps to know which major airlines are connected to which program. For U.S. airlines:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards are linked to United and Southwest.
  • American Express Membership Rewards can be transferred to Delta, Hawaiian, and JetBlue. 
  • Citi ThankYou points can transfer to JetBlue. 

Check out foreign airlines, even on domestic flights

But also check out some of the foreign airline transfer partners, even if you’re flying in the U.S. For example, you can transfer points in all three programs to a frequent flyer account of Air France and KLM, called FlyingBlue, which allows you to book flights on Delta. Or you can transfer Chase or American Express points to British Airways, which allows you to book flights on American.

When you log on to your account to transfer points, you’ll see which partner airlines are available for your membership program. Generally, there are enough options to make it easy to book a flight. 

There are a number of different ways to transfer points to airlines. You might have more options than you think.

See related: When you can and can’t transfer points, How to transfer AmEx points to airlines



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Updated: 04-21-2018