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The fundamentals of award travel are simple. Earn points and miles – redeem those points and miles for amazing travel experiences. Anyone can do it. Right? In theory, yes. But when first starting out, it can be a confusing hobby to be involved in.

There are hundreds of different rewards earning credit cards on the market, each advertising its unique advantage over the competition, and it can be hard to weigh the value of different options without a firm understanding of each rewards currency.

Singapore Airlines A380 First Class Suites
Redeem transferable rewards points for luxury travel experiences like Singapore Airlines A380 First Class Suites

As an example, let's look at the term ‘points.'. You want a credit card that earns points, but what kind of points? Rewards points can refer to retail points, hotel points, fixed-value points, flexible or transferable points, points you can only redeem as cash back, or airline points for revenue based programs like TrueBlue and Rapid Rewards (and occasionally distance-based programs – we're looking at you Qantas…). For someone new to the game it’s information overload.

In this post, we want to clarify the difference between fixed-value points and transferable or ‘flexible’ points.

What's the Difference Between Transferable and Fixed-Value Points?

Transferable rewards currencies like Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards transfer to a variety of airline and hotel partners. It’s easy to earn them in bulk using category bonuses, regular promos, and point bonuses, and, while you can redeem them for a fixed value through their respective travel portals, you’ll get exponentially higher value transferring to partners for premium cabin award flights, and luxury hotel stays.

You can typically redeem fixed-value points against any expense that codes as travel, from taxi fares to campground fees, hostels, hotels, Airbnb, flights you can’t redeem points or miles for, or even the taxes and fees attached to your flights. There is no such thing as a ‘good' or ‘bad' redemption value for fixed-value points like Barclaycard Arrival Miles; you get a penny value for every point.

  • Fixed-Value Points – Have an assigned value (typically 1-2¢ per point), redeem points against the cash price of ticket/service you purchase (i.e. $1,000 airfare = 100,000 points), earn points and miles for airline & hotel bookings, cannot transfer to airline or hotel partners, ideal for miscellaneous travel expenses, when there is no available award space, cheap domestic airfares, rental cars, cheap hotels, and accommodation not part of a traditional rewards program such as Airbnb.
  • Transferable or Flexible Points – Transfer to a variety of airline and hotel partners to take advantage of award chart sweet spots, or redeem for fixed value through a travel portal, best for premium cabin international awards traveling in first or business-class and luxury hotel stays.

Fixed-value points are the workhorses of the award travel world, wiping out expenses we would otherwise need to pay with cash. Think award fees and taxes or an Airbnb hundreds of miles from the nearest chain hotel. Flexible points, on the other hand, can be leveraged for the kind of luxury travel most of us couldn't usually afford. Flying in business and first-class where cash prices warrant thousands of dollars per ticket and staying in $800+ per night hotels. Very different uses but both essential to a successful award travel strategy. That isn't to say you can't use transferable points for economy class and lower-priced hotels where you'll still receive excellent value; we're covering the extreme.

Credit Cards That Earn Fixed-Value Points

There are three primary fixed-value rewards currencies:

  • Barclaycard Arrival Miles
  • US Bank FlexPerks
  • Capital One Venture Miles

Both Barclaycard and Capital One label their rewards currencies ‘miles,’ but in reality, when used for travel, they are points with a fixed 1¢ per point value, and cannot be transferred to airline frequent flyer programs. Ironically, FlexPoints are more akin to traditional airline miles as they can only be redeemed air travel, not all travel expenses.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms)

FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® Card – Earn 20,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first 4 months, earn 2x FlexPoints per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores or airlines (whichever category you spend the most on) plus most cell phone providers, redeem points on over 150 airlines. As of 2018, each point is worth 1.5¢ per point. $0 annual fee for the first year, then $49.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card – Earn 50,000 Miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, earn 2x Venture Miles per dollar on every purchase, redeem as a statement credit against any travel purchase, no foreign transaction fees, $0 intro for first year; $95 after that.

Credit Cards That Earn Transferable Points

Again, there are four bank-issued transferable rewards currencies, plus Marriott due to its stellar list of 3:1 airline transfer partners.

We consider Ultimate Rewards the most valuable of the four bank rewards currencies due to the quality of airline and hotel transfer partners, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to be the best beginners travel rewards card currently available.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Earn 60,000 bonus points. Get 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, transfer points to BA, Singapore, United, JetBlue`, and Hyatt, or redeem for 1.25¢ per point in the Chase Travel Portal, no foreign transaction fees, great travel insurance benefits, and an annual fee of $95.

The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express – Earn Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners. (Terms Apply), 1 point on purchases after that, access the Amex Do More Business savings program. No annual fee (Rates & Fees).

Citi Prestige® Card

Final Thoughts

One of the foundational keys of successful award travel is understanding the different types of reward points and miles, and how best to use them to maximize value.

Achieve your travel goals without spending thousands of dollars by pursuing a diverse and balanced portfolio of rewards-earning credit cards. Earn transferable points like Ultimate Rewards and transfer to airline partners for premium cabin awards, and fixed-value points like Arrival Miles to pick up fees, taxes, and incidental travel charges, reducing your out-of-pocket expenses as much as possible.

If you have any questions on the difference between fixed-value and flexible rewards points, please reach out in the comments.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms), and The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express (Rates & Fees)

Beginners Guide To Credit Card Rewards: Transferable vs Fixed-Value Points
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Comments

  • Bertrand Say says:

    I go for flexibility everytime.

    • +1. I certainly understand that folks have different travel priorities, but if one is looking for premium cabin flights and/or stays at aspirational hotel properties, then MR/UR/SPG &TY points are definitely the way to go, rather than any fixed-value currency.

  • thanks for the info

  • angelo fonseca says:

    The most complete tutorial I have ever seen on the subject. Congratulations. Thank you for the informations.

  • I love Chase UR points, and I have definitely gotten some great redemptions out of them.

  • good introductory piece but as usual the devil is in the detail.

  • I collect multiple airline miles and hotel points, my favorite is Chase UR points. My least favorite are AA miles, no saver award availability.

  • Great post! Thanks.

  • those Singapore air seats look unbelievable!

  • good introduction

  • I love UR and SPG points, and have given up collecting fixed reward points. I find that its no use to gather fixed reward points as transferable points would always provide superior value (as long as you use those on travel and know how to utilize them properly)

  • I’d like to see a trip review of someone who redeemed miles for singapore a380 first class please.

    • There are some great trip reports already published about those that have flown first class or suites with Singapore – I’d suggest a quick google search where you’ll find several reports.

  • I find that reservations made on the case redemption site are always more expensive than Expedia or other travel sites, which reduces the value of the 25% bonus to almost zero. Is there a way to get Chase to price match?

    • No, however, I don’t seem to find this being the case. Keep in mind you get an effective 50% bonus with the Sapphire Reserve card that offers a 1.5 cents/point in value when redeeming Ultimate Rewards for travel.

  • Some great information contained in this article, invaluable information for many starters in this game and others who may of glossed over the details.

  • great guide and I love AMEX points!

  • I wonder how much longer the game can continue. Billions of miles being issued, but airlines not providing the saver space to use those miles. (so devaluing instead) Shame we’ve all been trained to dream of First Class, instead of just collecting statement credits and buying travel the usual way.

  • Jacqueline parsons says:

    Great article, I have learnt a few things I didn’t know!

  • When buying an airline ticket with cash through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal do you receive extra Ultimate Rewards Points? This is something that I really like about the Amex Travel — 5x the points when I’m booking through them and paying with my Platinum Card.

    I’d rather pay with points of course , but I don’t always have enough.

    Flexible points are the way to go…easy to book and you gain airline status!

  • excellent information

  • I like membership rewards for the characteristic of transferring points to several programmes when I need.
    This avoid buying some few amount of points/miles, which cost a lot actually.

  • Another very interesting article. Thank you!

  • Transferable!

  • Very useful post – thanks a lot

  • Thanks for the info – looking at getting my first UR card when I am back under 5/24

  • When redeeming fixed value rewards for airfare, do the tickets issued qualify for mileage accrual on the airline?

  • I need to look at getting the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card. Barclays in general looks more enticing because they don’t have Chase’s 5/24 rule or Citi’s 1/24.

  • Transferable points ftw! This is a good post to share with beginners.

  • I would say that transferable points are always better unless you are getting a sign-up bonus

  • I don’t even want to think about life without transferable points. 🙂

  • Weird that some banks don’t allow transfer of points, as that is part of the value for many point systems.

  • Every time I read articles like this one, I wonder — am I a schmuck for sticking with the same United Airlines Chase Card that I’ve had for 15+ years? I earn a ton of miles with it, but have not spent the time to research whether I could get a better deal with something else. Anyone out there switched away from a United Chase card to one of these cards and have any comments on their experience? Any regrets?

    • I tend to personally not stick with any airline co-branded credit card. I’d rather earn flexible rewards, such as Ultimate Rewards which transfer to United + other partners at no cost at a 1:1 rate.

  • I have both airline co-branded credit cards and Chase. I love the all the points! However, I will be possibly be canceling one if it doesn’t get used very often but only the ones that have an annual fee. I see the benefits of both my Chase cards more than any other one. I absolutely LOVE that I can redeem my Chase points and still get credit on AA or AS or UA, etc! My Chase card let me take a recent trip to see my family I wouldn’t have been able to pay for. Plus, soon it’ll help me with another family trip to travel with my brother’s family.

    Finding out about the different the cards and bonuses has really helped my family travel! My husband may not be happy with me opening cards, but he doesn’t complain when I don’t have to use the credit card to book travel. Yes often we have to to pay everything out right but mostly not. Plus, I’m trying to be smart about the cards I open that they have a high chance to remain with me, so I don’t have to constantly close cards and effect my credit score.

    All the comments and blogs here really help. I do not know why more people do not have AwardWallet memberships!

  • Well put together article. Lots of good info. Everyone has diff travel goals. Have to know which direction is best to steer the coarse toward redemption

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