What Are the Best Flexible Rewards Points for Travel?

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The key to successful rewards travel is flexibility. 

Flexible rewards currencies enable you to transfer points to a variety of travel partners and provide access to dozens of different rewards programs.

Transferring to partners allows you to book award travel to your chosen destination across a huge array of airlines and hotel brands, while extracting maximum value from rewards points.

waikiki-beach
Flexible rewards offer the cheapest award flights from the mainland US to Hawaii

Determining the best flexible rewards points for travel, however, is highly subjective. It's dependent on your travel goals, where you live, how you spend your money, and maybe above all; how you travel.

If you stay primarily in Airbnb properties and hostels, collecting points that transfer to Hilton and Hyatt is unlikely to provide a good return. You will find better value in a cash back card, or a fixed value currency like Arrival Miles from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms), which redeem as a statement credit against any travel purchase over $100.

If luxury travel is on your radar, earning a currency that transfers to luxury hotels and several airlines will provide the best value and the most flexibility.

What Are Flexible Rewards Points?

Flexible currencies take a few different forms.

  • Cashback rewards
  • Fixed-value points/miles
  • Transferable currencies

Ultimately, cash back is the most flexible rewards currency, but it's not the most valuable. You can’t leverage a cash back card for higher value, it’s a straight 1-2% cash back on everything you spend. This is great if you use points to purchase gift cards or other items that can’t be purchased with rewards points, but for travel, other options present higher value.

Fixed-value points and miles like those earned with the Arrival Plus are very flexible. They can be redeemed for any travel purchase over $100, but, again, points are only worth a penny apiece when redeeming as a statement credit. The Arrival Plus earns 2X miles for every dollar spent and Arrival Miles are perfect if you’re staying in a hotel that doesn’t belong to a rewards program or purchasing transit tickets like a Eurail Pass. But there are more valuable options.

Transferable Rewards Points Offer Higher Value

The last are transferable currencies. There are five rewards programs we think offer high-value flexible rewards currencies.

These programs offer flexible points, a variety of high-value transfer partners, and a diverse range of earning options including credit cards, online malls, or with Marriott, via regular stays and promo opportunities.

The Best Flexible Rewards Currencies for Travel

Chase Ultimate Rewards

We consider Chase Ultimate Rewards to be the best flexible rewards currency available today. Chase offers a variety of credit cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, with well thought out bonus categories and stellar benefits. Ultimate Rewards earning cards include:

Ultimate Rewards gives members the ability to build a substantial balance of points in a short space of time, points are both flexible & valuable, and they can be redeemed for as much as 1.5 cents per point through UltimateRewards.com for Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders, or potentially much more when transferred to transfer partners.

Partner ProgramTime for Points to Transfer
Aer Lingus AerClub (Avios)Instantly
Air France/KLM Flying BlueInstantly
British Airways AviosInstantly
Iberia Plus (Avios)Instantly
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1 Day
Southwest Rapid RewardsInstantly
United MileagePlusInstantly
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubInstantly
World of HyattInstantly
IHG Rewards Club1 Day
Marriott Rewards2 Days

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott now grants members access to the combined Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and SPG hotel chains, plus over 40 airline partners, nearly all of which transfer at a 3:1 ratio. Points can be a little hard to come by with the new application rules for Marriott co-brand cards, but make no mistake, Marriott is a program worthy of attention. 

Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood has provided Marriott Bonvoy members some fantastic new sweet spots, and additional methods for earning rewards. Cards that earn Bonvoy points include:

If you want the best chance of getting up the pointy end of the plane and into first or business class, or you regularly fly international, Marriott offers the largest number of airline transfer partners of any rewards program in the U.S. at more than 40.

FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMTRANSFER RATIO (REWARDS:MILES)
Aegean Airlines Miles+Bonus3:1
Aeroflot Bonus Program3:1
Aeromexico Club Premier3:1
Aeroplan/Air Canada3:1
Air China PhoenixMiles3:1
Air France/KLM Flying Blue3:1
Air New Zealand Airpoints200:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan3:1
Alitalia MilleMiglia3:1
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club3:1
American Airlines AAdvantage3:1
Asia Miles/Cathay Pacific3:1
Asiana Airlines Asiana Club3:1
Avianca LifeMiles3:1
British Airways Executive Club3:1
China Eastern Airlines Eastern Miles3:1
China Southern Airlines Sky Pearl Club3:1
COPA ConnectMiles3:1
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles3:1
Emirates Skywards3:1
Etihad Airways3:1
Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns3:1
Gol Smiles2:1
Hainan Airlines Fortune Wings Club3:1
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
3:1
Iberia Plus3:1
Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank3:1
Jet Airways JetPrivilege3:1
JetBlue TrueBlue6:1
Korean Air SKYPASS3:1
LATAM Airlines LATAM Pass3:1
Lufthansa Miles and More3:1
Qantas Frequent Flyer3:1
Qatar Airways Privilege Club3:1
Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan3:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer3:1
South African Airways Voyager3:1
Southwest Rapid Rewards3:1
TAP Air Portugal Victoria3:1
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus3:1
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles3:1
United MileagePlus3:1.1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club3:1
Virgin Australia Velocity3:1

American Express Membership Rewards

Amex offers members the most credit cards options for earning points. Whether it’s 5x points on airfare for The Platinum Card® from American Express or earning 2x at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1x with The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, Membership Rewards has a huge stable of points earning cards with options ranging from no annual fee everyday spend cards to ultra-premium cards that offer the best elite perks and lounge access in rewards travel. Some of our favorite Membership Rewards earning cards include:

Membership Rewards points transfer to 17 different airline partners and 3 hotel partners. One of the better redemption strategies for Membership Rewards can be found in updates to the Business Platinum Card. Cardholders get a 35% rebate on points when using Pay with Points on their selected airline, or when booking first or business class with any airline, through the American Express Travel website. This could potentially save thousands of dollars over the long haul.

Note that Amex recently dropped this benefit from 50% to 35% and introduced a points cap of 500K per year. See our breakdown of the changes for the details.

American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partners

Membership Rewards Transfer PartnersMinimum Points to TransferTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Aeromexico Club Premier1,0001,000:1,600 Premier Points1-2 days
Air Canada Aeroplan1,0001,000:1,000 Aeroplan MilesInstant
Air France/KLM Flying Blue1,0001,000:1,000 Flying Blue MilesInstant
Alitalia MilleMiglia 1,0001,000:1,000 Alitalia Miles1 day
ANA Airlines Mileage Club1,0001,000:1,000 ANA Miles1-2 days
Avianca LifeMiles1,0001,000:1,000 LifeMilesInstant
British Airways Avios250250:250 British Airways AviosInstant
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles1,0001,000:1,000 Asia Miles1-2 days
Delta SkyMiles1,0001,000:1,000 SkyMilesInstant
El Al Matmid Club1,0001,000:20 Matmid PointsInstant
Emirates Skywards1,0001,000:1,000 Skywards MilesInstant
Etihad Guest1,0001,000:1,000 Etihad Guest MilesInstant
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles1,0001,000:1,000 Hawaiian MilesInstant
Iberia Plus250250:250 Iberia AviosInstant
JetBlue TrueBlue250250:200 TrueBlue PointsInstant
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1,0001,000:1,000 KrisFlyer Miles1 day
Virgin Atlantic FlyingClub1,0001,000:1,000 Flying Club Miles1 day
Choice Privileges Rewards (Hotel)1,0001,000:1,000 Choice Privileges PointsInstant
Hilton Honors (Hotel)1,0001,000:2,000 Hilton Honors PointsInstant
Marriott Rewards (Hotel)1,0001,000:1,000 Marriott RewardsUnknown

Citi ThankYou Rewards

Citi ThankYou Rewards doesn’t offer anything in the way of hotel transfers, with Hilton no longer a transfer partner as of December 2017. However, ThankYou Rewards has airline transfer partners that cover all three major alliances, and most transfers are at a 1:1 ratio. Members can earn Citi ThankYou Points primarily via four credit cards:

ThankYou Points are excellent for travel in and around Asia-Pacific, counting Qantas, Singapore, and Cathay Pacific as transfer partners.

Citi Transfer PartnerTransfer RatioTransfer Time (based on our experience)
Asia Miles1:11 business day
Avianca LifeMiles1:1Instant
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands1:11 business day
Etihad Guest1:16 business days
Flying Blue
1:1Instant
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer1:12 business days
Jet Airways JetPrivilege1:1Instant
JetBlue TrueBlue1:1Instant
Malaysia Airlines Enrich1:12 business days
Qantas Frequent Flyer1:12 business days
Qatar Airways Privilege Club1:12 business days
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1:12 business days
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus1:15 business days
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles1:12 business days
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1:1Instant
Sears Shop Your Way®1:12Unknown

Capital One Rewards

The latest program to join the ranks of flexible rewards programs (although you can still redeem Capital One miles for a fixed-value via the purchase eraser function) , Capital One now boasts 14 airline transfer partners. While Capital One currently lacks a domestic transfer partner, there are some high value frequent flyer programs on offer that overlap with the other transferable currencies like Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards. You can earn transferable Capital One Rewards via four credit cards:

  • Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
  • Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business
  • Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business

Credit cards without a link are are not available on this site. If you would like to support AwardWallet through an affiliate link, you can find more offers from Capital One on our partner site.

With the exception of Singapore KrisFlyer and Emirates Skywards, all transfers are 2x Capital One miles to 1.5x airline miles. When you factor in that the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business both earn 2x miles on all purchases, you're effectively getting 1.5x airline miles for each dollar you spend. Not a bad return when used for non-bonus spending.

Transfer PartnerTransfer Ratio
Aeromexico Club Premier2:1.5 or 1000:750
Air Canada Aeroplan2:1.5 or 1000:750
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
2:1.5 or 1000:750
Alitalia MilleMiglia2:1.5 or 1000:750
Avianca LifeMiles2:1.5 or 1000:750
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles2:1.5 or 1000:750
Emirates Skywards2:1 or 1000:500
Etihad Guest2:1.5 or 1000:750
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands2:1.5 or 1000:750
Finnair Plus2:1.5 or 1000:750
Hainan Airlines Fortune Wings Club2:1.5 or 1000:750
Qantas Frequent Flyer2:1.5 or 1000:750
Qatar Airways Privilege Club2:1.5 or 1000:750
Singapore KrisFlyer2:1 or 1000:500

Final Thoughts

Flexible rewards points provide one of the best methods of maximizing rewards travel. Offering travelers the chance to leverage sweet spots across multiple programs and the flexibility to change airlines or hotels when award availability is slim or in the case of a program devaluation. 

Our favorite flexible rewards currency and the one we think provides the best value is Chase Ultimate Rewards. With cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Preferred offering up one of the best rewards earning combos available today. Ultimate Rewards can help you take your rewards travel game to the next level.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms)

What Are the Best Flexible Rewards Points for Travel?
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Comments

  • Great article – most informative as always. True, “the key to successful rewards travel is flexibility”. Also in my opinion by using points/miles for high-price business or first class tickets, as you get more value per point/mile.

  • SPG is definitely valuable, having the largest number transfer partners, however, one is locked into 1.25point/$1 for anything but Starwood hotel stays. Therefore, I actually value UR more, since it provides (me) the easiest paths to bonus category spend, making the earning of significant quantities easier. And Chase has pretty much all the important transfer partners for me too…just wish they would add LH!

  • This blog is a keeper. Saved me endless hours trying to compare the cards side by side.

  • Given that I seem to use SPG more often, I’d say that, however one can’t discount the fact that UR never expire.

  • I vote for Chase Ultimate Rewards. I have always been able to use Ultimate Reward Points for both airfare and car rentals whenever I need to do so. And the car rental prices are at a discount from the prices posted by the actual car rental companies!

  • I have both Chase Ultimate Reward and Citi Thank You Points. I consider the Ultimate Rewards more valuable than my Citi Thank You points. I wish Cit would have American Airlines as a transfer partner.

  • I love UR, have gotten great value out of them. I have a decent amount of SPG but haven’t found a redemption yet.

  • WIth the CSR card, the UR value is hard to beat. But, I will say, I took advantage of SPG>Marriott>Flights/Nights Package. That was well worth it in the long run, especially as I have a week long stay planned coming up.

  • Great resource.

    Flexible, transferable points are a must-have for any true miles aficionado. I like SPG for its wiser selection of transfer partners, but the longer time to transfer is a drawback. And I wish that UR had a few more transfer partners (although you should be able to access all SPG partners via an UR transfer to Marriott – albeit at a lesser exchange rate).

  • Prashant Gangwal says:

    UR are definitely more valuable!!

  • amzsinger@gmail.com says:

    Great article. I’ve been thinking about adding Starwood American Express. Any users out there have any thoughts??

  • Worth mentioning that Chase points from multiple cards can be combined. Using the Chase Freedom bonus categories with the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve is a powerful combo!

  • Christine Hong says:

    Ultimate Rewards offers the best balance between value and convenience of use.

  • Cathy Krasnianski says:

    I’m printing this article to keep near my computer. Thanks!

  • IMO SPG points are the most valuable among all transferable points.
    I really hope Marriott will keep SPG’s airline point conversion rate after the merger.

  • Jason Logan says:

    very helpful article to refer to. thank you

  • SPG Starpoints can be incredibly valuable, but unless one is redeeming for hotel nights, one needs to plan for potentially significant transfer times when transferring to airlines. If you don’t plan or time it right, award space could disappear by the time the points are transferred…

  • uppps did not notice Marriott bought SPG….

  • SPG points are the most valuable. Thank you for the useful post!

  • Lori O'Connor says:

    I am looking at getting the Sapphire card – I have the Freedom card currently but I like the bonus point offering. Do the points ever expire? I guess if you transfer them to your airline frequent flyer account (such as southwest) it wouldn’t right? Thanks so much for this blog.

    • Lori, the points earned on a Sapphire/Sapphire Preferred/Sapphire Reserve/Freedom/Freedom Unlimited card never expire as long as you have your account open. Do remember though that when you transfer points out from Chase to an airline/hotel you’re then beholden to the expiration policy of that program.

  • Air Flyer says:

    I have UR but haven’t used them much so far. Been using the points gathered from the hotels directly.

  • Elevate is no longer a Citi transfer partner.

  • Karen Klein says:

    Hmm…all sound great for where they transfer. I do love my Chase Freedom and Sapphire! However, the Starwood card is very interesting, since they transfer to American Airlines. Since Starwood is not going to be around anymore soon, anyone know who else transfer to American Airlines?

  • Cindi Anderson says:

    I like UR best for earning points, I do a lot of spend on Chase cards, earning between 1.5x-5x, for an overal average of 2-2.5x. But I have found it difficult to USE the points. I already have a lot of United and BA miles (which are UR transfer partners) because every good international premium ticket I find is on American or Delta. So the SPG points have been much more valuable to me to enable me to boost my mileage balances and get these tickets.

    However, next year I can get a Sapphire Reserve and then the UR points will become more valuable than cash back (when using them to buy tickets with miles). So I figure I’ll keep banking for now and use them later.

    • Look to transfer your Ultimate Rewards to Korean and book on Delta — great value can be had there. I just booked round-trip tickets to London on Delta with 80,000 Korean SKYPASS miles per person in business class. Yes, I ponied up $500 in taxes/fees, but at 80k vs 140k I was pleased.

  • I’ve gotten tremendous value transferring UR to Hyatt. Definitely a UR fan.

  • James Eastwood says:

    300k UR points in my acct. right now. 150k MR, 130k SPG, but no Citi TYPs at all mainly because Citi offers their best sign-up bonus offers so sporadically and right now they just don’t have any good ones at all! Come back Citi Prestige 100k sign-up bonus!

  • Lori O'Connor says:

    One question – I just applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and also have the Chase Freedom. If these points transfer to Southwest (which is the airline I mainly use) – can’t I cancel my Southwest card and avoid paying the annual fee for this card?

    • Lori, indeed you can do this. Be sure to review the benefits you receive with the Southwest card before making this decision, which includes any bonus points you receive on an annual basis.

  • This is a great breakdown – bookmarked.

  • Howie: Does a “Points’ Xfer”… from a Chase “UR” card to a Chase “MileagePlus” card… ‘automatically RESET’ your United ‘points’ expiration’ date???

      • And ‘the hypothetical’, please: can a “Points’ Xfer” (from MY Chase “UR” card)… likewise “RESET” the ‘points’ expiration’ date on my wife’s Chase “MP Explorer” card (as you’ve already said it does with MY Chase “MP” Select card)???
        Also, any comments on “Chase Sapphire Reserve” vs “Ink Business Preferred”?

        • Things to keep in mind — you don’t reset points on your Chase United card. If you transfer Ultimate Rewards to her United account, that will reset the expiration date on her United MileagePlus account.

          What sort of comments are you looking for on the CSR (Chase Sapphire Reserve) vs the CIP (Chase Ink Preferred)? One is personal, one is business — can’t do an apple to apple comparison of them.

          • Thanks… as that’s what I’d meant to ask… as regards the RESET of either of our Chase United “MP” ‘point-expiration’ dates.
            As the “CSR” vs the “CIP… do you have an opinion as to which card would ‘best supplement’ our existing Chase United card/s… with our primary-goal being flight-Upgrades/-Awards?

          • Chris. One is a business and one is a personal card so I cannot do an apple to apple comparison. If I had to choose only one, I’d pick the CSR, but that is for me, because I like the 3x on travel/dining and personal travel insurance benefits it offers along with Priority Pass lounge access.

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