Why I’m So Excited About Flexible Point Currencies Right Now

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With global travel plans on pause for many, hotels and airlines are doing everything they can to attract new business. We’re seeing especially generous promotions and some of the lowest prices in recent memory.

When the cost to buy travel with cash is lower than normal, your strategy for using rewards should change too. In our Facebook group, Award Travel 101, we discuss these topics daily. (If you haven’t joined yet, head on over and tell ‘em Joe sent you!)

Today, I want to share some insights from a recent Award Travel 101 conversation (check out the video) about flexible pointsand why it's more important than ever that you know how to redeem them for maximum value.

What Are Flexible Points?

Flexible rewards are points or miles that give you more than one way to redeem. The most common ways to use points are:

  • Cashback — Exchange your points for cash.
  • Statement Credit — Use rewards to get reimbursed for a travel purchase.
  • Travel Portals — Pay for travel with points (usually through a specific “portal” or travel website).
  • Transfer Points — Move your flexible points directly to a partner airline or hotel loyalty program.

We cover each of these in much more detail in our beginner's post on the types of rewards points. With flexible rewards, you have the choice of more than one of the methods above. Most of the time, one of those choices is a lot better than the others.

In this post, I'll show you how to make the right decision every time.

Related: What Are the Best Flexible Rewards for Free Travel?

What is different in the COVID-19 era?

The conventional wisdom is that the fourth option—transferring points to other loyalty programs—is usually the best choice. When you see stories about using points for luxury travel like Emirates and ANA first class or Qatar QSuites, those redemptions often take advantage of transfer partners.

But right now, paid travel is cheaper than ever. And that means the other three ways to redeem your points are much more likely to be the right choice. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Using Flexible Points for a Hotel Stay

With borders closed to Americans, it's hard to get too excited about getting outsized value from overseas trips. However, flexible point currencies still quite valuable—just in a different way than before. That's because we have seen cash prices plummet for flights and hotels.

Let's start by assuming that you have two of the most popular types of flexible rewards:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Capital One Rewards

Both of these rewards programs are running huge welcome offers on their flagship cards. So, now is a great time to start collecting these points.

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Annual Fee$95
Welcome Offer New Offer! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
The most valuable Ultimate Rewards signup bonus on offer and our top pick for small business rewards cards. Business owners earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn up to 450,000 points per year on a wide range of 3X bonus categories.
  • New Offer! Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases - with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • $95 Annual Fee
  • 3X points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year
  • 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Annual Fee$95
Welcome Offer Earn 100,000 Miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Following the revamp of Capital One's rewards program and the addition of airline transfer partners, the Capital One Venture has catapulted into our list of top travel rewards cards. The ability to earn 2X miles on every purchase and 5X points on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel provides a decent return on spending. Plus the card offers some great perks.
  • Earn 100,000 Miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 on purchases in the first 3 months; worth $1000 in travel if redeemed for a fixed-value, or potentially much more when transferred to airline partners
  • 2 Miles on every purchase, plus earn 5 Miles on hotel bookings and car rentals through Capital One Travel
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® (up to $100)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee
  • 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day.
  • 5 Miles on hotels and car rentals through Capital One Travel

Take for example the following domestic travel hotel stay. An upcoming weekend getaway to Dallas, TX at the Grand Hyatt DFW—which is a Category 5 property located in the airport terminal.

1. Transfer Chase Points to World of Hyatt

Category 5 properties cost 20,000 Hyatt points per night. World of Hyatt is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you'd need to transfer 40,000 Chase points for a two-night stay.

flexible points
Grand Hyatt DFW on points

That means the recently increased 100,000-point signup bonus from the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card would normally get you five nights at this excellent hotel.

Right now, World of Hyatt members can get a 15-25% rebate on award redemptions through January 4, 2021. (You must register here before December 1, 2020). That means you'll end up paying:

  • 30,000 Hyatt points (transferred from Chase) if you hold The World Of Hyatt Credit Card
  • 34,000 Hyatt points (transferred from Chase) if you aren't a Hyatt cardholder

But let's look at the other options to redeem points at this property.

2. Redeem Chase Points Through the Ultimate Rewards Portal

Instead of transferring points directly to Hyatt, you can also redeem Chase points for a fixed value through the Ultimate Rewards Portal. When the cash price is relatively low—like in this case—you'll spend fewer points with this method.

flexible points
Grand Hyatt DFW cash rate (which is better?)

The value of each point depends on which Ultimate Rewards cards you hold. A two-night stay for $282.72 would cost:

Related: How Much Are Points Worth in the Chase Travel Portal?

But there are a couple of major drawbacks to booking hotels through a third-party like Chase (rather than directly with Hyatt). First, you won't earn points from your stay. Hyatt's Bonus Journey's Promotion offers triple base points on paid stays booked through Hyatt. (You must register here before January 15, 2021.) That's 15 points per dollar spent!

Also, Hyatt doesn't award credit towards elite status or provide perks to elites unless you book direct.

3. Redeem Capital One Points for a Statement Credit

Capital One Rewards are the perfect solution if you care about earning Hyatt points and elite status. With Capital One, you aren't required to book through a third-party website like the Chase Travel Portal. Instead, you simply book your stay directly with Hyatt and pay with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Then, just redeem your Venture Miles within 90 days for a statement credit that cancels out the cost of your Hyatt stay.

  • 28,272 Venture Miles would cover a two-night stay for $282.72

While this is more expensive than redeeming through the Chase Travel Portal, it might be a better choice after you account for Hyatt elite status, and the points you'll earn from your stay.

The current limited-time offer of 100,000 miles on the Capital One Venture is worth $1,000 towards travel. Check out our full review to learn more.

4. Pay Yourself Back with Chase (Available for a Limited Time)

Groceries are a necessary item in most of our budgets, where travel may not be. But, instead of using cash to buy groceries and points on travel, what if you were able to do the reverse? That's possible for a limited time thanks to Chase's Pay Yourself Back (PYB) tool.

There’s been plenty of buzz relating to this feature that Chase implemented as a part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This option was originally valid through September 30, 2020, but it has recently been extended through April 30, 2021.

If you decided to use points to PYB, you’d be able to redeem your points at the same rates listed in “option 2” above. For example, $300 worth of grocery store purchases would cost:

Note: The Ink Preferred also lets you Pay Yourself Back, but groceries aren't one of the options. See this post for details.

Then, you could take that $300 and pay for your stay directly with Hyatt.

But there are other variables that could reduce it even further. Paying cash will allow you to earn points in the process too. In fact, with so many stackable promotions right now, we created a tool that can quickly determine whether you should transfer points to Hyatt or utilize the Pay Yourself Back feature. Here's our recent Facebook video with more info on the tool!

Transfer or Pay Yourself Back?
Transfer or Pay Yourself Back? Check out our new tool to determine which provides a higher return!

Using the example provided above, two nights would cost me just shy of 13K after returning over 6K points from the credit card, promotional offer, base earnings, and my Globalist status.

Using Flexible Points for a Flight

Flexible points can create the same opportunities with cheap airfare. Let's take a look at flights to Dallas for the same weekend. For this example, we'll add another flexible currency, Amex Membership Rewards to the mix.

American Express® Gold Card
American Express® Gold Card
Apply Now
Rates & Fees
(Terms apply)
American Express® Gold Card
Annual Fee$250
Welcome Bonus Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • Rates & Fees
  • 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide.
  • 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X)
  • 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
  • 1X on other purchases
  • Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.

1. Transfer Points to a Frequent Flyer Program

If you decide to transfer miles, here is how the costs will break down:

  • 46,000 Amex Membership Rewards – Transferred to Delta Skymiles
  • 41,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards – Transferred to United Mileage Plus

You'll notice I didn't include a flexible-points price for the American Airlines option in the middle. Both Amex and Chase points can be transferred to British Airways Executive Club, and British Airways points are a great way to book short, nonstop domestic AA flights. (We've covered this in strategy in more detail here.)

However, to book those flights, you need American to offer AAdvantage Saver award space. If AA.com were showing this flight priced at 25,000 miles for a round trip, we could book it using 18,000 British Airways Avios points—transferred from either Amex or Chase. But with the price at 30,000 miles, that option is off the table.

Related: Which Flights Can I Book with Miles?

2. Buy a Flight with Cash

Of course, there's the option to pay cash earning 5X on a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Citi Prestige® Card.

flexible awards
Why use 30K miles when you're only getting less than 2/3 of a cent in return?

However, if we're trying to conserve cash, you could use the Capital One Venture to book direct with American Airlines. Just like in the previous example, you'd redeem your points for a statement credit after making your purchase.

The flight above would cost:

Capital One has made huge strides in creating greater value for members by offering airline and hotel transfer partners. But in this case, “erasing” your charge is going to be the best option.

I'd much rather save my American Airlines AAdvantage miles for one of these higher-value awards. But is there yet another way that beats Capital One?

3. Redeem Points as Cash (Portal Booking)

Utilizing your Sapphire Reserve through the Chase Travel Portal, we can get an even better return on points.

flexible points
Under 13K R/T plus earn miles!

Zero cash out of pocket, 12,947 points spent, and 870 AAdvantage miles earned make this a very inexpensive trip.

You can also redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for 1.0 cents per point (Amex Travel Portal). That would still be a lot cheaper than transferring Membership Rewards to Delta, but it doesn't measure up to booking with Chase.

With flights, you don't have to worry about earning elite status. Flights booked through third-party sites like Amex and Chase are still eligible to earn frequent-flyer miles and credit towards elite status.

Our Take

It's important to realize that not all award currencies are created equal. However, flexible point currencies such as American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards provide us all with opportunities to do more for less! When you have multiple options, you are no longer at the mercy of the individual program.

Which program do you find to be most valuable?

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: American Express® Gold Card (Rates & Fees)

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Comments

  • Avatar

    I love flexible currencies – I was saving up across my Amex and Chase card (before the pandemic) so that my husband and I could do a points trip Australia in business or first. Ended up having to spend the points on other bills, but at least the flexibility of both points systems allowed us to do that. Now we’ll start saving again for a post-pandemic trip.

  • Avatar

    Flexibility is key. However I am always coming up with too many ways to use them! I have to narrow things down.

  • Avatar

    The Chase flexible points are the most valuable to me right now. I love the option of cashing out/erasing spend, the ability to transfer to partners to book directly (mostly Hyatt) or booking through Chase for more unique hotel options. I’ve also taken advantage of the Pay Yourself Back feature, especially right now when travel is at a minimum for me.

  • Avatar

    I have only Amex Membership Rewards and so I cannot compare with the others.
    Anyway, one big advantage I see it is the possibility to transfer if necessary a specific amount of points or miles which need for a redemption.
    Of course this is possible because the transfer happens in quite short time.

  • Avatar

    very helpful, thanks!

  • Avatar

    To be honest, I’m most excited about the 50% bonus Chase is offering on Apple products right now with the CSP and CSR.

    • Avatar

      With CSR though, you’re better off doing PYB. You then earn points on the purchase, can get extended warranty protection, can go through a shopping portal for more miles, AND can earn store rewards if said store has a rewards program.

  • Avatar

    Very good article. I’d underestimated the benefit of Pay Yourself Back, and dismissed it as a COVID gimmick for people who had way too many points, or needed the cash lifeline. These are all good considerations for maximizing value for my next intra-American vacation, although it makes the points game even more complicated.

    • Avatar
      Joe Petrovic says:

      Yes. I underestimated it too. The math gets even trickier if you’re earnings come from a card with multiples such as the Ink Cash, Freedom Unlimited, or Ink Unlimited and then get transferred to CSP/CSR.

    • Avatar

      I signed up for the card based off of it being a 4.5% cashback knowing that I’d have to book through the portal to get that. Chase has shown that using them for travel is an awful idea so being able to use PYB and get the 4.5% without using Chase travel is a HUGE win for me.

  • Avatar

    Good to churn and burn the points and I love the flexibility with chase to transfer to partners and if I ever need do the pay yourself back- which I have yet to use

  • Avatar
    Steven William Van Meter says:

    The flexibility this offer has is what makes it so powerful. When the travel industry gets going again, I plan to take full advantage of this.

    • Avatar
      Joe Petrovic says:

      Exactly, that’s why I’m so excited! It’s really about changing the general mentality about cashing them out for travel when it’s been engrained in us to maximize value through transfers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to be looking at transfers too, but now we have even more options!

  • Avatar

    It certainly is good if you have more choices but sometimes they have very bad conversion rates. Cash is still king.

  • Avatar

    I think the case could also be made for cash back, too. Between the United and Delta devaluations recently, I think I’m going to focus on hotel points (mostly Hyatt) and cash back (using the BofA Premium Rewards card). It is hard to justify collecting specific miles right now.

    • Avatar

      Exacltly, at the moment I don’t know which miles or point I’ll use in next months. I’ll stick to flexible points

    • Avatar
      Joe Petrovic says:

      Great comment here! Using the BofA Premium Rewards (especially if you have Platinum Honors at 2.625%) makes the even more sense right now.

  • Avatar

    I think the flexibility will come with many more devaluations later on. Pity.

    • Avatar
      Joe Petrovic says:

      With all of the influx of points through bonus offers right now, there’s no question that there will eventually have to be some sort of devaluation. Hopefully, we’ve made the right moves to utilize those while the opportunity exists though.

  • Avatar

    Nothing better. I like to keep 300k in each of the 4 currencies (I include Marriott) so have pretty much every US TC covered, JIC.
    Learned the hard way when my mother was passing and I had to get home. Only had AA Mike’s available snd had to fly BA and pay their ridiculous fees. Flexible currencies would have save me several hundred dollars and I could have flown into the airport I needed too

    • Avatar
      Joe Petrovic says:

      That’s the whole point of having flexible currencies. I made the rookie mistake of locking myself into collecting non-transferable airline miles/points when I first started. Today, I focus on MR, UR, TYP, and Marriott which keeps me fairly well covered.