Despite the consumer trend of using credit card points for unrestricted award travel (at a specific redemption rate, pegged to a dollar value), many cards still allow the transfer of credit card points to frequent flyer programs for redeeming award seats. It’s no secret that legacy airline carriers have made it significantly harder to redeem miles with their frequent flyer programs, but sometimes these transfers are still the best option for landing free business-class award seats. Here we look at which credit cards allow transfers to which frequent flyer programs and where to find the sweet spots to score the best seats up in the air.
Which credit cards allow you to transfer credit card points to frequent flyer programs?
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® and the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ allow transfers to nine airline frequent flyer programs at a one-to-one ratio. These programs are Aer Lingus AerClub, British Airways Executive Club, Flying Blue AirFrance/KLM, Iberia Plus, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United Airlines MileagePlus, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
The Platinum Card® from American Express and Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express allow transfers to 13 airline frequent flyer programs at a one-to-one value: Air Canada (Aeroplan), Alitalia (Millemiglia), All Nippon Airways, Asia Miles, British Airways Executive Club, Delta Air Lines (SkyMiles), Emirates Skywards, Etihad Airways Guest, Flying Blue AirFrance/KLM, Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Miles, Iberia Plus, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. In addition, points can be transferred to the following programs at the following ratios: AeroMexico Club Premier 1:1.6, El Al Israel Airlines Frequent Flyer Club 1: 0.2, and JetBlue Airways 1: 0.8.
The Citi Prestige® Card allows transfers to 14 airline frequent flyer programs at a one-to-one value: Avianca Lifemiles, Asia Miles, Etihad Airways Guest, Flying Blue AirFrance/KLM, EVA Air, Garuda Indonesia, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. In addition, points can be transferred to JetBlue Airways at a ratio of 1: 0.8.
Which credit cards do not allow you to transfer credit card points to frequent flyer programs?
The Mastercard® Black Card™, Mastercard® Gold Card™, Mastercard® Titanium Card™, and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card don’t offer the option of transferring credit card points to frequent flyer programs. However, these cards are tops when it comes to redeeming points for unrestricted award travel through the respective cards’ booking engines. With all three Luxury Cards—Mastercard® Gold Card™, Mastercard® Black Card™, and Mastercard® Titanium Card™—flights can be booked directly through the cards’ online Rewards Center at a redemption value of 2%. As an example, a $500 flight can be booked instantly by redeeming 25,000 points. U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card offers the second-highest redemption rate in the high-end credit card industry at 1.50%. In this case, a $500 flight booked through U.S. Bank’s online booking engine would require 33,333 points.
How do I even begin choosing between so many frequent flyer transfer partners?
Though there are dozens of frequent flyer programs eligible for points’ transfers at a 1:1 ratio, not all programs are created equal. Not all airlines charge the same mileage for the same routing, so be smart when it comes to deciding which program you use to book a mileage ticket. Some programs may require 150,000 for a one-way business-class seat to Europe (availability pending) while another may require 55,000. Also note that every airline either belongs to an alliance or has partners for earning or spending airline miles. Oftentimes, while it’s harder to redeem miles directly on the airline you are transferring to, its partner availability is generously allotted, and this is where you’ll typically find sweet spots for obtaining business-class seats. This all may sound overwhelming, so we’ve provided a little cheat sheet to help you in the responses below.
If I am interested in business class award seats, to which programs should I transfer my credit card points?
Several programs have their sweet spots, and we’ve narrowed it down to our top five in terms of value and availability for business class. Pro Tip: Remember to always check award availability before making any transfers!
BETWEEN HAWAII AND CENTRAL AMERICA
For reasons we may never understand (but we are guessing human error), Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program groups Hawaii and Central America as a single zone for purposes of mileage redemptions. A business-class ticket within this zone comes to a mere 30,000 points one-way, and this routing typically takes place on partner airlines United Airlines and Copa Airlines. Since Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of the Chase Sapphire cards, the American Express premium cards, and the Citi Prestige card, transfer points from the card of your choosing and then book what is arguably the cheapest long-haul business reward out there!
BETWEEN USA AND EUROPE
For trips between the United States and Europe, availability tends to be generous on both Swiss Air’s and Turkish Airlines’ excellent business-class products. Cardholders of The Platinum Card from American Express and Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express should transfer points to Air Canada (Aeroplan) and then book their Swiss Air or Turkish Airlines award flight through the Aeroplan search engine for 55,000 points per person, per way. Aeroplan does not add fuel surcharges for these two airlines, so expect taxes and fees to be nominal. (Note: Holders of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve can similarly transfer points to United Mileage Plus and then book their Swiss Air or Turkish Airlines award flight through the United search engine. However, ticketing through United will cost 70,000 points per person, per way.)
BETWEEN CONTINENTAL USA AND CARIBBEAN/CENTRAL AMERICA/MEXICO
Through its Avios program, British Airways uses a distance-based award chart, making shorter- distance flights on American Airlines quite cheap. If flying from a nearby American hub such as Miami, Dallas, or Los Angeles, expect flights to the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico to be a fraction of what they’d cost if booking directly through American Airlines’ Aadvantage program. For example, a business-class mileage ticket between Miami and Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, costs 25,000 AAdvantage points using American Airlines but only 9,000 Avios points through British Airways. Cardholders of the Chase Sapphire cards and American Express premium cards should transfer points to British Airways Executive Club and then book their American Airlines award flight through the British Airways Avios search engine.
Again, playing off British Airways’ distance-based award chart, flights on partner airline Cathay Pacific within Asia on Cathay Pacific come at bargain basement point prices, even when traveling in first or business. For example, a business-class mileage ticket between Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan, will cost only 9,000 Avios points using British Airways. Likewise, a business-class mileage ticket between Hong Kong and Shanghai costs just 15,000 Avios points. Cardholders of the Chase Sapphire cards and American Express premium cards should transfer points to British Airways Executive Club and then book their American Airlines award flight through the British Airways Avios search engine.
BETWEEN USA AND AFRICA
Similar to Europe, availability tends to be generous on Swiss Air’s excellent business-class product (Turkish Airlines’ availability, too, tends to be generous. However, its aircraft between Europe and Africa has only reclining seats in business, not lie-flat beds.) In addition, South Africa Airways sometimes releases award space for its direct flights between JFK and Johannesburg. Cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express and Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express should transfer points to Air Canada (Aeroplan) and then book their Swiss Air or Turkish Airlines award flight through the Aeroplan search engine for 75,000 points per person, per way.