Home Credit Cards Mastering Credit Card Points Transfers to Frequent Flyer Programs, Part I

Mastering Credit Card Points Transfers to Frequent Flyer Programs, Part I

Our two-part series on what you need to know about transferring credit card points to airline miles.

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Learn insider tricks for transferring credit cards points to frequent flyer programs.
Learn insider tricks for transferring credit cards points to frequent flyer programs.
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We often cover the consumer trend of using credit card points for unrestricted award travel (pegged to a dollar value).However, many cards still allow—and even promote—credit card points transfers 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 credit card points transfers are still the best option for landing free seats both in the front and the back of the plane.

In this two-part series, we first look at which credit cards allow transfers to which frequent flyer programs. Next week, we highlight how to maximize these credit card points transfers and score the best free seats up in the air.

Which frequent flyer programs are partners with Chase Sapphire and what are the transfer ratios?

Through its Ultimate Rewards®program, the Chase Sapphire Preferred®and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®allow credit card point transfers to nine airline frequent flyer programs at a one-to-one ratio. These airline programs are Aer Lingus AerClub, British Airways Executive Club, Flying Blue AirFrance/KLM, Iberia Plus, JetBlue True Blue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United Airlines MileagePlus, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

Most of these airlines are long-standing Chase partners. However, the cards eliminated Korean Air SKYPASS as a transfer partner in 2018 and added JetBlue True Blue as a new transfer partner.  In addition, in May 2019 Ultimate Rewards had its first-ever transfer bonus, offering 30% extra on transfers into British Airways Executive Club.

Which frequent flyer programs are partners with American Express and what are the transfer ratios?

The Platinum Card®from American Express and the American Express Gold Card added three new airline transfer partners to its Membership Rewards®program between 2018 and mid-2019, bringing the total to an impressive 19. The cards now allow transfers to 16 airline frequent flyer programs at a one-to-one ratio: Aer Lingus AerClub (new partner), Air Canada Aeroplan, Alitalia Millemiglia, All Nippon Airways, Asia Miles, Avianca LifeMiles (new partner), British Airways Executive Club, Delta Air Lines (SkyMiles), Emirates Skywards, Etihad Airways Guest, Flying Blue AirFrance/KLM, Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Miles, Iberia Plus, Qantas Frequent Flyer (new partner), 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.

American Express is no stranger to offering transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards into frequent flyer programs. However, it seems that in 2019 the credit card has been targeting many of these bonuses, meaning not all of us are necessarily privy to the extra miles. Additionally, some of these bonuses have been documented as “flash bonuses,” meaning the offer may be available only during one specific online session and not the next.  These are some of the transfer bonuses we have seen so far this year: Qantas Frequent Flyer (20%, not targeted), Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (30%, not targeted), Air Canada Aeroplan (10-20%, targeted), Air France/KLM (25%, not targeted) JetBlue True Blue (40-50%, targeted), and British Airways (40-50%, targeted).

Which frequent flyer programs are partners with Citi and what are the transfer ratios?

Through its Thank You® rewards program, the Citi Prestige®Card allows transfers to 15 airline frequent flyer programs at a one-to-one value: Asia Miles, Avianca Lifemiles, Etihad Airways Guest, EVA Air, Flying Blue AirFrance/KLM, Garuda Indonesia, JetBlue TrueBlue (previously a rate of 1: 0.8 in 2018), Jet Airways’ Jet Privilege,  Malaysia Airlines Enrich, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

Citi doesn’t offer transfer bonuses on the regular but this year we have seen a 30% bonus for transfers into Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and a 25% bonus into Avianca Lifemiles. Note: We don’t recommend transfers to Jet Privilege, the frequent flyer program of Jet Airways, since the airline has declared bankruptcy.

Which frequent flyer programs are partners with the Luxury Cards and the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite?

The Luxury Card Mastercard®Black Card™, Luxury Card Mastercard®Gold Card™, Luxury Card Mastercard®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 one-to-one 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 while another may require 55,000. That’s a huge difference! Some programs release plenty of space for award tickets, others are extremely stingy.

Also note that every airline either belongs to an alliance or has partners for earning or spending airline miles. Often times, while it’s harder to redeem miles directly on the airline you are transferring to, its partner availability is generously allotted. This is where you’ll typically find sweet spots for obtaining business-class seats. For example, we almost always book our tickets on American Airlines using Avios points of Oneworld alliance partner, British Airways.

This all may sound overwhelming, so next week we’ll break give you CliffsNotes version on the best frequent flyer redemptions out there and how to score them!

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Award-winning travel writer and economist Paul Rubio is a credit card enthusiast, whose sophisticated use of points and rewards has helped him travel to 125 countries for free. Paul is a Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in public administration and a master’s degree in economics. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University with a double major in economics and environmental policy and a minor in conservation biology. He attended both undergraduate and graduate schools on full scholarships. Paul worked in the field of wildlife conservation before embracing his writing talents full-time in 2008. Since then, he has won more than two dozen national awards for his exemplary work in travel journalism. The prolific writer contributes to a number of top-tier international, national, and regional publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Fodors.com, Palm Beach Illustrated, Private Clubs, and Robb Report.