Nothing beats the ease of cash back. But if you’re willing to put in some work, you can rack up a lot more value with points.
Comparing Points and Cash Back
When choosing a credit card that pays rewards, your first important decision is whether to earn cash back or some form of loyalty points. Cash back cards tend to be simpler, making them a good choice for people who want to put minimal effort into managing their rewards. The hitch is that cash-back cards will pay you 1% to 2% of your spending, tops. That means for each $1 you spend, you’ll get back a penny or two.
Points cards can be more lucrative—a lot more lucrative, if you’re smart with how you use them. Most points have an average value of at least 1 cent each.
And that’s just an average. Depending on how you use the points, they can be worth much more. And the average value of a reward currency doesn’t tell you how valuable a credit card that earns them is, since many offer ways to earn extra points. Let’s say an imaginary TravelCo point is worth 1.5 cents, but the TravelCo credit card gives you 3 points for every dollar you spend at a restaurant. That means that for instead of 1.5 cents for every dollar you spend, you’re getting 4.5 cents. That’s the equivalent of 4.5% back when you go out to eat.
Here are some examples of cards that give spending bonuses, and what you can expect to earn when you spend money in certain categories:
|Value of a Point
|American Express Gold
|4x on groceries
|Chase Sapphire Reserve
|3x on travel
|7x on restaurants
|Capital One Quicksilver Rewards
|1.5x on everything
Getting Your Cash Back
Earning cash back is pretty straightforward, but how you get your hands on it varies from card to card. Some make it much easier than others to redeem what you’ve earned.
- Daily credits: The Apple Card applies any cash back you’ve earned automatically to your account each day. You don’t have to do a thing.
- Statement credits: Many cards pay cash back in the form of a statement credit, which you have to request. A statement credit reduces the amount of your next bill, so if you applied a $50 statement credit to a $1,000 monthly bill, you would only owe $950.
- Check or direct deposit: Some cards let you request a check or a direct deposit to your checking or savings account.
How much this all matters depends on your preferences. Some people like seeing their cash accumulate, others prioritize putting it into an interest-earning account. Maybe you want your cash-back to be completely hassle-free. If you feel strongly about any of these options, it’s worth checking to see how a credit card you’re considering works.
Using Airline and Hotel Points
Hotel, airline and flexible travel points may be more valuable than cash back, but redeeming them can be a lot more complicated. How much value you get from your points can depend on how—and when—you spend them. To get the most out of your points, you’ll want to explore booking not just through the hotel or airline the points are affiliated with, but with their partner brands. A bit of effort (and/or some luck) can pay off big. These are just a few real-life examples of the amazing values you can find:
|Value Per Point
|Round-trip business-class flight to Japan
|Night at the Park Hyatt Sydney
|Round-trip economy flight from Chicago to Rome
Another caveat: there are more rules and restrictions around hotel and airline points than around cash. You may be facing limited availability or blackout dates. And some of the big U.S. airlines, including United and American, have made it harder to find seats that you can book with miles.
But some airlines, such as Southwest and JetBlue, take a more straightforward approach to miles: each point is worth a fixed or nearly-fixed amount of money, which you can apply to their fares. Southwest doesn’t have any blackout dates or availability restrictions, and when applied to fares each point is worth roughly 1.5 to 1.6 cents. That means that one Southwest point is worth about 50% more than your average cash-back “point.” You’re never going to feel like you hit the jackpot with these particular airlines, but your points will always be usable.
Using Flexible Points
Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and other programs that give you lots of options for redeeming points can be really attractive—and valuable—because they’re so flexible. Instead of being stuck with just one airline or hotel company, if you have a Chase rewards card you can use your points with 13 different travel partners, including British Airways, United, and Hyatt. If you’re willing to put in the time, you can find even better travel deals with your points.
Some other benefits of flexible programs: Many of us have experienced having just a handful of miles languishing in an airline account. Too few to use on anything, too many to abandon. With flexible points, you just leave everything in your main account until you need it. And you can use those points to top off your other loyalty programs. If you earn Delta SkyMiles via a Delta credit card, a) you have to use them on Delta and b) you may end up with leftover points after you use them for a ticket—but still not have enough for another ticket. If you have American Express Membership Rewards points, you can instantly transfer them at any time to Delta, or any other partner program.
Finally, if you decide you don’t want to travel, you can still use flexible points for cash and gift cards.
Using Flexible Points for Cash Back & Gift Cards
Tired of travel? Just want more money in your pocket? With Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can always convert your points into cash at a penny a point.
Many other programs have a cash back option as well, but they usually offer worse values:
|Chase Ultimate Rewards
|Yes: Statement credit, check
|1 cent per point
|American Express Membership Rewards
|Yes: Statement credit
|0.6 cents per point
|Yes: Statement credit, check
|0.5 cents per point
In some situations, however, you can convert your points into gift cards or use them directly with merchants like Amazon. These redemption rates can range from 1 cent per point, a pretty good rate, down to 0.7 cents per point, where you might be better off looking for other options.
Though it’s useful to understand the pros and cons of cash and points, it won’t tell you definitively which card is right for you. What will: Gigapoints. We use big data and advanced algorithms to pinpoint the very best card for your spending habits. Sign up before you miss out on any more rewards.
Hilton Honors is a solid rewards program for people who frequently stay at Hilton hotels, because elite status makes it easy to collect points. For everyone else, not so much. There are only a few ways to use your points other than for free nights, and they offer poor value.
What Are Hilton Honors?
With more than 5,700 properties in over 100 countries, Hilton is one of the largest hotel chains in the world. Its portfolio ranges from more affordable brands like Hampton by Hilton all the way up to luxury flags such as Waldorf Astoria and Conrad. Honors are the loyalty points the company gives to guests and holders of its branded credit cards.
Hilton Honors can be redeemed at any Hilton properties around the world, with no blackout dates, but generally at crummy redemption rates. You can also use points for experiences, travel, shopping, and partner transfer options.
How to Earn Hilton Honors
There are two types of Hilton Honors points, base and bonus points. Both points can be redeemed for hotel stays and other free stuff, but only base points count towards Hilton elite status.
You earn those base Honors points by spending money at any Hilton hotel, —10 points per dollar at most properties. You can collect bonus Honors by shopping through the Hilton portal, and spending with travel partners like Lyft, car-rental companies, and cruise lines.
You can also collect them with the three Hilton Honors American Express cards; the basic one earns 7 points per dollar on Hilton purchases, and 5x points at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card earns 14 points for every dollar spent with the company, 7 points per dollar on restaurants, direct-booked flights, and some car rentals, and 3 points per dollar on everything else.
You can convert American Express Membership Rewards, Diners Club points, Amtrak points, and certain airline miles into Hilton Honors points. It’s worth noting that points expire after 12 months of account inactivity.
You earn different amounts of Honors depending on what your elite status is with Hilton. The company has four membership tiers; the higher your level, the more perks you get when you stay at Hilton hotels, including extra points, upgrades, free breakfast, lounge access, and more.
Blue: The entry level; when you sign up, you will automatically be enrolled in Blue. It gets you 10 points per dollar spent at most Hilton properties, late checkout, free points pooling, digital check-in and some other minor benefits.
Silver: Requires four stays or 10 nights, or holding the HIlton Honors American Express Card. You get 12 points per dollar spent at most Hilton properties, all Blue benefits, plus the ability to rollover any nights more than you needed to reach Silver status, fifth nights free, and two complimentary bottles of water (yipee…).
Gold. You become a Gold member after 20 stays, 40 nights, earning 75,000 Honors base points or holding the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card or the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card. Gold gets you 18 points per dollar, all the Silver perks, plus room upgrades, free breakfasts, and special points bonuses after your 40th night’s stay in a year.
Diamond. The top tier in the Hilton Honors program is earned after 30 stays, 60 nights, 120,000 Honors base points or holding the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from Amex. Along with everything else, it gives you 20 points per dollar spent at Hilton, guaranteed availability within 48 hours of a stay, executive lounge access, the ability to give Gold or Diamond status to one other member per year, and the ability to extend your status for a year.
What Cards Earn Membership Rewards
- American Express Hilton Honors
- American Express Hilton Honors Aspire
- American Express Hilton Honors Surpass
How to Use Hilton Honors
Unsurprisingly, the best way to use Hilton Honors is for free hotel stays. Hilton uses a sliding scale to determine how many points a stay will cost, factoring in the property, room type, and location. Some experiences also provide a good value. Plus, you can always transfer your points to other reward programs. But in general, other options provide a poor redemption value.
Ways to use Hilton Honors:
- Hotel stays. You can book with points or points and cash.
- Transfer to travel partners. Hilton has more than 40 airline partners. Transfer rates vary.
- Experiences. Select from music, sports, culture, food and wine experiences around the globe.
- Merchandise. Shop online at the Hilton Honors Shopping Mall. 1 point = 0.2 cents
- Amazon. Use your rewards at checkout. 1 point = 0.2 cents
- Gift cards. Purchase gift cards through Hilton’s portal. 1 point = 0.2 cents
- Transfer to friends and family.
- Donate to charity.
Hotel Stays and Upgrades
Hilton has 14 different hotel brands, from modest Hamptons to extravagant Waldorf Astoria resorts. Hilton Honors can be used at any of the properties, but the company doesn’t make an award chart available: you either have to check availability for the specific property you want to stay at, or use Hilton’s Points Explorer tool to search for hotels available for a certain number of points in your desired destination.
You’ll generally get more value for your points at the luxury properties, especially Waldorf Astoria, but that’s not always saying much. For instance, on a recent night the Hampton Inn in Los Angeles cost $125 or you 30,000 points, giving you a value of .4 cents per point—a pretty chintzy deal. A superior room at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills with two queen beds and a terrace cost $925 a night or 95,000 Honors points. That gives you a value of about 1 cent per point, which is still not fantastic.
If you have Silver, Gold, or Diamond Honors status you can do a little better. You get your fifth night free; if you stayed at the Beverly Hills Waldorf for five nights, you’d get 1.2 cents per point. Gold and Diamond members could upgrade for free on top of that.
If you don’t have enough points in your account, you can pay using a combination of points and cash.
These are the brands in Hilton’s portfolio:
- Embassy Suites
- Hilton Garden Inn
- Hilton Grand Vacations
- Home2 Suites
- Homewood Suites
- Tapestry Collection
- Waldorf Astoria
Transfer to Travel Partners
You can also transfer your miles to credit card, airline and rail partner programs. The rates vary widely, but in most cases you’re trading 10,000 Hilton Honors points for 1,000 or 1,500 partner points. Hilton does occasionally run promotions which will increase the value of your points when you transfer. That’s the only time that transferring your points might make sense.
This is really the only other redemption option that you’ll want to consider other than hotel stays. Hilton offers dozens of music, sports, culture and food experiences around the world: Muay Thai lessons, backstage tours, concert tickets and more. Some of these may only be accessible through your Hilton Honors membership.
Some experiences have a flat points price; others are sold by auction. The company doesn’t put a dollar value on experiences, so you should do a separate search before spending your points, because values can vary widely. An all-access tour of Madison Square Garden for 10 costs 100,000 points, but the tickets only cost $35 apiece, for a value of 0.03 cents per point.
Amazon, International Shopping Mall and Gift Card Purchases
Using your points at Amazon gives you an exchange rate of just 0.2 cents per point. It’s almost never worth it. The same goes for spending through the International Hilton Honors Shopping Mall, as well as using points for gift cards.
Pool and Transfer Points
You can pool your points with other members, combining up to 500,000 points and 10 different members each year for free. This can be useful if you want to book a group travel experience, give a gift, or want to get use out of small buckets of miles. You can also transfer your points for free.
Hilton Honors reward points don’t give you a lot of value in terms of cents per point, but they are also relatively easy to earn. If you hold Gold or Diamond status, you’ll multiply your earnings pretty quickly, making this program most worthwhile for Hilton regulars.
Hyatt has a smaller footprint than other hotel companies, but its loyalty program delivers high value—especially when it comes to luxury travel. It offers solid earning opportunities and some exceptional redemption values.
What Is World of Hyatt?
World of Hyatt is the loyalty program for Hyatt Hotels Corp., which has more than 875 properties in 60 countries, ranging from budget brands like Hyatt Place and Hyatt House up to luxury spots like Park Hyatt and Thompson Hotels. Miraval wellness resorts and Exhale Spa, a chain of day-spa-slash-fitness-studios, also fall under the Hyatt umbrella.
The World of Hyatt program has five tiers of membership. Discoverist, the first step up from entry level, takes 10 nights or about $5,000 in Hyatt spending to earn; it’s also an automatic benefit of the World of Hyatt Credit Card. With each jump in membership comes more perks, including room upgrades, points bonuses, late checkout, and free fitness classes.
How to Earn World of Hyatt Points
There are many ways to earn Hyatt points—most obviously by spending money at a Hyatt hotel, which gets you at least 5 points per dollar (more for elite membership tiers). Wellness mavens can earn 10 points per dollar at an Exhale Spa. Frequent Hyatt guests can get a lot of bang out of the World of Hyatt Credit Card; it earns an additional 4 points for every dollar spent at Hyatt, on top of the 5 base points.
Then there are Hyatt’s partner brands, including car-rental company Avis, casino operator MGM Resorts, hotel network Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and adventure cruise line Lindblad Expeditions. Cruises earn 5 points per dollar, which can really add up given their cost.
You can also link your American Airline account to earn Hyatt Rewards and American miles on participating flights. Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. And Hyatt partners with 25 other airlines, allowing you to transfer points between programs—though not at very favorable rates.
Hyatt points have no blackout dates and don’t expire, as long as there’s some activity in your account every two years.
What Cards Earn Hyatt Rewards
How to Use Hyatt Rewards
World of Hyatt points may not be as flexible as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. But Hyatt has made its points more versatile than many other hotel programs by adding compelling partners and letting members redeem points for dining, spa treatments and other amenities at its hotels.
- Free nights. Standard Hyatt rooms start at 5,000 points per night. Points are also good at MGM Resorts and Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
- Room upgrades. These start at 3,000 points for a Regency Club or Grand Club upgrade.
- Hotel amenities. Spa treatments, movies, and dining start at 1,000 points for $10.
- Cruises. Book through Hyatt to use points with Lindblad Expeditions.
- Wellness. Points can be redeemed for classes and spa treatments at Exhale.
- Experiences. FIND Experiences include tandem hang-gliding expeditions, bike tours, and more.
- Meetings and events. Book with points at Hyatt properties.
- Transfer to airlines. Hyatt has more than 25 partners. 2.5 Hyatt points = 1 airline mile.
- Rental cars. Rates start at 6,000 points per day with Avis..
- Share points. Transfer points to any World of Hyatt member.
Hotel Stays and Upgrades
You’ll generally get the most value from your World of Hyatt points by using them for free hotel nights. Compared to other hotel companies, Hyatt makes it a breeze to navigate the redemption process: An awards chart shows exactly how many points you need for a night at different categories of Hyatt hotels, all-inclusives, and Miraval Resorts. You can also use Hyatt’s interactive map to see, for instance, every Category 3 property with a pool in the United States.
Prices start at 5,000 point a night for a standard room in a Category 1 hotel, like the Hyatt Place in Topeka, Kansas, and go up to 60,000 points per night for a premium suite at a Category 7 hotel.
Luxury properties are where you’ll usually get the most value for your points. For instance, rooms at the Topeka Hyatt Place start at $89 a night. If you book that room with points, you’ll be getting 1.8 cents a mile. Pretty good. But we saw a standard room at the Category 7 Park Hyatt Beaver Creek for $1,145 a night or 30,000 miles. That works out to a whopping 3.8 cents per point.
Hyatt’s all-inclusive properties have a slightly different redemption system: the base rates are for up to two people, and each additional person costs more points. The same goes for Miraval, where the base rate is for one person—additional guests cost 20,000 points per night. Plus, you can only book with points over the phone. It’s harder to get extreme value with these properties, but we’ve yielded 2 cents per point without much effort.
If you prefer unique inns, resorts and hotels, you can also use Hyatt points to book with Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a network of independent-minded boutique properties. Hyatt uses its category system with SLH and also provides a handy interactive map. You can’t redeem points for SLH properties through Hyatt’s main search engine—you have to click into the World of Hyatt portal, then look under Redeem.
Love Vegas? You can use Hyatt points to book nights at MGM’s 13 casino resorts, starting at 12,000 points a night. But since the rooms are so often discounted, you’re usually better off paying cash.
Finally, Hyatt offers a Points + Cash option for booking hotel stays. Once again, the program is straightforward: You’ll pay half the cash and half the points you otherwise would. For instance, on a recent weekend, a room at the Hyatt Regency Chicago cost about $160, including taxes and fees. For 12,000 Hyatt points, you could get that night free—a value of 1.3 cents per point. Or, you could spend $80 and 6,000 points. It’s a nice way of making hotel nights accessible for members who haven’t accumulated a lot of points.
You can use Hyatt points to upgrade from a standard to a club room or even up to a premium suite for 3,000 to 9,000 points. But the process is a little cumbersome. First, upgrades are only available on paid hotel stays. Second, they’re not available at all properties. And third, you can only book points upgrades over the phone.
The best approach is to look for a good deal—a hotel where the difference in room price gives you sufficient value for your points—then call Hyatt to make sure an upgrade is available and book your reservation and upgrade simultaneously.
Hotel Amenities and Services
Unlike other hotel brands, Hyatt lets members pay for everything from spa treatments to room service with points. It’s generally not the best use of your hard-earned rewards, but it’s still not bad.
You redeem any number of points you like at payment time, up to a value of $1,000. There is a range of rates depending on how many points you redeem: $10 costs 1,000 points (or 1 cent a point) and $1,000 costs 65,000 points (or 1.5 cents a point). An 80-minute massage at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa runs about $230, or roughly 20,000 points.
Hyatt’s FIND program includes more than 200 hikes, tours, dinners, classes, and other activities in over 50 destinations around the world. There are culinary carriage rides through Vienna, bonsai classes in New York, rice-paddy treks in Indonesia. Some can be booked with cash or points, others only with points.
The experiences that can be booked either way offer a value of about 1.4 cents per point. We’ve dug into some of the experiences that don’t have retail prices listed, and found that they offer less value—like the Viennese carriage ride, which is about 1 cent per point. FIND is better used for inspiration and for booking activities with cash than getting a big bang out of your points.
Hyatt teamed up with Lindblad Expeditions in 2019, giving World of Hyatt members the chance to earn and spend points on the company’s high-end (and high-priced) cruises. Many of Lindblad’s trips go to places that only scientists used to visit—including Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands—and focus on nature and wildlife. They’re also a decent way to use massive amounts of points, if you have them: A 14-day cruise through the Drake Passage to Antarctica costs $14,680 to $36,550. In Hyatt currency, it’s 917,500 to 2,284,375 points, for a value of about 1.6 cents.
In 2017, Hyatt bought the day spa and fitness chain Exhale, which has locations in 11 U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago, and New York. World of Hyatt members can use 2,000 points to book a barre, cardio or yoga class—just okay value at about 1.2 cents per point, but a healthy way to blow a few points. Or indulge in any 60-minute massage or facial for 12,000 points, a value of up to 1.4 cents a point.
Transfer to Airline Partners
Hyatt has more than 25 airline partners, including Aeromexico, British Airways, Singapore and Southwest. But it costs 5,000 points to buy 2,000 frequent flyer miles—which means it’s only worth it if you’re short a few miles for an award ticket.
An intermediate-size rental car from Avis costs 6,000 points per day, which is almost never a good option. We looked at rental rates in London, San Diego and New York, and found that Hyatt points were worth as little as .4 cents each, and never got above 1.1 cents.
Meetings and Events
Though it’s also not an amazing value, using Hyatt points can ease some of the sticker shock of a wedding or conference. You’ll get a flat 1.3 cents per point when you use them for meetings and events, whether you’re paying 15,000 points for a $200 credit or 75,000 points for a $1,000 credit.
Transfer to Friends and Family
Sharing points is easy and free as long as the person you are transferring to is also a World of Hyatt member.
It’s definitely worth signing up for World of Hyatt, especially if you are a regular guest, patronize any of their travel partners, or are looking to use awards for a dream cruise or destination spa trip. But since Hyatt has fewer locations than its competitors, it may not be the one to commit to for a few nights free here and there.
Discover it Miles are very easy to earn and redeem. You earn 1.5 miles for every dollar you spend, with no cap, and special promotions can boost that substantially. But Discover doesn’t offer many redemption options, and miles have a flat value of 1 cent each.
What Are Discover It Miles?
Most of Discover’s credit cards offer only cash back, but one—the Discover it Miles card—is aimed at travelers and earns Discover it Miles. The program is simple: Cardholders generally earn a flat 1.5 miles for every dollar they spend, and can redeem them for 1 cent per point. Discover sometimes has promotions that make the card a real contender, like one that doubled all the points cardholders earned in the first year, for a 3% yield.
How to Use Discover It Miles
There are only three options for using Discover it points. And no matter how you redeem them, 1 mile = 1 cent. You can use your miles for:
- Travel statement credits
- Cash back
- Shopping on Amazon
Travel Statement Credits
Discover miles can be used to cover any travel purchases made on your card in the last 180 days. Just log into your account, click Redeem Miles, then Travel Credit, and select the purchases you want to pay off with miles. You can also call the number on the back of your card.
What Discover counts as travel is fairly generous, but the rate is always 1 cent per mile. Still, using points to cover travel lets you double-dip—in other words, if you’re enrolled in airline, car rental, hotel or other reward programs, you can use this card and earn those points as well as Discover miles for a purchase.
Travel purchases that can be covered by points include:
- Commercial airline tickets
- Hotel rooms
- Car rentals
- Tour operator purchases
- Vacation packages bought through airlines, travel agents or online travel sites
- Local and suburban commuter transportation, including ferries
- Passenger railways
- Taxis and limousines
- Charter and tour bus lines
The Discover it Miles cash-back option is also simple and straightforward. You can convert any amount of miles into cash, which will be deposited directly into your linked bank account. The 1:1 ratio is good compared to the rest of the industry.
Redeem for Amazon Purchases
If for some reason you’d prefer to redeem your miles for Amazon purchases, you can link your Discover it Miles card to your Amazon account. At checkout you’ll see how many miles you have and be given the option to use any amount to pay for your purchase. Each mile is worth 1 cent, a better rate than with other loyalty programs.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a loyalty program more straightforward than Discover it Miles. 1 cent per mile is a decent rate, and the first year of earning 3x miles makes it a great card for everyday spending. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to earn some cash back, this is a solid choice. But if you’re serious about maximizing the value of your points and miles, Chase and Amex have better options.
Capital One Miles aren’t as valuable as some of the other loyalty currencies, but the program is straightforward. Use the miles for travel expenses at a penny a point, or try to get some more value by transferring to travel partners.
What Are Capital One Miles?
Capital One Miles aren’t actually frequent flyer miles, but the loyalty points that Capital One gives to holders of its main cards. The CapitalOne VentureOne Rewards card earns 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend, and the CapitalOne Venture Rewards card earns 2 miles per dollar on all spending.
The best way to use them Capital One Miles is for travel, especially now. In November 2018, Cap One added more than a dozen airline travel partners that you can transfer your miles to. Before that, your best option was to get a flat rate of 1 cent per mile for existing travel expenses or booking travel through the bank’s portal.
How to use Capital One Miles
- Transfer to travel partners. Capital One has 15 airline and two hotel partners; the transfer rate is generally 100 miles for every 75 partner points.
- Erase travel purchases. 1 mile = 1 cent
- Book travel through the Capital One portal. 1 mile = 1 cent.
- Gift cards. 1 mile = 0.8 cents
- Shop with miles. Available for Amazon, 1 mile = 0.8 cents.
- Cash back. Get a statement credit or check. 1 mile = 0.5 cents
- Share miles. Transfer to anyone with a Capital One Miles earning account.
What Cards Earn Capital One Miles
Transfer to Travel Partners
Capital One cards weren’t always a top choice for travelers, because the reward points were only good for paying for travel, gift cards, and cash back at flat rates.
A couple of years ago the bank added more than a dozen airline transfer partners, and in early 2020 it tacked on two hotel partners. But there’s a catch. Unlike other programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, the exchange rate isn’t 1:1. For most partners, you’ll get 1.5 miles for every 2 you transfer. For Emirates, Singapore, and Accor, you’ll get 1 mile for every 2 points you transfer. You’ll have to do some legwork (or get lucky) to find a great deal. But specials can make your miles more valuable.
- Aeromexico Club Premier
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
- Finnair Plus
- Hainan Fortune Wings Club
- Qantas Frequent Flyer
- Qatar Airways Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Although roughly half of partners have instant transfers, others take a day or more. Transfers can’t be reversed or refunded, so once you transfer miles from Capital One to an airline, you can’t get them back again. Make sure your mind is made before you pull the trigger. Also, the minimum transfer is 1,000 miles; after that it’s in increments of 100.
Erase Travel Purchases
Capital One also has an interesting option called the purchase eraser. This allows you to use your miles to cover certain travel purchases made in the last 90 days, including flights, hotels, car rentals, trains, buses, cruises, taxis, and more. There’s no minimum redemption amount, and you’ll get a fixed rate of 1 cent per mile.
If you’re willing to take the extra steps, this can be a better option than using your miles to book travel through Capital One, even though the rate is the same. For example, if you buy a $200 flight with this card, you can get frequent flyer miles from the airline as well as Capital One Miles, then use 20,000 miles to erase the charge.
Book Travel Through Capital One
If you like to keep things simple, you can book travel directly through Capital One. You’ll only be getting 1 cent per mile, however, and will be missing out on any rewards you might get by using your credit card and then erasing the charge with points.
This is not the best use of your miles, since you’ll only get 0.8 cents for every mile. It makes sense only if you need to use up leftover miles
Shopping on Amazon
Capital One recently started letting cardholders pay with Amazon purchases with points. Just link your card to your Amazon account and you’ll automatically be given the option. But it’s not a great one, since your miles are only worth 0.8 cents each.
Amazingly, this option is worse than using your miles to buy gift cards. If you request an account credit or check for your miles, you’ll get a measly 0.5 cents for each point you redeem.
Capital One lets you share your miles with anyone else who has an account—free of charge, regardless of whether they’re in your family or household. That means you can pool resources to pay for travel or other purchases.
Although Capital One may not have as many options—or as high of a transfer ratio—as other cards, it does have some redeeming qualities. Mainly, the ability to accumulate lots of points and the purchase eraser, which lets you stack up rewards.
American Express Membership Rewards has more transfer partners than any other major U.S. credit card reward program, making it incredibly versatile. You can find some great deals and transfer bonuses provide a boost, but maximizing your value is trickier than with Chase Ultimate Rewards, our top pick.
What Are Membership Rewards?
Membership Rewards are the loyalty points that American Express gives to holders of a handful of cards—the familiar green, gold and platinum cards, as well as the Blue Business Plus and EveryDay cards. The cards earn varying amounts of points per dollar spent in different categories. The company also issues other cards that don’t earn Membership Rewards.
Which Cards Earn Membership Rewards
- American Express Gold
- American Express Green
- American Express Platinum
- American Express Everyday
- American Express Everyday Preferred
- Blue from American Express
How to Use Membership Rewards
Amex rewards are some of the most flexible credit-card points around. They can be transferred to airline and hotel loyalty programs, used to book travel directly through the Amex portal, exchanged for gift cards, and more. Amex has a useful tool on its site that shows the point value of different options based on which credit card you have. But it requires that you already have an account, and doesn’t show the value for transferring points to travel partners.
Here’s an overview of the ways you can use points—we’ll get into more detail below:
- Transfer points. Move your points into 22 different airline and hotel loyalty programs. Transfer rates vary by partner, but most are 1:1.
- Book travel. Buy flights, hotels and holiday packages through American Express Travel, with points worth 0.7 to 1 cent each. You can also use them on Expedia.
- Upgrade flights. Bid for better seats on many different airlines.
- Pay with points. Use your points at online retailers including Amazon, PayPal and Walmart. Each point is worth 0.7 cents.
- Go shopping. Shop through the Amex Rewards site at more than 20 retailers, including Apple, BestBuy, and Sur La Table.
- Cover card charges. Use your rewards points for a statement credit. 1 point = 0.6 cents.
- Gift cards. Choose from 100+ online and brick and mortar retailers. Points are worth around 0.7 cents each.
Transferring to Travel Partners
There are 22 airline and hotel partners for Membership Rewards, including big companies like British Airways and Marriott. That means you can redeem your points in many, many ways. The downside is, if you’re the kind of person who wants to make sure they’re getting the best deal, you’re going to have a lot of open tabs on your browser.
In most cases, the transfers are 1:1, so 10,000 Membership Rewards are worth, say, 10,000 British Airways Avios. (AeroMexico, El Al, and jJetBlue are the exceptions.) There are fees for some transfers; on the flip side, promotional bonuses pop up pretty frequently and can make a big difference. Read about them in the next section.
To make a transfer, you login to your American Express account, go to the Ultimate Rewards portal, link it to your hotel or airline account, and choose the number of points to move. Transfers usually happen within seconds, but they also can’t be reversed—so be sure before you click that button.
Current Amex Membership Rewards transfer partners:
- Aer Lingus Aer Club (1:1)
- Aeroméxico Club Premier (1:1.6)
- Air Canada Aeroplan (1:1)
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue (1:1)
- Alitalia MilleMiglia (1:1)
- ANA Mileage Club (1:1)
- Avianca LifeMiles (1:1)
- British Airways Executive Club (1:1)
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (1:1)
- Delta SkyMiles (1:1)
- El Al Matmid (1000:20)
- Emirates Skywards (1:1)
- Etihad Guest (1:1)
- Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles (1:1)
- Iberia Plus (1:1)
- JetBlue TrueBlue (250:20)
- Qantas Frequent Flyer (1:1)
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (1:1)
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (1:1)
- Choice Privileges (1:1)
- Hilton Honors (1:2)
- Marriott Bonvoy (1:1)
Amex Membership Reward Transfer Bonuses
Amex regularly offers bonuses on points transfers to travel partners. They tend to hover between 15% and 30%, but occasionally you’ll see a 50% bonus. They can make your points much more valuable.
An example: In August 2019, Amex offered cardholders a 40% bonus on rewards transferred to British Airways. At the time, you could book an economy flight from Dallas to New York on American Airlines for $149—a pretty good price. If you used points to reserve the flight through BA, an American partner, it would have cost 11,000 Avios. Using the bonus offer, that would be just 8,000 Membership Rewards. You got almost 2 cents of value for every point, a serious boost over more obvious uses.
These are some other recent bonuses:
|Jetblue 25% Amex Transfer Bonus
|Dec 21, 2019
|Flying Blue 25% Amex Transfer Bonus
|Nov 30, 2019
|Avianca 15% Amex Transfer Bonus
|Oct 31, 2019
|Marriott 30% Amex Transfer Bonus
|Oct. 31, 2019
Booking Travel Through the American Express Travel Portal
A simpler way to redeem your points for travel is to use them at American Express Travel, which you can access through your credit card account. You generally get okay value for flights—each point is worth 1 cent—and lousy value for hotel purchases, at 0.7 cents per point.
The portal starts to look pretty good if you have a Platinum or Centurion card, however: you get 35% or 50% of your points back, respectively, on all first- and business-class flights and on one selected airline for coach tickets. You need to have enough points in your account to cover the total. If you do, 35% back translates to 1.54 cents per point in value.
It’s generally gotten harder to score an airline upgrade, but in 2019 Membership Rewards added a new option, letting cardholders use their points to bid for upgrades on 20 different airlines. There’s some overlap with transfer partners, but it’s not exactly the same group—for instance, Aerolineas Argentinas and Gulf Air are among the bidding options, but aren’t transfer partners.
How you booked your original ticket doesn’t matter. To bid for an upgrade, go to your Membership Rewards account, enter your reservation details, and see if your flight is eligible. Then you can use cash, points, or a combination of both to make the airline an offer for a better seat. The airline will say yay or nay—and you can cancel until that point. If the airline accepts, the points will be deducted from your account. If not, you’re back in the tight seats, but no worse off than when you started.
The current upgrade partners are:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air Mauritius
- Caribbean Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Fiji Airways
- Gulf Air
- Kenya Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- Silk Air
- Singapore Airlines
- TAP Portugal
Gift Cards and Shopping
Amex lets you use points to buy gift cards from a range of businesses, from Fairmont Hotels to California Pizza Kitchen. That online tool we mentioned gives you the rundown at a glance, so you can easily see where you get the most value. The most you’ll get is 1 cent per point, but in some cases, that’s a better value than booking through American Express Travel. If you want to use points to stay at a Fairmont hotel, for instance, you’re better off buying a gift card and getting 1 cent per point than using the travel portal and getting just 0.7 cents per point.
There’s a lot less range—and also worse value—when you shop for merchandise with Membership Rewards through Amex. You’ll only get 0.5 cents per point (in other words, 50 cents for 100 points) that way. Give your points to us instead!
Using Membership Rewards at Checkout
Another convenient but not-so-wise way to use points is at various online retailers, as well as Paypal. You can link your account to pay with points at Amazon, Dell, Grubhub, and about a dozen other sites. Almost all of them offer a value of 0.7 cents per point except (surprisingly) for New York City Taxis, where each point is worth a penny. Oh, and Ticketmaster, always good at squeezing customers: they give you just 0.5 cents per point.
This is a terrible use of your points, and is basically only worthwhile if you’re in financial difficulties. You can use Membership Rewards to get a statement credit, but the exchange rate is 0.6 cents per point, almost as bad as Ticketmaster’s.
Amex Offers Special Promotions
It’s worth noting that every Amex card comes with a program called Amex Offers. It gives cardholders substantial discounts and bonus rewards points on purchases at selected retailers, restaurants, or services. These offers are specifically targeted to individuals and the cards they have—meaning that the more cards you carry, the larger range of promotional offers you’ll receive.
Recent special offers include:
- HarryandDavid.com: Spend $75 or more and get $20 back
- Dropbox: Get 40% back on purchases, up to $50
- Saks.com: Get +1 Membership Rewards Point per dollar spent
- FreshDirect: Spend $100+, get 2,000 Membership Rewards points
American Express Membership Rewards are valuable and easy to transfer. They do provide their members with some great offers occasionally—and their international network of transfer partners can’t be beat. However, it can take quite a bit of research to stay on top of all of the different options and promotions.
Ultimate Rewards are some of the most valuable credit card points you can accumulate. Chase’s signature rewards can be transferred to more than a dozen airlines and hotel brands, and if you don’t feel like shopping and swapping around, you can use them to pay for almost anything on Expedia—or trade them for cash. But if you’re not a traveler or you like to keep things super-simple, they may not be the very best option.
What Are Chase Ultimate Rewards?
Ultimate Rewards are the loyalty points that Chase gives to holders of some—but not all—of its credit cards. Depending which card (or cards) you have and what you spend on, you’ll earn a different number of points her dollar spent.
What makes Ultimate Rewards Points so valuable is their flexibility. They’re not tied to any specific hotel, airline, or store program—instead, you use them by transferring them to more than a dozen travel partners, using them to book travel directly, or redeeming them for gift cards or cash.
Which Credit Cards Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards
How to Use Ultimate Rewards
Unlike with many other loyalty programs, there are no “bad” ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards. Most options are worth at least 1 cent per point, and if you use transfer partners wisely, you can squeeze far more value from your rewards.
- Transfer to travel partners. Move points to 10 airline and three hotel programs. 1 point = 1 point or mile
- Book travel directly. Almost anything you can buy through Expedia can also be purchased with Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase portal. Depending on the of card you have, you can get anywhere from 1 cent to 1.5 cents per point.
- Cash back. 1 point = 1 cent
- Gift cards. Each point is worth 1 cent of cash back or gift cards from more than 100 merchants, which you can “buy” through the Ultimate Rewards site.
- Amazon and Apple. Link your Ultimate Rewards account to Apple or Amazon and use your points to pay for purchases. 1 point = 1 cent.
- Experiences. Redeem Ultimate Rewards points for sporting events, concerts, and meals.
Transferring to Travel Partners
You can usually get the most value out of your Ultimate Rewards by exchanging them for points in 13 different travel partners. Point transfers are generally 1:1 and in 1,000 point increments. So, 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points would convert into 10,000 United MileagePlus miles. A limited-time exception: In 2019, Chase started offered a 30% bonus on transfers to British Airways, making 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points worth 1,300 British Airways Avios.
Each partner program has different redemption options, and you can find some serious deals if you’re willing to spend time researching your options. You can also use Ultimate Rewards for many additional airlines; they’re nearly all part of global alliances, so you can use their miles with still other carriers. For instance, because United is Star Alliance partner, United miles can be used to book flights on Lufthansa. Oneworld allows British Airways Avios to be redeemed for seats on American Airlines. You still need to find available seats, which can sometimes be challenging.
Though Chase “only” has three hotel transfer partners, they each own dozens of sub-brands. You may not recognize IHG, but you can use its points to pay for a room at a Holiday Inn or Crowne Plaza. Meanwhile, Marriott properties range from the pricey Ritz-Carlton to the more affordable Residence Inn.
Current Chase transfer partners:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- British Airways Avios
- Emirates Skywards
- Iberia Airlines Iberia Plus
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- United Airlines MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- IHG Rewards Club
- Marriott Rewards
- World of Hyatt
Here’s a real-world example of how to get more value from your points. On a recent weekend, a room at the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla, Calif., cost about $220, including taxes and fees. That same room was going for 12,000 Hyatt points. You could cash out those 12,000 points for $120, a value of 1 cent per point. Or you could transfer them to Hyatt and use them to buy a $220 room, getting $100 more out of them—a value of 1.8 cents per point.
Transfers usually happen within seconds, but they also can’t be reversed—so be sure before you click that button. You can only transfer points to an authorized card user. That means you can send points to your own Southwest account, but not your uncle’s—unless you’ve put him on your credit card account.
Chase Travel Redemptions
It can be time consuming to search for and book travel using airline and hotel points. But through its portal, Chase lets you use points to pay for virtually anything you can buy through Expedia— flights, hotels, rental cars, activities, vacation rentals, even cruises.
Most Chase cards will net you 1 cent of value per point, basically the same rate as cash back. But certain Chase cards will bump up that rate, making it more interesting. A Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred makes each point worth 1.25 cents on the travel portal. A Chase Sapphire Reserve makes your points worth 1.5 cents each through the portal. Now a $300 hotel room costs only 20,000 points instead of 30,000 points. Pro tip: If you have multiple cards, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards to the one that gets you the most value in the portal.
Besides being straightforward, the portal can sometimes be cheaper than a standard miles booking. It also allows you to use point to pay for, say, a hotel that’s not part of a loyalty program. Four Seasons Paris, anyone?
One of the simplest ways to use Ultimate Rewards is so get cash back. It doesn’t give you the most bang for your points: 1 point = 1 cent. You can receive the cash back as a statement credit or a deposit to virtually any checking or savings account. It’s easy and relatively quick (up to three business days).
You can also redeem points for gift cards from a wide variety of merchants, including Apple, Bloomingdale’s, and Target. Redemption rates are usually the same as cash back (1 point = 1 cent) but there are occasional sales that may boost your value slightly.
Gift cards have a couple of other disadvantages: you get locked into a specific store, have a fixed amount you need to use and have to wait for delivery. Still, gift cards can still be useful for, you know…gifts.
Amazon and Apple Redemptions
Ultimate Rewards can be used to pay for Apple and Amazon purchases at a rate of 1 cent per point. The main difference between this program and gift cards is that the points are taken out of your account during checkout, and you use any number of points—you’re not limited to increments of 1,000.
Part of the fun of accumulating points is being able to do things that you might not otherwise, whether that’s a trip to Hawaii or an extravagant staycation. Chase gives you the option to redeem your points for an mix of experiences. Some samples:
- Mixology class: 7,500 Points = $75
- Private dinner at a Michelin 3-star restaurant: 19,500 Points = $195
- Broadway musical: 32,500 Points = $325
- Pre-match field access for a U.S. Women’s Soccer game: 36,000 Points = $360
- Sundance Opening Weekend package: 140,000 Points = $1,400
Chase deserves credit (haha) for giving customers an impressive mix of ways to use their points. While many of them offer the same value as cash back, the range of choice lets you optimize for your own preferences. And a few options let you unlock huge value, making Ultimate Rewards an excellent choice.