Deciding Between Transferable Points and Airline Miles / Hotel Points – How Do They Each Work?

One of the most common questions we receive from folks starting out in the points and miles hobby is what points should they accumulate. Chase Ultimate Rewards? American Airlines AAdvantage miles? Hilton Honors points?

As with most questions, it all depends on your travel goals. But more importantly, there is no one-size fits all answer. Today we’ll discuss how not all points and miles are created equal, and why some are generally more valuable than others.

Transferable Points vs. Airline Miles/Hotel Points

Just like cash, where different countries have their own currencies, the points and miles world is filled with different “currencies.” And just like in the real world, some currencies are more valuable than others.

Points generally fall under one of two major categories: transferable or loyalty (meaning airline or hotel programs). The following table lists a few examples of transferable and airline/hotel points and miles:

Transferable Airline/Hotel
Chase Ultimate Rewards American Airlines AAdvantage
AmEx Membership Rewards World of Hyatt
Citi Thank You Points United MileagePlus
Capital One Miles Hilton Honors
Marriott Bonvoy* Marriott Bonvoy*
  Delta Skymiles
  IHG Rewards Club
  British Airways Avios


* Marriott Bonvoy is in both columns because Bonvoy points are actually transferable to several airlines, making them helpful for booking stays at Marriott properties AND transferring to airline partners just like credit card points.

Transferable points like those listed on the left column above usually are much more valuable than points belonging to a particular loyalty program because they offer incredible flexibility.

An Example

To illustrate, let’s say you want to book a one-way flight from Washington, DC to Chicago.

If you only have American Airlines miles, you are limited to flying only on AA flights. Savvy travelers might ask, but isn’t American Airlines part of Oneworld Alliance, one of the three major airline alliances? Yes, they are, but none of the other non-U.S. carriers in Oneworld fly domestic routes in the U.S., so even if you can access other carriers like British Airways or Cathay Pacific with AA miles, those airlines do not fly domestically within the U.S.

On the other hand, if you need to book that same one-way flight from DC to Chicago and you have transferable points, you will have a lot more options. Let’s say you want to use Chase Ultimate Rewards for that flight. Chase URs allow you to access each of the three major U.S. carriers: United Airlines, Delta, and AA. Here’s how:

United: To fly on United using Chase points, you can transfer points from your Chase account directly to your United MileagePlus account.

Delta: To fly on Delta using Chase points, you can transfer your points to Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club frequent flyer program, which allows you to book flights on Delta with their Virgin Atlantic miles. This means you never use any Delta miles but you still fly on Delta.

American Airlines: To fly on American using Chasing points, you can transfer your Chase points to British Airways’ Avios frequent flyer program, which allows you to book flights on AA.

These are only some of Chase's partners you can use to fly on the three main U.S. airlines. But the point here is to show how transferable points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, open more airplane doors than any one airline’s miles.

Given the flexibility of transferable points, would you rather have a stash of Chase points that you can transfer to many different airlines or a stash of American Airlines miles that you can only use through AA?

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid earning airlines miles. But when all other things are equal, transferable points currencies are usually the way to go because they offer the most flexibility.

Another benefit of transferable points is that they can also transfer to hotel partners. For example, Citi ThankYou Points can transfer to Hilton Honors, while Chase Ultimate Rewards can transfer to World of Hyatt and IHG Rewards Club.

Next Steps

With these benefits of transferable points in mind, we recommend you create free loyalty accounts with the more popular airlines and hotel programs. Many airlines require you to have a loyalty account to search for award flight availability, so you might as well create your accounts now. Also, when you are ready to book your dream trip and you find a flight that works for you, you don’t want to be delayed by having to create a loyalty account.

Airlines Hotels
United MileagePlus World of Hyatt
American Airlines AAdvantage Hilton Honors
Delta Skymiles Marriott Bonvoy
British Airways Avios IHG Rewards Club
Air France/KLM Flying Blue Choice Privileges
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club  
Iberia Avios  
Air Canada Aeroplan  
All Nippon Airways Mileage Club  
Alaska Airlines  
Southwest Rapid Rewards  
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer  
Qantas Frequent Flyer  
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank  
Asia Miles  
Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles  

Each Points’ Transfer Partners

To better understand how useful transferable points can be, check out our full chart of transfer partners.

                           American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners
                                             Citi Thank You Points Transfer Partners
                                             Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Transfer partners
                                           Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners

Special Thanks to Brian Soares for writing this article.

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