a group of different currency bills and coins

Collecting points is so much better than not collecting points. Friends just shouldn’t let friends go through life without earning free travel. When you want to take things up a notch however, you need to focus on which points will maximize your return. For the same flight or hotel, you could spend 200,000 points using one type, or just 40,000 points using another. No brainer, right? Here are the most lucrative points to collect, ranked in value order – and how they can unlock the best things in life which aren’t free.

a black wallet with a blue and black designFor Your Spending…

#1 Starwood Hotels SPG Points

What They’re Worth: 2.4 cents per point.

Key Uses: 1:1 transfers to over 35 airlines, with 5,000 bonus points when you transfer 20,000 points. 1:3 transfer ratio into Marriott points, offering five star hotels for just 10,000 SPG points and up. Best points to unlock obscure frequent flyer programs with the best rates on first class flights, like 40,000 points for 12 hours of Lufthansa First Class.

Word of Warning: SPG and Marriott are officially combining their loyalty programs over the coming months. With any luck, points transfers to lucrative airline programs will remain the same, but if this were to change, the value of the points could drop precipitously.

#2 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

What They’re Worth: 2.1 cents per point.

Key Uses: Transferring points to Hyatt can unlock $750 a night hotels for 25,000 points. There’s also great value to be had with airline transfer partners Korean Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore and KLM Flying Blue, as well as British Airways Avios. Being able to use points for any flight or hotel at a minimum value of 1.25 cents per points for Chase Sapphire Cardholders and 1.5 cents per point for Sapphire Reserve cardholders is also a great feature.

Word Of Warning: None really! Chase is in an ultra competitive game with Amex, Citi and now Barclays to offer the most lucrative points benefits. In recent years Chase has added new transfer partners and only seems to be increasing the value of their Ultimate Rewards Points.

#3 Amex Membership Rewards Points

What They’re Worth: 1.9 cents each.

Key Uses: Amex offers points transfer access to a couple airline programs which few others do, like ANA. ANA offers incredible value on many of the best long haul flights using points, and Emirates although not cheap offers the easiest route to flying the airline in first or business class with points. Transfers to Virgin Atlantic can also be lucrative for niche uses.

Words Of Warning: Another choice with none at all. Amex points have the potential to be even more valuable as one of the few programs to offer the occasional “transfer bonus” where points convert at a higher level than usual. Points that generally go 1:1 will occasionally become 1:1.4.

a view of the wing of an airplaneFor Your Flying…

#1 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

What They’re Worth: 1.9 cents per point.

Earning Partners: You can earn Alaska miles from flights on British Airways, Emirates, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Alaska, Air France, Korean and more.

Key Uses: Alaska offers two extra nice benefits: generous routing rules and free stopovers. It costs the same amount of miles to go to India via Tokyo as it does just to go to Tokyo. Using Alaska Mileage Plan miles for first or business class flights (at extraordinary rates) on Qantas, Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines is tough to beat. Frequent discount points sales make them relatively easy to accumulate as well.

Word Of Warning: Alaska agents can’t always see the same availability for some flights as other airlines. And as with all great points tricks, competition is fierce. Scoring a first class seat to Australia on Qantas is difficult, although not by any means impossible. Just know you may need some flexibility to make the magic happen – the flying kind of course.

#2 JAL Mileage Bank

What They’re Worth: 1.7 cents per point.

Earning Partners: You can earn JAL miles from virtually all OneWorld flights, as well as one off partners such as Air France, Alaska or Emirates. You can now earn JAL miles via the Barclay’s Arrival Premier credit card in the USA.

Key Uses: JAL flights using points are offered using a distance based chart. It doesn’t matter where you want to go, just how many miles it is. The airline also offers incredibly generous stopover rules, allowing you to book large trips for a small amount of miles while stopping off in each destination as you please. We love their points for Emirates First Class out of Asia, or for JAL, Cathay, Qatar and Qantas flights around the world.

Word Of Warning: To be fair, ANA Mileage Club offers almost identical value, if you’re a Star Alliance flyer. Other than that though, words of warning are hard to think of! This is an extremely useful and reasonable loyalty program which has protected the value of its members points. Fuel surcharges are added on select airlines and regions, such as Emirates – but starting in certain cities will remove any surcharges.

#3 Korean Airlines SkyPass

What They’re Worth: 1.6 cents per point.

Earning Partners: You can earn Korean Airlines SkyPass miles for flights on virtually all SkyTeam airlines as well as Alaska, giving you a solid network for earning. You can also create SkyPass points instantly using American Express, Chase or SPG points.

Key Uses: Korean offers phenomenal rates for travel between the US and Europe and very reasonable rates on first class to Asia. Rates for domestic US travel, intra Europe, Asia and other destinations are as low as you’ll find. In addition to excellent rates requiring a relatively low amount of points, free stopovers are included on tickets, allowing you to take in more destinations without paying more points.

Word Of Warning: Booking can at first be a slightly clunky process. Some flights are not able to be booked online and Korean has silly rules for booking friends and family using points. Once you learn how to properly book using the SkyPass however, things are brilliant. We don’t foresee any devaluations in the near future, given how simply they’ve kept points earning.

a room with a pool and a bedFor Your Hotel Stays…

#1 Starwood Hotels SPG Points

What They’re Worth: 2.4 cents per point.

Earning Partners: You can presently earn Starwood points for all Starwood hotel stays as well as Marriott stays. Starwood also offers a credit card and airline partners with which you can earn hotel points while you fly. General members earn 2 SPG points for every dollar spent at hotels. Elite members earn up to 5 points per dollar spent.

Key Uses: Starwood offers many excellent hotels at 12,000 points and up. The highest hotels top off at 35,000 points and can often retail for over $700 per night, making this an excellent value. For the time being, SPG points convert 1:3 into Marriott, meaning 20,000 SPG points will unlock the highest end Marriott and Ritz Carlton properties. However, most people prefer to use their SPG points for airline transfers to hard to reach loyalty programs with excellent options to redeem points.

Word Of Warning: On April 16th Marriott and SPG will unveil the future of their combined loyalty program. While we have faith the program will continue to reward loyalists in the best of ways, there’s uncertainty about the future of airline transfers and the ability to earn a multiple of points by transferring between Marriott and Starwood will undoubtedly go away.

Hyatt World Of Hyatt Points

What They’re Worth: 1.5 cents per point.

Earning Partners: Hyatt offers 5 points for every dollar spent at their brands, which combined with great rates for cashing in points makes it one of the most generous hotel schemes. You can earn Hyatt points for all Hyatt brand hotel stays, through the Hyatt credit card and by converting Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Key Uses: Hyatt’s very best hotels cap off at 30,000 points per night, but many 20,000 and 25,000 points properties offer fantastic value. Hotels such as the Andaz Tokyo, Park Hyatt Saigon and other options further afield can save hundreds, even thousands on vacations. Using points for suite upgrades is also a brilliant way to use points, with suite upgrades starting at just 6,000 points.

Word Of Warning: The shake ups surround the World of Hyatt program seem to have already dropped. In fact, the only recent changes have been positive changes, when Hyatt announced that all stays will now count toward yearly elite status numbers. We don’t foresee any major changes in the near future.

Wyndham Rewards Points

What They’re Worth: 1.0 cents per point.

Earning Partners: You can earn 10 Wyndham points for every dollar spent at their hotels. Wyndham offers a diverse collection of hotels where you can earn, from high end options to cost efficient. They also offer a Wyndham Rewards credit card.

Key Uses: Wyndham offers really nice vacation properties and city hotels. The beauty of the Wyndham Rewards program is that free nights cap off at 15,000 points per night. This instantly makes the program one of the easiest and most lucrative in which to earn a free night. Recent promotions have offered 15,000 bonus points for two stays!

Word Of Warning: None! Wyndham is trying to gain market share in a competitive space and are steadily winning fans. We don’t foresee any major changes to this generous program, especially as Marriott and SPG complete their integration.

Any programs you think should be on the list? Let us know why!


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Isn’t one caution on the JAL miles that they expire in 36 months with no way to extend them?

    Korea also has a hard expiration, but it’s a more generous 7 years.

  2. Wyndham Rewards just had a major devaluation weeks ago by changing their GoFast cash and points reward rates resulting in the cash portion doubling and tripling for hotels.

  3. I have been generally very happy with the IHG Rewards & Barclays Choice Hotel programs. We travel by car & find facilities readily available on our routes. Being Platinum Elite members have been treated very well.

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