To simplify credit card rewards, it’s best to segment cards into two tracks: cards offering great cash back earning, and cards which offer great travel partners, where you can turn credit card points into airline miles, or hotel points and then book.
The best cards allow you to do both, or either. Many offer just one, or the other.
In recent months, moves from Chase, Amex, Citi and Capital One have enlivened this exciting space, adding more flexibility and choice for spending points, without taking away from the travel partners you can convert your points into.
As part of these changes, the best credit card loyalty program landscape is shifting.
It’s worth taking a deep look at how each credit card program now stacks up, in terms of the airline and hotel transfer partners you can convert your credit card points into, both on the ground and in the air.
Major Credit Card Rewards Programs
*note, Capital One recently made 15 transfer partners 1:1, which significantly changes the value of the Venture Miles program.
Points earned from credit cards which participate in these programs can be moved into airline miles or hotel points, which can expand the value of points from a fixed cost basis to more aspirational values.
For now, airlines and hotels assign values for how many points you’ll need which aren’t as related to the cash price, as what value you get for your points when you redeem them for cash back.
Think: using 100,000 points to cover a $3,000 business class ticket by transferring credit card points to an airline loyalty program, rather than getting $1000 in value by using the same 100,000 points as cash back.
Airline Transfer Partners
To simplify airline partners, and transferring points from a credit card program into an airline loyalty program, it’s easiest to look by “alliance”.
The three main airline alliances to know are Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. Some airlines, like Emirates, aren’t part of a formal alliance, but have other partners which are airlines, too.
The reason alliances matter, is that you can typically use miles from one airline, on their other alliance partners. This opens up the “tree” of possibilities, like using British Airways Avios on American Airlines or Qantas, or using Delta SkyMiles on Air France, KLM; or United MileagePlus miles on Swiss Airlines.
You’re rarely limited to just flying the airline whose name is on the points currency.
Having access to a mileage program in each alliance gives you exponential options to use points on not just one airline, but many. This is why credit card rewards points are largely more valuable than any singular airline miles, or hotel points.
Breaking It Down: Best Credit Card Airline Transfer Partners
Now that the benefits of having wide ranging and varied partners are abundantly clear, it’s time to turn that macro knowledge into something more granular, that you can use to make trips better than ever.
Here’s an alliance by alliance look from each credit card rewards program, focusing on the strongest credit cards for each alliance. If you have a preference as to travel goals or who you regularly fly with, it can make all the difference.
Star Alliance Credit Card Transfer Partners
- Amex: ANA, Air Canada Aeroplan, Avianca LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer
- Capital One: Air Canada Aeroplan, Avianca LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer, Turkish Miles & Smiles, TAP Portugal
- Chase: Air Canada Aeroplan, United MileagePlus, Singapore KrisFlyer
- Citi: Avianca LifeMiles, Turkish Miles & Smiles, EVA Air, Singapore KrisFlyer, Thai
Of these partners, you can really win with all. Avianca typically offers the fastest route to flying in first or business class using points, with frequent sales of their LifeMiles and easy access from Amex, Capital One or Citi.
Air Canada’s revamped Aeroplan loyalty program is another gem, where Chase and Amex are your best bets. This program doesn’t offer as much outsized value as the Avianca LifeMiles program, but it’s very dependably good.
Chase and Amex are the only partners with a unique option, with United and ANA respectively. ANA is without question the most lucrative program for US card holders who aim to use points to visit Asia in a premium cabin. For everyone else, United might be the answer for more domestic focused trips.
If travel to Europe is a key concern for cashing in your points, Turkish Miles & Smiles charges just 45,000 miles each way, and sometimes less. Even TAP can be quite good nowadays, offering flights on Emirates and Singapore. Both are possible with Capital One.
Best US Credit Cards For Star Alliance Airline Partners
Capital One and Amex come out on top here, at least in the opinion of GSTP, with abundant Star Alliance airlines to transfer credit card points into miles! They have the ones that are the “nuts and bolts” that everyone benefits from, and the niche stuff too.
LifeMiles is an amazing partner to have, as are others like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer or Air Canada’s Aeroplan. Both programs benefit from both. But each having a lesser known partner, such as Capital One with Turkish, or Amex with ANA makes for really interesting possibilities, while still having lots of access to other programs.
SkyTeam Credit Card Transfer Partners
With SkyTeam, there are fewer “incredible” programs to get stellar value by turning your credit card points into airline. Certainly not compared with some loyalty programs in Star Alliance or the Oneworld alliance.
There are a couple noted exceptions though, which can be total gems. Air France and KLM are the notable exception, with their joint ‘Flying Blue’ loyalty program. Delta can also, at times, be very lucrative too.
Keeping all this in mind, here are the options to turn credit card points into miles with a SkyTeam airline…
- Amex: Air France Flying Blue, Delta SkyMiles, Aeromexico Club Premier
- Capital One: Air France Flying Blue, Aeromexico Club Premier
- Chase: Air France Flying Blue
- Citi: Air France Flying Blue, Aeromexico Club Premier
One notable exception here, is Virgin Atlantic. Virgin is not a SkyTeam member, but its points can be used on Delta, Air France and KLM, making it an effective way to fly on these airlines for fewer points.
Best US Credit Cards For SkyTeam Airline Partners
Amex is undoubtedly the winner here. Everyone else is basically tied with either access to Flying Blue, or Flying Blue and Aeromexico. Amex is the only one to offer Delta, and from time to time that can really pay off. For Delta loyalists, it’s extra clear.
Despite Amex Membership Rewards being the clear winner here, if you actually want to earn Delta SkyMiles, the better play would probably be to open a Delta SkyMiles Amex card, since the earning rates and bonuses make more sense.
Oneworld Credit Card Transfer Partners
Most SkyTeam airlines have given up on “first class”, and instead offer business as the highest cabin. Oneworld is quite the opposite.
People love transferring their credit card points into airline miles with Oneworld airlines because it can unlock the utmost in luxury with airlines including American, Qantas, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and more.
It’s an aspirational way to use points. Oneworld also enjoys phenomenal connectivity throughout Europe, the US and Asia, which makes it a natural choice in any cabin. Here are the credit card programs offering the greatest opportunities.
- Amex: British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Qantas
- Capital One: British Airways Avios, Finnair Plus, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Qantas
- Chase: British Airways Avios, Iberia Avios
- Citi: American Airlines (through 11/13/21), Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles, Qatar Privilege Club, Malaysia Enrich.
Avios, the program of British Airways and Iberia is by far the largest singular Oneworld points currency and can be used on all Oneworld airlines. It’s particularly useful for any short haul flights in the US, Europe, Asia or Australia as well as for first class on British Airways, or for upgrades.
Best US Credit Cards For Oneworld Airline Partners
This is a quasi-tie between Capital One and Citi. If Citi can hold onto American Airlines AAdvantage, Citi would probably take the edge here. Citi having American is a big deal, even if it proves temporary, since no other transferrable credit card points can go into this program.
Since American Airlines AAdvantage miles can’t easily be created outside of their own credit card, or actually flying, there are still amazing values with the airline.
Capital One benefits from the same staple partners as the others, including Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles and BA Avios, but Finnair and Qantas bring added choice. It’s really Finnair that provides the differentiator.
Best Non-Alliance Credit Card Partners
Here’s where it gets very interesting. Some of the most aspirational or useful ways to use points are not a part of a formal airline alliance, like SkyTeam or Star Alliance.
Instead, they operate with less formal partners, or no formal partners at all. They can be massively important though, particularly because “workarounds” are going away. It’s getting much harder to use points from one airline to fly on another.
Airlines want you using their points to fly on their airline, so if any of the following are the dream, the best way to unlock that dream is by transferring credit card points directly to one of these airlines.
- Amex: Emirates Skyward, Etihad Guest, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic
- Capital One: Emirates Skyward, Etihad Guest.
- Chase: Emirates Skyward, Virgin Atlantic
- Citi: Virgin Atlantic, Etihad Guest, Emirates Skyward
Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are the two standout partners for this category, and every bank now has access to Emirates Skyward miles, which is great. Emirates Skyward is really the only way to book Emirates First Class Suites using miles now.
The other great transfer partner is Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic offers great rates on their partner ANA, with round trip business class to Japan for just 95,000 points, or first for 120,000 points. It’s exceptionally cool. Flight upgrades from Virgin Atlantic Premium to Upper Class can also bring stellar value.
Amex is the winner in this non-alliance category.
The Best Credit Card Program For Airline Points Transfers
Purely in terms of airlines, and not factoring in hotels, Amex and Capital One offer the strongest transfer partners. They have the bread and butter options which most will find useful, but also some more niche options others don’t have.
ANA is arguably the most valuable of them all, which is exclusive to American Express. Capital One has done a great job of pursuing partners others don’t have, or only few have, which ticks both boxes.
If hotel partners factored, Chase Ultimate Rewards would vastly change places in the rankings, but for the purpose of this airline centric look, they don’t.
Best Hotel Programs For Credit Card Transfers
With few exceptions, there’s only one program where it makes simple and clear sense to convert a valuable currency like Amex, Citi, Chase or Capital One Points into a hotel.
That doesn’t mean these programs don’t offer plenty of choice. In fact, they do, it’s just that most of it should be ignored, except for niche situations where you just need to top off an account with a few points to book something great, or to keep an account active.
- Amex: Choice Privileges (1:1), Hilton (1:2), Marriott (1:1)
- Capital One: Accor (2:1), Choice Privileges (1:1), Wyndham (1:1)
- Chase: Hyatt (1:1), IHG (1:1), Marriott (1:1)
- Citi: No current hotel partners.
In the simplest terms, hotel points outside of Accor or Hyatt rarely have a value over 1 cent per point. Most are between .4 cents per point and .8 cents per point. Conversely, Amex, Chase, Citi or Capital One Points are worth far more, often greater than 1 cent per point.
It’s for this exact reason it rarely makes sense to convert something worth more than a cent, for something worth less. For example, 100,000 Amex Points can go a lot further than 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points, so at a 1:1 transfer, it doesn’t generally make sense to.
Chase Ultimate Rewards has the lone major exception, with Hyatt.
World of Hyatt Points remain extremely valuable. Unlike other chains, where 100,000 points or more are needed for a “free night” at a top tier hotel, World Of Hyatt charges between 25,000 to 40,000 for a truly top tier night. Chase Points transfer 1:1 to Hyatt, so if you earn points for this reason, Chase is your winner here.
What makes more sense for everyone else, is to earn the majority of their points via one of these transferrable programs, but also grab a separate hotel credit card, from one of the chains, so that you can earn big bonuses and lots of points without dipping into your transferrable credit card points.
Choosing The Right Card For Transfer Partners
Ultimately, choosing the right credit card for your travel desires is based on your travel desires. Because transferrable points are so beneficial to have, it’s best to do all the leg work and research before it comes crunch time to redeem.
Amex would be an easy choice for someone who makes an annual Japan trip and wants extra comfort in flight. Chase would be the clear winner for someone who wants to redeem all their points for Hyatt hotel stays. For anyone with less niche desires, who prefers travel to Europe, or the Middle East, the added partners offered by Capital One might be more beneficial.
In the end, it all comes down to your personal travel goals. Earning the most points for the things you buy also factors, which leaves a few options for actual cards within each of the transferrable points programs.
Best options, based on ease of use and lucrative points multipliers include:
Citi: Premier Card
The sooner you set your individual long and short term points goals, the sooner you’ll have clarity on which transfer partners are the most valuable for you, and therefore which card(s) will help you get there.