In my mind there are three reward programs that really give you the most flexibility with good transfer opportunities: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. You are probably wondering how the heck I am clumping the SPG program with the other two, but you will see…

With most of the reward programs out there, you get the best redemption when using your points for their specific brand. While some do allow you to transfer points to other loyalty program, you get a HORRIBLE redemption ratio. For example, Hilton HHonors lets you transfer 10,000 Hilton points for 850 US Airways miles – that must be the worst transfer ratio ever! That means that to get the best usage of your Hilton points you better be planning on staying at Hilton hotels, or else they are worth pretty close to nothing! So now you have all your points in one reward program, but you want to stay elsewhere or fly another airline – you are stuck, right?

I personally like the flexibility of being able to use my points based on my travel patterns. Originally I was only a Marriott girl. I’ve racked up over a million points at Marriott and then when it came time for my honeymoon there were hardly any hotels for the places I wanted to go. I quickly changed my habits and started racking up programs elsewhere. While I still love my Marriott hotels, they did not suffice for this travel need.

To be able to travel wherever and whenever I want, having a rewards program with the most flexibility is key. While the three programs mentioned before (Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and SPG) all have good and flexible transfer opportunities, they all offer something different. Based on what you foresee yourself using the most in the future should determine the program that best suites your needs.

Chase Ultimate Rewards:

  • Transfer partners:
    • Airlines: United, British Airways, Korean Airways, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic
    • Hotels: Hyatt, Priority Club, Marriott, Ritz Carlton
    • Other: Amtrak
  • Pros:
    • All points transfer to partner programs a 1:1 ratio
    • The “Pay with Points” option gives Preferred Card Holders a 25% bonus when using this option. This allows you to book any flight through their travel system without any black out dates and miles will still be earned as if you were paying with cash.
    • Unlike Membership Rewards, you do not have to pay a conversion fee when transferring your points to a partner program (for US domestic airlines only)
    • Their point earning credit cards have all eliminated foreign transaction fees
    • Online shopping mall where you can get bonus points for many of your online purchases
  • Cons:
    • Still limited on the number of transfer partners, but they’ve done a good job with continuously adding more over the past few years
    • We have yet to see any bonus transfer promotions (which Membership Rewards has from time to time)
  • Affiliated Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink BoldChase Ink Plus
  • Related Blog Posts:
  • Final Thoughts: Assuming more partners get added (specifically US airline partners) this program will be extremely valuable and allow you to transfer at a great rate

American Express Membership Rewards:

  • Transfer Partners:
    • Airlines: Delta Skymiles, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, AeroMexico Club Premier, Air Canada Aeroplan, AirFrance KLM Flying Blue, Hawaiian Airlines, Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns, British Airways Executive Club, ANA Mileage Club, Alitalia Airlines MilleMiglia, El Al Israel Airlines, AirTran Airways, Iberia Plus, JetBlue Airways TrueBlue Points, Virgin America
    • Hotels: Best Western Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Starward Preferred Guest, Choice Privileges, Priority Club, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts
  • Pros:

    • Many partner programs, more than Ultimate Rewards
    • Bonus promotions every now and then for transferring points to certain loyalty programs (although they have been lacking over the past year or two)
    • Points transfer immediately to partner program
  • Cons:
    • The transfer ratio for hotels is pretty low and a pretty bad redemption where the Ultimate Rewards is a 1:1 ratio for all partner hotels
    • Many partners have left the program over the past few years (i.e., Continental – thus United, Southwest, and AirTran)
    • When transferring points to a partner program you have to pay a conversion rate
    • No longer an online shopping mall where you can get bonus points for your online purchases – definiately a disadvantage compared to Chase UR program
  • Affiliated Credit Card: American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card; Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express Open; American Express Platinum Card
  • Final Thoughts: If you are savvy with using the international airline routing, then transferring to some of the more obscure partners (ANA Mileage Club, Alitalia Airlines, and Iberia Plus) can prove to be a great redemption option. This program gives you the widest range of redemption options, but has a pretty poor rate for hotel transfers.

Starwood Preferred Guest

  • Transfer Partners:
    • Airlines: Aeroplan/Air Canada, Air Berlin, Air China Companion, Air New Zealand & Air Points, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Alitalia MilleMiglia, All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club, American Airlines AAdvantage, Asia Miles, Asiana Airlines, British Airways Executive Club, Continental Airlines(R) OnePass, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles, Emirates Skywards, Flying Blue, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank, King Club Miles, LAN LANPASS, Mexicana Frecuenta, Lufthansa Miles and More, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus, US Airways Dividend Miles, United Mileage Plus, VARIG Smiles, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
    • Hotels: None – can only redeem at Starwood properties
  • Pros:

    • More airline partners included than Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards
    • Almost all partner airlines transfer at a 1:1 ratio (United and Gol Smiles transfer at 2:1; LAN LANPASS transfers at 1:1.5; Air New Zealand & Air Points transfers at 65:1)
    • For every 20,000 SPG points transferred in one transaction, you will get 5,000 bonus points into the transferred airline partner – this is a 25% bonus!
    • Unlike Membership Rewards, you do not have to pay a conversion fee when transferring your points to a partner program
  • Cons:
    • No transfer options to other hotels; for hotels, points can only be used at Starwood properties
    • If your airline of choice is United, you will only receive half the number of miles as you would transferring to other airlines – the redemption ratio is 2:1, where most of the other airlines is 1:1
    • Points take up to 7 days to post to a partner program – not immediate like American Express and Chase
    • No online shopping mall where you can get bonus points for many of your online purchases
  • Affiliated Credit Card: Starwood Preferred Guest by American Express; Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card by American Express
  • Related Blog Posts:

  • Final Thoughts: If your main goal is to redeem for free flights and you do not care about the perks that come with the partner specific credit cards (i.e., checked baggage, priority boarding, double points, etc.) then this card is far better than an airline specific credit card for maximum redemption and flexibility. You have the option to redeem at Starwood hotels plus a wide array of airlines, plus a 25% bonus always when transferring in increments of 20,000 points!

  • Milenomics said,

    Not sure where you’re getting the 24 hour timeframe for SPG->Airline points transfers. 24 hours would be a great improvement. The program (as it stands) is not reliable enough for Milenomics to recommend it in the same league as UR and MR.

    The danger with SPG-to-Airline is that you can find award space, initiate the transfer, and by the time the miles show up your award seats are gone. You can’t undo the transfer, so have to be extra cautious with SPG starpoints.

    Not to say they’re useless, but just that your readers should know not to expect 24 hour turnaround on those transfers!

  • Bundy said,

    what do you value each point for the three programs?

    thanks in advance.

  • Ron said,

    Did some transfers on July 29. Alaska Air sane day, AA July 30 , Asiana Aug 2 and BA Aug 6. Also BA is giving a 25% bonus now on hotel points including Starwood “Convert your hotel points to Avios and collect 25% more

    Open up a world of opportunities and rewards by converting your hotel loyalty points into Avios. Use your Avios to fly to hundreds of destinations with British Airways or for flight upgrades, hotels and car rental. Convert your points before 15 October 2013 and we’ll give you 25% more.”

  • Jane said,

    Just did a conversion on Friday from AmEx membership rewards to Singapore Airline. Was told by the agent that it would take 3-5 business days to be deposited into my Kris Flyer account. Fortunately for me, they were deposited within 12 hours. Just be prepared in case it is not instantaneous.

  • john said,

    with Chase Ultimate rewards, if you transfer to Southwest, will the transfers count toward companion pass, or will only the Southwest branded cards allow that?

  • Milenomics said,

    @John

    Chase UR Points transferred do not count towards the CP.

    http://boardingarea.com/dealswelike/2013/03/25/earning-the-southwest-companion-pass/

  • dealswelike said,

    @john – check out the link that milenomics posted. Transferring chase UR points to southwest DOED NOt count towards the companion pass, unfortunately.

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