MileValue is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit to learn more.

Note: Some of the offers mentioned below may have changed or are no longer be available. You can view current offers here.

Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from April 2015 can be found here.

This is the ninth post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Transferable points programs are credit card loyalty programs, usually run by banks, that allow a person to earn points that can be transferred to several different airline or hotel programs. The three most important programs are American Express Membership Rewards (MR), Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR), and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Starpoints.

First I’ll describe the basics of those three programs, then I’ll talk about how to make the most of your transferable points.

American Express Membership Rewards

Several American Express cards earn Membership Rewards points including the Platinum and Gold.

Points are transferable to dozens of air and hotel loyalty programs including Delta (1 MR to 1 SkyMile), BA (1 MR to 1 Avios), and SPG (3 MR to 1 Starpoint)

There are near constant transfer bonuses, which temporarily improve the transfer ratios of certain programs. Currently there are no transfer bonuses, but as I said today, I expect some soon and am even willing to pay an annual fee to wait for the next bonus.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from March 2013 can be found here.

SPG Starpoints

This is Starwood’s loyalty program. Many hotel loyalty programs let you transfer your points to airlines, like many airlines let you transfer your miles to hotels. However, it is almost always a bad deal. SPG points transfer to airlines at a good rate, so it is an outlier.

The SPG Amex card–complete analysis–earns Starpoints.

A complete list of airline transfer partners is here. Notable 1:1 transfer partners include Hawaiian, Alaska, American, British, Delta, and US Airways.

For every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get a bonus 5,000 miles in the transfer partners miles. Example: If you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to American, you receive 25,000 AAdvantage miles. Thus if you transfer in exactly 20,000 Starpoint increments, all the 1:1 transfer partners are really 1:1.25 transfer partners!

Now that you know about the big three, let’s talk about how to exploit transferable points programs.

1. Keep you points in the transferable points program until you have an award in mind, then transfer. Holding on to your points in the transferable programs retains your option value: you can still transfer them to any of the partners. Once you transfer, that option value is destroyed, so don’t transfer until you have an award in mind. MR and UR make following this easy because points transfer instantly. Starpoints do not transfer instantly, so you have to transfer with some anticipation, but still you should hold those as Starpoints as long as you can before transferring.

2. Make sure the award you plan to book with your transferred points is worth more than your other transfer options. For instance, you can transfer UR points to United and Southwest. Checking the Mile Value Leaderboard, we see that a Southwest Rapid Rewards point is worth 1.69 cents. If you’re transferring to United for an award worth less than 1.69 cpm, and you should check that at the Mile Value Calculator, you’re probably making a mistake and could get more value from a transfer to Southwest.

3. Make sure the award you plan to book with your transferred points is worth more than your other non-transfer options. For instance, for UR transfers, compare your award to the 1.25 cents per point pay with points feature. For Starpoints transfers the bar is a little higher because many people report getting several cents per point from using their Starpoints for hotel awards using the Cash & Points option.

4. The best use of a transferable program is often topping up an account that is just short of an award. If you’ve got 85,000 United miles and want to book a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe, your miles are practically useless. Transferring in 15,000 UR points to reach 100,000 provides immense value, taking you having no ticket to having the business class ticket in hand.

And this is often the best way to think about the transferable-points programs. Don’t get the Ink Bold thinking its 50,000 more United miles or 50,000 Southwest points. Instead pursue strategies to get huge amounts of United and Southwest miles other ways, and use your 50,000 UR points when you’re just short of the miles needed for an award in one of its partner programs.

I love transferable points programs for their flexibility and immense value. They should be a key component of any miles enthusiast’s strategy for exploiting frequent flier miles.