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Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post!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

This is the tenth 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 best-known programs are American Express Membership Rewards (MR), Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR), and Starwood Preferred Guest 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, Gold, and Green.

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 is a 50% transfer bonus to BA (1 MR to 1.5 Avios) and a 33% transfer bonus to SPG (9 MR to 4 Starpoints) among other transfer bonuses.

You can pay for a trip with points at a rate of 1 cent per point.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from April 2015 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 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 MR transfers, compare your award to the pay with points feature which is worth 1 cent per point in that program. 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 and 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 program. 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.

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, 5x points on travel booked through the Chase Travel Portal and 3x points on restaurants, streaming services, and online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


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