Beginners Guide To Miles and Points: Types of Miles and Points

Beginners Guide To Miles & Points
What’s The Point?
How Loyalty Programs Work
Credit Cards and Credit Scores
Types of Miles & Points
Identifying Your Travel Goals
How Alliances Work
Credit Card Strategy For Beginners
Earning Miles & Points
Hotels Matter Too
What’s Next?

There is a ton of vocabulary and jargon in the frequent flyer world, which can be quite intimidating. You’ll pick up more of the terms as you go along, but at the beginning it’s important to distinguish between a few different types of miles and points.

  • Airline Miles / Hotel Points
  • Fixed-Value Points
  • Flexible / Transferable Points

Airline Miles and Hotel Points

Most of us are familiar with at least the concept of airline miles and hotel points – those are essentially a rebate offered by a specific brand in exchange for loyalty to their company. Those companies set the earnings rates, redemption values, and all the other terms and conditions.

Not only are there airline miles to consider, but you likely have (or have heard of) rewards points with a bank or credit card as well. These typically come in two varieties: fixed-value and transferable.

Fixed-value Points

As the name might suggest, fixed-value points can be redeemed towards a specific dollar amount of travel. The amounts vary by program, but you’ll typically receive 1¢-2¢ per point towards travel.

These include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Citi ThankYou points
  • Bank of America Worldpoints
  • US Bank FlexPerks Rewards
  • USAA Rewards
  • Wells Fargo Rewards
  • Capital One No Hassle Rewards
  • Barclaycard Arrival Miles

Some programs require you to redeem through the bank portal, while others will issue a statement credit.

In general, however, you are redeeming fixed-value points for tickets that could otherwise be purchased with cash.

So if a given airline ticket was selling for $100, and you had a fixed-value currency that gave you 1¢ per point towards travel, you would need 10,000 points for that ticket.

That’s why these programs advertise as having “no blackout dates” or having the ability to “choose any airline” – your bank is essentially purchasing a retail airfare for you, in exchange for points you’ve accumulated with their program. Because these tickets are typically revenue fares, you will typically earn miles when you fly on a ticket procured with a fixed-value currency!

So why even bother with miles? Fixed-value points sound great!

Fixed-value points are fantastic if you want to travel on domestic economy tickets! Domestic tickets (especially in the US) can be surprisingly difficult to redeem airline miles for, so fixed-value currencies are a great alternative.

However, if you’re looking at traveling internationally, particularly in premium cabins, fixed-value points just won’t get you very far. An international business class ticket might require 100,000 airline miles, but since the retail price is likely upwards of $5000, you’d need over 500,000 Capital One points, for example. And that’s a cheap premium cabin ticket. Some first class tickets would cost as much as a new car if paying cash.

So what are the other options?

Flexible / Transferable Points

One of the major perks to bank points, as opposed to airline miles, is that as a consumer you’re a bit insulated from dramatic changes or unannounced devaluations from a particular airline. So for many people it makes sense to focus on a flexible points currency, with transferable rewards.

These programs typically allow you to transfer points directly to their airline or hotel partners. This gives you lots of options when it’s time to redeem your airline miles, as you have the opportunity to search for award availability across alliances prior to committing to a certain mileage currency.

The main flexible points currencies are American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partners

AeroMexico Club PremierBritish Airways Executive ClubFrontier EarlyReturnsVirgin America EleVAte
Air Canada AeroplanCathay Pacific Asia MilesHawaiian Airlines HawaiianMilesVirgin Atlantic Flying Club
AirFrance/KLM Flying BlueDelta SkyMilesIberia Plus
Alitalia MilleMigliaEl Al MatmidJetBlue TrueBlue
ANA Mileage ClubEtihad GuestSingapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

Air France KLM Flying BlueIHG Rewards ClubSingapore KrisFlyerUnited MileagePlus
British Airways Executive ClubKorean Air SkyPassSouthwest Airlines Rapid RewardsVirgin Atlantic Flying Club
Hyatt Gold PassportMarriott RewardsThe Ritz-Carlton Rewards

Starwood Preferred Guest Transfer Partners

AeroMexico Club PremierANA Mileage ClubEmirates SkywardsQatar Airways Privileges Club
Air Canada AeroplanAmerican Airlines AAdvantageEtihad Airways GuestSaudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan
airberlin Top BonusAsiana Airlines Asiana ClubGol SmilesSingapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Air China CompanionBritish Airways Executive ClubHawaiian Airlines HawaiianMilesThai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
Air France/KLM FlyingBlueCathay Pacific Asia MilesJapan Airlines (JAL) Mileage BankUnited Mileage Plus
Air New Zealand Air PointsChina Eastern Airlines Eastern ClubKorean Air SkypassVirgin America Elevate
Alaska Airlines Mileage PlanChina Southern Airlines' Sky Pearl ClubLAN Airlines LANPASS KmsVirgin Atlantic Flying Club
Alitalia MilleMigliaDelta Air Lines SkyMilesLufthansa Miles & MoreVirgin Australia Velocity

Holders of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card, Citi Prestige Card, and Citi Chairman Card are also able to transfer their ThankYou Points to airline partners.

Premier Citi ThankYou Transfer Partners

Air France/KLM | Flying BlueGaruda Indonesia | Frequent FlyerQatar Airways | Privilege ClubHilton | HHonors
Cathay Pacific | Asia MilesJetBlue | TrueBlueSingapore Airlines | KrisFlyer
EVA Air | Infinity MileageLandsMalaysia Airlines | EnrichThai Airways | Royal Orchid Plus
Etihad | Etihad GuestQantas | Frequent FlyerVirgin Atlantic | Flying Club

It is worth noting that while American Express and Chase transfers are rather quick (and instant in many cases), SPG transfers can take a few weeks, depending on the program you’re transferring to.

So which miles or points should I be collecting?

Well, that depends a great deal on your travel goals! There is always a bit of a balance between accruing the most points, or the most valuable points, and the only way to determine the best route for you is to know where and how you want to travel.

Next: Identifying Your Travel Goals

Comments

  1. I read somewhere that you can only get the signup bonus on American Express personal cards ONCE per person, per lifetime. I already have the American Express Delta SkyMiles cards so I assume I cannot get an American Express Membership Rewards card for the big signup bonus.

    Does the same hold true for other cards like Chase, Citi, Barlclays, etc.?

  2. @ Gerardo — It’s typically per card. So if you only have a Delta Amex Card, you can still apply for an Amex Membership Rewards card.

  3. The Citi Prestige Card looks great as an addition to my Amex Rewards Plus. However, the $450 annual fee is quite high. Any tips to get that covered? Thanks in advance.

  4. Hi..I live in Norway and travel alot in Europe but also to the US. I cant find a card that is good for scandinavians…most cards i see on this page is for US and Canadian residens. I have SASEurobonus now, but i dont think it give me good value for the money i spend. As you mention before for the longer trip and upgrade is cost alot of points. Any good tips?

  5. I have several thousand Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but to no avail I’ve racked their website trying to figure out how to transfer them to any airline partner. The best i could do was to enter info for both SkyMiles & AAdvantage on my “profile,” but reading their by-laws about traveling choices it only allows me to book through their booking window right there on the Ultimate Rewards webpage… it’s so frustrating
    🙁
    Could somebody offer any advice about it,
    Thank you immensely for any help

  6. @ Alexander v E — When you’re on the Ultimate Rewards page, go to “Use Points” and then “Transfer to Travel Partners”. Hope that helps!

  7. I would like to book my family of 5 to Fort Lauderdale florida from Newark NJ within the next 4 weeks. We have about 400,00. miles how should I go about this

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