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.
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 Premier||British Airways Executive Club||Frontier EarlyReturns||Virgin America EleVAte|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||Virgin Atlantic Flying Club|
|AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue||Delta SkyMiles||Iberia Plus|
|Alitalia MilleMiglia||El Al Matmid||JetBlue TrueBlue|
|ANA Mileage Club||Etihad Guest||Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer|
Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners
|Air France KLM Flying Blue||IHG Rewards Club||Singapore KrisFlyer||United MileagePlus|
|British Airways Executive Club||Korean Air SkyPass||Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards||Virgin Atlantic Flying Club|
|Hyatt Gold Passport||Marriott Rewards||The Ritz-Carlton Rewards|
Starwood Preferred Guest Transfer Partners
|AeroMexico Club Premier||ANA Mileage Club||Emirates Skywards||Qatar Airways Privileges Club|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||American Airlines AAdvantage||Etihad Airways Guest||Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan|
|airberlin Top Bonus||Asiana Airlines Asiana Club||Gol Smiles||Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer|
|Air China Companion||British Airways Executive Club||Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus|
|Air France/KLM FlyingBlue||Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank||United Mileage Plus|
|Air New Zealand Air Points||China Eastern Airlines Eastern Club||Korean Air Skypass||Virgin America Elevate|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||China Southern Airlines' Sky Pearl Club||LAN Airlines LANPASS Kms||Virgin Atlantic Flying Club|
|Alitalia MilleMiglia||Delta Air Lines SkyMiles||Lufthansa Miles & More||Virgin 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 Blue||Garuda Indonesia | Frequent Flyer||Qatar Airways | Privilege Club||Hilton | HHonors|
|Cathay Pacific | Asia Miles||JetBlue | TrueBlue||Singapore Airlines | KrisFlyer|
|EVA Air | Infinity MileageLands||Malaysia Airlines | Enrich||Thai Airways | Royal Orchid Plus|
|Etihad | Etihad Guest||Qantas | Frequent Flyer||Virgin 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.