When redeeming credit card points, there are few rewards as satisfying as booking plane tickets. Otherwise, how else will you get the chance to brag that you “didn’t pay” for the flights on your last big trip?
But just because you can use points to book a $25,000 first-class suite to the Middle East doesn’t mean you should, because you actually may not be getting the best deal on those hard-earned rewards. Here’s a little-known tip: In most cases, transferring your points to a partner airline will help you better maximize the value of your rewards. Most transfers are 1 to 1, you’ll just need to create a frequent-flyer account with the carrier.
How to Know If You’re Getting a Good Deal
Without getting too wonky, keep 2 cents per point in mind as a benchmark. That might not sound like much, but it’s basically equal to getting 2% cash back — which is considered a pretty decent reward as far as credit card points go. (By contrast, redeeming points for statement credits often comes out to about 1 cent per point.)
To do the math on redemptions, take the price tag of the ticket and divide it by the number of points that same ticket costs in rewards. For example, if a business-class ticket normally costs $5,000 to buy and you have to redeem 100,000 points to get it, your value is 5 cents per point ($5,000 / 100,000 points). That’s more than the 2-cent benchmark, which means you’re getting good bang for your rewards buck. (One caveat: If your card comes with a signup bonus, you’ll likely be able to cash in a mound of points soon after getting the card. Those kinds of free-points deals can make up for not quite reaching 2 cents per point on a flight redemption.)
How Credit Card-to-Airline Point Transfers Could Work
To illustrate how much value you really could get by transferring your credit card points to an airline’s program, we took a look at two popular rewards programs for travel and outlined a few examples of deals you may be able to take advantage of with each.
American Express Membership Rewards
Membership Rewards points are incredibly flexible, thanks to American Express’s travel partners, which include Air France, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Delta and Emirates, among others. Each airline's frequent-flyer program is different, but here are two great ways to redeem.
Transfer your points to British Airways and fly up to 1,151 miles for 7,500 points.
It might sound odd, but because of airline alliances, you can fly domestic in the U.S. on American Airlines using British Airways’ Avios reward currency. A one-way ticket up to 1,151 miles will cost just 7,500 Avios, meaning you can fly round trip from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Miami International Airport for just 15,000 points. (You can check flight distances on Mile Calc.)
Transfer your points to All Nippon Airways and fly direct to Tokyo in business class for 85,000 points. All Nippon Airways (ANA) consistently ranks as one of the best airlines in the world. You can fly to Tokyo in the airline's fantastic lie-flat business class seats during off-peak season for just 85,000 points direct from Kennedy International or Los Angeles International.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Chase also offers a number of excellent travel partners for its Ultimate Rewards (UR) program as long as you have one of its premium cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Both currently offer 50,000-point signup bonuses. Rather than using those on Chase's travel portal, transfer your UR points to partners (including Air France-KLM, British Airways, United Airlines and more) for more lucrative redemptions.
Transfer your points to Singapore Airlines to fly from New York to Frankfurt in business class for 48,875 points. Singapore Airlines’s great business class seats will set you back less than 50,000 points after the airline's award discount of 15%. And if you're lucky enough to find availability, the airline's famed first-class suite will only cost 57,375 points (trust us, it's the kind of experience you'll find yourself bragging about for years to come).
Transfer your points to Korean Air to fly from the continental U.S. to Hawaii for 25,000 points. Yes, you can book with an Asian airline to fly domestically. Korean Air offers a great option for getting to the Aloha State, requiring just 25,000 points to fly from anywhere in the continental U.S. (even New York or Boston!) to Hawaii. That means you could fly an entire family of four for just 100,000 points — tickets that can often cost $1,000 each.
Keep in mind, though, that airlines are constantly tinkering with their frequent-flyer programs — usually to the customer’s detriment — so keeping track of their changes and your options will make a big difference in helping you decide how to redeem your stockpiled points. Sites like The Points Guy and View From the Wing can also help you stay up to date on the latest lucrative redemptions. Yes, it’ll take some research on your part, but it’ll all be worth it when you realize you really *can* afford that dream trip to Kauai.