Which points should you transfer to miles? How much does the transfer cost?

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Panorama of Sydney Harbour.  This is not quite the view from the Park Hyatt Sydney, but it’s close.

Last year, a friend was going to Australia and so I told her about the highly rated Park Hyatt Sydney.  Rooms at the hotel often go for $800 per night, or more, but she could instead use 30,000 Hyatt points per night transferred from her Ultimate Rewards balance.  After looking into it, she did exactly that and booked a night at the Hyatt.  She excitedly said to me something like “the going rate was $850, but I got it for only $450!

Um… what?  Didn’t she use 30K points?

It took me a few heartbeats to get her meaning.  She has the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which lets you book travel through their portal at a rate of 1.5 cents value per point.  In other words, she could have used 30K points to book $450 in travel through the Chase portal, but instead booked a $850 room by transferring points to Hyatt.  To her, this meant that she paid $450 for her $850 hotel room.

We’ve written before about the opportunity cost in acquiring points rather than cash back (see, for example: How much do you pay for your miles and points?).  The Park Hyatt Sydney example is a different concept.  This story highlights the opportunity cost when transferring points to loyalty programs.  Given that you already earned transferable points, what are you giving up by transferring those points to a hotel or airline program?  In my friend’s case, she was giving up $450 in travel.

Card Specific Opportunity Cost

The opportunity cost in transferring points to loyalty programs is dependent upon the options you have.  If my friend had a Sapphire Preferred card instead of a Sapphire Reserve, the opportunity cost of transferring 30K points would have been only $375.  That’s because the Sapphire Preferred offers only 1.25 cents value towards travel compared to the Sapphire Reserve which offers 1.5.

Buying miles and hotel points

The more I thought about the opportunity concept of transferring points, the more I realized that this is a useful construct.  Let’s describe the transfer as a financial transaction.  With the Sapphire Reserve card, we’ll say that transferring points to miles or hotel points “costs” 1.5 cents per mile.

The cost of transferring points is a little more complicated when the transfer ratio isn’t 1 to 1.  For example, Capital One allows transferring points to a number of airline programs at a rate of 100 points to 75 miles.  If you don’t transfer your points, they’re usually worth exactly 1 cent each towards travel.  So, we can calculate the cost of transferring points to miles: 100 points = $1, so you are “paying” $1 per 75 miles or 1.33 cents per mile.

If you had points in both programs (Chase and Capital One) and the Sapphire Reserve card, then it helps to know the above “costs”.  If you want Air France Flying Blue miles (supported by both programs), you’d be better off transferring from Capital One at their 100 to 75 transfer ratio rather than from Chase at the 1 to 1 ratio.

Programs with multiple transfer partners

This table shows all of the programs supported by the top transferable points programs (Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, and Marriott/SPG).  Programs are sorted with the most “promiscuous” on top (i.e. those that partner with the most transferable programs are on top).

Rewards Program# Transfer ProgramsAmex Transfer RatioChase Transfer RatioCiti Transfer RatioMarriott Transfer RatioCapital One Transfer RatioBrex Transfer Ratio
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles81 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 11 to 1
Qantas Frequent Flyer81 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 11 to 1
Qatar Privilege Club Avios81 to 1 via BA1 to 1 via BA1 to 160K to 25K1 to 1 via BA
AeroMexico ClubPremier71 to 1.61 to 160K to 25K1 to 11 to 1
IHG71 to 1
Iberia Avios71 to 11 to 11 to 1 via Qatar, BA60K to 25K1 to 1 via BA
Aer Lingus Avios71 to 11 to 11 to 1 via Qatar, BA60K to 25K1 to 1 via BA
Emirates Skywards71 to 11 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 11 to 1
Air France KLM Flying Blue71 to 11 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 11 to 1
British Airways Avios61 to 11 to 11 to 1 via Qatar60K to 25K1 to 1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club61 to 11 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 1
Etihad Guest61 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 1
Hilton61 to 2
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer61 to 11 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 11 to 1
Air Canada Aeroplan51 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 1
Avianca LifeMiles51 to 11 to 160K to 25K1 to 11 to 1
Hawaiian Miles51 to 1 plus excise tax60K to 25K
ANA Mileage Club41 to 160K to 25K
Delta SkyMiles41 to 1 plus excise tax60K to 25K
JetBlue4250 to 200 plus excise tax1 to 11 to 160K to 12.5K
Wyndham41 to 11 to 1
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles41 to 160K to 25K1 to 1
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus41 to 160K to 25K
United MileagePlus31 to 160K to 27.5K
Air China Phoenix Miles360K to 25K
American AAdvantage360K to 25K
Asiana360K to 25K
China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club360K to 25K
Choice31 to 11 to 21 to 1
Korean Airlines360K to 25K
JAL (Japan Airlines) Mileage Bank360K to 25K
Royal Brunei Royal Skies2
Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer260K to 25K
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands21 to 11000 to 750
Southwest Rapid Rewards21 to 160K to 25K
Hyatt21 to 1
TAP Air Portugal260K to 25K1 to 1
Jet Airways Inter Miles21 to 160K to 25K
Marriott Bonvoy21 to 11 to 1
South African Airways Voyager160K to 25K
Saudia Airlines160K to 25K
Aeroflot Bonus160K to 25K
Vueling Club160K to 25K
Air New Zealand Air Points160K to 307
Alaska MileagePlan160K to 25K
Multiplus160K to 25K
China Eastern Airlines160K to 25K
Copa Airlines ConnectMiles160K to 25K
Malaysia Enrich11 to 1
LATAM Pass160K to 25K
Accor Live Limitless11000 to 500
Shop Your Way Rewards11 to 10
Aegean Miles + Bonus160K to 25K
Finnair Plus+11 to 1
Frontier Miles160K to 25K
Hainan Airlines160K to 25K
Radisson Rewards0
Amtrak Guest Rewards0
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer0
Allegiant0
Alitalia MilleMiglia0
Go Far Rewards0
Ultimate Rewards0
PenFed Rewards0
Penny Points0
Hotels.comRewards0
UBS My Choice Rewards0
Miles & More0
Arrival0
Uber Cash0
Best Western0
Bilt0
Brex0
Merrill0
Capital One Miles0
Sonesta Travel Pass0
Membership Rewards0
FlexPerks0
CNB Rewards0
Expedia+0
EL AL Israel Airlines0
Spirit0
ThankYou Rewards0
* A starred transfer ratio means that it is possible to transfer to this program indirectly by first transferring to another program and then from there to this program.

Which points should you transfer?

As shown above, many airline programs are available to be transferred from multiple transferable points programs.  When all else is equal, the transfer “cost” can be useful to help decide which points to transfer.

Given the above insight, we can calculate the opportunity cost of moving transferable points to loyalty points for a number of different transferable points programs.

If you have this card… Then cost per mile is…
Amex Membership Rewards
1 to 1 transfer partners Business Platinum with 35% airline bonus 1.54 cents per mile
Business Gold with 25% airline bonus 1.33 cents per mile
Platinum card for Schwab with “invest with rewards” 1.25 cents per mile
Transfer to Hilton 1 to 2 Business Platinum with 35% airline bonus 0.77 cents per Hilton point
  Business Gold with 25% airline bonus 0.67 cents per Hilton point
  Platinum card for Schwab with “invest with rewards” 0.63 cents per Hilton point
Capital One Miles
100 to 75 transfer partners
Any “miles” card (Capital One Venture, Venture One, Spark Miles, or Spark Miles Select) 1.33 cents per mile
100 to 50 transfer partners Any “miles” card 2 cents per mile
Chase Ultimate Rewards
All transfer partners are 1 to 1
Chase Sapphire Reserve 1.5 cents per mile
Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred, or Ink Plus 1.25 cents per mile
Citi ThankYou Rewards
1 to 1 transfer partners
Citi Premier 1.25 cents per mile
  Citi Prestige (as of September 2019) 1 cent per mile
Marriott Rewards
Transfer 60K to 25K miles
No credit card required 1.73 cents per mile
Transfer 60K to 27.5K United miles No credit card required 1.57 cents per mile
Transfer Bonuses
25% Bonus
Divide the above cost per mile results by 1.25 Ex: 1.5 / 1.25 = 1.2
30% Bonus Divide the above cost per mile results by 1.3 Ex: 1.5 / 1.3 = 1.15

Here’s more detail about each of the cards listed above…

Amex Membership Rewards

See: Amex Membership Rewards Deep Dive.

  • The Business Platinum Card from American Express: 1.54 cents per mile.This card offers a 35% airline bonus: “Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of an eligible fare and get 35% of those points back, up to 500,000 points back per calendar year.”  This bonus means that you can book certain flights for 1.54 cents per point after the rebate.
  • Amex Business Gold Card: 1.33 cents per mile.  This card offers a 25% airline bonus: “Get 25% points back after you use Pay With Points for all or part of a flight booked with American Express Travel if the flight is either on your selected qualifying airline or First or Business class, up to 250,000 points back per calendar year.”  This bonus means that you can book certain flights for 1.33 cents per point after the rebate.
  • Amex Platinum Card for Schwab: 1.25 cents per mile.This Amex card lets you move points into a Schwab investment account at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. Since it is then possible to use those investment funds to pay for travel, there’s an opportunity cost of 1.25 cents per mile when transferring Amex Membership Rewards points to miles.

Capital One Miles

See: Capital One “Rewards miles” Complete Guide.

  • Capital One Venture, Venture One, Spark Miles, and Spark Miles Select: 1.33 cents per mile (or 2 cents per mile with some partners). Capital One points are worth 1 cent per point towards travel.  Alternatively, it is possible to transfer points to airline partners at a rate of either 100 points to 75 miles or 100 points to 50 miles.  When transferring 100 to 75, your “cost” is 1.33 cents per mile.  When transferring 100 to 50, your cost is 2 cents per mile (try to avoid those transfers!).  See also: Capital One Transfer Partners.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

See: Chase Ultimate Rewards Complete Guide.

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 1.5 cents per mile. This card offers 1.5 cents per point value towards travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  When you transfer points to airline miles or to hotel programs, you are giving up 1.5 cents in travel per resulting mile.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Business Preferred, or Ink Plus: 1.25 cents per mile.  Each of these Chase cards offer 1.25 cents per point value towards travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  When you transfer points to airline miles or to hotel programs, you are giving up 1.25 cents in travel per resulting mile.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

See: Citi ThankYou Rewards. Deep Dive.

  • Citi Premier: 1.25 cents per mile. The Citi Premier card offers 1.25 cents per point value towards travel booked through the Citi ThankYou Rewards portal.  When you transfer points one to one to airline miles, you are giving up 1.25 cents per mile in travel.
  • Citi Prestige: 1 cent per mile (or 1.25 if you or a friend has Citi Premier card). Beginning September 2019, the Prestige card will lose it’s ability to get 1.25 cents value towards flights.  At that point, you’ll get only 1 cent per point value towards travel.  That said, the Citi Premier card is expected to retain its 1.25 cents per point value towards travel.  And, since Citi allows moving points for free to others, you can get 1.25 cents per point value by moving your Citi ThankYou points to a friend with the Premier card and ask them to use the points to book travel.

Marriott / SPG: 1.7 cents per mile (1.57 for United)

See: Marriott Transfer Partners.

  • Marriott has a huge selection of transfer partners.  In most cases the transfer ratio is 60,000 Marriott points to 25,000 airline miles.  With United, you get 10% more, so 60,000 points should transfer to 27,500 United miles.
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[…] Nice resource page: Which points should you transfer to miles? How much does the transfer cost? […]

[…] How Much Does it Cost to Transfer Miles? […]

Lynn

Always good to have someone remind me that the Hyatt really did cost $450. I don’t like to think about it that way!

JustSaying

You should write a post showing how someone might link in the Chase website to either booking with UR or transferring directly to Hyatt and book. And another one might be exploring a booking on Small Luxury Hotels and comparing points for those bookings. Your examples above lead me to think that all redeeming should use Citi first then AMEX then UR.

TomT

I think something is backwards here. The Amex Business Platinum card’s 35% airline bonus is BETTER than the Amex Business Gold Rewards card’s 25% airline bonus, yet you have a column labeled “Then cost per mile is…” where the COST for the Platinum at 1.54 is MORE than the COST for the Gold at 1.33. The Value of the Platinum’s points are more, so that means the COST would be lower, not higher.

Lrdx

No.
If you spend $1.53 or $1.33, both in theform of 100 MR points, which one cost you more?

Dan

Hi Greg,

Good post, I am going to Sydney next year and booked the Park Hyatt at a Cash and Points rate (before that changed) of 15000 points + $300. But some would say it’s better to just use 30000 points. Standard room rate that date is over $1100. What do you think?

Also, will we be getting a review of your Air France business class flight to LHR? I’m booked in that next year on the 777 and kind of looking forward to it.

Thanks!

Dan

Got it, thanks.

Carol

Does it make sense to have the Amex Business Platinum instead of the regular Platinum? We also have three stub cards.

Tom

“you’d be better off transferring from Capital One”
This is confusing.
If I everyday spend $1 using C1 and only get 75 miles but spend $1 using UR I get 100 miles why isn’t the UR transfer always better

Giovanni

I am thinking the same Tom, sounds confusing..I hope we get a response.

CaveDweller

Yea Correct I’m looking @ the Hotel side but if u need Airfare transfer others are better .But the post is about transferring and can’t wait to apply for the card in April need a better deal on Hotels.
If u don’t like the card or Capital ect. Dump it @ 11 months then ” Game On ” ..
CHEERs

Tom

So we have a bucket of points, with lots of ways of earning them for better than 1:1

The original question was transfer 30000 UR points to Hyatt or spend 56666 UR points by booking $850 room with CSR.
If this is the only question, why is it even a hard choice?

Then we switch gears to miles

We need 45500 (example) Flying Blue Miles and we could transfer 45500 UR (or MR or TY) or 60667 Cap1 miles
Without knowing the UR portal cost of the this ticket, how could we even begin to compare?

I am pretty much a newb at the transfer game, so I really do want to know what it is that I’m missing.

CaveDweller

Tom
Just play with it a little see what they want on the website JUST don’t hit the Send button . I transferred out 40k points to UAL as I applied for a New chase card IF they BURN my 5 cc’s so what I have Travel blogs ..

CHEERs

Nick Reyes

@Tom I think what you’re missing is that it wasn’t a question of whether to book the hotel with Hyatt points or Ultimate Rewards points. It was just the recognition that by choosing to book that hotel at all, she was giving up the chance to have bought $450 worth of flights or a cruise or a different hotel at some other time. She didn’t view it as having gotten $850 in value out of 30000 points, but rather that she used $450 worth of points for the hotel because by booking it she gave up the chance to get $450 worth of travel at some other time.

There are of course many hotels in Sydney, so she didn’t have to stay at the Park Hyatt. But she chose to give up enough points that she could have bought $450 worth of hotel or other travel, so that was her opportunity cost in using 30000 points.

This post isn’t about a straight comparison between the cash cost and points cost of a ticket or hotel. It’s about the idea of what you give up by choosing to accept Hotel points or airline miles instead of redeeming for a cash value, not necessarily for the same flight or hotel but rather in general.

Nick Reyes

It’s about the opportunity cost – let me take a swing at explaining it, too.

First, you don’t get 75 miles when you spend $1 on the credit card. You earn 2 miles for each dollar you spend on the Capital One “miles” cards. Your earnings vary on the Chase cards.

But here’s what Greg meant:

Capital One “Rewards miles” are worth $0.01 each if used towards travel. If you have 100 Capital One “miles”, you can either redeem them for $1 towards travel or you can transfer to an airline and have 75 airline miles (in most instances). So if you choose to take 75 airline miles for your 100 points instead of taking $1 towards travel, you’re deciding that the miles are worth 1.33c each to you. You’re giving up the chance to use them towards hotels, cruises, etc — so the “cost” is that you lose 1.33c each (but of course the airline miles you’re gaining are probably worth more than that to you).

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth $0.015 each if used towards travel. If you have 100 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can either redeem them for $1.50 towards travel or transfer them and have 100 airline miles. Again, if you choose to take 100 airline miles, you’re choosing to lose the opportunity to buy $1.50 towards travel – in other words, each mile is costing you 1.5c.

Does that make more sense?

RS_WI

Tom,

This article was about opportunity cost of redemption, not about earning.
C1 doesn’t earn 75 miles for $1 of spend. Nor does UR get earned at 100 miles /$1.
Rather, they EARN at different rates. e.g. C1 “miles” are generally 2/$1. UR are anywhere from 1/$1, 1.5/$1, 3/$1, or 5/$1 depending on your cards.

Redeeming them they have different values, but the calculations can be normalized (this is the focus of this article).
C1, redeemed specifically for travel expenses (reimbursing a booking) are worth $0.01 per point. (1c)
UR, redeemed specifically for booking travel (through their portal) are worth $0.015 (1.5c) if you have Sapphire Reserve.

So, by transferring C1 points you are giving up on 1c / pt in alternative redemption.
Transferring UR you are giving up 1.5c / pt in alternative redemption.

Another way to think of this is:
Let’s say you need 10,000 miles transferred to Singapore.Airlines. You have both 10k C1 points and 10k UR points available.
If you transfer the C1 points, you use 10k C1 points, and you still have potentially $150 of purchasing power left with your URs (10,000 x $0.015 = $150).

If you transfer your UR points, you use the 10k UR points and you still have potentially $100 of purchasing power left with your C1 points.

Either way you used 10k points… but which would you rather use (and thus be “left” with as your remaining option).

This gets further complicated, though, by WHAT they can be redeemed for. To get that $150 from your leftover 10k UR points, you have to book through their portal. C1 points, however, could be used to reimburse a train ride, or other incidentals that aren’t necessarily booked in advance.
The dollar amount of potential is indisputable, but flexibility is a factor I keep in mind with how I use my points…

CaveDweller

I just got back from SYD a month ago I almost didn’t Go but booked it anyways and stayed @ 4 and 5* hotels. . TO Cheap what’s wrong NUTTHING !!! Super place Great Value for ur USA dollars . Every thing is like A$9 for food ,drink ect but A$9 is $6 usa ..I was in Carins stayed @ Double Tree there one card as in almost Free .
Can’t wait to Go Downunder Again !!
Merry Xmas

CHEERs