How bank points can be the best for free flights.

Most people are somewhat familiar with the concept of collecting frequent flier miles. My husband and I have built our whole travel strategy around frequent flier miles in fact, but there’s another travel reward currency with huge benefits once you understand how it works.

Bank points.  Specifically I’m referring to “American Express Membership Rewards” and “Chase Ultimate Rewards.”

First lets go over what these points are and how to earn them.  Then, we’ll take a look at why they’re beneficial to have around.


What are Amex points and Chase points?

When you see an airline card that earns miles, you know that the airline has partnered with a bank to have a credit card that earns towards their own frequent flier program. However, the banks ant in on the loyalty program system too. So, like many other banks, American Express and Chase bank have both developed their own rewards system with credit cards that earn points towards that system.

These points are extremely versatile. You can redeem them for cash if you’d like, or surf through the list of other options, including both travel that can be booked directly with points, or travel that can be booked by transferring directly into a frequent flier or hotel program. The latter is greatly recommended over booking travel directly with your points, but we’ll discuss that in a bit.

How do you earn these points?

These points can be earned with American Express cards or Chase cards that aren’t partnered with some other program as mentioned above. For instance, American Express has partnered with the hotel group “Starwood” to create a credit card for their loyalty program. That card will not earn you Amex points, it will earn Starwood Preferred Guest Points. But the American Express Gold card and the American Express Gold card are both cards that are not partnered with a different program and will earn you Amex points.

Similarly, the Chase Freedom card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus are all cards that will earn you Chase points rather than the points of a program they’ve partnered with.

Why these points are beneficial?

These points are beneficial purely for their ability to transfer to a variety of airline or hotel programs. Find a list of Chase transfer partners here. Also find a list of American Express transfer partners here. I’m going to emphasize that again: the benefit is in transferring. This is not to be confused with booking travel directly with your points, as you’ll get much less travel for your points that way. Think of it like purchasing something through a retailer versus wholesale.

Think about it. If you have American Airline miles, that means you can use those miles to fly with American Airlines or any of their alliance partners. That gives you quite a few options, yes, but if you have bank points, you can transfer your points to an array of airlines representing any alliance, or transfer them into a hotel program. This allows you to be very flexible based on your needs. For instance sometimes we’ll be arriving someplace with no plan for accommodations and no hotel points at our exposure. In that kind of situation, we could always transfer Amex points to Hilton points.

Or, as we approach our travel plans, we can compare prices between the different mileage programs and transfer our points only once we’ve decided whose mileage program offers the cheapest options to our travel destination. If we compare prices in points and see that United has the cheapest reward flight to Asia, then we can transfer our Chase points to United.

Transferring points.

The main thing to remember is that your points need to be transferred into the mileage program (or hotel program) of your choice for you to get the best value, (rather than keeping them as Amex or Chase points and booking travel directly that way.) I know I’ve already said this, but it’s one of the easiest ways to get more value out of your earnings.

The steps for transferring are fairly simple.

American Express Membership Rewards Points transfer process:

1.) First sign into your American Express online account here.

2.) Click on “Rewards” at the top and then select “Use Points” on the drop-down.

3.) Click on the “Travel” tab.

4.) Select the “Transfer Points” option.

5.) There, you will see a “Hotels” tab and an “Airlines” tab.  Select the one which applies and click on the icon of your transfer choice. From there, you will be prompted for the rest of the transfer.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points transfer process:

1.) Sign into your Chase Ultimate Rewards account here.

Now…here’s where it gets a little complicated, so I strongly recommend reading my post on the intricacies of Chase.  The basic thing to note here is that only certain Chase cards allow points-transfer as a benefit of the card.  This means that even if you have a card that earns Chase points, you won’t be able to transfer them until you have one of the following cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, or Chase Ink Plus.

2.) Provided you have one of the cards listed above, the transfer process is very simple.  At the top of your account page you will see a “Point Transfer” tab.

3.) You will see two options, one for hotels and one for airlines. Just as with Amex points, you will see a display of icons.  Select the one you want and follow the prompts.


So what are the recommended transfers?

With Amex pints we will usually transfer to one of the following: Air Canada, British Airways or ANA.  We base this decision on availability as well as whose flights seem to produce the least amount of fuel surcharges.

With Chase points we almost always transfer to United miles.  This is because United miles have pretty much no fuel surcharges.  This means that your “free flight” won’t have a surprise $200 fee tacked onto it. Not to mention United’s mileage program offers fairly good award prices for economy and also allows one free stopover for any roundtrip, international award flight. We love United and thus, we love Chase points too.

Let’s recap the basic points:

1.) The bank points especially worth noting are American Express Membership Rewards points (Amex points) and Chase Ultimate Rewards points (Chase points.)

2.) Bank points are useful for allowing flexibility.  You can earn knowing that you’ll later be able to transfer based on your travel needs.

3.) Transferring points will give you a better value than booking directly with your points, though your online account allows you to do either.


Again, for a more in-depth look at Chase points specifically (our favorite) I recommend checking out this post on getting to know Chase.

Posted by | Comments Off on How bank points can be the best for free flights.  | May 22, 2014
Category: Air Travel, Money Management, Travel Bargains

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