The term "miles" is used pretty liberally these days. But most of us still think of earning reward miles in the framework of frequent flyer programs. If your credit card lets you earn 1,000 miles per $1,000 spent, you probably expect those 1,000 miles to convert into 1,000 airline frequent flyer miles.
|Best For||Credit Card|
|Airline Miles||Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card|
|Travel Rewards||Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card|
But there are good travel credit cards nowadays that let you earn miles that don't actually convert to frequent flyer miles. Instead these "miles" actually act like points or cash back because you can redeem them towards a travel purchase, instead of converting them to frequent flyer miles.
This can make things very confusing, because you might think that miles have the same value on all cards. But a frequent flyer mile that can be redeemed directly with airlines might have a very different value compared to a mile that can be redeemed towards travel purchases.
For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lets you transfer the points you earn with 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs. That means you get full value: 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points converts to 1,000 frequent flyer miles or points with partner airlines (I list these below) and hotels.
On the other side of the coin, the popular Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and Discover it® Miles - Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card let you earn miles (that are more like points) which can be redeemed towards purchases you make with the card that fall under travel categories (hotels, airlines, car rentals, travel packages, etc.). That makes Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card a very flexible travel card, as you can book your travel on any airline, hotel or vacation package as you choose, and then redeem your miles towards that purchase.
But how do these miles compare to actual frequent flyer miles? Let's use the bonus you earn as an example. When you sign up for Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of approval, you will enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles, equal to $400 in travel. That's a nice incentive, and you can see here that 40,000 miles are equal to $400 in travel, so 10,000 miles would equal $100 in travel.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lets you earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Those 50,000 bonus points are worth $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. If you redeem them for frequent flyer miles at a 1:1 conversion rate with a partner airline, you would get 50,000 frequent flyer miles.
If you converted those 50,000 miles to the United MileagePlus® program (the same frequent travel program used by United MileagePlus® Explorer Card), you could currently get an economy round-trip flight to Peru or another country in the northern part of South America, from the continental US.
40,000 Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card miles equal $400 in travel. In other words, frequent flyer miles may be worth many times more than "miles" offered by many travel cards. But these alternative miles may be more flexible, since you can redeem them in different ways. Although you can also redeem your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card points for other types of travel purchases, not just frequent flyer miles - making it a very flexible card too.
Almost all dedicated airline credit cards, including United MileagePlus® Explorer Card lets you earn actual frequent flyer miles/points. But the downside of these miles is that you are usually limited to using them on one airline or airline group.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
If you hold a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to some popular frequent travel programs at a full value.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides the best of both worlds because it lets you earn flexible points that you can transfer to participating leading hotel and airline loyalty programs at a full 1:1 value (so 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points). If you prefer, you can also redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and get 20% off travel with no blackout dates or restrictions. However, you may get better value converting to frequent flyer miles. You can also redeem points for gift cards, cash back, merchandise and more, but you get exceptional value when you redeem for travel.
It lets you earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening (worth $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®). This card also lets you earn 5,000 bonus points after adding your first authorized user and making a purchase within the first 3 months after account opening.
You earn 2X points per $1 on travel and restaurant dining worldwide, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Travel perks include trip interruption/trip cancellation insurance, no foreign transaction fee, travel accident insurance, primary auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement, travel and emergency assistance services, trip delay reimbursement and baggage delay insurance. For a card with an intro annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95, you get a lot of benefits.
Travel programs eligible for 1:1 transfers from Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card include:
- British Airways Executive Club
- Korean Air SKYPASS
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
- United MileagePlus®
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Hyatt Gold Passport®
- IHG® Rewards Club
- Marriott Rewards®
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
If you have a Citi Prestige® Card or a Citi Chairman®, you can use Points Transfer to move your available and qualifying ThankYou® Points to a participating travel loyalty program which you are enrolled with.
Citi Prestige® Card, a partner card, also lets you redeem rewards for frequent flyer miles or points from certain programs at a 1:1 conversion rate. This exclusive card from Citi lets you earn 40,000 bonus points after you make $4,000 in purchases with your card in the first 3 months after opening your account. Benefit from $250 air travel credit every year, complimentary 4th night stay at any hotel of your choice, complimentary access to hundreds of VIP lounges through Priority PassTM Select and American Airlines Admirals Club® lounges, and complimentary greens fees at over 2,400 private and public golf courses around the world. You earn 3 ThankYou Points for each dollar you spend on air travel and hotels, 2x points one entertainment and dining at restaurants, and 1 point for your other purchases made with this card.
If you hold a Citi Prestige® Card you can redeem 1,000 ThankYou® Points for 1,500 HHonors Bonus Points, and 1,000 ThankYou® Points for 1,000 miles or points with these frequent flyer programs:
- Flying Club Miles (Virgin Atlantic)
- Asia Miles
- Flying Blue Award Miles (Air France and KLM)
- Qmiles (Qatar)
- Qantas Points
- KrisFlyer Miles (Singapore Airlines)
- Royal Orchid Plus Miles (Thai)
- Guest Miles (Etihad)
- Enrich Miles (Malaysia Airlines)
- GFF Miles (Garuda Indonesia)
American Express Membership Rewards®
If you use an American Express card that rewards you with Membership Rewards® points, you can transfer your points to a frequent flyer program which you are enrolled in. You will pay a small fee ($0.0006 per point, maximum fee $99) for the transfer.
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, a GET.com advertiser, The Platinum Card® from American Express and Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express are examples of Amex cards that give you Membership Rewards® points.
You can transfer your points to any of these frequent travel programs:
- Delta SkyMiles®
- HawaiianMiles® (Hawaiian Airlines)
- Virgin America Elevate
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Club Premier (Aeromexico)
- Aeroplan (Air Canada)
- Flying Blue (Air France, KLM)
- British Airways Executive Club
- Matmid Points (EL AL Israel Airlines)
- Iberia Plus
- MilleMiglia Club (Alitalia)
- Krisflyer (Singapore Airlines)
- Asia Miles
- ANA Mileage Club (All Nippon Airways)
- Emirates Skywards
Flexible Travel Rewards Cards
If you prefer a card that lets you earn rewards that can be redeemed towards the cost of travel purchases without a 1:1 conversion rate for frequent flyer miles, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card are all solid options.
But it may help if you look at the rewards you earn from these cards more as cash back that you can apply towards travel purchases, rather than looking at them as airline miles.
Here I've divided cards that let you earn actual frequent flyer miles or transfer points at a 1:1 conversion rate from cards that let you earn rewards that can be redeemed towards travel purchases in other ways.
Top 2 non-airline specific cards that let you earn rewards which can be used as frequent flyer miles (or 1:1 conversion):
Top 3 cards that let you use your points towards other travel rewards:
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