Step 6: Flexible Points

Steps 4 and 5 discussed, very basically, how frequent flyer miles and hotel points can be used for free flights and hotel stays. In this step I’ll introduce a new type of currency that can double as both. I call these f lexible point programs, and they can be leveraged to provide even more value than airline miles or hotel points individually.

Flexible points are points earned almost exclusively through credit card sign up bonuses and credit card spending.

There are four major flexible point programs:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

Sometimes these points can be redeemed for cash back via their respective card issuers or to buy merchandise or travel outright. I feel the best use of these points is that they can be transferred to airline miles and hotel points, sometimes at a significant bonus.

Flexibility Is Key

The ability to transfer points to other programs is an amazing value for several reasons:

  • Most airline miles and hotel points expire after a period of account inactivity (it’s easy to get around this). You can transfer points to an an airline or hotel loyalty program to reset the clock.
  • Sometimes a particular airline or hotel doesn’t have availability on the dates you need. If you had a huge stash of miles in a single program, you wouldn’t be able to use them. With flexible points, you could transfer points to a program of  your choice that has availability rather than be locked in to a single program.
  • Loyalty programs can change the amount required for a flight with little or no notice. If you had been saving up American miles for a trip to Europe for 50,000 and all of a sudden they changed to terms to make that same flight cost 60,000, there’s little you could do except wait to save 10,000 additional miles. If you were saving up Starpoints, you could just transfer 50,000 points to Delta instead, and take the flights with them.
  • With Starpoints, in many cases 20,000 Starpoints will transfer into 25,000 miles, essentially netting you 5,000 free Starpoints on these transfers.

I’ve written basic primers on how to transfer points from AMEX Membership Rewards , Chase Ultimate Rewards , and SPG Starpoints . The process is quite easy and in many cases the transfers are instantaneous, although sometimes it takes a day or two for the points to transfer over.

Highlights of Selected Partners for Flexible Point Programs

  • American Express Membership Rewards: British Airways, Delta, Frontier, Jetblue, Virgin
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: British Airways, Southwest, United, Hyatt, Marriott
  • Citi ThankYou Points: Hilton
  • Starwood Starpoints: Alaska, American, British Airways, Delta

At the end of this step:

  • You’ll know the four flexible point programs available
  • You may have an idea which flexible point programs may be right for you to accumulate points in, based on your closest hub airports