How To Get the Most Flexibility From Your Travel Rewards Card

How To Get the Most Flexibility From Your Travel Rewards Card

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Capital One last week introduced a new partnership to make it easier for its Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card cardholders to maximize their travel using rewards. It’s the first of its kind in the credit card world—a credit card joining forces with a travel booking site—and it highlights the issuer’s efforts to make travel rewards more flexible, presumably to encourage you to use the card for more of your travel.

But there are other ways to make the most of your travel rewards. Here’s a rundown, starting with Capital One’s new partnership, followed by two other tips.

Book at airlines that are partners to yours

For those who carry a co-branded airline card, it’s important to get to know any airline alliances, or agreements among two or more airlines that allow you to use miles from one airline to book a flight on another. There are three major airline alliances: Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam. Similarly, Virgin America has a partnership with Delta that allows you to use SkyMiles for Virgin flights—even though Virgin is not part of the SkyTeam Alliance.

Important notes:In practice, booking flights on alliance airlines can be cumbersome. For instance, each airline decides how many seats, and on which flights, are available to those with frequent flyer miles. Some airlines may release fewer seats to loyalty members of partner airlines than they release for their own customers. It also may be harder to find available flights on alliance airlines without going to the partner websites. Last, it’s often more difficult to redeem alliance miles for flights online. Your best bet may be to call a customer service representative to walk you through the process.

Transfer card points to loyalty programs

Some general travel cards have rewards programs that allow you to transfer points to hotel and airline loyalty programs, such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Here’s our analysis of each.

American Express Membership Rewards: Four hotel groups and 16 airlines make up the Membership Rewards travel partners. ValuePenguin generally has found that you get more out of your rewards if you transfer to airlines, typically more than 1 cent a point. Booking last-minute trips is also advantageous. Most flights have a fixed awards cost based on distance and typically don’t adjust too much based on when you book. However, you may have to pay a late booking charge on some airlines.

Important notes: Avoid transferring Membership Rewards to the Hilton HHonors and Starwood Preferred programs. With both, transferred points are worth significantly less than a cent each.

Chase Ultimate Rewards: The Ultimate Rewards travel partners include seven airlines and three hotel groups. Transferring to airline loyalty programs is the best use of your Ultimate Rewards points. But you may prefer to earn points towards the perks offered by hotel rewards programs. Of the four Ultimate Rewards hotel partners, Hyatt stands out with its valuable Gold Passport rewards program.

Important notes: Transfers must be done in increments of 1,000 points. Transfers are non-refundable and points can’t be moved back to the Ultimate Rewards program. Make sure you know how many points you need for a transaction before making a transfer.

Janna is a former Senior Writer at ValuePenguin covering banking, credit cards and credit scores. She has spent more than a decade writing and reporting on personal finance, real estate and business, and has received three journalism awards for her work.

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).