Beginner’s Guide: Transferable vs. Fixed Credit Card Points

Here are the steps for AMAZING travel experiences:
1) Earn points (and miles)
2) Redeem those points

Simple, right? Welllll…in theory, yes! But if you’re just starting, this can be a confusing hobby.

My Job Is Simplicity

Have you ever taken a class in school and thought “It’s the first day and I’m lost already! Should I walk out now…or just not show up tomorrow?” That’s NOT how I want you to feel.

My job is to give you a foundation so when you’re enjoying the sun on the beach in Fiji, you can say “…that wasn’t so hard after all. That 1tattedpassport guy is pretty cool.” (Big emphasis on that last part) 😉

THE BREAKDOWN

There are A LOT of reward-earning credit cards out there and you can go crazy comparing the advantages one has over another. It can become even more confusing when you don’t have a firm understanding of the “value” each card offers.

For example, would you rather have 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points or 100,000 Capital One Venture Miles? Based off the number, you may think they are the same, but they are significantly different. Without adequate details, it can be difficult to determine which one has more “value.”

To add a bit more complexity…do you want a credit card that earns retail points? Hotel points? Airline points? Fixed points? Transferable points? Cash back? Yeah, I saw your eyes just glaze over. Information overload, huh!?

The Difference: Fixed-Value Points vs. Transferable?

Fixed-value points are assigned a value, typically 1-2 cents per point, and you can redeem those points against the cash price of a ticket or service.

For example, if you have 100,000 points and they are assigned a value of 1 cent per point, the value is $1,000. You can then use these points to “wipe” your travel expenses from your credit card bill where you would be paying cash.

You cannot transfer these points to airlines or hotel partners. However, these points are ideal for “wiping” any travel on your credit card (e.g. taxis, Airbnbs, hotels, cheap domestic flights, taxes for award flights, or getting a hotel room when the hotel doesn’t have award space or is not part of a rewards program).

Honestly, there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ redemption with fixed-value points. They erase the expenses that you would have been paying cash for.

Transferable points, however, transfer to airlines and hotel partners. While you can redeem them for a fixed value through their credit card portal, you can get a lot more value by transferring the points to the partners for business/first class flights and luxury hotels stays.

EXAMPLES, EXAMPLES, EXAMPLES…

Those last five paragraphs can be difficult to digest. So, as always, I have examples…

Example 1 (fixed-value points): You want silence and solitude. You find the perfect Airbnb in the hills of the Poconos and decide to rent it for a week. The total cost for the Airbnb is $580. You have two options: Pay $580 cash or spend 58,000 Capital One Venture Points. With a fixed value of 1 cent per point, 58,000 points = $580. You rent the Airbnb for $580 and then “wipe” the expense from your credit card bill using the 58,000 points. At the end of the month, your credit card bill is $0 (if you didn’t apply any other charges besides the Airbnb) and you could use the $580 that you “saved” on something else.

In this example, fixed-value points would be a great option. Because Airbnb doesn’t not have a rewards program, you can’t use transferable points (e.g. Chase UR, Amex MR, etc.) so using fixed-value points (e.g. Capital One Venture Points) would be ideal to “erase” the cost of the rental.

Example 2 (transferable points): You want to fly in Delta One (business class), one-way, from Los Angeles, CA to Paris, France (LAX-CDG) and the ticket cost $9,388.70.

Delta.com

You determine that $9,000 for a one-way ticket is a bit expensive at the moment so you search to see how many points Delta is charging for the same flight. 105,000 Delta Skymiles (below) is a bit expensive too.

Delta.com

…so you use THIS TRICK to save 55,000 hard-earned miles and still fly on THE SAME EXACT DELTA FLIGHT, IN THE SAME EXACT SEAT. *GENIUS*

Now, let’s walk through that example. First, please DO NOT spend $9000! That’s a ridiculous amount. I am using a random date to explain your different options using points.

  • Option #1: Use Amex MR (transferable pts) and move 105k to Delta. Not the best idea especially when you consider option #2….
  • Option #2: Use Amex MR (transferable pts) and move 50k to Virgin Atlantic. Excellent Idea (especially when they have a transfer bonus)!
  • Option #3: Use Chase UR (transferable pts) and move 50k to Virgin Atlantic. Equally a good idea!
  • Option #4: Use Capital One Venture Points (fixed-value) to “wipe” the $9,000 from your credit card bill. Note: This would require 900,000 Venture points. This is a TERRIBLE IDEA!!

As you can see, there are options..some better than others.

Credit Cards That Earn Fixed-Value Points

There are three primary fixed-value rewards currencies:

  • Barclaycard Arrival Miles (1 cent per point)
  • US Bank FlexPerks (can only be redeemed for air travel)
  • Capital One Venture Miles (1 cent per point)

Credit Cards That Earn Transferable Points

And there are five transferable rewards currencies:

  • American Express Membership Rewards (MR)
  • Capital One
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR)
  • Citi ThankYou Rewards
  • Marriott Rewards (note: transfer 3:1)

My strategy is to earn transferable points like Chase UR and transfer to airline partners for business and first class awards, and then use the fixed-value points like Venture Miles to wipe my credit card of fees and incidental travel charges, reducing my out-of-pocket expenses as much as possible.

There are pros/cons for each program. I tend to focus most of my energy on MR, UR, and Marriott. You can cover, essentially, every hotel or airline between those three programs but find a strategy that works for you.

FINAL STAMP

The key to successful award travel is understanding the different types of reward points and how to use them for ultimate value. In the beginning (and hopefully only in the beginning) you will make mistakes. However, with a strategic plan, you will be able to achieve your travel goals without spending thousands of dollars.

Again, this post should serve as a foundational building block for understanding. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. I’m here to help.

Transferrable vs. Fixed…which currency is your favorite? What’s your points strategy?

This post in part of my “Beginner’s Guide.
Continue the series with Step 8 –>>

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