Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Jul 22

Are Bank Credit Card Points The Way To Go?

I’m normally not a big fan of having points just for the sake of having them (unless you got those points for free). There’s no need, for instance, to apply for a United Airlines credit card if you are never going to fly them. Thus, do you need Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Citibank ThankYou in your account? This is a question that I’ve thought a bit about, and I think the answer is yes.

What Are “Bank Points?”

Bank points are loyalty points issued by the bank that delivers your credit card, not its partner. For instance, if you have an American Airlines Citibank card, you are earning American miles. But if you have a Citi Prestige card, you are earning points created by Citibank, not one of its partners. That latter group is what I will be discussing.

Why Do I Need Points from A Bank?

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Citi ThankYou Points (TYP), Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) and American Express Membership Rewards (MR) are the rewards unique to the individual banks. So why would you need points that have no assigned value? The biggest reasons are for transfer opportunities and redemption for travel.

Transfer to Miles Or Points

Since bank cards aren’t tied to a particular partner, you can usually transfer points to one of any number of different programs. For example, I needed points to upgrade a Cathay Pacific flight. I didn’t have any Cathay points, so I exchanged Citi ThankYou points for what I needed. Having the Citi points gave me the flexibility to do so. Here are your transfer options:

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Transfer into British Airways, Air France, Korean, Singapore, Southwest, United and Virgin Atlantic. Hotel partners are Hyatt, Intercontinental, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Rewards.

Citi ThankYou Points: Transfer into Cathay, EVA, Etihad, Air France, Garuda, Malyasia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar, Singapore, Thai Airways, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic.

American Express Membership Rewards: Air Canada, Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Delta, Etihad, Hilton, Starwood.

One point worth noting: There are some awfully good airlines there, including Singapore, Cathay, the Middle East carriers, etc. And while you can often use points to fly on a partner (e.g., You can use United points to fly on Singapore Airlines.), airlines are generally more flexible about opening seats for their own miles versus a partner’s. In other words, using Singapore Airlines miles will get you a better shot at a premium seat than using United miles.

Pay For Travel

Most banks also have partnerships with major travel agencies to use their points to purchase travel directly. Book through Chase’s website and its points are worth 1.25c each. Citi ThankYou points are worth up to 1.6c each, depending on what type of card you have. Those numbers aren’t great in and of themselves, but many spending categories give bonus miles. For instance, a Citi Premier card gives you triple points for all spending on travel, while Prestige gives you triple points on hotels and airfare.. So if you get triple points that are worth 1.6c each, that’s almost a 5% rebate on all travel spend when you also use your rewards to travel. 5% is a hard number to beat.

What Points Should I Get?

The best way, and sometimes the only way, to get a bank’s points are through its credit card. American Express is easy: Their points are worth very little no matter what you redeem them for. I’d stick to the partner cards (Starwood, Delta, etc.) rather than ones that give you MR points if your main goal is to accumulate for future transfers.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Chase Ultimate Rewards card but, as its benefits remain stable and others shrink, it looks comparatively better. It gives you one point per dollar spent, with double points on travel and restaurants. If you want to use the points to pay for travel, they’re worth 1.25c each. The card comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points.

Citibank recently announced that it would eliminate American Airlines lounge access from its Prestige card, but that one still remains your best option. It offers 1.6c per point and up to triple points on certain categories. It still has plenty of other benefits, including a $250 annual fee credit and a fourth night free on any hotel stay of four nights or more.

Both cards can be found through the Credit Cards for Charity banner here (although Citi may be on a hiatus):


The Bottom Line

Bank cards can be an easy and effective way to accumulate points for a trip to be taken later. After all, you never know when you’ll want to fly Singapore Air in first class.

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2 comments

    • Mike on July 25, 2016 at 9:59 am
      Author
    • Reply

    Ouch, that was embarrassing. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • Gaurav on July 22, 2016 at 11:38 pm
    • Reply

    Think there is a typo, it’s the Premier that gives triple points on all travel to Prestige only on flights and hotels. I think it would also be good to point out that the CSP can leverage the freedom and freedom unlimited to provide a higher rate of return.

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