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Flexible Points Credit Cards vs. Co-Branded Credit Cards—Don't Make This Mistake!

Would you rather have a $100 Vanilla Visa® Gift Card or a $100 gift card at your go-to grocery store? I'm sure you would agree that the $100 Vanilla Visa® Gift Card is a better selection. Why? Not only can you use it at your go-to grocery store, but you can use it at many other stores.

On a similar note, credit cards that earn flexible points are oftentimes more valuable than credit cards that earn fixed miles or points. Let's now take a deep dive into this topic so that you don't make the same mistake that many do. In this post, we will focus on Flexible Points Currencies and co-branded credit cards that relate to Award Travel.

Being flexible not only benefits us physically but it is very powerful as it relates to Award Travel
Being flexible not only benefits us physically but it is very powerful as it relates to Award Travel. Image courtesy of Wix

All opinions and reviews expressed herein are the author's alone and have not been reviewed or approved by any credit card issuer, airline, bank, hotel chain, or other entity. Some of the credit card offers and links appearing in this article are from companies from which we may receive commission or a referral bonus when you click on the link. You do not need to use our links but we appreciate it when you do—it helps support our website!

What Are Flexible Points Credit Cards?

A Flexible Points Credit Card is a credit card that earns points in a centralized account. You accumulate your points in that account based on using that credit card—or another credit card in the same "family" that also earns the same points "currency." You can subsequently redeem your points in multiple ways including: Transferring your points to a transferable partner; using the issuer's Travel Portal; receiving a statement credit or cashback; purchasing a gift card, etc.

When it comes to Award Travel, there are four big players in the field that offer Flexible Points Currencies: Chase, American Express, Citi, and Capital One. Chase has Ultimate Rewards® Points, American Express has Membership Rewards® Points, Citi has ThankYou® Points, and Capital One has Venture & Spark Miles that can be combined into one account.

Generally, the best value to be had from Flexible Points Currencies is to strategically utilize transferable partners. Each Flexible Points Program has a fixed transfer rate when transferring points to one of its partners. Generally speaking, a 1:1 transfer ratio is what yields the most value. On top of this, some Flexible Points Programs will periodically offer transfer bonuses on top of the regular transfer ratio. American Express typically offers some of the best transfer bonuses.

What Are Co-Branded Credit Cards?

A co-branded credit card is the result of a partnership between a merchant, network, and issuer. For example, one of my favorite co-branded credit cards is the United Quest℠ Card. The merchant is United, the network is Visa, and the issuer is Chase. I recently used this card for an amazing Award Travel redemption. You can learn more about this card in the following post: United Quest Card—The Best Airline Credit Card! You can apply for this card here!

With a co-branded credit card, you generally earn miles or points that can only be redeemed with the merchant. In the aforementioned example, you earn miles as part of United's MileagePlus® program. The miles you earn can only be redeemed with United; they can not be transferred to a different loyalty program.

Flexible Points Credit Cards vs. Co-Branded Credit Cards—Who Wins?

Flexible Points Credit Cards win by a landslide! Why? You can leverage your points for a better redemption. You can learn more about this in the following post: An Easy Example of How to Leverage Your Miles & Points for an Award Ticket.

Loyalty programs are constantly devaluing their respective programs. This is a sad reality for Award Travel enthusiasts. But, the old adage is a lifesaver: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. By taking advantage of Flexible Points Currencies, you are diversifying your points. If one program is devalued, use another program that gives you a better redemption.

"Stay ahead of loyalty program devaluations by using Flexible Points Credit Cards."

In addition, with Flexible Points Currencies, you do not need to use your points toward Award Travel. There is often a cashback or statement credit option. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards® allows you to "cash-out" your points at a value of 1 cent per point. Although this is not great value compared to Award Travel redemptions, it does provide a built-in "savings" account in the event you face a financial reversal or have an immediate need for cashback.

Take, for example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The current welcome bonus is 60,000 Ultimate Rewards®! You could "cash-out" all of those 60,000 points for $600. You can apply for this card here! If you would like to learn more about this credit card, please see the following post: Chase Sapphire Preferred—The Best Credit Card Just Got Better!

An Example of Leveraging Your Ultimate Rewards® Points for an Award Ticket

My favorite Flexible Points Currency is Chase Ultimate Rewards®! They have 11 airline and 3 hotel programs.

Here are the 11 airlines:

  • Aerclub Aer Lingus

  • Air Canada Aeroplan

  • British Airways Executive Club

  • Emirates Skywards®

  • Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM

  • Iberia Plus

  • JetBlue TrueBlue

  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®

  • United MileagePlus®

  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Here are the 3 hotels:

  • IHG® Rewards Club

  • Marriott Bonvoy®

  • World of Hyatt®

Now, let's look at a simple example of how you can save your points by leveraging your Ultimate Rewards® Points vs. having points/ miles in a fixed program. In other words, we will see how we can get more value from using a Flexible Points Currency vs. miles earned from a co-branded credit card. The fixed program we will use in this example is United MileagePlus®. United is also a transfer partner of Chase.

The date of departure is February 17, 2022, from San Francisco (SFO) and the destination is Singapore (SIN). United will charge 48,000 MileagePlus® miles + $19.40 in fees to fly from SFO to SIN via Tokyo, Japan (NRT) in Economy class.

SFO to SIN one-way for 48,000 United MileagePlus® miles.  Screenshot courtesy of United
SFO to SIN one-way for 48,000 United MileagePlus® miles. Screenshot courtesy of United

However, Singapore Airlines flies a non-stop route between SFO and SIN. Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer loyalty program is also a transfer partner of Chase. Let's now see how many miles will be required to redeem an Award Ticket on the same date, origin, and destination:

SFO to SIN one-way for 38,000 KrisFlyer miles
SFO to SIN one-way for 38,000 KrisFlyer miles. Screenshot courtesy of Singapore Airlines

We find a better flight for 10,000 fewer miles! It is non-stop and doesn't require a connection in a different country—something you may want to avoid when traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the fees are only $5.60!

Because this is a Saver Award, let's check another Star Alliance member—Air Canada—to see how many miles this same flight would cost for its members (Aeroplan):

SFO to SIN one-way for 60,000 Aeroplan points
SFO to SIN one-way for 60,000 Aeroplan points. Screenshot courtesy of Air Canada

Aeroplan charges its members 60,000 points + $46.10 in fees—22,000 more points than KrisFlyer charges its members!

Clearly, the best redemption out of the 3 aforementioned examples is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer's loyalty program. It requires the fewest number of miles and the least amount in fees.

Strangely enough, even though United Airlines is also a Star Alliance member, the KrisFlyer's Saver Award in this example did not show up on United's award booking engine. United has a reputation for being the go-to award booking engine when searching for Star Alliance partner availability. I'm not sure if this was a glitch but it demonstrates the problems that can arise when trying to find Saver Award space.

Your next step would be to log in to your Chase account and transfer 38,000 Ultimate Rewards® Points to your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account. You have just successfully leveraged your hard-earned Ultimate Rewards®!

If you only had United MileagePlus® miles, you would be stuck with redeeming through United for more miles and a worse route!

Flexible Points Credit Cards You Want to Have

There are many outstanding Flexible Points Credit Cards out there! Without trying to overwhelm you, I will discuss three that have tremendous potential:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. In my opinion, this is the best travel credit card for beginners. It is a premium-earning Ultimate Rewards® Points card. It opens the door to Chase's 14 transfer partners and comes with other perks and benefits. Yo