No loyalty required: These generic travel cards get you real miles

Frequent flier miles and hotel loyalty points can be valuable rewards currency. Yet picking a co-branded airline or hotel card generally ties you to its program.

Fortunately, several cards that aren’t affiliated with any airline or hotel allow you to earn real frequent flier miles and loyalty points in various programs.

Want to see which cards your favorite hotel or airline partners with? Skip ahead to our chart. These programs’ transfer partners are always changing (most recently the Chase Sapphire Preferred added Flying Blue, and the Membership Rewards Cards added Etihad). We keep our chart up to date.

How credit card transfer programs work

Chase travel transfer partnersCards with a transfer feature often include it among a suite of redemption options in a rewards portal. So, in addition to redeeming for cash back and merchandise, you can convert your points into real frequent flier miles or hotel points and deposit them into your reward accounts with hotels and airlines. You’ll just need to open loyalty accounts with the card’s partner airlines and hotels before you make the transfer. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you could open up a frequent flier account with Southwest and deposit points earned on the card into your Rapid Rewards account.

Once the transfer has been made, there’s no going back – you can’t transfer your miles and hotel points back into your card’s rewards account.

Pros and cons of airline transfer programs

Pros:

  • High worth and flexibility: You get the high potential of frequent flier miles without limiting yourself to one program. Planning a trip? Top off whichever partner program gives you the best deal on a reward seat. Plus, some transfer partners allow you to redeem with their partner airlines. For example, you could transfer points earned with the Sapphire Preferred to British Airways and then use your Avios for flights on American Airlines.
  • You have back-up options: Prefer not to transfer your rewards to a card’s airline or hotel partners? No problem. You can still cash them in for gift cards, travel, merchandise, statement credits and more via your card’s rewards portal.

Cons:

  • Annual fee: Transferring points is a powerful perk, and it doesn’t come free. Nearly all cards with transfer partners charge an annual fee, although some waive it the first year. The Everyday card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner) is an exception, as it charges no annual fee and allows you to transfer points via the Membership Rewards Program.

  • Your points can get watered down in the transfer: In some cases, your points will get transferred at a 1-to-1 ratio: 1 reward point will become one loyalty point in the airline/hotel program of your choice. In some cases, though, you might need to burn several rewards points to get just one frequent flier mile or hotel point in return. Luckily, most programs have partners with good transfer ratios to balance out the less-lucrative ones.

Your transfer options

Here’s a quick run-down of which cards currently let you transfer into hotel loyalty and frequent flier programs:

Note: The Starwood Preferred Guest program is worth mentioning as well. We didn’t include it in our chart below, as no credit card is required – anyone who’s signed up for Starwood’s loyalty program can transfer their Starpoints. Yet, given the fact that Starwood boasts more than 30 airline partners and gives you a 5,000-point bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred, its program and affiliated credit card are worth a look if you’re trying to maximize your transfer options.

Want to search by airline/hotel program? Use the chart below (broken down alphabetically by domestic carriers, foreign carriers and hotel programs) to find out which credit cards partner with your favorite travel programs.

Credit cards airline and hotel transfer partners (updated July 2016)
Domestic carriers
Chase (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus)American Express Membership Rewards (Platinum,
Premier Rewards Gold, Everyday)
Citi (Premier, Prestige)
Diners Club (Premier and Elite)
Alaska
Delta
Frontier
Hawaiian
JetBlue
Southwest
United
Virgin America
Foreign carriers
Chase (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus)American Express Membership Rewards (Platinum, Premier Rewards Gold, Everyday)Citi (Premier, Prestige)Diners Club (Premier and Elite)
Aeromexico
Air Canada
Alitalia
ANA
Asia Miles
British Airways
EL AL
Emirates
Eithad
Eva Air
Flying Blue (Air France & KLM)
Garuda Indonesia
Iberia
Iceland Air
Korean Air
Malaysia Airlines
Qantas
Qatar
SAS
Singapore Airlines
South African Airways
Thai Airways
Virgin Atlantic
Hotel
Chase (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus)American Express Membership Rewards (Platinum, Premier Rewards Gold, Everyday)Citi (Premier, Prestige)Diners Club (Premier and Elite)
Best Western
Choice Privileges
Hilton
Hyatt
IHG
Marriott
Ritz-Carlton
Starwood
 
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