Does Amex Have Better Transfer Partners Than Chase?

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Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards are probably the two most lucrative rewards programs. They offer plenty of solid credit cards to earn you tons of points and have great transfer partners for you to choose from. But which program has the better transfer partners? I’ll take a look and choose one winner at the end.

Transfer partners

Membership Rewards transfer out to several partners and they are listed below. 

Airlines

  • Delta Skymiles
  • AeroMexico Club Premier
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Flying Blue Air France/KLM
  • Alitalia MilleMigilia Club
  • ANA
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • British Airways Avios
  • El Al
  • Emirates Skyrewards
  • Etihad Guest
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Avios
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic

Hotels

  • Choice Privileges
  • Hilton HHonors
  • SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest)

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Here are the transfer partners for Chase Ultimate Rewards.

  • British Airways Avios
  • Flying Blue
  • Korean Air
  • Singapore Krisflyer
  • Southwest
  • United
  • Virgin Atlantic

Hotels

  • Hyatt
  • Marriott
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • IHG

Since we are comparing the programs to eachother, let’s go ahead and take out all of the transfer partners that Chase and American Express have in common. These are:

  • Flying Blue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • British Airways

Note that these are three very strong programs with great redemptions and products. The fact that three of these airlines (the bolded ones) are also travel partners with Citi is huge because it makes it very easy to quickly accumulate points for their programs. Since these programs overlap with each other, my comparison will focus on what partners are unique to each program.

So now let’s see what airline partners are unique to each program. I’ll group them by alliance to make things easier to see. Here are the transfer partners for American Express.

Star Alliance 

  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • ANA

oneworld Alliance

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Iberia Plus Avios

SkyTeam Alliance 

  • Delta Skymiles
  • AeroMexico Club Premier
  • Alitalia MilleMigilia Club

No Alliance 

  • El Al
  • Emirates Skyrewards
  • Etihad Guest
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Virgin America

Now let’s take a look and see what Chase has to offer that’s unique from American Express.

Star Alliance 

  • United

SkyTeam 

  • Korean Air

No alliance 

  • Southwest

As you can see there’s a huge disparity between the programs. American Express offers more partners in each alliance than Chase does. But if you know anything about loyalty programs, it’s not about the quantity — it’s about the quality of the partners. But that’s actually what makes American Express stand out even more, in my opinion.

Star Alliance

While Chase has United, you’ll be able to book United flights with American Express partners ANA and Aeroplan, often at much cheaper rates. ANA is a hot program where you can make some of the cheapest award redemptions like 88,000 roundtrip to Europe. Compare that to 115,000 required by United. Even with Aeorplan you can get a roundtrip in business class to Europe for 110,000 miles. And while you’re restricted to roundtrips with ANA, you can book single segments with Aeroplan.

It is still nice to have United as a travel partner to Ultimate Rewards. Where United is more expensive with mileage requirements, it often makes up for it by not forcing you to pay high fuel surcharges. Still, you can get away with little to no surcharges when booking certain airlines with ANA and Aeroplan (which both allow stopovers), so I think American Express offers more lucrative redemption possibilities for Star Alliance partners.

oneworld Alliance

Outside of British Airways (which Amex also has at a 1:1 ratio now), Chase has no other oneworld alliance partner, and this is especially limiting because British Airways is a distance-based program. Meanwhile, American Express also has Iberia and Cathay Pacific. You can transfer Avios to Iberia via British Airways so not having Iberia as a transfer partner isn’t a huge loss for Chase; however, it is a headache to make that transfer to Iberia sometimes.

But Amex pulls ahead with Cathay Pacific because Cathay Pacific Asia Miles offers solid redemptions like 80,000 roundtrip in business class to Europe (with little fees on certain partners), and other great redemptions to place like South America and Australia. Although Cathay Pacific is also a distance-based program, its charts can be much more generous than those of British Airways, especially in business class, so I give the edge to American Express here.

Between ANA and Cathay Pacific, American Express offers you access to some of the best redemptions to places all around the world on Star Alliance and oneworld partners, which is huge. 

SkyTeam Alliance

Chase has a great SkyTeam partner, Korean Air. Korean offers cheap redemptions to Asia, Europe, South American, Hawaii, and several other destinations. But this is the only SkyTeam partner Chase has. Meanwhile, American Express has Delta Skymiles, AeroMexico Club Premier, and Alitalia MilleMigilia Club. Although Delta’s dynamic award pricing drives me crazy, they’ve got some decent redemptions here and there, especially considering how easy it is to accumulate Delta SkyMiles with different American Express co-branded cards. The small surcharge American Express requires for transfers to Delta is highly annoying, however.

Alitalia MilleMigilia Club used to have some amazing redemptions on partner airlines but they gutted their partner awards last year, making many awards very unattractive. They still offer some decent rates on their own program but Alitalia did file for bankruptcy this year so I’m not sure I’d want to bank on flying with them anytime soon. AeroMexico Club Premier has a few decent redemptions to offer but I don’t have a lot of experience with them.

Overall, I’d probably give the edge to Chase here. Even though they only have one SkyTeam partner unique from American Express, it’s an awesome program that I’ve been really impressed by.

Non-alliance partners

Both Chase and American Express have good non-alliance partners.

For the domestic flyer, Southwest is an awesome transfer partner for Chase Ultimate Rewards. Chase also offers three co-branded Southwest cards that sometimes come with 60,000 point sign-up bonuses so there’s some serious value to capture with Southwest as a transfer partner. Having Southwest and United makes Chase a perfect program for people who like easy and straightforward options for domestic travel. 

While Southwest is a great partner, American Express has much more depth with non-alliance partners. Unique from Chase, they’ve got El Al, Emirates Sky Rewards, Etihad Guest, Hawaiian Airlines, and JetBlue TrueBlue, and Virgin America (Although Virgin America will be lost very soon).

If you’ve been eyeballing redemptions for premium cabins like Emirates first class and the Etihad Apartment, American Express gives you the chance to fulfill your premium class dreams but at a cost.

A roundtrip award on Emirates first class between JFK and Milan (MPX) will require 217,500 miles plus ~$1,440 in fees. However, that same redemption would cost 360,000 Alaska miles. You could also book it with JAL miles for 100,000 miles but JAL isn’t a transfer partner of any program besides SPG, so it can be hard to earn JAL miles, especially if you can’t get a business SPG credit card. Thus, American Express gives you a more practical route to experience some of the top cabins, albeit at a hefty price.

Hawaiian Airlines is a 1:1 transfer partner with American Express. While they don’t belong to an alliance, they have several partners, such as ANA, American, Delta, JetBlue, United, and others. Hawaiian miles can be used for great short-haul redemptions around the Hawaiian islands, trips from the Continental US to Hawaii, and a few other redemptions.

American Express points don’t transfer 1:1 to JetBlue TrueBlue, the ratio is 250:200. TrueBlue’s revenue based system allows their points to be redeemed close to 1.5 cents per point, so if you value Membership Rewards at close to 2 cents per point, you lose value on this transfer. Still, it can be a good way to top-off your account when needed and its nice to have another domestic carrier option.

Virgin America also has a lopsided ratio of 2:1 but this transfer opportunity will be phased out in October, as the merger between Alaska and Virgin America continues to progress. I value Virgin America points a little over 2 cents per point so this 2:1 ratio causes you to lose out on some value but Virgin America does have some excellent redemption rates. Since Amex is losing them very soon, however, I won’t factor them in here.

The winner here depends on your preference. If you just want domestic travel, Southwest will be a much easier partner to deal with. But if you’re into booking some of the top premium cabins and are okay with learning how to book partners with airlines like Etihad and Hawaiian, then American Express offers better non-alliance partners.

Transfer bonuses

One thing that separates American Express from Chase is that American Express offers transfer bonuses to its partners. Not all of the partners regularly receive these bonuses but some do, such as British Airways, Iberia, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and Virgin Atlantic. When a transfer bonus coincides with a travel need, these bonuses can bring you substantial value and this gives American Express an edge over Chase.

Hotel partners

Chase has American Express thoroughly beat when it comes to hotel partners. Hyatt is one of the best hotel programs to transfer your points to because their points can be worth well over 2 cents per point when redeemed. Chase also has Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and IHG as hotel partners which can sometimes offer decent redemptions.

Meanwhile, American Express offers transfers to Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors (1,000 points = 1,500 HHonors points), and SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) (1,000 points = 333 Starpoints). As you can see, Hilton and SPG are not 1:1transfer partners. And while you receive more Hilton points with a transfer to them, their points are worth around .4 cent per point so if you value Membership Rewards anywhere close to 2 cents per point, you’re losing nearly 3X the value.

Transfers to SPG run into the same issue, lots of value lost with the transfer. For these reasons, transferring Membership Rewards to hotel partners is generally a bad idea unless you just need to top-off or there is a tremendous bonus transfer rate. 

The winner

Ultimately, these things some down to how you personally value transfer partners so the outcome can vary for different individuals. With that said, I give the edge to American Express Membership Rewards. It offers superior Star Alliance and oneworld redemption possibilities and more expansive options for utilizing partner airlines. Chase has better hotel partners and some great airline partners especially for domestic travel, but I would rather have the American Express partners if I had to choose one or the other.

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