This is a quick guide on how points and frequent flyer miles transfers and redemptions work. As with anything, you can always dive deeper, but this is a great place for beginners to learn the basics!
Most banks who sponsor travel rewards credit cards have their own travel rewards points programs. Chase has Ultimate Rewards (URs), American Express (Amex) has Membership Rewards (MRs), and Citibank has Thank You Points (TYPs) just to name a few.
Many major hotels like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt have their own point earning programs that can be converted into airline frequent flyer miles, but most of them have terrible transfer rates except for Starwood Hotels which have Starwood (SPG) Points (arguably the most valuable points you can earn).
Not all points are created equal, and the key to becoming a great travel hacker is knowing how to transfer and redeem the right points to get the best value you can for your trip.
The way it works is that each of the above banks and hotels have transfer partnerships with certain airlines and hotels that allows you to transfer your points into frequent flyer miles or hotel points.
Below you can see one of the best flowcharts out there for visualizing most of the transfer partners:
As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless, but by the same token it's also overwhelming!
Over time, most people begin to know which points can transfer to which programs and air alliances, but in the meantime I suggest using a site like Award Hacker which does most of the work for you!
Sites like these are basically search engines for award fares. All you have to do is input a route, some trip details (one-way vs round trip, economy vs fist class, etc), and it lets you know how many points that route costs on different airlines as well as the programs that can transfer points to those airlines.
Award Hacker is my personal favorite, but it only shows you the best case scenario for transferring and redeeming your points and miles. One of the first lessons you'll learn when it comes to redeeming your frequent flyer miles is that everything is based on availability.
Sometimes airlines roll out award availability gradually or all of the cheap award tickets are all booked up on your route. In that case, you might have to settle for a more expensive redemption, change your dates, or even wait and check back later to see if more availability opens up over time.
Below is a list of other sites that work like Award Hacker that I have found. Often times, I will use a combination of tools to find the prefect redemption for my trip, so stick with it and you will eventually find something that works for you!
Award Hacker - Flight Award Searches & Links to Programs
Pointimize - Flight & Hotel Award Searches & Tips
Award Ace - Flight Award Searches with Beginner Guides
Milez.Biz - Flight Award Calculator & Comparison Tool
Reward Stock - Reward Manager & Award Searches (fee-based)
I receive no referral bonuses or benefits from any of the above sites, so use your best discretion as always.
Learn the game, live the dream!