Earn the “Big 3” types of points for the most flexibility

I get this question all of the time: “What are the best points to earn/collect?”

My answer is always: “It depends on what your needs are.”

I find that in the world of airline and hotel miles and points there are lots of different programs out there. Some are more useful and flexible than others. As a general rule I always recommend that everyone focus their earning on what I call the “Big 3” points programs for those based in the USA.

I define the “Big 3” points programs as:

1. Chase Ultimate Rewards
2. American Express Membership Rewards
3. Starwood Preferred Guest

Having a healthy balance (but not too much!) in each of the above programs gives you the ultimate flexibility when it comes to making travel bookings using your miles and points. With the combination of these 3 you are not “married” to a single airline or hotel chain. These points all transfer to a long list of partners. You don’t have to transfer until you are ready to book so you maintain the flexibility. All of the above points can be earned through spending on credit cards. You can earn points towards travel by using them every day!

Chase Ultimate Rewards are my favorite points to earn. They transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Air, and a couple of other airline programs. They also transfer to Hyatt and a couple of other hotel programs too. They have several credit cards at Chase that earn these points. Most people are good with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and Chase Ink Plus for businesses.

American Express Membership Rewards also transfer to a long list of partners. The most useful I find to be: Delta Airlines, Air Canada, British Airways, Air France, and Singapore Airlines. These points are earned from American Express charge cards. They come in both personal and business versions and all your Membership Rewards are pooled into a single account. They also occasionally offer transfer bonuses to partners that really help to boost your balances when needed!

Starwood Preferred Guest is actually a hotel program. They have many great hotels to redeem their points for. They are also very useful to transfer to over 20 airlines. When not using them for hotels I like to transfer them to American Airlines, US Airways, Singapore Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and many others. For each block of 20,000 points you transfer to an airline program you get a bonus of 5,000 points which works out to be a 25% bonus. I try to transfer in blocks of 20,000 whenever I can. With over 20 airline transfer partners you are bound to find a flight on one of them that will fit your needs!

If you want to further simplify the process and only earn 1 type of points my suggestion is Chase Ultimate Rewards. They cover the 3 large airline alliances and some good hotels too. They can also be used for cash back but I find I get more value from using them for travel. You can get 1.25 cents per point if you pay cash for travel expenses and reimburse with points. Everyone’s needs are different so be sure to do some math and pick the best option for you!