Beginner’s Guide: Flexible vs Fixed award currency

Beginner's Guide

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Beginner’s Guide: Flexible vs Fixed award currency

Earlier in the week I wrote an article illustrating the concept of viewing Points and Miles as currency. The point of that article was to shape your thinking.  If you think of the points and miles that you have accumulated as having value akin to a currency that you would carry in your wallet, you’re far more apt to seek their best value.  Today we will discuss various types of award currency: flexible vs fixed award currency; how to prioritize them, and introduce a new term called static award currency. I’m going to try and make this as simple as possible.

So what in the heck is flexible vs fixed award currency? Static award currency?

Flexible award currency:

  • award currency that can be converted/transferred through a medium of exchange into another currency for redemption.
  • flexible currency is valued higher because it has multiple options for transfer and redemption
    • Depending on the award currency you transfer into, the relative value of your points can change.
  • examples: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thank You, American Express Membership Rewards, SPG Starpoints

Medium of exchange is a fancy way of saying the thing that facilitates you exchanging points for something you want. Usually with flexible currencies you want to exchange them for points in a partner program like: Delta, American, United, Hyatt, etc etc. to take UBER fancy BALLER flights. Flexible programs allow you to exchange into fixed programs.

Fixed award currency

  • award currency that can only be redeemed through one medium of exchange
  • That exchange may allow you to use those miles outside the member program, but you have to use their medium of exchange for redemption
    • example: Use AA miles for partner flights, but must use their medium and their pricing scheme.
    • Using AA miles for a hotel redemption but done through their medium of exchange
      • usually this value is far less than the value if used within their program
  • examples: Airline and Hotel programs

and I’d like to introduce a new type of currency

Static award currency

  • The points you earn equate to a static value and only that value.
  • Reward currency that gives you a fixed value that you can redeem based on.
    • Flexpoints: $0.02 per point for travel.
      • example 40,000 gets you a fixed value of $800
  • Cash Back cards that give you a fixed rate of return on spend.
    • example: Spend $100 get $2 back.

So what’s the difference between fixed and static? Seems like they are the same thing.

With a fixed currency you are bound to that “medium of exchange” or the universe in which your points live. You can use American miles for more things that just American flights so they aren’t really “fixed” per se, but rather fixed to the apparatus that allows their exchange. You can then value them for yourself, if it’s worth spending 50k AA miles for a coach ticket last minute, you can do so. Or, you can use those miles for a business or first class ticket that gives them a much higher valuation.

Static points are given one valuation. With US Bank Flexperks, for example, you can redeem your points for a variety of different flights across airlines, but they are always going to be valued at $0.02 per point. It doesn’t matter if it’s first class, coach, last minute, etc – they’re worth $0.02.

Using Aa as an example: You can use AA points for partner flights like I did with Etihad and soon will do with Air Berlin. You can even use them for hotels. However you decide to use them, and what they are ultimately valued at per point, is up to you.

I prefer flexible currency. Because they make dreams come true 😉

There are merits to earning every kind of award currency, but I prefer flexible vs fixed vs static. When you accumulate flexible currency you are giving yourself the most possible options when it comes time to redeem them. Aside from SPG ( which will be phased out most likely next year) all of the most valuable flexible currencies are from credit cards points. These points will allow you to transfer into their partner programs:

American Express Membership RewardsChase Ultimate RewardsCiti Thank YouSPG
AirlinesAeroMexicoBritish AirwaysCathay Pacific Aegean
Air CanadaAirFrance ( FlyingBlue)EVAAeromexico
AlitaliaKorean AIrEtihadAeroplan/Air Canada
ANASingapore AIrAir France/KLMAir Berlin
British Airways ( 1.25:1)SouthwestGaruda IndonesiaAir China
Cathay PacificUnitedMalaysia AirAir New Zealand 65:1
DeltaVirgin AtlanticQantasAlaska
El AlQatarAlitalia
EtihadThai American
Air France: Flying BlueVirgin America 1:2Asia
Hawaiian Virgin AtlanticBritish Airways
Iberia (14:1)China Eastern
JetBlue (1.25:1)China Southern
Virgin America (2:1)Emirates
Virgin AtlanticEtihad
HotelsChoiceHyattHiltonAir France/KLM
Hilton (1:1.5)IHGGOL
Starwood (3:1)MarriottHainan
Korean Air
Miles and more
Saudi Arabian
Untied 2:1
Virgin America
Virgin Atlantic


As you can see from the chart there are a lot of programs that you can transfer your points into. You can use this transfer “medium of exchange” to then use the transfer partners’ program to redeem through their “medium of exchange:” Their award charts.

When I say ‘Medium of Exchange’ I’m referring to the market place that the points program has laid out for you. In the case of American Express I’m referring to the rate their points transfer into their member programs. Once they are transferred into the member program you will use that program’s ‘medium of exchange’ or their award charts for redemption.

An example. You want to use points to fly on Lufthansa First Class from ORD to FRA. Let’s say it’s $7000 for the ticket

  • You have 150k United, 100k Amex, 100k Chase UR
    • You have 1 fixed currency ( United ) and 2 flexible currencies ( Amex and Chase UR.)
    • Since Lufthansa is a member airline of Star Alliance you can book it with a partner
      • United would charge you 110k points for the flight or $0.064/point
      • Aeroplan would charge you 70k or $0.10 per point.
    • Since American Express is a flexible currency you can use their medium of exchange to transfer into Aeroplan 1:1
      • Once your Amex points have been converted you now use Aeroplan charts for a ‘medium of exchange’ to use your Aeroplan points for the ticket.
        • You can book it then for 70k Aeroplan.
  • If you only had United miles and United branded credit cards, you would have ended up paying a hefty premium and received less value for your points. $0.064 vs $0.10.
  • If you only had American Miles…you’d be screwed and couldn’t take this flight. Diversify YO SELF!

Always collect Fixed currency too. Again, DIVERSIFY YOSELF

Just because I don’t think Fixed currency is the most valuable currency doesn’t negate it’s worth and necessity. You should be collecting every single currency that you can. Loyalty programs are giving you something back…collect it! It will mean that your flexible currency will go further because of it. In the above example, if I already had 10k Aeroplan it would have meant that I didn’t need to transfer 70k Amex and instead could have transferred 60k, thus saving 10k Amex for another redemption…maybe on Delta or Virgin, etc.

I have many co-branded cards that only earn fixed currency: United, AA, Delta, etc. I just don’t prioritize those cards for my everyday spend. I get them for the sign ups bonus and then keep them if the benefits of the card are more valuable than the annual fee.

My goal is to keep earning fixed currency so when it comes time for redemption I don’t have to transfer as much flexible currency into that program. The goal is to stretch all of your various award currencies as far as you can.

Why I personally don’t like Static Currency

The biggest reason is that I prefer aspirational travel. Flexible and Fixed award currency bring that level of travel into reality. There are so many ways to accumulate thousands and thousands of points. It’s not simply flying, in fact, I’ve earned far more miles through alternative means than through brand loyalty. This means that accruing 57,500 AA miles for a business class ticket is easily within reach. But that ticket may cost 4 or 5 grand that I just wouldn’t pay for with my own money.

If those AA points were static in value at $0.02 I would only have $1150 in value. Far from the value I would need to redeem for an aspirational flight like business or first class.

In the above example if you were earning static currency like cash back or U.S. Bank flexpoints you’d need to spend $350,000 to get $7000 in cash back or earn 350,000 flexpoints worth $7000 in value. That is ridiculous and something that puts up a huge obstacle to aspirational travel.

I do get the merits of Static currency.

Cash is king. Cash is fungible and entirely liquid. Unless the US turns into Venezuela, Zimbabwe, or Argentina, your cash will be much easier to use than points that are tied to a specific market place or medium of exchange. But that’s what makes this hobby so much fun. ( Don’t kill me Brian Cohen of The Gate – I mean no disrespect 😉 )

I may have different goals than you do:

You may want to apply 2% cash back on everything you purchase and get a more universal use out of your award currency. I, however, would rather fly like a Baller and see parts of the world that would be out of reach otherwise.


A slight digression on the “Hobby” term.
  • Brian Cohen at the Gate wrote a rebuttal to my currency article last week. He made some great “points” heh heh and I don’t entirely disagree with what he said. The goal of my article was to shape how people looked at points and miles. I treat them like currency because they are so valuable to me. I’d like them to bring the same joy to you. He also said he was offended by the term “Hobby” – not my intention at all.
  • Many people have hobbies that they are passionate and enthusiastic towards. I don’t think it delegitimizes what we all love to do, aspire to achieve, or write and write and write about. I was a golfer for years and years until a back injury sidelined me. I could talk about stimpmeters, clubhead speed, yardages, swing arcs and every other geeked out aspect of golf. In fact, I was a 6 handicap and was pretty decent at the sport. But it was still a hobby for me.
    • I think the Rolling Stone article that Featured Ben from OneMileAtaTime may have used the term in a derogatory sense because it hinted that we were gaming the system as “hobbyists”
    • I just don’t see it that way. I love points. I love miles and I love that it opens up the world of travel to people. We aren’t gaming the system either. Gaming infers something illegal or unethical – using the rules to your benefit so that opportunity can be maximized is just smart and done in business every day.


 Affiliate link via Card Ratings

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card


The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great starter card that earns Premium Ultimate Rewards that can be transferred into over a dozen partners many of which are US based. 

Welcome Offer

60k Points after $4k spend in 3 months

Annual Fee


Points Earned

Transferrable Chase Ultimate Rewards

If you carry this card alongside Chase’s cashback cards like the Chase Freedom Flex℠and Chase Freedom Unlimited® or the business versions: Ink Business Cash , Ink Business Unlimited you can combine the points into Preferred account and transfer into hotel and airline partners

Annual fee is quite low at $95 a year + you get a 10% anniversary bonus on points + $50 hotel credit in Chase travel.

  • 3x on dining
    •  including eligible delivery services for takeout
  • 3x on select streaming services
  • 3x on online grocery purchases
    • (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
  • 5x on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards – Chase Travel Portal
  • $50 Annual Credit on hotel stays purchased via Ultimate Rewards/Chase Travel
    • The begins immediately for new cardmembers and after your account anniversary for existing cardmembers
  • 10% Anniversary Bonus
    • Every year you keep the card, your total spend will yield a 10% points bonus. If you spend $10k in a year, you’ll get 1k bonus points
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® continues to redeem at 1.25c in the Chase Travel Portal and the slew of other benefits remain in tact including primary rental car insurance, purchase protections, etc.
  • Points are transferrable to 13 Ultimate Rewards partners
  • Redeem in the Chase Travel center for 1.25 cents per point
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Suite of Travel and Purchase Coverage
    • Primary rental car coverage is my favorite

We keep an up to date spreadsheet that lists the best ever offers: You can find that spreadsheet here.

Historically 80k is a very, very good offer and hit in both 2022 and 2023. In 2021, we saw the offer hit an all time high of 100k. Who knows if that will ever come back.

Main Cast: 

Cards that earn flexible points and should be used on the bulk of your purchases.

Supporting Cast:

Cards that earn fixed points in the currency of the airline/hotel and can not be transferred at attractive rates. These cards yield benefits that make it worth keeping, but not necessarily worth putting a lot of your everyday spend on. 


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  • mark reinoso July 30, 2016

    I mix it up a bit…with 3 children and an extra 1 or 2 kids usually tagging along with my wife and I, it can get costly to go anywhere. All it takes is for me to leave my city for 1 night and I spend 1k, so you can imagine what our yearly trips to europe cost… We are gone on weekend trips a lot, at least once a month.

    I own 3 separate businesses, each with their own CC. I use AMEX a lot, PRG and BRG. I also use the SPG and barclays arrival for non bonus spend. It’s at least 30k a month spend in total, so the miles come quickly. The bulk of my spend goes on my 2 BRG and the barclays arrival, about half and half.

    We do a lot of vacation rentals…they are much cheaper than getting 2 hotel rooms, and we can also cook breakfast and lunch for the children…its much easier all around. For this I book on AIRBNB and use my barclays arrival plus, it allows me to erase purchases. I know its a card that’s fallen out of favor, but it still works for me.

    I use AMEX to transfer to AVIOS, where I book last minute and short haul flights.. I love this portion. 15k miles RT from PHX to PDX I do at least once a month, I love it.

    Despite visiting 28 countries, I have never flown first class. Its not that I don’t want to, its just that I am cheap, its probably the same reason I drive an 8 year old Nissan Frontier…but maybe one of these days you will see me in first class!

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