Don’t Transfer Your Points!

Filed Under: Awards, Credit Cards
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Or at least not until you have a specific itinerary in mind, know confirmed space is available, and are ready to actually book your tickets!

In the past two days we’ve literally had over a dozen people contact our award booking service with some variation of “I just transferred all my Membership Rewards/Ultimate Rewards points to ____ and I think that was maybe a mistake?”

And while it’s not a mistake, it certainly makes things more complicated.


Be strategic about points transfers to secure the best airline products

Why accrue transferable points to begin with?

As I mentioned the other day, if you’re looking at travel to a particular destination there are often dozens of potential airline programs for you to redeem miles through. And the beauty of a transferable points currency (and why those points are so much more valuable to me) is because of that flexibility.

It’s awesome how interconnected airlines have become over the past 15 (or so) years. Prior to that there were no global airline alliances, and you could redeem your miles for travel on the carrier with which you were banking miles, and in some cases a handful of partners.

Nowadays if you have a transferable points currency you can redeem miles for just about any airline in the world.

The main flexible points currencies are American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou® points.

Being able to transfer points to different programs is valuable for a few reasons, in my opinion.

Transferable points currencies are valuable for hedging against devaluations

A transferable points currency is akin to investing your money vs. storing it under your mattress. Yes, the value of transferable points currencies can fluctuate. But that’s a good thing.

Sometimes they lose partners or their partner programs devalue, while other times they add more transfer partners or their partner programs open up new redemption opportunities. Most importantly though, if an airline-specific program makes major changes to their award chart you’re insulated a bit by having your points in a flexible currency that you can choose to transfer to another program instead.

Transferable points currencies often have overlapping transfer partners

This is a good thing, because it means you can combine points from multiple flexible points programs into one airline currency when you’re ready to redeem your miles.

Just look at all the potential transfer partners here:

American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partners

Earn Membership Rewards points
AirlinesHotels
Aer Lingus Aer ClubChoice Privileges
AeroMexico Club PremierHilton Honors
Air Canada AeroplanMarriott Bonvoy
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Alitalia MilleMiglia
ANA Mileage Club
Avianca LifeMiles
British Airways Executive Club
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Delta SkyMiles
El Al Matmid
Emirates Skywards
Etihad Guest
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
Iberia Plus
JetBlue TrueBlue
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

Earn Ultimate Rewards points

AirlinesHotels
Aer Lingus Aer ClubIHG Rewards Club
Air France/KLM Flying BlueMarriott Bonvoy
British Airways Executive ClubWorld Of Hyatt
Iberia Plus
JetBlue TrueBlue
Singapore KrisFlyer
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
United MileagePlus
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Premier Citi ThankYou Transfer Partners

Earn Citi ThankYou® points

AirlinesHotels
Air France/KLM Flying BlueN/A
Avianca Lifemiles
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
Etihad Guest
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
Jet Airways JetPrivilege
JetBlue TrueBlue
Malaysia Airlines Enrich
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Qatar Airways Privilege Club
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
Turkish Airways Miles & Smiles
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Transfers are typically fast

American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfers are rather quick, and even instant in many cases. Citi transfers can potentially take a few weeks, depending on the program you’re transferring to, but I still wouldn’t make speculative transfers.

When you do transfer points, have a plan

Even if you are interested in a transfer partner that takes more time (say to Singapore KrisFlyer), you can still be strategic about your transfer:

  • Find a route with award space that works for you
  • Find a second, back-up option you’re comfortable with in case the first routing is gone by the time the points transfer
  • Confirm your understanding of routing rules and fuel surcharges so you’re not surprised at the time of ticketing
  • Hold the award, whenever possible
  • Pay close attention, so you can book as soon as the miles have posted

Bottom line

Making speculative transfers is risky, and can cause you to miss out on opportunities to redeem your miles. One couple that contacted us this week would have been able to take advantage of perfect space in Singapore Airlines business class — except they’d already transferred all their Membership Rewards points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

Anyway, just something on my mind this week, so thought I’d share a reminder!

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Comments
  1. You have to do more postings like this one. Many bloggers are quite reckless in their pursuit of referral fees by pushing people to credit card offers without explaining how to properly use the miles earned. I know it might hurt your award booking service to explain the ins and outs of the most efficient ways to use miles, but never doubt how lazy people are when it comes to looking for reward flights!

  2. While most transfers are instant, with AMEX at least, if you’re even just thinking about transferring points to an airline frequent flyer program, you should “link” your Membership Rewards account with that program. The linking process itself can take a day or two sometimes, but once they’re linked you should be able to make almost instant transfers.

  3. It might be worth considering the risk of banks (especially Chase) shutting down your accounts and seizing all of your transferable miles in the process. Once they are transferred out out, they are safe. I like to periodically diminish the balance to likely destinations (e.g. UR -> United) to keep the balance large enough so I have options, but not so large that I’d be devastated if they disappeared.

  4. Basically, if you do -any- kind of manufactured spending with Chase, even the occasional gift card, you should think about not heeding this advice. Flyertalk is littered with threads where people have had their UR points frozen and seized by Chase. I transfer out all of my UR points every statement period.

  5. Great post, wish I knew this when I started as it still haunts me that I transferred AMEX MR into Continental with Hawaii in mind and redeemed for merchandise (eek!) and then life got in the way and mergers happen, now I have those miles in United and have paid to keep them alive as I’ve never flown United from PHL. A very costly error on my part – lesson learned.

  6. This is a great post. I just almost experienced this issue. I called AmEx Membership Rewards to have them process a payment for me and push through the Rewards points immediately, so I could use them to book a FlyingBlue Promo that was ending that day. AmEx MR rep very nice, said she’d call me at 4:00 pm so I could have Flying Blue on other line and I’d know flight availability was there. (Rewards rep didn’t call back, but that wasn’t the main problem; she misunderstood and pushed through points but not payment (I didn’t know they could do that.). So I thought AmEx bill was paid ahead of time, but it wasn’t, as I found out night before last, and they froze my card, although I’ve been a cardholder since 1976 and I had Membership Rewards pulling the tape of the call.)

    But, Flying Blue discontinued promo early on last day, despite documented problems on their web site (cityname vs citycode pulled diff results). Wouldn’t book it when I called, said I had to do so online, but I couldn’t. Very poor customer service from Flying Blue (I sent them screenshots, they sent me form letter, I countered points in form letter, they sent me SAME form letter). KLM and Air France and Air France US Twitter accounts tried to help, told me that half of promo seats were taken, so half were still available! but they ended promo early. (And they weren’t aware that Membership Rewards transfer can go through quickly.)

    I was REALLY glad I hadn’t transferred the Rewards points, because I’d have been out of luck. (By the way, AmEx customer service doesn’t know Membership Rewards can process current payment.)

    So, another lesson is, take advantage of Flying Blue Promo offer BEFORE last day. I’ve seen post that indicated same thing happened to him on last day. (It was still before end of day on French or Holland time, by the way.)

    I did deal with one Membership Rewards rep who was fantastic, but couldn’t really fix things. I wasted a day and a half on this and was worse off than when I had started.

  7. Does this make Chase Ultimate Rewards points more valuable than AMEX SPG points because of the ease of transfer even though the earnings rates are not as good?

  8. This is a great post. I was under the impression that hoarding miles in one account would be a good idea, but you gave me a better idea. Thanks Lucky.

  9. @ WhatWdJamesDo — Yes and no. For instant transfers they definitely are, but at the end of the day you essentially earn 1.25 miles per Starpoint when transferring in the right increments, so Starpoints can be worth more. And they can also be useful for hotel redemptions.

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