Two Foundational Questions in Miles Collecting

Scott asked me to tackle two related questions he gets several times per week by email. Can you transfer your miles between different people’s accounts in one loyalty program? And you can transfer your miles from one airline to another?

When collecting miles, its easy to find yourself in a situation where you have a bunch of miles and points spread over a number of different programs. You might not have enough in one account for the award you want, so you might want to combine miles between programs or between your account and a friend’s in the same program. Can you do it?

Q: Can I transfer my American Airlines miles from my account to someone else’s American Airlines account? (More generally: can I combine miles between two accounts in the same program?)

A: Yes, but there are transfer fees above one cent per mile making this a bad idea.

Sharing or transferring American miles costs you $0.01 per mile, plus a flat $30 transaction processing charge.

Transferring 1,000 miles costs $40 or 4 cents per mile. Transferring 10,000 miles costs $130 or 1.3 cents per mile. Scott values American Airlines miles at 1.77 cents each, so even larger transfers wipe out almost all the value of the miles and should be avoided at all costs.

But let’s look at a workaround, so that you don’t have to transfer miles and incur huge fees.

Example: I want to fly roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30k AA miles in my account, and my brother has 30k AA miles in his. The award costs 30k miles each way (unless you know Scott’s trick to make it 20k miles.)

If my brother were to transfer me the extra 30k miles I need to book this roundtrip award, it would cost $330. Instead, there is an easy way to book this award without incurring the pointless charge. Keep in mind two things:

  • Anyone can use his miles to book an award for anyone else.
  • Some airlines, including American, allow you to book oneway awards for have the price of a roundtrip.

If you have enough miles, splitting the roundtrip into two oneways booked from separate accounts is an easy way to avoid the transfer fee.

I would simply use my 30k to book a oneway award for the JFK-TXL outbound of my trip…

I use my 30k miles to book the outbound…

and I would use my brother’s 30k to book the TXL-JFK return oneway return in my name.

…and his 30k miles to book the return. No transfer needed. $330 saved.

This basic principal can be applied in a number of ways. I recently booked a roundtrip award from EZE-DCA. I booked the outbound leg as a oneway using my American miles, and had someone else book the return leg in my name using his United miles.

Because tickets can be booked in anyone’s name from anyone’s account, you don’t need to transfer miles as often as you might think. That’s good news because American’s price of 1 cent per mile plus a $30 transfer fee is common.

There are two big exceptions of airlines that have bucked the mile transfer fee idea. Anyone who has HawaiianMiles with Hawaiian Airlines can transfer miles, for free, to anyone who holds a Hawaiian Airlines-linked Visa using the airline’s ShareMiles program, as Scott previously discussed. The miles sender doesn’t need to have a Hawaiian Airlines credit or debit card, but the receiver does.

Additionally, you can pool British Airways Avios with members of your household for free, as outlined by The Points Guy, meaning there is no need to transfer them.

Q: Can I transfer my American Airlines AAdvantage miles from my account to my British Airways Avios account? (More generally: can I combine one type of miles with another type?)

A: No. You can not transfer miles/points from one airline’s account to another, even if they are partner airlines. However, partner accounts can be used to book the same flights.

This is a very common question. People think if American and British are partners, maybe they can pool the two types of miles. Unfortunately you can’t pool the miles, but you can have them work together as in the following example.

Example: I want to book the same flights as the last example–roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30,000 American Airlines miles and 30,000 Avios.

I can not transfer my American Airlines miles to my British Airways account or vice versa, but I can use either type to book airberlin flights or any other oneworld partner.

I can use my 30,000 American Airlines miles to book the outbound from New York to Berlin…

I use my 30k AA miles to book the outbound…

and 20,000 of my Avios for the return on airberlin.

…and my 20k Avios for the return from Berlin and New York.

You might notice these are the exact same flights as the last example. That’s because we can use American miles or British Airways Avios to fly airberlin, and we can book flights for ourselves from our accounts or someone else’s account.

These two examples illustrate two ways to avoid transfers. Avoiding transfers is key since transferring in the first example would have been a prohibitive $330 and transferring would have been impossible in the second example.

Bonus

In order to avoid a situation where you have miles spread across a bunch of partner programs, you can simply credit all paid flights to the same partner in the first place. When booking a flight, the default setting will credit the miles you earn to the airline you are booking on. However, there is usually a drop-down list of their partner airlines from which you can select.

If you travel on British Airways for work, but do most of your personal travel on American, you can have the miles you earn on those British Airways flights and the miles you earn on the American Airlines flights all credited to your AAdvantage account. Then you won’t have to worry about having some miles in one account and some in another.

Recap

With very few exceptions, you can not transfer miles to another account within the same program without incurring excessive transfer fees. However, you can often avoid these fees by booking flights in the name of the person you were going to transfer your miles to.

Additionally, you can not transfer points across programs–even if they are within the same alliance. However, you can make partner’s miles work together by using two different types of miles on the same airline partner.

Double Bonus

Transferable points are the other big solution to the problems raised in this post. Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starpoints, and Membership Rewards keep these problems from arising, and I’ll talk about them soon.

6 Responses to Two Foundational Questions in Miles Collecting

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  5. Thanks. I’m about to travel British (someone else is booking the flight) and I guess I’m going to lose those miles since I’m not planning on flying again within a year. I also means I’ll lose all of my [much larger] American miles. What a shame.

    • Credit the miles from the paid BA flight to AA. Do this by inputting your AA frequent flyer number now online or at check in. That will keep your AA miles active and earn you a ton more.

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