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This is the fifth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Transferable points programs are loyalty programs that allow a person to earn points that can be transferred to several different airline or hotel programs. The three most important transferable points programs are:

  • American Express Membership Rewards (MR)
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Starpoints

Transferable points are extremely valuable for the two types of flexibility they offer.

  1. All three major transferable points programs have partners in all three airline alliance, which means you can book award space on over 60 airlines if you have Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, or Starpoints.
  2. You can use one transferable points account to top off several normal airline or hotel accounts that are just short of dream redemptions. These top offs are the highest value use of points since they take you from not having a dream redemption to having one.

I focus a lot on earning transferable points, and I am very happy when clients of my Award Booking Service come to me with transferable points.

  • How can you earn each type of transferable points?
  • What are the transfer partners for each type of transferable points?
  • What are my four strategies to maximize transferable points?

American Express Membership Rewards

American Express EveryDay, Platinum, Gold, Green, Centurion, and Corporate cards earn Membership Rewards points.

Points are transferable to dozens of air and hotel loyalty programs. My favorites, which are all 1:1 transfer partners of Membership Rewards:

There are near constant transfer bonuses, which temporarily improve the transfer ratios of certain programs.

Unfortunately there is a $0.60 fee per 1,000 points transferred to airlines based in the United States. Membership Rewards is the only program that charges this fee.

Membership Rewards can be frustrating if you want premium international travel because Delta has the worst award space of major US carrier, and the other airline transfer programs charge huge surcharges on redemptions.

There are ways around these frustrations, depending on where you want to go, but you are more likely to need my Award Booking Service to redeem Membership Rewards well than to redeem Ultimate Rewards or Starpoints well.

Your Membership Rewards can be transferred to any loyalty account that has your last name on it. If you want to use your Membership Rewards to book someone else an award, transfer them to your airline account and book your friend an award from there.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Points earned on the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus are transferable to several air and hotel loyalty programs including United, Southwest, British Airways, Singapore, and Hyatt–all at a 1:1 ratio.

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Points earned on the Freedom and other Sapphires and Inks are not transferable to those loyalty programs, but they are transferable to your other Ultimate Rewards accounts. So you could transfer your Ultimate Rewards from Freedom to your Sapphire Preferred, and then from there to United.

Chase has not gotten into the transfer bonus game yet.

Ultimate Rewards can be combined among your Chase accounts and your spouse’s. You can also send the points to your airline or hotel accounts or your spouse’s. But Chase prohibits sending points to anyone else.

I have seen accounts get shut down for prohibited Ultimate Rewards to Ultimate Rewards transfers but not for prohibited Ultimate Rewards to airline transfers. Your mileage may vary.

SPG Starpoints

While many hotels let you transfer their points to airlines at unfavorable rates, Starwood Hotels’ loyalty program is the only hotel program that offers high value transfers to airlines.

You can earn Starpoints on the personal and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express.

A complete list of Starwood’s 30 airline transfer partners is here. Notable 1:1 transfer partners include American, British, Delta, US Airways, and Alaska.

And the reason everyone loves SPG points is that you can do better than 1:1 on airline transfers.

For every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get a bonus 5,000 miles in the transfer partner’s miles. Example: If you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to American, you receive 25,000 AAdvantage miles. Thus if you transfer in exactly 20,000 Starpoint increments, all the 1:1 transfer partners are really 1:1.25 transfer partners!

For some transfer partners, the names on the Starwood and airline accounts need to match. For others, that is not a requirement. If you want to transfer to someone else’s airline account, you can always transfer your Starpoints to their Starwood account, from which they can transfer to their airline account. Starwood allows free transfers among Starwood accounts as long as the addresses on file for the accounts have matched for 30 days.

Other than the standard 20,000-points-to-25,000-miles bonus, Starwood had not offered transfer bonuses until this month’s identical transfer bonuses to American Airlines and US Airways. (20,000 points to 30,000 miles)

Now that you know about the big three, let’s talk about how to get maximum value from transferable points programs.

1. Keep you points in the transferable points program until you have an award in mind, then transfer.

Holding on to your points in the transferable programs retains your option value: you can still transfer them to any of the partners. Once you transfer, that option value is destroyed, so don’t transfer until you have an award in mind.

Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards make following this easy because points transfer instantly to most partners. Starpoints do not transfer instantly, so you have to transfer with some anticipation, but still you should hold those as Starpoints as long as you can before transferring.

The one exception to this hold-the-points approach is if you close your last Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards earning card. The points disappear in that case, so send them out first.

(This is not a worry with the SPG AMEX and Starpoints because those points are in your SPG hotel account.)

2. Make sure the award you plan to book with your transferred points is worth more than your other transfer options.

For instance, you can transfer UR points to United and Southwest. Checking the Mile Value Leaderboard, we see that a Southwest Rapid Rewards point is worth 1.43 cents. If you’re transferring to United for an award worth less than 1.43 cents per mile, and you should check that at the Mile Value Calculator, you’re probably making a mistake and could get more value from a transfer to Southwest.

3. Make sure the award you plan to book with your transferred points is worth more than your other non-transfer options.

For instance, your other best option with Starpoints is hotel stays. Many people report getting several cents per point from using their Starpoints for hotel awards using the Cash & Points option–even after its recent devaluation.

4. The best use of a transferable program is often topping up an account that is just short of an award.

If you’ve got 100,000 United miles and want to book a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe, your miles are practically useless. Transferring in 15,000 UR points to reach 100,000 provides immense value, taking you from having no ticket to having the business class ticket in hand.

This is often the best way to think about the transferable-points programs. Don’t get the Ink Bold thinking it’s 50,000 more United miles or 50,000 Southwest points. Instead pursue strategies to get huge amounts of United and Southwest miles other ways, and use your 50,000 Ultimate Rewards when you’re just short of the miles needed for an award in one of its partner programs.

I love transferable points programs for their flexibility and immense value. They should be a key component of any miles enthusiast’s strategy for maximizing frequent flyer miles.


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