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At the end of February I traveled to Rio de Janeiro and Buzios, Brazil. I’m a huge fan of Brazil and have traveled it more than any other country. The image above is from Buzios.

Using a sweetspot on the Etihad award chart, I flew roundtrip between Buenos Aires and Rio on Brazilian airline GOL for 18,000 Membership Rewards + taxes. Cash tickets are notoriously expensive between the two cities, so the value per point I got was over three cents. And 18,000 Membership rewards is a lot less than what I would have paid transferring to Delta and booking the same award space (25,000 Membership Rewards + taxes). Etihad is not in the SkyTeam Alliance like GOL and Delta are, but Etihad is a non-allied partner of GOL.

Read more about sweetspots on Etihad’s distance-based award chart flying GOL in South America if you travel down here (I’m based in Buenos Aires) in South America often.

As we were planning on traveling together, I took a look at my boyfriend’s balances of miles and points to plan his best move for getting on the same GOL flights with me. He had enough Membership Rewards to book one-way on GOL with Etihad miles, but not enough for both directions. He had enough ThankYou Points–also transferrable to Etihad–to book both directions.

Choosing Between Points

My general advice and thought process is when you have various point balances to choose from to book award space is that it’s best to choose the point you value the least to spend.

For example, I value Citi ThankYou Points at 1.9 cents each, and Membership Rewards at 2 cents each. The GOL award space we wanted to book cost 18,000 Etihad miles. Both Membership Rewards and ThankYou Points transfer to the Etihad Guest program 1:1, so it would cost 18,000 Membership Rewards or 18,000 ThankYou Points to book. Would you rather spend $342 (18,000 x .019) or $360 ($18,000 x .02)? If we had been booking this trip more than a week ahead of time, then the answer is obvious. But we weren’t.

Without thinking very much about it, I hastily told him to transfer 18,000 ThankYou Points to Etihad Guest for booking the GOL award space. And then a few minutes later it hit me that the outright value of the points was not the only factor I should be considering.


Not all point transfers are instantaneous, and if you’re either…

A. trying to book scarce award space, or

B. booking an award very close to the departure…

…then average transfer times need to be considered.

Thankfully I had time to stop him before he had transferred all those ThankYou Points to Etihad. The average transfer time between Citi ThankYou Points and Etihad Guest is anywhere from one to twelve days! Remember, he also had Membership Rewards. The average transfer time between Membership Rewards and Etihad Guest is instantaneous.

The return award space probably wouldn’t have been a problem as it was three weeks out from the day we wanted to fly back to Buenos Aires from Rio, and there was plenty of award space on various flights. But the outbound was only seven days out. It could have very well taken longer than seven days for his ThankYou points to show up in his Etihad Guest account.

Me hiking in Buzios. Photo credit: Sarah Page Maxwell
Me hiking in Buzios.

Amended Instructions

I told him to transfer 9,000 Membership Rewards to Etihad for booking the outbound award space, as that was only seven days away at the time, and to transfer 9,000 ThankYou Points to Etihad for booking the return at a later point.

He transferred his Membership Rewards late that evening, and upon waking up the next morning the Etihad miles were there to book the flight (they probably showed up at some point when he was sleeping–or maybe even right after, I don’t think he checked). The ThankYou Points showed up in his Etihad account about 11 days later. There was no issue booking the return as there were still options at that point.

I ended up making a similar move for myself, using 9,000 Membership Rewards transferred to Etihad to book my outbound, and 9,000 SPG points transferred to Etihad to book my return as it took more or less a week for those points to show up in my Etihad account.

Moral of the Story

There will be times when you have multiple types of points to choose from to book award space. SPG points, Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and ThankYou Points share many of the same airline loyalty program partners.

How much you value each of your points should be a major factor in deciding between which points you transfer, but it should not be the only factor…especially if you are booking a trip close to departure or the award space you’re attempting to book is a scarce resource and your travel dates aren’t very flexible.

Bookmark my series on the average transfer times between each major transferrable point currency and their airline and hotel loyalty program partners so you have them on hand as a reference when you find yourself in a similar circumstance.

If there is a specific foreign program you utilize often for travel that you cannot earn miles for directly, then consider historical average transfer times between the different point types and that mileage program. Go after points that transfer quickly. Sweating out the wait time and refreshing your mileage account and the award space search results every few minutes is not fun.

Have you ever jumped the gun on transferring points and regretted it later?

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