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Sunday Reader Question: Does It Make Sense to Pay to Transfer Delta Miles?

by on December 9, 2012 · 10 comments

in Delta

TPG reader Dennis asks:

“My parents each have 13,000 Delta SkyMiles and want to transfer them to me. Since they don’t fly Delta very often, is it worth it to pay the $130 each, $260 total for them to transfer them to my account? 

 I just made Gold this year without any of the cards. I travel quite a bit (42 segments, 50K+ miles).  Does it make sense for me to pay for the transfer?  I know you normally use the cost per mile to determine whether or not something makes sense.  At $0.01 is this a good deal?  

Should I pay or pass?”

It really depends on how you ultimately plan to use your SkyMiles. If you redeem for awards that give you more than 1 cent per mile in value, then paying 1 cent for your parents miles to be consolidated into your account might make sense. Delta has run transfer bonuses in the past, including the amazing 100% bonus last year that essentially allowed you to “buy” SkyMiles at 1.1 cents a piece (instead of paying 1 cent to simply move them between accounts). However, if you redeem for merchandise or auctions, you’ll likely get far less than 1 cent per SkyMiles, so you’re better off not transferring them and just finding a way to drain the accounts. As a Gold Medallion, though, I’ll assume that you are more savvy than draining your hard earned miles on merchandise, but I had to mention how bad of a deal those redemptions are!

Maximize Miles, Minimize Fees
What I would probably try do is top each account up to at least 25,000 SkyMiles and then book awards from each account for yourself (or whomever you’d like). The easiest way to do this would be to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points into each account. Even though the accounts are not in your name, Amex allows you to link and then transfer your Membership Rewards points to anyone’s Delta account. Membershiprewards.com -> Points Summary -> Bottom right box -> Linked Programs -> Scroll to the bottom -> Link additional programs.

Amex does charge a small fee to transfer points to Delta ($.60 per 1,000 points, up to $99 maximum) so if you transferred 12,000 points into one of your accounts to get it to 25,000 points (a low-level domestic roundtrip award in economy), it would cost $7.20. Much cheaper than the $10 per 1,000 fee to transfer them between SkyMiles account.

You do have to figure the opportunity cost of using Amex points to transfer to Delta at a 1:1 ratio, when there are potentially more lucrative partners to transfer to like the current 30% transfer bonus to British Airways and 35% to Virgin Atlantic. Amex used to run lucrative transfer bonuses to Delta, but there haven’t been any in 2012 and I have no reason to believe there are plans for any in 2013 (especially since I think Delta is going to make huge changes soon to their SkyMiles program, though they may try to run a transfer bonus to create buzz around their new program).

You can also transfer many hotel point currencies to Delta, with Starwood being the most lucrative with a 1:1 ratio and 5,000 SkyMiles bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred. Your Delta account name should match your Starwood account name, but if your family members live in the same household (read: have the same address that you have in your Starwood profile) you can transfer your Starpoints to them for free and then have them transfer to their respective Delta accounts.

Transfer Starpoints between accounts for free

While I think SkyMiles are one of the weaker airline currencies, it is very possible to get much more than 1 cent per mile in value so I’d absolutely try to maximize your redemptions and make sure you don’t let them go unused, because there is nothing worse than getting zero value for your miles!

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • John

    I hate Delta Skymiles. I currently have almost 100K miles with them and it has been like that for almost 2 years and I still could not find a good flight that I wouldn’t feel wasteful to redeem… TPG, I thought you were leaving Delta (from your post a couple weeks ago). Why do you keep talking about these useless topics?

  • ATLJason

    My partner and I wanted to book 2 business class tickets from Atlanta to Paris. He had 86,000 Skymiles and I had 168,000 Skymiles. It was MORE than worth it for us to pay $170 (.01 per mile plus a $30 fee) to transfer 14,000 miles to his account to top it off and then each book a 100,000 mile ticket under our own name. We ended up booking 2 business class tickets from ATL-CDG (with a short layover in Dusseldorf, Germany) at the low level award mileage rate at one of the hardest times to go to Europe–the last weekend in June. This is the first time I’ve ever paid to transfer miles, but in this case it was totally worth it.

  • http://twitter.com/Peachfront Peach Front

    Once you explain to the parent, friend, etc. in question that it costs money to transfer the miles — and at one cent a mile more money than it is worth — then let’s hope they will drop the idea and get you a real Christmas gift. It might not be a gift you like but at least it won’t be a gift that costs you money. Eek. I realize that somebody with 13K in their account doesn’t realize that their “gift” is just the “gift” of hassle so it’s a dicey question but no. Not a good deal. “If” your parents can somehow get the accounts up to 25K miles and “if” they allow you to use their accounts to book your own low level award, so that you don’t end up paying a rip-off transfer fee, it still isn’t the ideal gift because of the hours you will invest booking your own gift. 25K awards are VERY few and far between these days. Can you tell I just went through this? I appreciate that the friend (in my case) was trying to give me a gift he could not otherwise award, but since it’s your parents, let’s just assume they can afford to actually give you a gift that’s a gift and not a temporary job.

    I respectfully disagree that “there’s nothing worse” than miles that go unused. We have limited time on this earth, and a gift that causes frustration and annoyance can indeed be worse than miles that go unused. Resentment is probably not the gift your parents intended to give. 13K Skymiles is, IMHO, not worth stressing about. 26K miles would only be worth stressing about if it could be placed in a single account WITHOUT the nuisance fees. As the situation stands, this is not a gift. Just my opinion, of course.

    So my vote as a Delta gold is PASS. You can earn your own miles without the fees or hassle. This is not much of a gift from a parent. Yes, my mom has already informed me that I do not have a bright career ahead of me as a diplomat. Sorry about that. I suspect you’d rather have an honest answer than a polite one.

  • http://twitter.com/Peachfront Peach Front

    The problem is that low awards appear to have become substantially more difficult to redeem since your trip in June. I don’t think he should transfer the miles UNLESS he has something on hold that he knows to be available. In that circumstance, yes, it would be worth it. But I can tell from the week I just spend banging my head on the wall that it is going to be difficult. Not something the querent should accept in lieu of an actual Christmas gifts from the parents. Again, just my humble opinion.

  • Evan

    Thanks TPG. your ‘transfer enough Amex to make the points usable’ tip is especially useful. I booked a last minute round trip JFK – PEK for 70k in October, when econ tickets were at least $1800 a piece. The actual seats I got were selling at $3500. It certainly paid off to keep options open.

  • Splp007

    I agree with john– Delta is the Pits —they have now gone back to $400+ booking fee for award travel starting in Europe to the states , for a very short time they were charging under $100 as they do for travel originating in the states — had 2 million miles with delta and have used them all up , now United is my airline of choice and have no plans to get amex cards or try to earn delta miles

  • Henwood

    Cheaper to only transfer 12K from one parent to the other and then redeem from that account for a domestic low reward for 25K. Less cost to transfer at $150 total ( $120 + $30 fee) and only 1K to expire or not. But in the end, most do get used. Or wait until there is another transfer bonus offer you may be able to double that.

  • Mason

    TGP, what would you consider a good redemption with delta miles? I just booked 4 economy tickets to Kauai at the mid level. I hated to do it until I did the math. The fare would have been over $1100 each from my airport. 4 x $1100 / 260000 miles is $0.0169 per mile. I think that’s pretty good for a domestic redemption and comparable to what other value United, US Airways or AA.

  • thepointsguy

    Totally agree- it really depends on your situation and if you can snag low/partner premium awards, chances are you are going to get much more than 2+ cents per SkyMile. Enjoy the trip!

  • thepointsguy

    I think that is a decent redemption. Not “amazing” but over 1.25 cents per mile is decent in my book. At the end of the day it also depends on how you got those miles- if you got tons through credit card signups and bonuses, then saving $4,400 on airfare is awesome!

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