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TPG reader Darlene emailed me to ask:
“My mother-in law has a ton of American Express Membership Rewards points, and she wants to use them to send me and my husband on a vacation. Can she book the travel through her account and put our names in?”
Over the years, credit card programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards have cracked down on points transfers. I remember back in the Wild West days of points and miles, I could send my Amex points to pretty much any frequent flyer account, which I sometimes did to help friends and family top off their balances for an award redemption. Last year Amex became much stricter about those transactions, as did Chase more recently.
Darlene wants to know how her mother-in-law can book their travel using her points. The short answer is yes, and there are a few options. The first is for her to transfer Membership Rewards to her own frequent flyer accounts. For example, if you want to fly on Virgin Atlantic upper class, she can transfer 125,000 miles per ticket to her Delta account, and then book your tickets using her miles. Some airlines can get touchy with this, and will make you present the credit card that you used to book and pay the taxes/fees. So if possible, pay for the taxes and fees with your card that you plan to have with you on the day of departure.
I once booked Delta award tickets on Air France for friends to Africa, and at LAX they were asked to present my credit card. Luckily, I was in the area and we were able to figure it out, but this is something the airlines might ask you to prevent fraud, so be prepared.
Besides the possible credit card issue, most airlines have no problem with you using your miles to book award travel for someone else. In fact, some airlines (like British Airways and JetBlue) offer family accounts that let you pool your miles together.
Another option is to book through American Express Travel, where you can redeem for flights at (typically) 1 cent per point. She could buy flights for you directly through there, and those flights would count as paid travel, so you’d earn miles and elite credit. While it’s a little simpler, this option likely won’t provide as good value as transferring to an airline, but run the numbers and check for the flights you have in mind.
Finally, she could use her points to get gift cards for hotels, or book them through American Express Travel. Again, this option doesn’t offer the best redemption rates, but it could come in handy if, for example, you intend to stay at a hotel that isn’t a Membership Rewards transfer partner.
I think the best value is for her to transfer points to a frequent flyer account and book the travel for you both that way, so that’s my suggestion.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
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