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Points and miles enthusiasts can usually tell you their loyalty account balances pretty accurately, but if you’re traveling with others, it’s good to have a handle on their balances as well. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explains how you can use your rewards in tandem to get the hotel awards you want.
A common dilemma for award travelers is having enough points to book the flight or hotel you want, but not having them all in the right account. Two nights at a category 9 Hilton property might cost you 100,000 HHonors points, but if you have 70,000 and your traveling companion has 30,000, booking your stay gets a bit complicated.
Fortunately many loyalty programs allow you to transfer or pool points, sometimes for free and sometimes at a cost. You can transfer between family members, domestic partners, household members, or in some cases anyone you choose!
Jason Steele recently wrote about airlines that allow you to pool miles, and many hotels let you do the same. Any opportunity to earn and collect points as part of a team rather than as an individual can give you a significant advantage. So in this post I’ll look at the pooling and sharing options for different hotel loyalty programs, and offer some strategies to help you maximize your travel rewards.
When does pooling points from multiple accounts give you the upper hand? Here are a few cases:
- You don’t have enough points to book your award: This is the basic scenario. If you can combine points from multiple accounts, then you effectively have more points to work with.
- Not everyone has elite status: Let’s say I have elite status but my wife does not. However, I don’t have enough points to book a free night, but she does. By pooling our points together, I can book our award stay under my account and we’ll be able to enjoy my elite benefits.
- You’re aiming for an aspirational award: This is similar to the first case, but there’s a difference between pooling a few thousand points for a category 1 airport hotel and pooling 200,000 points for a Marriott Flight + Hotel package. Without the ability to move points from one account to another, many of the best redemption options and top tier properties could be out of reach.
- You want to use up leftover points: If your loyalty account balance is too low for any meaningful redemptions, and you don’t anticipate earning more points with that program soon, you can share your points with someone who can put them to use rather than let them go to waste.
Pooling Hotel Points for Free
With the above scenarios in mind, here’s a look at which loyalty programs allow you to transfer or combine your points for free, along with some program specific strategies.
Accor: Le Club Accorhotel points are not transferable, but the e-certs earned by redeeming Accor points can be given to friends or family members, and can then be used as payment at their hotel.
Best Western: You can transfer points for free between Best Western accounts that share the same physical address. You must call the Best Western Rewards customer service team in order to arrange a transfer.
Club Carlson: As yet another perk that makes the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card fantastic, elite members can transfer Club Carlson points to anyone free of charge. Since the card comes with Gold Elite status, any cardholder is entitled to this perk. Non-elite members may transfer to anyone in their own household so long as both accounts are at least one year old and the addresses have matched for 30 days.
Hyatt: You can combine Hyatt points with anyone free of charge. You can only transfer or receive points once every 30 days, and you can only combine the points required for a specific redemption that is already on hold. You must complete the transfer with a Points Combining Request Form. This currently would be a great strategy to use if you have a friend or family member who has the Hyatt Credit Card so you could qualify for the current 20% points rebate.
Kimpton: With the newly overhauled Kimpton Karma program, award night certificates earned for every 7 stays or 20 nights are transferable to a family or friend. The person receiving the certificate must have an active Kimpton Karma account.
Marriott: You may transfer points between a domestic partner or legal spouse for free. Transfers must be made just prior to an award redemption for the number of points needed to fulfill that specific redemption (rounded to the nearest 1,000 points), and you can only execute one redemption per transfer. You must complete and submit an Authorization to Transfer Points form to Marriott Rewards Program Guest Services, which can be obtained by calling Marriott Rewards at 1-801-468-4000.
You can take advantage of one of Marriott’s more generous policies by putting award reservations on hold before you have the points so that you don’t miss out on space while it’s available.
Starwood: You can transfer Starpoints to anyone in your household at no cost using a simple online form. There is no limit to the number of points you can transfer, and no official verification required. A great strategy here is to take advantage of SPG’s generous 5,000-mile bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to one of its airline partners. You can simply combine points with someone in your household to end up on a multiple of 20,000 and claim your 25% bonus. Points transfers can take up to 5 days to process.
Pay to Pool
IHG: Intercontinental Hotel Group charges a flat rate of $5 per 1,000 points transferred. There’s a maximum of 50,000 points per transaction, which translates to a cost of $250 for a free night at a top level IHG property. I wouldn’t recommend this in general, but it’s a helpful option to have if you just need a few thousand points to top off an account for a specific redemption.
Hilton: You can transfer in increments of 5,000 points up to a maximum of 200,000 points per year. Both HHonors accounts have to have been active in the last 30 days in order to qualify for a transfer. Transferring points costs $12.50 per 5,000 points, and transfers take up to 72 hours to be available in the receiver’s account.
No Transfers Allowed
Choice, Wyndham, and La Quinta do not allow points to be transferred. Choice and Wyndham state this explicitly in their respective terms and conditions. While La Quinta does not, you do have the option to buy points for another person’s account, which leads me to believe that no free transfer option is available.
Sharing and pooling is allowed in varying degrees within the major flexible points programs (like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards). However, flexible points are generally worth more than hotel points, so this shouldn’t be your first choice.
One other strategy to “share” rewards is to book a reservation using your account and points, and add another name to the reservation. Even though you won’t be present, you can often include someone else as a 2nd guest, who will then be able to check in and stay without you. I have done this successfully in the past, but I’ve also had it blow up in my face. For example, I booked a stay for friends using one of my previous Marriott MegaBonus certificates, but the front desk would not check them in without me, and they ended up having to pay for the night. I was also unable to have the MegaBonus certificate returned to my account, so we both lost out.
As you can see, the majority of worldwide hotel loyalty programs surprisingly allow you to combine points at no cost. This is a huge advantage over the relative stinginess of most airline programs, and it gives you options to maximize points within your household or circle of friends when you pool your balances together.
Have you combined points balances to book an aspirational hotel stay? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.