Sunday Reader Question on Consolidating Frequent Flyer Accounts

Nov 13, 2011

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TPG reader Jeff writes:

“I have points on gazillions of airlines – probably enough for free flights on many – but am wondering if there is a good way to consolidate? Just moved to silver status on US Airways – but no status on others. I registered on points.com but seems like there are high fees for transferring from one program to another …”

In an ideal world, you would be able to freely and instantly combine all of your frequent flyer accounts with ease. However, for a multitude of reasons, that’s not possible (if it was everyone would collect easy to accrue points like Delta SkyMiles and then transfer them into valuable United miles).

Points.com is an option, though not a very lucrative one. They have two “markets” for exchanging miles: 1) A market between points.com users where they charge a fee of each transaction and 2) Swapping/consolidating points with yourself, where they just charge you horrendous exchange ratios (you are basically paying for it by agreeing to get rid of your miles, which I assume in turn points.com gets paid by the loyalty programs for getting miles (liabilities) off their books. For example they will allow you to exchange 6,234 valuable Alaska miles to get 1,000 measly Delta SkyMiles. Uh, no thanks.

Points.com exchanges ifor Delta SkyMiles

So what do you do if you have scattered balances?

My best suggestion would be to:
1) Track them all on a site like Award Wallet or Using Miles so you see what’s in front of you. People are often surprised when they see everything from a big picture perspective.
2) Build up your small balances
a) Sign-up for dining programs
b) Use shopping portals
c) Credit your miles when flying a partner airline. For example if you are trying to build up your US Airways miles and have an upcoming United flight, accrue miles towards your US Airways since they are alliance partners (Note: If you are trying to attain elite status on United, this isn’t a good idea).
d) Buy miles. Usually this doesn’t make much sense, but if you can get a 50-100% buy miles bonus and you are only a short way from an award, this option can make more sense than needlessly letting the miles expire or using them recklessly.
e) Transfer miles from a transferable points program. This is why I accrue points into Chase Ultimate Rewards (via Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards) and American Express (via my Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold). You can also transfer hotel points, though Starwood generally has the best ratio – giving a 25% bonus for every 20,000 miles you transfer to most of their partners (unfortnately not United/Continental).
f) Get a credit card. If you are trying to make a small balance meaningful, a nice sign-up bonus can take your balance from worthless to ultra-valuable in no time. For example, the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex will give you 30,000 miles when you spend $500 (plus a bunch of other benefits like priority boarding and free checked bag) and the Continental OnePass Plus and United MileagePlus Explorer cards give 25,000 miles on first purchase, 5,000 for an additional cardholder and 10,000 every year you spend $25,000. Almost every airline has a co-branded credit card and some are better than others, so do your research before jumping into anything. Feel free to check out my Top Deals page for a rundown of my picks of the best cards.
g) Combine your miles. Some airlines, like British Airways with their Household Accounts, will let you pool miles with other family members. Most US programs do not allow this.

Overall, there are a lot of ways to boost your balances and if you are new to the miles and points world, I suggest taking some time and making sure you have an effective strategy in place. My Beginners Guide should give you some good tips for a starting point, but feel free to ask any burning questions in the comments section!

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