Sunday Reader Question: What is the Best Frequent Flyer Program for Combining Family Points
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TPG reader Jody writes:
"Which points programs can and/or should be combined together as a household to maximize travel rewards? Also, when is it not a good idea to combine point programs with other family members?"
No major North American frequent flyer program allows family members to pool their miles in a central account- at least not for free. However, most programs allow you to book an award for anyone - so if your friend wants to go on a trip and you want to use your miles to pay for it, you can simply redeem for the flight and enter their name as the passenger. However, if your friend is 3,000 miles short of an award and you want to give them your miles, you'll have to pay a fee - usually between 1 and 2 cents per mile plus a service fee. For example, United charges $15 per 1,000 miles (1.5 cents per mile) and Delta charges $10 per 1,000, but they currently have a 100% bonus which is a fantastic deal, which I wrote about here.
The main international frequent flyer programs that allow pooling of family member miles:
1) British Airways Executive Club - as long as you have the same address on file, you can create a Household Account which pools everyone's miles and then uses them proportionately every time a ticket is booked. Check out my post on maximizing Household Accounts for more info. Even if you don't fly British Airways, you can still transfer American Express Membership Rewards points (with a 30% bonus until January 31, 2011) and Chase Ultimate Rewards - along with hotel points.
2) All Nippon Airways Mileage Club has a Family Account Service option that allows families to combine their points. ANA is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
3) Qantas Frequent Flyer will allow you to transfer miles for free to family members. Minimum 5,000 to maximum 100,000 points per transfer. Maximum one transfer every 12 months.
4) Emirates Skywards has the Family Bonus Program where you can nominate up to 8 family members and you get 20% of the miles they fly.
I'm sure there are other programs as well, so please feel free to comment below if you've used another program's combine miles feature.
Beyond airlines, some hotels will let you transfer points between members - most notably Starwood Preferred Guest. Both accounts need to have the same address, but the point transfers in between are free. So, if you have a bunch of Starwood points, you can transfer to someone else in your household who can then transfer to the airline partner of their choice for free - thus avoiding the pesky transfer fees the airlines impose. This is one of the reasons the Starwood American Express is one of the most popular mileage cards. See this post for more info on Starwood transfers.
Additionally, if you have an American Express card that belongs to Membership Rewards (like the Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold) you can transfer your points to anyone's frequent flyer account. For example, Delta is a transfer partner, so you can link anyone's Delta SkyMiles account to your Membership Rewards account (go here -> Points Summary and then on the bottom right Link Additional Accounts).
Chase Ultimate Rewards (the points program of the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards) also allows you to transfer points to anyone - even another person's Ultimate Rewards Account. See more info on this topic here.
So, the bottom line is that most airlines will charge you obscene amounts to transfer miles between accounts. To protect yourself, you should have transferable points like Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards so that you can top up accounts - whether your own or those you want to help reach an award.