Sunday Reader Question: Donating Miles to a Friend
TPG reader John asks an interesting question about the best way to transfer miles to a friend in need:
"I have a friend who just received news that he has stage 4 cancer. His treatment will require travel from South Florida to New Jersey. So many of us want to give away travel points from Amex, various airlines, and hotels but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to channel & pool all the points. What would you recommend?"
First off I want to wish your friend all the best with his treatment and a healthy recovery. I think it's great that you want to come together and help a friend in need and you do have a couple different options with Amex points - as long as a person has an Amex Membership Rewards account and not a Membership Rewards Express one (which is the program of the Amex Blue card). You can't transfer the Amex points directly into another person's Amex Membership Rewards account, however you can transfer your Amex points directly into other people's frequent flyer accounts. For example, you can transfer your Amex points into his Delta SkyMiles in 1,000 point increments.
To do this:
-Log into Membership Rewards and go to your Points Summary.
-Click on "Linked Travel Programs" which you should see on the right. That will expand a list of accounts that you have linked to your Membership Rewards.
-At the bottom of the list click "Link Additional Programs." Select the desired program.
-Enter the information for the account you want to transfer into and click "Link Programs."
-Once the program is linked – usually this happens instantly, but can take up to a week – you then go to ‘Use Points - airlines’ and transfer the amount. Be sure to choose the right account to transfer to. If you have more than one account linked for a certain frequent flyer program, there will be a drop down list where you can select the correct account.
If you want to pool points in smaller increments - let's say 5 friends that want to chip in to get a ticket a that will cost 25,000 points - you could each transfer the amount of Amex points you wanted to contribute directly into his Delta account (or any other airline partner). Each person will link your friend's SkyMiles account to their own Membership Rewards account and transfer the desired amount through the Membership Rewards website.
As a second redemption option if he has to take flights that aren’t available for award ticket redemptions you can choose "Pay with Points" and you can book award tickets in his name using your Amex points. The benefit here is that you can use Pay with Points to cover a portion of the ticket and pay for the rest of the ticket using a credit card. However, you cannot pool points from other people to pay for the same ticket.
Tip: If he can fly out of Miami, American Airlines has a lot of flight to the 3 airports in the New York City area and while American Airlines isn’t a direct transfer partner of Amex, British Airways is. A roundtrip economy ticket from Miami to New York requires only 15,000 Avios, and right now there's a 40% transfer bonus fr0m Amex to BA until September 27, 2012. That means 11,000 Amex points will get you a free roundtrip award ticket, which is a great value, especially since British Airways doesn’t charge last-minute award ticketing fees, so if your friend has to make last-minute plans Avios can be a great way to go.
Another option: United has a hub at Newark with great service to a lot of airports in Florida, and the airline has decent award saver availability. United is not a direct transfer partner of Amex, but Aeroplan is and it's a Star Alliance partner of United. Points transfer instantly and you can book United saver awards directly through aeroplan.com. ANA is also a Star Alliance partner and they have a distance-based award chart, but just note that Amex transfers to ANA take about 2 days.
As far as hotels go, Amex has four transfer partners but the values are not that good. Amex points transfer to Hilton at a 1 : 1.5 ratio. If you want Hilton you can read this post which explains how you can transfer Amex points to Virgin Atlantic to can get 2 Hilton points for every Amex point instead of just 1.5.
I hope this information help and once again I wish all the best for your friend!