Can I Transfer Miles Between Frequent Flyer Programs?

Aug 5, 2015

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One of the questions we get asked most frequently about award travel goes something like this:

American Airlines and British Airways are partners — can I transfer my AAdvantage miles to Avios?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Generally, you can’t transfer points between frequent flyer programs, even if they’re partners. Partnerships usually allow you to earn miles by flying on a partner airline and redeem miles for flights on a partner airline, but don’t allow you to transfer miles directly from one airline to another.

However, there are exceptions. For example, British Airways and Iberia share the Avios program — while your points in each program remain separate and distinct, you can transfer them freely between the two so long as both accounts are at least three months old. In some cases, this can help you save on taxes and fees.

In lieu of transferring points directly, airlines allow you to use their miles to book award flights on partner airlines. For example, as an American Airlines frequent flyer, you can use AAdvantage miles to book a flight on British Airways, and the cost of your ticket will be based on the American Airlines award chart. This means that you need to follow all of American’s ticketing rules, pay any change or redeposit fees to American, and contact American with any problems or issues that may arise prior to the day of departure.

The enormous sofa is large enough to accommodate three guests.
TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig recently flew in Etihad’s The Apartment for 60,000 AAdvantage miles.

There are many reasons why you might want to do this. For example, British Airways will charge you an incredibly high number of points for redemptions in first and business class. A first-class seat on Cathay Pacific between Boston and Hong Kong will cost an astronomic 200,000 Avios, but American Airlines will charge you just 67,500 AAdvantage miles for that same flight. Conversely, an American Airlines economy flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. will cost you 12,500 AAdvantage miles each way, but that same flight costs only 4,500 Avios. As you can see, award travelers must consider not only which airline to fly with, but also which points or miles to use.

Aside from airline partnerships, there are four transferable points programs that are often heralded for the flexibility they offer: Chase Ultimate Rewards (earned with cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred), American Express Membership Rewards (American Express Premier Rewards Gold), Citi ThankYou Rewards (Citi Prestige Card) and Starwood Preferred Guest (Starwood Preferred Guest Card). These programs allow you to transfer points directly into airline frequent flyer programs, usually at a 1:1 ratio.

With each of these programs, you can transfer to airline or hotel partners, but not back. For example, you can’t transfer AAdvantage miles to Citi and then transfer them back out to Qatar Airways.

You can transfer between frequent flyer programs using Points.com, but at what cost?
You can transfer between frequent flyer programs using Points.com, but at what cost?

If you really need to transfer miles from one frequent flyer program to another, there are options, but they come at a hefty cost. Points.com acts as an intermediary to exchange miles, but the conversion rates are dismal. For example, you can trade a whopping 132,353 IHG Rewards Club points (worth $930 based on TPG’s latest valuations) for just 15,000 Aeroplan miles (worth $240). That means you lose 74% of your value by exchanging miles through Points.com in this case. While there might be some fringe scenarios where such an exchange is worthwhile (such as when you’re just short of the amount you need to redeem for an award), generally you should avoid it.

A much better way to get Aeroplan miles would be to transfer American Express Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. TPG did this recently, transferring 62,500 Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan for a Lufthansa first-class flight from Washington, D.C., to Madrid. That’s just one example, but I think it illustrates the importance of learning how to leverage airline partners, mileage programs and transferable points. The added opportunities and flexibility will help you maximize your travel rewards, so study up!

For more information, check out these posts:

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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