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An Expensive Mileage Transfer — Reader Mistake Story

June 22, 2017
5 min read
An Expensive Mileage Transfer — Reader Mistake Story
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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there's also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I'm calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Gay, who was asked to pay a huge fee when transferring miles to her husband. Here’s what she had to say:

Like many airlines, Delta charges a fee to transfer miles from one frequent flyer account to another.

I had been hoarding Amex points and Delta miles to travel in a flatbed seat to Japan — a gift to my husband for a big birthday. I carefully watched for deals on the dates I had in mind (which were flexible by about five days on either end), and eventually found the magic combo of a good price and itinerary.

I called Delta to ask how to best transfer my Membership Rewards points to our SkyMiles accounts. Mine needed just a little topping off, while my husband's account needed a much greater boost. The Delta representative suggested that I transfer what we needed to my SkyMiles account, and then move the rest to my husband’s account from there. So a few minutes later I did just that, paying a reasonable transfer fee to Amex.

Then, when I went to move the points from my SkyMiles account to his, up popped a fee of over $900 — no wonder Delta had told me to do it this way! I freaked out, and quickly called Amex with my sob story, asking (as sweetly as I could) for them to claw back my points. While they gave me the “standard” terms, they also said that I was a much-valued customer (I have six different Amex accounts thanks to TPG) and that they would try to work it out with Delta.

After many follow-up calls, Amex was eventually able to restore the points to my Membership Rewards account. I then transferred the exact number of points each of us needed to our respective SkyMiles accounts. This took three weeks to accomplish, and by then I could no longer find the same deal I had wanted to book earlier.

Fortunately, a helpful Delta agent was able to find a similar deal in her system after adjusting our itinerary slightly. We were fortunate to end up with what we wanted, and to avoid the egregious fees that Delta wanted to charge for moving points between spouses!

Most airlines allow you to share miles with friends and family, but that "sharing" isn't always as benevolent as it sounds. While some carriers let you pool points for free, others (including Delta, American and United) charge an unseemly amount for the privilege. Fortunately, there are several easy workarounds.

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Amex lets you transfer Membership Rewards points to the frequent flyer account of anyone you've added as an authorized user, so Gay was able to distribute her rewards as needed. If you don't have transferable points, keep in mind that you can use miles from your own frequent flyer account to book awards for other people, so transferring is unnecessary if you already have a sufficient balance. If you're a little short, you can split segments of an award itinerary between your party — for example, Gay could have booked one round-trip ticket for herself and a one-way outbound ticket for her husband, while he could have booked his own one-way return separately. Just remember that splitting an itinerary comes with its own risks.

Gay was lucky to find such accommodating customer service agents — transferable points programs may reverse transfers upon request in limited circumstances, but in general you shouldn't bank on receiving similar treatment. Instead, figure out in advance exactly how you're going to earn and transfer the miles you need for a given award. Having a plan laid out will make it easier to book as soon as you're ready, and will help you avoid unpleasant surprises.

Tokyo, Japan - April 6, 2014: Sakura blossom at Kitanomaru Garden, Tokyo, Japan on April 6, 2014.
Thanks to helpful Amex and Delta agents, Gay was eventually able to book her husband's birthday trip to Japan. Image courtesy of Phattana via Getty Images.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Gay for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!