Is This an Option for Transferring Ultimate Rewards Points to American Airlines?

Jul 28, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards to Delta and Chase Ultimate Rewards to United. But can you transfer one of these two flexible currencies to American Airlines as well? That’s what TPG reader Alex asked us in an email…

Now that Marriott and Starwood have partnered up, it seems like there’s an option to use Chase Ultimate Rewards on American Airlines. The UR to Marriott to SPG to AA transfer should work, correct?

TPG Reader Alex

Well… let’s start with the good news, Alex. The answer is yes — if you want to turn Ultimate Rewards points into American AAdvantage miles, you can do it the way you suggested. Since Marriott is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards and you can convert Marriott Rewards points to Starwood Preferred Guest points thanks to the ongoing merger between those two hotel chains, it’s a fairly straightforward path.

And while you’ll have to wait about two days in our experience to receive that last transfer between SPG and American Airlines, all the rest of the jumps in the chain from one program to the next should be instantaneous. Since AA allows you to put an award on hold for up to 5 days, you can easily find the award space you want, put it on hold and still have plenty of time to get the points from Chase to American.

Sounds like you’re all set to go then, right? Except here’s the bad news: You probably shouldn’t do it. Because once you take into account the transfer ratios, you’re going to lose much more value in the process of moving those points all the way from Ultimate Rewards to AA than you’ll get for them as American miles.

chase cards
You’ll lose too much value if you transfer Ultimate Rewards points earned with these Chase cards to American Airlines.

The problem is that when you transfer points from Marriott to SPG, it’s at a 3 to 1 ratio. And while all the other transfers in the chain are at 1:1, the hit you’ll take at the Marriott-SPG step means that 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points will turn into only 3,333 AAdvantage miles. Based on TPG’s most recent point valuations, Ultimate Rewards are worth 2.2 cents apiece, while AAdvantage miles are worth 1.4 cents each. So while those 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth $220 at the start, the 3,333 AAdvantage miles you end up with are only worth $47. That’s a pretty enormous 79% loss in value.

Even if you add in the 25% bonus you can get by transferring SPG Starpoints to partners in batches of 20,000 points, the math only improves slightly. In that case, 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points worth $1,320 end up becoming 25,000 AAdvantage miles worth $350. That 73% decline is nearly as bad.

And don’t forget that you can always transfer Ultimate Rewards directly to British Airways Avios and use them to book American flights since both airlines are One World partners. That can often be an even better way to book AA flights than using AAdvantage miles, since British Airways uses a distance-based chart that offers shorter domestic US routes for as low as 7,500 miles one-way.

So as you can see, Alex, while it’s possible to turn Ultimate Rewards into AAdvantage miles, it’s not recommended, as you can find a lot of better redemptions to make with those Chase points. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image courtesy of SAUL LOEB/Getty Images.

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