How Waiting for a Transfer Bonus Cost Us an Award — Reader Mistake Story

Nov 21, 2017

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We often publish stories from readers that illustrate how points and miles can help you get where you want to go. However, it’s important to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes, so I’m calling on you to send us your most epic travel failure stories. Email them to and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, we’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure!

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Kristen, who missed some important fine print about a transfer bonus. Here’s what she had to say:

My fiancee and I had our grand honeymoon plan all laid out on paper: a business class trip to Australia and New Zealand for three weeks in January. We read your coverage of the recent changes to United’s award chart, and since we wanted to take advantage of the Excursionist Perk between the two island nations, we knew we just had to book our award before the changes took effect in November.

Approaching the end of October, we were still short some Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to United at a 1:1 ratio. Fortunately, my fiancee received an email from Marriott offering a 30% bonus if we transferred Marriott points to United under their Marriott Hotel + Air vacation packages. The bonus would be just enough to make up our points gap. We had ​around 8​0,000 Starpoints available, so we converted those to Marriott Rewards points. After confirming with both Marriott and United that the promotion was accurate, we made the transfer and received 110,000 United miles and a seven-night stay at a Marriott Category 1 -5 property.

The United miles posted in less than two days, but the bonus miles were missing. I waited until October 30, and finally called United to inquire about the status of our bonus. Sure enough, in our haste and excitement to book the honeymoon, we neglected to read the fine print, which explains that ​​bonus miles take 6-8 weeks to post!

Waiting that long would essentially take us to the start of our honeymoon. By not reading the terms and conditions, we not only missed the window to book the flights we wanted before the changes, but also we dumped all of our valuable Starpoints, which we could have used for other awards. It’s back to the points drawing board for us.

If you don’t have enough miles for a round-trip award, consider booking one-way.

When you’re planning an award trip, you should consider not only how many points or miles you’ll need, but also when you’ll need them. Rewards may take a while to appear in your account after you earn them, and transfer times vary even when you’re moving points directly from one program to another. Sometimes you’ll receive a bonus sooner than expected, but don’t bank on it. If you give yourself enough lead time, then you can avoid pitfalls like the one Kristen encountered.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to book all your flights at once. If your miles won’t cover a round-trip award, try booking one-way awards instead. This strategy won’t always work — you could end up paying more overall, and splitting your itinerary can be risky — but it’s worth considering when you’re facing a major price increase.

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

Featured image by Tetra Images via Getty.

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