What to do with small points and miles balances

Aug 2, 2020

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If you’re like me, you have accounts with almost every airline and hotel chain out there. Inevitably, you may have small, leftover balances that won’t result in a meaningful redemption. But letting them expire is like throwing free money down the drain, so you want to be sure those points and miles don’t go to waste.

For starters, there are several scenarios where you may be left with a small balance, such as:

  • You’re about to cancel a credit card with its own loyalty program (e.g., Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards) and have redeemed most of the points. However, you have a small balance remaining that you will forfeit by closing the account.
  • You’ve earned a point bonus offer from a dining rewards program.
  • You’ve earned points from a random flight or hotel stay, but you have no plans to fly or stay with that airline/hotel in the foreseeable future.
    You’ve just redeemed most of your balance and have a few points left over.

Part of maximizing your points and miles is learning to extract value from them, even when the payoff isn’t huge. So if you find yourself with a seemingly insignificant balance, here’s what you should do.

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Boost your balance

The first and most obvious tactic is to boost your existing account balances to get closer to an award redemption. The quickest way to do this is by signing up for a new credit card, many of which offer large sign-up bonuses.

Another way to boost your balances is through transferable points through these four programs:

Whether it’s signing up for a new card or transferring points from your existing cards, you can turn small balances into something substantial.

Share or transfer points

Some programs allow you to share points or transfer them to other members so you can gather enough for a meaningful redemption.

However, while most airline programs offer point transfer opportunities, they can come with a hefty fee. TPG has previously covered the 20+ airlines that allow free or inexpensive point pooling. While each program has its own quirks, pooling small balances together can be quite advantageous. Notably, JetBlue is great for pooling TrueBlue points earned for up to seven members.

Similarly, you can pool points together from these hotel programs for free:

  • Hilton Honors: Allows you to pool your points, free of charge, with up to 10 other members. There is a transfer minimum of 1,000 points and a maximum of 500,000 points per calendar year. However, an individual member can receive up to 2 million points per calendar year.
  • Marriott Bonvoy: You can transfer points in 1,000 point increments to anyone for free, as long as the accounts have been open for at least 30 days. You can transfer 100,000 points and receive up to 500,000 points per calendar year.
  • World of Hyatt: Hyatt allows you to share points (and perks!) with anyone, free of charge, by filling out a point combining request form. You can transfer points once every 30 days.

Finally, you can transfer points and miles in these programs:

  • American Express Membership Rewards: while you’re unable to transfer Membership Rewards points to others, you can still share by transferring these points to airline or hotel programs. Then, you can transfer these points to authorized users (after 90 days of adding them) on your account.
  • Capital One Miles: If you have a small balance of Capital One miles, you can transfer them to travel partners or another member.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to a member of your household.
  • Citi ThankYou Rewards: Citi allows you to transfer ThankYou points to other members in any amount (particularly handy for getting rid of very small balances) up to 100,000 points per year.

Donate your points

(Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images)

Another great way to put your small, unwanted balances to good use is through donations.

Many airlines and hotels have charities they partner with to donate points and miles. Keep in mind that several do have a minimum donation requirement.

Related: How you can donate your points and miles to charity

Consider other uses

Generally speaking, you get the best bang for your buck by redeeming points and miles directly with the hotel or airline they came from. In the case of flexible points, you can transfer them to airline and hotel partners. However, there are many other uses out there:

For example, Delta allows you to redeem just 1,600 miles for 50 issues of Bloomberg Businessweek. This would normally cost you $70, so those miles are actually worth 4.38 cents apiece when used in this fashion. While Delta Skymiles don’t expire, this is a good way to get rid of a small mileage balance if you decide to focus on earning with a different reward program.

IHG Rewards has several merchandise and gift card options for less than the minimum 10,000 points needed for a free night, including $10 for either Barnes & Noble or Panera Bread at 5,000 points. TPG values IHG points at 0.5 cents each, so avoid using this option if you’re looking to unload small balances.

Know your expiration policy

While it’s generally a good idea to use your miles sooner rather than later to guard against a huge devaluation, there’s not much harm in hanging on to a small balance if the program has no expiration (or a long expiration window).

Fortunately, most other programs allow you to extend the expiration date of your balance with any account activity. Still, be sure to keep an eye on the expiration timelines for your favorite programs. While some only require activity every 36 months, others expire after just 12 months with no activity. Keeping your accounts active is useful even if you have an immediate plan for using those points and miles. You never know when a pandemic might impact your ability to redeem miles.

Bottom line

Having accounts with various loyalty programs can be quite useful, even if you only manage to earn small balances. In the points and miles game, you won’t always get the most out of every point. But if you don’t earn them in the first place, you’re sure to get nothing.

Featured photo by Tetra Images / Getty.

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