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What to do with small points and miles balances

Aug. 02, 2020
6 min read
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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)

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 image by Getty Images

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  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
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Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees