We’re often asked by readers “how can I top off my XXX miles account?” or “how can I combine miles?” An often overlooked tool is the handful of credit cards that let you transfer the points you earn from spending directly into miles of popular airlines with no fee except for small excise taxes. We have a complete list below, but before that here are three reasons mile transfer is something you should consider:
- Maximize the chances you’ll find a free ticket. By pooling your spending and points onto a credit card that lets you transfer points to airline mile programs you can have multiple options to get a free ticket. For example, if Delta doesn’t have the free ticket availability you’re looking for, you can transfer your points to American Airlines instead.
- ‘Top off’ existing mileage accounts. You may find yourself with 44,000 miles in your airline mile account, but need 50,000 miles for a reward. By having miles banked up in a credit card program that allows mile transfer, you can top off your account. ‘Gifting’ miles to friends or relatvies is also easier — you can often link the account of someone beside yourself when you transfer, letting you share your points. This works for American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Take advantage of reward values. Not all airline miles programs charge the same amount of miles — even for the same seat on the same plane. For example, ANA’s program will let you travel East Coast to Europe in business class for 68,000 miles on United – versus 115,000 miles if you redeem via United’s program. Having points in a program that lets you transfer to multiple airline programs lets you take advantage of these opportunities.
Here is a list of the programs that let you transfer points to miles at about a one for one conversion rate (little dilution), and the credit cards associated with them, with annual fees in parenthesis:
American Express Membership Rewards
Credit Cards: Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express ($175), Platinum Card from American Express ($450), Green Card from American Express ($95)
Airlines available: Delta, Air Canada, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America (1 Amex point = 0.5 Virgin America points) Cathay Pacific, JetBlue (1 Amex point = 0.8 Jet Blue), Air France / KLM, Alitalia, AeroMexico, ANA, ElAl, Hawaiian, Iberia, and Singapore Airlines. Hotels include Hilton and Best Western.
Time to transfer points: Generally instant for Delta, Air Canada, British Airways, JetBlue; others vary up to a week.
Conversion rate: 1 point = 1 airline mile
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Credit Cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card ($95), Ink Bold for Business ($95)
Airlines available: United, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Airlines, Amtrak. Hotels include Marriott, Hyatt, Priority Club (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza), Ritz Carlton.
Time to transfer points: Instant
Conversion rate: 1 point = 1 airline mile
Starwood Preferred Guest
Credit Card: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express ($65)
Airlines available: Air Canada, Air Berlin, Air China Air New Zealand, Alaska Airlines, Alitalia, All Nippon Airways (ANA), American Airlines, Asiana Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Emirates Flying Blue, Hawaiian, Japan Airlines (JAL), Mexicana, Lufthansa, Qatar, Saudi Arabian, Thai Airways, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic. Hotels include Westin, W, Sheraton, Le Meridien, Four Points by Sheraton.
Time to transfer points: Generally takes up to one week. If it takes longer than 14 days, contact Starwood Customer Service to run an inquiry.
Conversion rate: Airlines listed above transfer at 1 point = 1 mile, but you get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer.
Credit Card: Wyndham Rewards Visa ($0)
Airlines available: American, Delta, United, US Airways, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air Berlin, CSA Czech, Frontier, Spirit, Air China, China Eastern.
Time to transfer points: Varies –typically within 2 days for large US programs according to recent user reports. Officially they say to allow up to 6-8 weeks.
Conversion rate: Effectively 0.8 miles for every point you transfer. The card earns 2 miles per dollar spent, and points transfer to miles at 8,000 points ($4,000 in spending) converting to 3,200 miles.
Other factors to consider when transferring points
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- The time it takes to transfer — American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards generally offer instant or same day transfer, so you can find the award seat you want, then transfer the miles quickly to book it. Starwood can take a week or more, which may be a hassle if you have a specific date in mind.
- Consider where you already have a stash of miles. Pick a card that lets you transfer into a program that you fly most often. Chances are you’ll already have a stash of miles to build on, and this can help you get there faster when needed.
- Bonuses for transfers — Sometimes airlines will offer bonuses for transferring miles into their program. This happens most frequently with American Express Membership Rewards, and can net you substantial value for your points.
- Alliances maximize your value — Nearly every airline mile program lets you redeem for flights on airlines beside the one that hosts the miles. This is because of alliances, and there are three main groups — Star Alliance (United, US Airways, Lufthansa, Swiss, ANA, Singapore, and many more), One World (American, British Airways, Iberia, JAL, Cathay Pacific, and more), and SkyTeam (Delta, Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Korean, and more). Miles for any one of the alliance members can be used to book travel on flights operated by any other alliance member. The only catch is you can’t transfer points between airline accounts. The great advantage here is for example, with the Chase Sapphire, that offers transfer to Continental/United, and British Airways, you can book travel on every one of the Star Alliance and One World carriers.