When should you take advantage of a points transfer bonus?

Holly Johnson
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Holly Johnson
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All frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs come with their share of fine print, and many make their rewards somewhat difficult to use. For example, some programs use blackout dates to limit when consumers can use their rewards points at all, whereas others use dynamic award pricing that makes it hard to get outsized value for points redeemed.

Fortunately, travel enthusiasts can use a simple workaround to gain more flexibility with their points and miles — at least the ones they earn through credit card spending. By picking up a flexible travel credit card instead of an airline card or a hotel credit card, they can earn points that aren’t tied to a specific program and can be transferred to multiple airlines and hotels instead.

Take credit cards that earn points in the American Express Membership Rewards program as an example. This program earns points that transfer to 18 different frequent flyer programs (at the time of this writing) and three separate hotel loyalty programs, most at a ratio of 1:1. This means users with American Express cards within this program can rack up flexible rewards and decide how they want to use them later on, once they’re ready.

How do point transfer bonuses work?

Some loyalty programs also offer transfer bonuses that come and go over time. These bonuses come from different airline and hotel programs and may be offered in different amounts or through some credit card programs and not others.

Examples of points transfer bonuses we’ve seen over the last year include:

  • Get 15% more points when transferring Amex Membership Rewards to Avianca (was available in June 2024)
  • Qualify for a 100% transfer bonus from Bilt Rewards to Alaska MileagePlan (available on select dates in July 2024)
  • Get a 15% transfer bonus from Citi ThankYou Rewards to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (available in June and July 2024)
  • Qualify for up to a 30% transfer bonus from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Air Canada Aeroplan (available in June and July 2024)

Note that these are just examples of available transfer bonuses we’ve seen in the past and that current bonuses may be entirely different depending on the card(s) you have.

With these kinds of bonuses on the table, you may be wondering when you should take advantage. If a frequent flyer program is giving you 15% to 35% more miles for a transfer, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage? Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.

When should you take advantage of a points transfer bonus?

While point transfer bonuses can be enticing, you will want to think long and hard about taking advantage of these offers. This is mainly because point transfer bonuses are one-way, meaning you cannot “undo” a rewards transfer to a travel partner after the fact. Most hotel and airline programs also make their rewards programs somewhat difficult and complex to use as we mentioned already.

Ultimately, this is why you should only take advantage of a points transfer bonus if you are ready to make a redemption right away. There are a few reasons this is the case.

  • Most programs use dynamic award pricing. Dynamic pricing makes it so free hotel nights and flights can cost different amounts based on factors like travel dates and overall demand. This makes knowing how many points to transfer very difficult, if not impossible.
  • The booking you want may not be available in the future. Most programs also limit awards in some way, meaning a flight or hotel stay you find today may not be available in the future. If you transfer points with the goal of making a booking in the future, there’s a chance your preferred option will no longer be there.

These challenges aside, there are still risks involved in transferring points from a flexible program to an airline or hotel loyalty program. This is because not all transfers are instant, and some can take several days or longer to go through. For example, some travel enthusiasts have reported waiting up to seven days for points to transfer from the Amex Membership Rewards program to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Meanwhile programs like Cathay Pacific and ANA Mileage Club reportedly take up to 48 hours to transfer.

Why you should avoid speculative point transfers

Even if you feel pretty strongly that you could benefit from getting a 15% to 35% (or more) boost in rewards through a points transfer bonus, it’s a bad idea to transfer based on speculation alone. This is mainly due to the dynamic pricing worries we outlined above, and the fact that award costs for flights and hotel stays can change from one day to the next.

If you transfer rewards based on a hunch, or because you think you can use the points or miles for a redemption later on, you may find that the award you wanted shoots up dramatically in price or becomes unavailable. As we mentioned already, rewards transfers are always one-way, so you have the potential to get “stuck” with rewards you cannot use.

The bottom line

Flexible rewards programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards and the Citi ThankYou program come with numerous benefits, including overall rewards flexibility and the chance to qualify for ongoing rewards transfer bonuses. However, you shouldn’t jump the gun on a transfer bonus just because you think you could benefit. There are too many risks involved in doing so, including the risk of the redemption you want disappearing altogether.

A better strategy is waiting until you’re ready to make a redemption and seeing if a point transfer bonus is available from the partner you plan to use. You should also compare redemption options across multiple airline and hotel partners to find the best deal, and make sure to check whether flights and hotels could be cheaper through each credit card rewards program’s respective travel portal.

These steps can help you get more value for each point you work so hard to earn, and without having to put any of them at risk.

Holly Johnson
Cardratings Contributor

Holly Johnson is a professional writer who has been covering personal finance, credit cards and loyalty programs for more than a decade. She is passionate when it comes to explaining the ins and outs of various programs and financial products to consumers, as well as...Read more

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