Take Advantage of Transfer Bonuses to Get More Value from Your Reward Points (2019)
Amex’s Membership Rewards, Citi’s ThankYou Rewards, and Capital One's Venture programs frequently offer bonus promotions for transferring your points to specific airline partners. Chase Ultimate Rewards had had a British transfer bonus promotion back in 2019. Transfer bonuses are also sometimes available for Marriott points.
For example, Amex recently offered an extra 40% when transferring points to British Airways. If you transferred your points during this promotion, you would have received 1,400 British Airways points, rather than 1,000 points, for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points you transferred.
If there is a currently available transfer promotion, it will most likely be the cheapest option for using points for your trip. You may also want to preemptively take advantage of a promotion to lock in a better redemption rate, even if it means giving up flexibility for using your points.
Take advantage of available promotions (when available)
When a transfer bonus is available, that program often becomes the cheapest way to book an award ticket. A program which normally requires extra miles may wind up allowing you to book your trip with the fewest number of points.
For example, the two Japanese Airlines (ANA and JAL) usually require 40,000 miles to fly between the West Coast and Japan. Getting those miles takes 40,000 Membership Rewards points.
Ordinarily, British Airways would require 50,000 miles or 50,000 Membership Rewards points to fly the same route (on their partner American Airlines). However, with a 40% transfer bonus, you would need less than 36,000 Membership Rewards points to get those 50,000 miles, saving you over 14,000 points from the normal British Airways award price. During the promotion, booking with British Airways costs over 4,000 points fewer Membership Rewards points than booking with ANA. When there is no promotion, booking with British Airways would require an extra 10,000 points.
The best listing of currently available offers across programs is Frequent Miler’s Current Transfer Bonuses page. It also provides information about previously available promotions that can help you anticipate whether future promotions are likely.
Taking advantage of promotions ahead of time
There is an interesting question of whether you should take advantage of a transfer promotion, even when you don’t have any concrete plans to use the miles. Let’s imagine you have a balance of 100,000 Membership Rewards points. Should you take advantage of a current promotion to transfer let’s say 50,000 of those points into 70,000 British Airways miles, and lock-in extra value from your points?
- Chances are that when you eventually need miles to book a flight, there won’t be a promotion available. You’ll get a lot more value from your points, if you transfer ahead of time (during a promotion), instead of transferring them (at normal prices) when you need to book your tickets.
- The drawback is that you’ll lose a lot of flexibility. Once you’ve transferred the points to a given airline program, you won’t have the option of using those points with a different program at a later time. Some other frequent flyer program might let you take advantage of award availability for a future trip, or offer a better deal for your destination. In addition, you’ll now need to worry about making sure those miles don’t expire, due to your account becoming inactive.
- The decision depends on several factors:
- How many points do you have? If you have a lot of credit card points, it is less risky to lock-up some of your points by preemptively transferring them to an airline program.
- How good is the promotion? Getting 50% more miles is a lot more attractive than only getting an extra 25%.
- How attractive is the airline program? If the transfer bonus is for a program that typically offers good value for award tickets, you are more likely to want to use that program in the future, and are taking less risk. You might as well get extra miles from your points.
- Are you likely to have a specific use for the points soon? If you are likely to want points in a specific program, but you’re not quite ready to book yet, you aren’t taking that much risk by transferring your points early. You’ll save a bunch of points in the likely case you wind up booking the trip, and only have a small chance of winding up with a bunch of miles that you’ll need to spend at a later time.
- In general, we keep things simpler, by not transferring our points until we need them. But, if we were willing to take on the extra complexity, it would probably be a good deal to transfer points during good promotions to some of our favorite programs. If you are new to frequent flyer programs, you probably want to hold off on doing pre-emptive transfers until you have a better feel of how likely you are to use miles from different programs.
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