How couples can pool miles, transfer points for award travel


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
My wife and I each got Hilton HHonors credit cards a couple years ago so we would have enough points for a few nights in Montreal. Now we are looking at another trip -- a weekend in Chicago -- and would like to stay two nights at a Hilton there that's 50,000 points a night. I have 66,000 points, and my wife has 38,000 points, so we have the 100,000 we need, but they're on different accounts. Can I transfer her points to my account so we can stay for two nights on points? -- Jason

Answer Dear Jason,
The whole issue of transferring points can be confusing, and prompts a lot of reader questions. Sometimes people wonder if they can transfer points from one bank's program to another's (generally, no), or if they can transfer frequent flier miles to another airline's program (generally, no, but sometimes you can book award seats on an airline alliance partner with your original miles).

Here, you're asking about a different situation, and one that is probably common. You and your wife have the same card, but separate accounts, and want to pool your points within the same reward program to redeem an award -- in this case, two nights at a Hilton in Chicago.

The good news is that you can almost always pool miles or points in this way, especially to a spouse or someone living with you. The not-so-good news is that sometimes you have to pay for that privilege. 

Knowing the policies and charges for combining rewards can come in handy as you're thinking about amassing points. For instance, if you had a big expenditure coming up, you might have charged it to your Hilton HHonors card rather than to your wife's if you were close to hitting a reward threshold.

Generally, airline miles cost the most to transfer -- usually between $100 and $150 for 10,000 miles, plus a $20 to $35 "processing fee" (see chart, "Transfer policies of major rewards programs"). Most hotel and bank reward programs are free to transfer between close relatives. Unfortunately in your case, Hilton is one of the chains that charges to transfer. But the charge isn't too steep: $12.50 per bloc of 5,000 points.

In your case, you could spend $87.50 to transfer 35,000 of your wife's points to your account, which would get you to just above the 100,000 points you need for two nights. But a cheaper option might be to give your wife 15,000 points at a cost of $37.50, and each make a reservation on consecutive nights. In theory, you might have to switch rooms after the first night, since they are separate reservations, but I would guess the hotel would work with you on that.

Bottom line: If you think you might want to combine points with someone for an award, be aware of the different transfer policies before you go to redeem -- otherwise you might be surprised that you have to pay.

Below is the price of transferring 10,000 miles or points, and important restrictions.
Program Fees Restrictions
Alaska Airlines $100, plus $25 processing fee N/A
American Airlines $150, plus $35 processing fee N/A
Delta Air Lines $100, plus $30 processing fee N/A
Southwest Airlines $100 N/A
Unilted Airlines $150, plus $20 processing fee N/A
Program Fees Restrictions
Club Carlson No charge Recipient and giver must have lived at same address for at least one year
Hilton $25 N/A
Hyatt No charge Cannot transfer more than once every 30 days
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) $50 N/A
Marriott No charge Recipient must be spouse or domestic partner
Starwood No charge Recipient and giver must live at same address
Program Fees Restrictions
American Express Membership Rewards Not transferrable N/A
BankAmericard Rewards Not transferrable N/A
Capital One No charge for any rewards program N/A
Chase Ultimate Rewards No charge Recipient must be spouse or domestic partner
Citi ThankYou No charge N/A

See related: Award charts are key when considering hotel cards, Learn the reward points double-transfer trick, Eat out often? Stuff yourself with rewards for dining

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Updated: September 15, 2014

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