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Exchanging points for miles is rarely a good deal

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Cashing In,
I'm looking to transfer some of my rewards points into airline miles this winter in order to cover my wife's and my airfare on an overseas vacation. My hotel points aren't going to do us much good where we're going, so I'd rather save cash on the flights. I'm also interested in transferring some points from my Chase Sapphire card. Is there anything I should know?   -- Tom

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Tom,
You can transfer the Ultimate Rewards points earned on your Chase Sapphire card to a participating airline's frequent flier program or even to your wife's account -- but don't try it with anyone else. Sapphire cardholders have reported having their accounts closed after transferring points to someone else's Ultimate Rewards account.

According to the terms and conditions listed for your card: "Transfers may only be used to combine rewards belonging to the same individual or business in the Program," but it also says that "transfers can also be used for the purpose of enabling spouses or domestic partners to combine rewards earned in their respective names."

Transfers to "unauthorized third parties," on the other hand, "may result in suspension." That's where people get into trouble. Since your goal is to maximize miles -- yours and your wife's -- you should be fine. If you transfer your points to frequent flier miles, expect to pay a transfer fee and wait up to seven business days for the points to post.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you're not really getting the best value for your hotel or rewards points by turning them into airline miles. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it if your goal is to get a free airfare to Tahiti, but you need to be aware of the trade-off for future travel redemption. Generally, rewards lose value whenever you transfer them out of their native environment.

There are a couple promotions going on right now that might help your cause, however, and it's worth checking the promotions page for the frequent flier program you're planning to use. Often the best miles-transfer deals are limited time only.

You just missed a good one offered by US Airways which expired on Oct. 31, but United recently announced one that might help your cause. Now through Nov. 30, you can transfer points from several hotel loyalty programs and get miles in exchange -- anywhere from two to 10 points per mile.

Just to make things confusing, each hotel chain has decided to do this differently, but you probably have accumulated most of your hotel rewards with one or two chains so you'll only have to figure out that end of the puzzle. Details are posted on the United website.

To give you a few examples, you can get as many as 50,000 miles if you have 125,000 points to spare at Marriott Rewards. Hilton HHonors members are offered 1,000 miles in exchange for 10,000 points. You can convert Starwood SPG points into United miles at a rate of two points per mile or earn two miles for every dollar spent at a Starwood hotel. Five IHG PriorityClub points will get you one mile (10,000 points makes 2,000 miles). Hyatt Gold Passport, Club Carlson, Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards are also participating.

Some of these convert better than others and you may qualify for a bonus if you combine points from various partners. If you decide to participate, remember to register first.

See related: 5 easy ways to get more credit card rewards points or miles

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Vexed by a personal finance problem? CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers every weekday. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
Gary Foreman, New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman,
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Published: November 6, 2012


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