Have Cards, Will Travel

Rewarding others: Booking travel for a friend, family member or partner

Have an overabundance of miles or points? Share the wealth with a loved one


Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to transfer points to give the gift of travel. There are far easier (and cheaper) methods you could employ.

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One of the best travel gifts I ever received was my very first trans-Pacific, first-class ticket on Cathay Pacific from New York to Hong Kong. It was years ago and I didn’t have the 70,000 American miles the ticket cost at the time. I also certainly didn’t have the $11,000 to pay for the actual fare.

What I did have, however, was a friend who had both an understanding of what that experience would mean to me and an extra 70,000 miles in his AA account. I not only got to be a princess for 16 hours, I also got to learn firsthand what if feels like to be gifted a travel experience.

Over the years, I’ve tried to pay it forward when I can, gifting a travel experience to a friend or family member by picking up a plane ticket or hotel night (when my points balance has allowed). Logistically, it’s actually pretty easy to reward someone else with points travel.

Every U.S. based airline and most international airlines (with a few exceptions) allow you to use your points to book a ticket in the name of anyone – friend, partner, family member or even the neighbor down the street who needs help with an emergency plane ticket. All you need is the person’s required travel information along with their full name, date of birth, passport number (for international flights) and the points in your own account to pay for it, of course.

Also, if you’re using points to book through a credit card program like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points, the booking process is very straightforward.

See related: 5 reasons to use your rewards points for travel now

You don’t need to transfer points

One of the most confusing things about booking flights for another person is the myth that you need to transfer your points to the specific person’s mileage account, and then they book the ticket themselves. That is 100% not true.

Airlines almost always charge a hefty fee for one frequent flyer to gift points to another. This cost can range from one to three cents per mile, plus a processing fee. It’s often the same price if you were to just to buy the miles outright at a poor value from the airline.

Gifting and buying miles usually only makes sense if you are just a few miles short of redemption and need to quickly top up your account with some miles.

See related: How to give the gift of travel

6 creative ways to reward friends and family with travel

Rewarding others with travel doesn’t need to be limited to generous parents and partners. Here are six other ways you can use your points to gift – or even trade – travel by booking for someone else.

1. Book for a friend when you’re traveling together (but have different points to spend)

Last year when I trained across Siberia, my travel partner happened to be an avid SkyTeam points collector, whereas I was a oneworld loyalist.

We wanted to fly together, so rather than each paying for our own tickets, I booked two tickets out of Siberia on S7 (the Russian Oneworld airline partner) and he booked two SkyTeam tickets out of Moscow on Aeroflot.

I used my American Airlines points from my AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard and he used points he earned with The Platinum Card® from American Express.

2. Exchange travel

There may come a time when you or a friend are traveling alone but need points to get to the next location. You can always book a ticket for someone else (or let your friend book the ticket for you) and then pay them back later. Just make sure it’s a reciprocal and equal value ticket booking from the points you have.

3. Give a surprise travel gift

You can use your points to send someone away on a surprise vacation or give the gift of a premium-class flight like my friend did for me.

When I was writing “The Honeymoon Hack,” I heard several stories of parents gifting reward flights or free hotel nights for an exotic honeymoon destination as a wedding present. If you have their travel details, you don’t even need to tell them their destination!

4. Support a volunteer

Back at the beginning of the century, I was an unpaid volunteer in Africa for five years. I had to raise financial support for my work at the time so one of the best gifts that was given to me was travel.

Friends ‘donated’ award tickets to me so I could fly home for the holidays and special events – like my grandma’s 80th birthday.

5. Help out someone in an emergency

Emergencies happen to all of us and we don’t always have the extra money to buy a ticket. Points are good emergency currency in cases like these.

Once, when I had a serious medical emergency in Africa, my dad offered to use his American Express Membership Rewards points to send my best friend – who was a nurse practitioner – to help support me in my evacuation.

6. Fly a friend to visit you

Think beyond your own point of origin and remember that you can book award tickets starting from anywhere. If there’s someone you want to see but can’t seem to get away, book that ticket for your friend to fly to see you.

There are so many ways to use your points. If you happen to be one of the lucky few who has more rewards points than time, why not send a friend on an amazing trip somewhere? I can certainly recommend that Cathay trans-Pacific first-class gift!

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