When you can, can't transfer rewards points

'Travel partners' improve options, but outright transfers are restricted

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 CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Can I transfer miles earned from my mother's Visa signature card from Associated Bank to my Venture Capital One card? She is in a nursing home and will never be able to use her miles, and I have her permission to do this, if it's possible. Thanks! -- Holly


Dear Holly,
Credit card reward programs have become so complicated in the past few years that a lot of confusion has developed over what you can transfer and what you can't. Reward programs have added transfer partners to give people more options in using points, but those have limitations, too.

We tend to think of points and miles as currency that can be exchanged for other currency, then used to purchase travel or merchandise or whatever else we find appealing. In reality, points and miles are more like vouchers that have specific rules and conditions on their use.

In your case, Holly, you cannot transfer miles from an Associated Bank Visa Signature Bonus Rewards card to a Capital One Venture Rewards card. The good news is that you can still redeem the Associated Bank points for cash. It is essentially a cash-back card that gives a slight bonus if you book a plane ticket.

Make sure you redeem these points before closing your mother's account, and be aware that accumulated points expire after five years.

More generally, let's examine under what situations you typically can and cannot transfer points and miles:

1. Bank program to bank program: No. This is what you're asking about -- transferring points from Associated Bank to Capital One. These are separate companies, and I know of no examples where you can do this.

2. Bank program to travel provider: Yes (with limitations). Some banks have programs that allow you to transfer points to airline or hotel programs. The best-known of these programs are run by Chase and American Express. Of course, you're limited to a bank's travel partners.

Banks also typically allow you to use their points on their own travel search engines, so you can redeem with just about any major airline or hotel.

3. Travel provider to travel provider: Generally, no.
Ordinarily, you can't transfer miles from airline to airline, from airline to hotel, or from hotel to hotel. When you have a card affiliated with a travel provider, the miles or points go directly into that program and are not managed by the bank offering the card.

However, hotel points can often be transferred to airline programs. And many airline programs allow you to buy hotel or car rentals using your airline miles.

My guess is that a lot of the confusion about transferring miles and points comes from airline alliances. For instance, you can't transfer miles from United Airlines to Air Canada and wash your hands of UA's program. But you can book Air Canada flights on United's website using United miles.

It can all be complex, but if you take the time to figure it out, you'll find you often have more options that you realized.

See related: Professional award bookers promise 'free' flights for fewer miles, Redeeming 'impossible to use' British Airways miles, Learn the reward points double-transfer trick

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Updated: 03-19-2019