Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.
The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards to find our current offers, or use our CardMatchTM tool to find cards matched to your needs.
Should I transfer my points again and again?
Just because you can transfer points or miles doesn’t always mean you should. Points and miles are like currency – they have value and if you exchange them too often, that value decreases. Pay attention to transfer ratios.
Other than some rare exceptions, look for other options and better values when redeeming your points.
Dear Cashing In,
Can I transfer my American Express points to Marriott and then from Marriott to American, United or Delta airlines? – Umer
In many ways, points and miles in loyalty programs are like currencies. They have a value. You can exchange them for something worthwhile.
And, like currencies, they tend to lose value when you exchange them. If you have ever exchanged currencies for a foreign trip, you know that every time you do that, you lose a little bit of money.
If you are traveling from the United States to France and then England, it tends to be more economical to change dollars to British pounds than to change dollars to euros and then to British pounds, because with each transaction, the exchange agency takes its cut and you are left with less money.
Transferring points: Considering transfer ratios is key
The same is true with credit card points and points and miles from hotel and airline programs.
There are any number of ways you can transfer points and miles among programs, and the programs love to tout their flexibility.
However, just because you can transfer points or miles doesn’t always mean that you should.
In some cases, transferring might make sense, but in other cases, it might be an awful value. The key is to pay attention to the transfer ratios.
Typically, transferring points from a bank program such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards to an airline or hotel program is a solid value, but transferring from an airline or hotel program to somewhere else is a poor deal.
When transferring points doesn’t make sense
Let’s look at your example. Say you have 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. You can transfer those directly to 19 airlines and three hotel chains, including Marriott. Those 60,000 points are worth 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
But if you then transfer those Marriott points to an airline, you’ll see that you will lose a lot of the value of those points.
- You can transfer Marriott points to your choice of 44 airlines, but with just a few exceptions, those transfer at a rate of three Marriott points to one airline mile.
- You do receive a bonus of 5,000 miles per 60,000 points transferred, so if you transferred 60,000 points to Delta or American, you would have 25,000 miles.
- A transfer to United is worth slightly more, so you would have 27,000 United miles.
In each case, that is enough for a domestic round-trip flight, which doesn’t sound too bad – except that you started with 60,000 American Express points, which, if redeemed differently, could be enough for a round-trip ticket to Europe, Hawaii or the Caribbean or South America.
Tips for transferring points
Here are a few ways you can redeem those American Express points for flights that represent a better value than transferring to Marriott and then to an airline frequent flyer program:
- Transfer directly to Delta. You can transfer American Express points directly to Delta on a one-to-one basis, which would give you 60,000 Delta miles.
- Transfer to Air Canada for United flights. You can transfer American Express points directly to Air Canada on a one-to-one basis. Then you can book United flights through Air Canada using your Air Canada miles. Just like United, U.S. round-trip tickets are 25,000 miles.
- Transfer to British Airways for American flights. American Express points transfer to British Airways on a one-to-one basis. You can book American flights using British Airways miles. The British Airways reward chart is different from American’s, which means in some cases you might spend fewer miles, and in some cases you might spend more.
- Book the flight directly with American Express. Without transferring your American Express points at all, you can book tickets on most airlines on the American Express travel site. Every point is worth 1 cent, so 60,000 points is worth $600 in travel.
Tip: Unsure of what payment method to use when you’re ready to book a flight? Learn when you should pay for a flight with cash and when with miles so you never miss a moment to maximize points.
When transferring points twice makes sense
Usually, there are better options than transferring your points multiple times.
The one situation where I can see such a scenario making sense is if you find yourself just barely short of hard-to-get airline miles.
For instance, if you were trying to get to 175,000 American miles for a first-class ticket to the South Pacific, but you had only 172,000 miles, it might be worth trading in 9,000 American Express points through Marriott to make that happen.
Outside of those rare exceptions, though, look for other options and better values when redeeming your points.