Q&A: How to transfer AmEx points between airlines

Airline alliances and bank travel portals offer options

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,
Is it possible to transfer American Express points to Capital One? Unfortunately, the airlines that American Express partners with are not ones that we would use from where we are. – Al

Answer Dear Al,
This is a common question people ask about credit card reward programs. As people acquire more rewards cards, and as options for using rewards points multiply, it seems natural that you should be able to shift points from one card’s program to another card’s program. 

Unfortunately, you can’t. In some cases, you can convert hotel points into airline miles, or you can use airline miles to book hotels or rental cars. But you can’t convert one bank’s points to another bank’s points. So, the direct answer is no, you cannot shift American Express points to Capital One. 

But hold on – keep reading. You have more options to use those American Express Membership Rewards points than you might realize. And you can use those American Express points to book flights on the three biggest U.S. airlines – Delta, United and American – even though American Express doesn’t partner directly with all three. You can do that because the airlines American Express partners with are in alliances with those airlines. Let’s look at each individual airline and how you might book flights with American Express points.

Delta. OK, this one is easy. Delta partners with American Express, so you can transfer American Express points directly to the Delta SkyMiles program. 

United. This is a little trickier. But you can transfer American Express points to Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent flyer program. Not going to Canada? Not a problem. Air Canada and United are both members of the Star Alliance, which means you can book United flights using Air Canada miles if United makes those seats available. You’ll have to create an account with Air Canada, and the number of miles required will be a little different than United’s. Search the web for more details on using Aeroplan miles on United. In some cases, you might have to call Air Canada to book the United flight you want. 

American. Same method as United. You can transfer American Express points to British Airways, which is a partner of American’s. Then you can use British Airways miles to book American flights, if American has frequent flyer availability at the lowest level. (That’s often an issue with American.) Again, the award chart is different – in this case, a lot different, as the miles charged are per flight segment. That means it is in your interest to use nonstop flights. 

In addition, since you are interested in transferring your points to Capital One – which has a reward program that lets you book flights on virtually any airline – you should also know that American Express has a similar feature. With American Express, you cannot retroactively use your points for travel purchases, as you can with Capital One. But you can use the online travel portal to book flights with American Express points, at a rate that is not awful. 

That might be the best approach for American Express points that you can’t otherwise use, because it gives you the ultimate amount of flexibility. That way, you won’t be locked in to using your points with airlines that don’t fly to your city, and you also avoid annoying limitations on frequent flyer award seats.

Good luck!

See related: Making the most of flexible travel rewards programs

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Updated: 03-23-2019