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Unused points and miles: You have options

You can’t always transfer unused credit card points, but you can use them in different ways

Summary

Have thousands of miles on your frequent flyer account and don’t fly often? You can redeem them for car rentals, gift cards and even hotels without having to transfer them to another loyalty program.

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Dear Cashing In,

I have 40,000 miles on my Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®. The card is paid off. I don’t travel that often, and I am wondering: Is there a way to transfer miles to another credit card that offers points/rewards (say for hotels, etc.) – even if it is not a 1:1 transfer? – Carl

Dear Carl,

People who have travel rewards credit cards often have questions about transferring their points or miles. It can be confusing since each program has different rules.

We’d like to think that because points and miles are becoming more flexible, we can easily transfer them to other programs. Unfortunately, that is not usually true.

The good news, though, is that you do have options. In your case, they might not give you as much value as using your miles for flights on American. But you’re not totally stuck, either.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Tony a question.

See related: How to donate unused rewards miles and points

Rewards points (usually) flow only in one direction

Generally, points flow in one direction: from bank reward programs to airline and hotel programs. If you have points in an airline or hotel program, you usually cannot move those into another program.

  • You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for instance, to United, Southwest, JetBlue and a few other airlines, as well as Hyatt, IHG and Marriott hotels.
  • You can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards points to JetBlue, Delta and Air Canada, among others – as well as to Hilton and Marriott.
  • But once the points are transferred to an airline or hotel program, there’s usually no going back and no transferring to other programs.

That’s the bad news – but don’t despair just yet.

There are a few companies that run points exchanges, such as Points.com. But they tend to be at a far smaller ratio than 1:1. And in any event, they don’t include American AAdvantage miles in the exchange, so you’re out of luck even if you wanted to transfer miles that way.

Rewards points are flexible

So, it looks as though you are stuck with 40,000 American miles. What many people fail to realize is that even American miles are flexible.

You don’t have to use them only on flights. If it’s hotel nights you’re after, you might be in better shape than you realize.

  • You can redeem American miles for flights, of course, but you also have options to redeem them for car rentals, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, gift cards, airport lounge memberships – and hotels.
  • The hotel redemption site is particularly robust and has a lot of inventory in cities around the country.

For instance, if you’re looking to use your American miles for a weekend trip in April to Nashville, American’s website returns over 80 results – including a majority of hotels you could book for 40,000 miles or fewer per night.

One hotel even goes for roughly 16,000 miles a night, which means you could stretch those miles into two nights and have close to 8,000 American miles left.

With those remaining 8,000 miles, you could redeem them for a newspaper subscription of nine months to a year to publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, respectively. You could also redeem those miles for six months of LifeLock identity theft protection or a one-day car rental for that Nashville trip.

In this way, you might be able to achieve your objective – booking a hotel – without actually transferring those American miles.

And if you wanted to stay longer than a night or two and use points from a different program, just book the rooms separately using the different programs, then call the hotel and ask if they can link the reservation (so you don’t have to switch rooms in the middle of your stay).

Before transferring, it usually makes sense to explore all the possibilities with your current miles or points. Sometimes you can use hotel points to book flights – and sometimes you can use airline miles to book hotels.

You probably have more options than you realize!

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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