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Have unused miles and don’t fly often? You have options

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

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.

Ask Tony a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Cashing In answer archive.

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What can I do if I’m stuck with thousands of miles and don’t fly frequently?

Sometimes, airline miles can be surprisingly flexible – and you don’t even have to transfer them to another loyalty program. Check the redemption options provided by your frequent flyer program first.

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    Dear Cashing In,

    I have 40,000 miles on my Citi AAdvantage American Airlines credit card. 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 reward credit cards often have questions about transferring their points or miles.

    It can be confusing. Each program has different rules. We’d like to think that because points and miles are becoming more flexible that we can easily transfer them to other programs. Unfortunately, that is not usually true. 

    See related: Best American Airlines credit cards

    Rewards points usually flow (only) in one direction

    Generally, points flow one direction: from bank reward programs into airline and hotel programs.

    • You can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for instance, to United.
    • You can transfer your American Express Membership Rewardspoints to Hilton.
    • But once the points are transferred to an airline or to a hotel program, there’s usually no going back, and no transferring to other programs.

    That’s the bad news. But hang on: Don’t despair just yet.

    There are a few companies that run points exchanges, such as Points.com. But they tend to be at far less than a 1:1 ratio. 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.

    Tip

    Tip: To get the most value of your hard-earned airline rewards, it’s usually best to use miles and points for what they were designed for: travel. While you can redeem miles for gifts cards, too, airline credit card rewards are worth twice – if not three times – as much when put toward flights or other travel redemption options.

    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.

    Mile redemption options beyond flights

    For instance, if you’re looking to use your American miles for a Saturday night in early October in San Diego, the website returns 115 results – including 50 hotels you could book using 40,000 miles or fewer.

    One hotel even goes for 19,700 miles a night, which means you could stretch those miles into two nights and have very few American miles remaining.

    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 it 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.

    What’s up next?

    In Cash Back

    Earning travel rewards while living abroad: How ‘travel’ is coded

    You can earn travel rewards on your credit card while living abroad as long as your purchases are coded as travel.” Here’s what to look for in a card to earn travel rewards while overseas.”

    Published: July 31, 2018

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