Options for transferring points between loyalty programs

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,
Over the last 15-plus years, I have accumulated significantly more than 100,000 points/miles each at United, Delta and Hyatt. I am, however, not yet ready to use them.

Is there a credit card where I can consolidate (bring in) all these points, so I don't have to worry about some of them expiring, and down the line transfer them from credit card to an airline/hotel once I am ready to use them? – Alan

Answer Dear Alan,
One of the most common reader questions we receive is on transferring points. We have become conditioned to believe that in many cases, points are flexible, and that they can be used toward a variety of travel or perhaps merchandise or cash back.

The truth is more complicated. Usually, you are not able to freely move points among different reward programs. Companies in the travel industry, such as airlines and hotels, compete against each other.

They align themselves with credit card providers, who pay them for the (lucrative) privilege of offering credit cards to members of their loyalty programs. There is no incentive for any of those fierce competitors to accept points or miles from one of its rivals. 

So in your case, no, there is no credit card that harmonizes and unifies points from different programs. Once your points are deposited in a particular program, there is no way to claw them back. Airline and hotel cards deposit the points directly into your frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program accounts. You are stuck with those points in the different programs. 

Transfer points, lose value

There are some businesses that allow you to transfer points from one program to another. But they are usually not worthwhile, because the points transfer on a very unfavorable basis. They greatly devalue your points.

Now, you can often transfer hotel points to airline miles. In your case, Hyatt allows you to transfer to more than a dozen airlines, including Delta and United. It is not on a 1:1 basis, but it still might make some sense.

Typically, 5 Hyatt points are equal to 2 airline miles, so 100,000 Hyatt points would be worth 40,000 airline miles. That might help you consolidate some of these points, if you can live with losing a little bit of value.

Here are the times when you can most often transfer points: 

  • From a bank-run program. Reward credit cards not affiliated with a particular travel provider often earn points in that bank’s program, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. Those programs all allow you to transfer points to participating airlines and hotels.
  • To a household member. Some rewards cards allow you to transfer points to a spouse or another person living at your address. This is most common with hotel cards and bank cards. 
  • Reward points are often flexible. But that doesn’t mean that they are interchangeable from one program to another.

    Organize your points

    If you would like to consolidate in order to just have a better overview of all the points you have, you can use sites or apps that advertise a points loyalty wallet, where you can enter in all of your various loyalty program information and it will show what awards you have at a glance.

    As you mentioned, be sure to pay attention to the expiration policies on the different rewards programs. Or better yet, make plans to use the points before they expire or become devalued. Good luck!

    See related: How to transfer your miles and points into other reward programs

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    Updated: 10-23-2018