Two Foundational Questions in Miles Collecting

Two Foundational Questions in Miles Collecting

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When collecting miles, its easy to find yourself in a situation where you have a bunch of miles and points spread over a number of different programs. You might not have enough in one account for the award you want, so you might want to combine miles between programs or between your account and a friend’s in the same program. Can you do it?

Q: Can I combine miles between two accounts in the same program?

A: Yes, but there are transfer fees above one cent per mile making this a bad idea.

The fees depend on how many miles you transfer. The more you transfer, the lower the per mile cost, but transfers are always a bad deal. For instance, sharing or transferring 10,000 American miles costs $125 or 1.25 cents per mile.

I value American Airlines miles at 1.5 cents each, so you wipe out 83% of a mile’s value by transferring it.

Transferring 10,000 United miles is $180 or 1.8 cents per mile.

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I value United miles at 1.6 cents each. That means you pay the mile is worth just to use it. That’s lunacy.

But let’s look at a workaround, so that you don’t have to transfer miles and incur huge fees.

Example: I want to fly roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30k AA miles in my account, and my brother has 30k AA miles in his. The award costs 30k miles each way.

If my brother were to transfer me the extra 30k miles I need to book this roundtrip award, it would cost $375. Instead, there is an easy way to book this award without incurring the pointless charge. Keep in mind two things:

  • Anyone can use his miles to book an award for anyone else.
  • Most airlines, including American, allow you to book one way awards for have the price of a roundtrip.

If you have enough miles, splitting the roundtrip into two one ways booked from separate accounts is an easy way to avoid the transfer fee.

I would simply use my 30k to book a oneway award for the New York to Berlin outbound of my trip, and I would use my brother’s 30k to book the Berlin to New York one way return in my name.

This basic principal can be applied in a number of ways. I recently booked a roundtrip award from Buenos Aires to Washington DC. I booked the outbound leg as a one way using my American miles, and had someone else book the return leg in my name using his United miles.

Because tickets can be booked in anyone’s name from anyone’s account, you don’t need to transfer miles as often as you might think.

There are two big exceptions of airlines that have bucked the mile transfer fee idea. Anyone who has HawaiianMiles with Hawaiian Airlines can transfer miles, for free, to anyone who holds a Hawaiian Airlines-linked Visa using the airline’s ShareMiles program. The miles sender doesn’t need to have a Hawaiian Airlines credit or debit card, but the receiver does.

Additionally, you can pool British Airways Avios with members of your household for free, as outlined by The Points Guy, meaning there is no need to transfer them.

Q: Can I combine one type of miles with another type?

A: No. You can not transfer miles/points from one airline’s account to another, even if they are partner airlines. However, partner accounts can be used to book the same flights.

This is a very common question. People think if American and British are partners, maybe they can pool the two types of miles. Unfortunately you can’t pool the miles, but you can have them work together as in the following example.

Example: I want to book the same flights as the last example–roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30,000 American Airlines miles and 30,000 Avios.

I can not transfer my American Airlines miles to my British Airways account or vice versa, but I can use either type to book airberlin flights or any other oneworld partner.

I can use my 30,000 American Airlines miles to book the outbound from New York to Berlin…

I use my 30k AA miles to book the outbound…

and 20,000 of my Avios for the return on airberlin.

…and my 20k Avios for the return from Berlin and New York.

You might notice these are the exact same flights as the last example. That’s because we can use American miles or British Airways Avios to fly airberlin, and we can book flights for ourselves from our accounts or someone else’s account.

These two examples illustrate two ways to avoid transfers. Avoiding transfers is key since transferring in the first example would have been a prohibitive $375 and transferring would have been impossible in the second example.

What About Transferable Points

Points like Citi ThankYou Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints are a different story entirely. They do transfer for free to dozens of types of airline miles, at which point they become those airline miles. Check out this post on the Citi ThankYou Points Transfer partners.

Bonus

In order to avoid a situation where you have miles spread across a bunch of partner programs, you can simply credit all paid flights to the same partner in the first place. When booking a flight, the default setting will credit the miles you earn to the airline you are booking on. However, there is usually a drop-down list of their partner airlines from which you can select.

If you travel on British Airways for work, but do most of your personal travel on American, you can have the miles you earn on those British Airways flights and the miles you earn on the American Airlines flights all credited to your AAdvantage account. Then you won’t have to worry about having some miles in one account and some in another.

Recap

With very few exceptions, you can not transfer miles to another account within the same program without incurring excessive transfer fees. However, you can often avoid these fees by booking flights in the name of the person you were going to transfer your miles to.

Additionally, you can not transfer points across programs–even if they are within the same alliance. However, you can make partner’s miles work together by using two different types of miles on the same airline partner.

 

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks. I’m about to travel British (someone else is booking the flight) and I guess I’m going to lose those miles since I’m not planning on flying again within a year. I also means I’ll lose all of my [much larger] American miles. What a shame.

    • Credit the miles from the paid BA flight to AA. Do this by inputting your AA frequent flyer number now online or at check in. That will keep your AA miles active and earn you a ton more.

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