Transferring Points and Awards to Maximize Family Travel

Aug 29, 2014

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Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele looks at ways to make family travel planning easier by taking advantage of transfer options for various loyalty programs.

One of the challenges of award travel for families is keeping track of all of the programs that you and your family members belong to, and figuring out how to use your points collectively to help you get the most out of them. Thankfully, some loyalty programs feature the ability to transfer points, miles, and awards between family members. In this post I’ll look at which programs make transfers easy (or not), and discuss some strategies for using transfers to help maximize your family travel.

JetBlue is one of several programs that lets family members pool frequent flyer points.

Transferring awards

Every airline program that I’m aware of allows you to ticket an award from your account for travel by a family member, although they all prohibit the sale or trade of awards. There’s no requirement that the account holder travel with the award recipient.

Nevertheless, inexperienced award travelers often overlook this possibility (while lamenting the high price that airlines charge to transfer miles between accounts, typically 1.5 cents per mile or more). In fact, I suspect that airlines make a healthy profit from those who pay to transfer miles to family members rather than just redeem their miles for an award in someone else’s name.

When it comes to hotels, it’s again not difficult to book an award in one person’s name, and add another as a guest. Just call the hotel before arrival and ensure that the “guest” can check in before the account holder. However, be cautious using this tactic in countries that require guests to show a passport.

Transferring points and miles for free between frequent flier accounts

The vast majority of airline programs only allow their points and miles to be transferred for a price, but there are some that do allow some sort of sharing or pooling of miles. This is a huge advantage when family members need to combine miles to book an award flight.

Here are some examples of airline programs that offer free transfers:

Asiana. They offer a “Family Mileage Plan” which you can register for using this form. When redeeming an award, mileage is deducted from the primary member’s account first, followed by the other family members.

British Airways. They offer an Executive Club Household Account that allows members to pool miles between up to seven people living at the same address. Any adult member of the household can then redeem miles, which are taken proportionally from each member’s account. This program also allows members to redeem awards for up to five others not living in the same household.

British Airways offers a unique point sharing program called Household Accounts
British Airways offers a unique point sharing program called Household Accounts.

Etihad. The Etihad Guest Program allows family members to pool miles in one account. Families nominate a Family Head and up to eight Family Guests. Have a look at this post for the other basics of the Etihad Guest Program.

Hawaiian. The Hawaiian Miles program offers the Share Miles feature, but only to holders of their credit or check cards. Members can receive miles from others up to 10 times a year. I have used this to combine miles earned from the Hawaiian credit cards by other family members.

Japan.The JAL Family Club allows members to share miles between up to nine relatives at different households for a one time fee of $30 US or 1,000 miles, followed by an additional 1,000 miles every five years. In addition, each new family member costs 1,000 miles or $30 US. To offset some of these fees, they do offer some mileage bonuses for those in the family club when they take a paid flight.

JAL offers some bonuses to offset the mileage they charge to join their sharing program.
JAL offers bonuses to offset the mileage they charge to join their sharing program.

JetBlue. Last year JetBlue launched a family pooling program, which allows up to 2 adults and 5 children to essentially share a single account. This is somewhat similar to the British Airways program, except you’re limited to only 2 adults, and JetBlue lets you determine how many points to contribute, whereas British Airways automatically pools points into the Household Account and then proportionately takes points out for redemptions based on each member’s percentage of the total pool.

Korean. Immediate family members can combine SkyPass miles to issue awards. Miles are first deducted from the member’s account, before being deducted from those of immediate family members.

Korean's family share program uses miles from the primary account holder first.
Korean’s family share program uses miles from the primary account holder first.

Qantas. Members can transfer miles to family members up to four times per 12 month period, with a minimum of 5,000 and a maximum of 100,000 miles per transfer.

Transferring points between flexible award programs

Many readers know that there are several good reasons to focus on earning in the major flexible reward programs, which allow you to transfer your points to miles with multiple airlines. These programs allow access to many different airlines while serving as a hedge against devaluation. In addition, I find that I can use these programs to take advantage of small balances accumulated by family members while conserving our balances of flexible reward points.

For example, when my infant daughter earned a few thousand miles from her paid travel as a lap child (10% fare is still a fare and is often eligible for miles), I was able to add miles to her account and redeem an award in my name. In fact, we do this for all the accounts in our family, which keeps our balances very low in our frequent flier and hotel program accounts, while using as few points as possible from our flexible reward accounts.

There are two potential ways to transfer points from a flexible rewards program. One is to transfer points between different accounts within the program, and the other is to transfer points to someone else’s frequent flier or hotel program.

Here are your options for transferring points from flexible reward programs:

Membership Rewards

American Express Membership Rewards used to allow point transfers between spouses, but no longer does. In addition, the program only allows transfers to the loyalty program of an authorized cardholder. So the best workaround is to add the recipient as an authorized cardholder.

Chase Ultimate Rewards allows holders of personal cards to perform transfers to the Ultimate Rewards account of a spouse or domestic partner, and the same rules apply when transferring points directly to another person’s account in a transfer partner’s loyalty program. There is an exception for those within the same business, so you could add someone as an authorized cardholder within your business account. Note that the Chase Ultimate Rewards site will permit transfers to third parties, but it may later try to enforce the rules, as TPG himself discovered two years ago.

Starwood Preferred Guest program allows transfers between members who have lived at the same address for at least 30 days using the form pictured below (you have to log in to access it). However, you cannot transfer points to a third-party loyalty program in someone else’s name.

The Starwood Preferred Guest program allows transfers between household members
The Starwood Preferred Guest program allows transfers between household members.

Citi ThankYou Rewards allows you to share ThankYou Points freely with any other member; however, transferred points will expire after 90 days, so you should only take advantage of the share feature when you have plans to redeem in the near future. Since points can be exchanged between ThankYou accounts with no restrictions, the ability to transfer points to someone else’s loyalty account is inconsequential. Note that Citi considers points earned through their consumer or business checking accounts to be taxable and ineligible for sharing.

Family Vacation Travel

Strategies for families utilizing free point transfers

1. Transfer to and drain the largest balances first. As I mentioned, it’s better to minimize your loyalty balances with individual travel providers, since those are the most vulnerable to devaluation. When you can, transfer just enough points to the account with the most miles in it already, and then drain it immediately for an award.

2. Redeem awards from accounts with elite status. With many airline and hotel programs, aspects of elite status can be conferred from the account holder to the traveler. For example, awards issued from a United Airlines account with elite status receive the same fee waivers regardless of whether or not the account holder is traveling.

3. Split reservations into multiple one-ways. Many programs allow members to book one way awards for half the price of a round trip. Keep this in mind when trying to drain accounts of existing miles. There have been many occasions where I used miles from two or more accounts to book travel as several one way awards.

4. Use a system to keep track of all of your family accounts. I use Award Wallet, but there are other competing sites.

How do you utilize point transfers to stretch your family travel options? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!

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