How Quickly Should I Transfer My Flexible Bank Points to Another Program?

Feb 27, 2017

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

Today’s question comes from Sean via Facebook message, who wonders when’s the best time to transfer credit card points to travel partners…

Would it be advantageous to immediately transfer points from a credit card to an airline plan after receiving a welcome bonus?

TPG Reader Sean

The biggest advantage of a flexible points program such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards is just that — they’re flexible points. You have a lot of travel partners to choose from and a lot of options, or in some cases you can even redeem your points directly for airfare or hotel rooms and get good value.

But as soon as you transfer those points, they lose their flexibility. It’s a one-way street — once you’ve transferred them out, you can never convert them back. So you definitely don’t want to transfer them until you’re ready to use them for a redemption and you’ve confirmed award space is available. That way you’ll maintain the flexibility of those points as long as possible, because you never know when you might spot a fantastic redemption in a different program and want to transfer your points to that program instead of the one you originally planned.

That being said, you don’t want to wait until the last minute to transfer points, because in some cases it can take a little while for the points to actually move. While many point transfers are instant, some can take up to a week, and SPG transfers always take at least a day or two, if not longer. So if you have a redemption coming up soon and you feel good about the potential award space, it may make sense to transfer the points you need a few days in advance.

The only time you’ll want to transfer all your remaining points to a travel partner is if you’re preparing to close a flexible points card. Your points will disappear when you close the card unless you’ve previously transferred them out or have another card linked to that same rewards account — such as if you’re closing a Chase Freedom card but are still keeping a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Note that this is not the case with airline and hotel credit cards. For instance, if you’ve been earning miles on a Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, those miles are deposited into your American frequent flyer account on a monthly basis and will stick around on a standard expiration schedule even after you’ve closed the related credit card. The same is true of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express — even though Starpoints are flexible and can be transferred to many partners, they’re still technically Starwood hotel points, not bank points.

But either way, you definitely don’t want to close a credit card you just opened and received the bonus for, as banks don’t look too kindly on that maneuver and you want to remain a good customer. The first time you should consider whether to keep a card is after the first year — at that point you can ask yourself if the annual fee is worth the benefits you get on that particular card.

So, Sean, keep your welcome bonus points exactly where they are for now, and only transfer them when you’re ready to use them. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or send an email to info@thepointsguy.com.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.