How I Lost an Etihad First-Class Award — Reader Mistake Story

Jan 15, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from reader Lauren, who missed out on a premium flight experience when her points took too long to transfer. Here’s what she had to say:

I recently tried to use Korean Air SkyPass to book an award in Etihad first class, flying from JFK to Abu Dhabi (en route to Cape Town). The cost was 210,000 miles round-trip plus $93 of fees. Korean Air let me hold the reservation, and gave me 30 days to “pay” for the ticket with my points. As the deadline neared, I received 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points I had been waiting for from the sign-up bonus on my Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. That gave me enough to book the flight, and I figured I was good to go.

Three days prior to the deadline, I transferred 160,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my SkyPass account. I also transferred 50,000 points from my SPG account (40,000 + 10,000 bonus points). The Ultimate Rewards transferred instantaneously, but I’m new to Starpoints and didn’t realize they would take 7-10 business days to show up. They didn’t get to my account in time, and no matter how many phone calls I made, I ultimately lost the hold and the reservation was canceled.

Korean Air couldn’t find any more award space on my flights, so there went my chance to try Etihad’s first class product. It wasn’t the Etihad Residence, but I was really looking forward to it. Now I have 210,000 points tied up in my SkyPass account, and I’m still trying to figure out another way to use them to get to my ultimate destination of Cape Town next year. Moral of the story: I need to be more aware of transfer times. Thanks for letting me vent and for all the great points advice I’ve used the last few years!

Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantaneously to Korean Air, while Starpoints may take as long as 14 days.

I value Starpoints over other rewards partly because SPG has a solid roster of airline partners, but one major weakness in the program is that transfer times tend to be long and somewhat unpredictable. In comparison, both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards transfer to most partners instantaneously, so you can move points precisely when you need them. That makes it easier to jump on premium award space when it appears, and lowers your chances of getting stuck with no availability.

Lauren’s story prompts the question of how you should plan for Starwood transfers (or others that don’t go through right away). Simply being aware of expected transfer times will help you stay on schedule — Lauren was already waiting for her sign-up bonus to post, so she could have avoided her mistake by initiating the transfer earlier. On the other hand, if you transfer points too far in advance, they could end up marooned in a program you don’t use otherwise, so it’s helpful to have a backup plan. In Lauren’s case, Etihad business class is a great product even if it’s a step down from the First Apartment. She could also get to Cape Town by using SkyPass to book flights on other SkyTeam partners like Delta and Flying Blue.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Lauren for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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