One of the best ways to get the most value for your points and miles is by transferring them to an airline or hotel partner to book free (or nearly free) flights and hotels.
Occasionally, banks like American Express, Capital One, Chase, or even Citi sweeten the deal even more by offering transfer bonuses, giving you anywhere from 15% to 30% to as much as 100% more points when you move them to that loyalty program.
Free points and miles are hard to pass up, and that begs the question: Does it ever make sense to transfer points without a specific redemption in mind?
The short answer is no … in most cases it's not a good idea to make a speculative transfer. In fact, we warn against it at almost every turn. But there are some instances in which it could make sense to speculatively transfer your points, even if you don't have an immediate plan to use them.
Let's take a closer look at some of the reasons you might want to preemptively move your points to a specific loyalty program – and the risks involved with doing so.
Take Advantage of a Transfer Bonus
Getting extra points from the bank or loyalty program by utilizing a transfer bonus a transfer bonus is the main reason moving them without a specific use in mind can be so tempting.
Just how good of a transfer bonus you'll get will vary from bank to bank and program to program, but you can generally expect to see bonuses in the range of 15% to 30%. In rare instances, some transferable currencies will go rogue and even offer 100% transfer bonuses, netting you double the points or miles!
These bonuses are essentially free points for the taking and can help you score a free(ish) vacation sooner, cheaper, or more luxurious than you'd otherwise be able to afford. If a bonus is being offered for a loyalty program that you frequently use – or plan to use – speculatively transferring your points can make a lot of sense. Especially if the bonus is larger than normal – or rarely ever available.
Looking at the current 30% transfer bonus when moving Chase Ultimate Rewards to Virgin Atlantic, for example, I know that I can use Virgin points for short Delta flights, long-haul trips to Europe, or even first and business class flights to Japan on ANA.
One of our favorite sweet spots in the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club award chart is using points to fly from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to just about anywhere in Western Europe for 30,000 points roundtrip. When taking advantage of a 30% transfer bonus, that drops the cost down to a measly 23,000 points and under $100 in fees for the roundtrip flights!
This works whether you're flying nonstop to Amsterdam (AMS) or Paris (CDG), or connections elsewhere such as Barcelona (BCN) or Rome (FCO) – so long as your flight is operated by either KLM or Air France.
It's one of the cheapest ways to fly to Europe with points and miles because it combines low rates with low fees. The odd thing about this sweet spot is that it really only works from Minneapolis. If you depart from other cities in the U.S. or Canada, you'll get hit with cash fees of around $350 or more.
While this example is one of our favorites, it's far from the only one. With so many good options for using Virgin points, it wouldn't be the worst idea to take advantage of a transfer bonus in order to be ready when a Thrifty Traveler Premium deal comes your way.
See our roundup of all the current transfer bonuses!
Avoid Transfer Wait Times
Sometimes when you're planning a trip you stumble across a great deal but don't have the right points or miles to book it. That's where the power of transferable points comes in. Since many of the best loyalty programs partner with most major banks, you likely have access to the necessary points or miles – even if they're not yet in your account.
With most travel partners, transfers are instant – or nearly instant. This means that you don't need to worry about award space disappearing or the price going up while you wait for your points to arrive. But that's not always the case…
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club might just be one of the best programs in the world – due in large part to the combination of low rates and easy-to-earn miles. Since ANA is an Amex transfer partner, you can move points from cards like the *amex gold card* or *amex platinum card* to easily get the ANA miles you need.
But there's a catch: Transfers to ANA take one to two days to process.
Waiting one or two days for the points to transfer simply isn't an option as the award space is likely to vanish in that amount of time.
In this case, transferring a stash of points to ANA in advance can be a good idea. That way, you've already got the miles in your account so when a good flight deal comes around, you can book right away. Just be warned that ANA miles expire after 36 months and there's no way to extend them. If you don't know for sure that you'll use the miles within three years, speculatively transferring your points could mean you risk losing them.
Other useful programs like Cathay Pacific and Singapore's KrisFlyer also involve a bit of a wait. If you've got a loose plan in place for how you'd use those miles or just need to top off your account, making a transfer ahead of time can make good sense.
Risks of Speculatively Transferring Your Points
As tempting as it can be to transfer your points, especially to take advantage of a big transfer bonus, there are some things to keep in mind before doing so.
Here's the most important one: These transfers are a one-way street. Once you send the points to an airline partner, you cannot get them back to your Capital One, Chase, or other credit card program account. Time and time again, we've seen loyalty programs make moves to devalue their points with little to no warning, suddenly requiring way more points to book flights.
The best way to safeguard against these sudden devaluations is to keep your points flexible until you're ready to use them.
Another danger with transferring points speculatively is that you run the risk of them expiring before you can use them. That's right … your airline miles and hotel points aren't invincible. The exact policy varies from program to program, but most have some sort of expiration policy in place. Often times, you can extend the expiration date by simply earning more miles – including new transfers – but in other cases, like with ANA, the expiration policy is a hard-and-fast rule.
Transferring your flexible credit card points to a partner in order to take advantage of a big bonus or make sure you have them ready when needed can be really tempting – and in some cases make a lot of sense. Just know that in doing so, you're locking them up with no way to get them back to the bank if you have a change of heart.