Editor’s Note: Welcome to our Points Principles series, an ongoing series dedicated to explaining the basics behind the confusing world of frequent flyer miles and travel rewards points. Follow along as we lay out some of the building blocks to travel for nearly free. And check back to the Points Principles page to see what ground we’ve already covered.
Even new travelers just getting started with points and miles are quickly confronted a complicated question: Can you transfer or combine miles with a spouse, friend, relative, or companion?
It would no doubt be helpful. Maybe you're just a few thousand points short of making an award booking and your spouse or significant other has the miles you need. Is it even possible?
In general, yes you can transfer miles. But that doesn't mean you should.
How Does Mileage Transfer Work?
Most airlines will charge you an arm and a leg to transfer your hard-earned miles to another traveler. With one notable exception, it makes transferring miles on most major airlines too expensive to be worth it.
Here's how each of the major domestic airlines handles transferring miles to another account.
Transferring Delta SkyMiles
While you can transfer miles between two different Delta SkyMiles accounts, it's not a good idea. That's because Delta will charge you $0.01 per mile plus a $30 processing fee per transaction (plus applicable taxes). And you must transfer miles in allotments of 1,000 SkyMiles.
That means if you were looking to transfer 30,000 SkyMiles to another user, it would cost you $330 ($300 for the miles and a $30 transaction fee). With costs that high, I can't think of a situation where this would make financial sense. Just avoid these transfers.
You can transfer a maximum of 30,000 SkyMiles per transaction. Within a calendar year, one SkyMiles account can transfer a maximum of 150,000 SkyMiles. One SkyMiles member can receive a maximum of 300,000 SkyMiles each year via transfer.
You can learn more about this on Delta's mileage transfer FAQ page.
Transferring American AAdvantage Miles
Like Delta, American allows users to transfer their AA miles to other accounts but it comes at a huge cost – so we don't recommend it. American will charge you $12.50 for every 1,000 miles you transfer plus a $15 processing fee per transaction (plus applicable taxes).
That means if you were looking to transfer 30,000 American AAdvantage miles to another user, it would cost you $390 ($375 for the miles and a $15 processing fee). Save your money and don't do it.
Each AAdvantage member is limited to receiving no more than 200,000 AAdvantage miles and may transfer no more than 200,000 AAdvantage miles out of their AAdvantage account in a calendar year.
You can learn more about AA mileage transfer on American's mileage transfer Terms & Conditions page.
Transferring United MileagePlus Miles
You may be recognizing a trend.
Like Delta and AA mileage transfers, United allows users to transfer their miles to others but again, it comes at a huge cost. United will charge you $7.50 for every 500 miles you transfer plus a $30 processing fee per transaction (plus applicable taxes).
That means if you were looking to transfer 30,000 United MileagePlus miles to another user, it would cost you $480 ($450 for the miles and a $30 processing fee). Again, save your money and don't do it.
MileagePlus miles can be transferred in 500-mile increments between 500 and 5,000 miles, and in 1,000-mile increments from 5,000 to 100,000 miles.
You can transfer up to 100,000 miles to each recipient's account per calendar year, and you can't receive more than 100,000 miles from any other MileagePlus account or combination of accounts in any calendar year.
By the numbers, United is by far the worst offender when it comes to charging for mileage transfers among the big three domestic airlines.
You can learn more about this on United's mileage transfer Terms & Conditions page.
Transferring Southwest Rapid Rewards Points
Southwest Airlines charges $0.01 center per Rapid Rewards point you are looking to transfer. Rapid Rewards Points can be transferred in blocks of 1,000 during promotional periods (and 500 points at all other times) with a minimum transfer amount of 2,000 points and a daily maximum of 60,000 points.
Using our 30,000-point example, it would cost you $300 to transfer 30,000 Rapid Rewards Points. It doesn't appear Southwest charges a processing fee to complete a transfer – but this is still a bad deal and generally shouldn't be considered.
You can learn more about this on Southwest's mileage transfer Terms & Conditions page.
Transferring Alaska Mileage Plan Miles
You can transfer Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to the account of a friend or family member, but once again it will cost you.
You can transfer 1,000 to 30,000 miles in increments of 1,000 miles at a cost of $10.00 per 1,000 miles, plus a $25.00 processing fee per transaction.
Additionally, Alaska allows you to transfer 100,000 miles in to or out of an account per calendar year.
That means if you were looking to transfer 30,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles to another user, it would cost you $325 ($300 for the miles and a $30 processing fee). Again, save your money; don't do it.
Transferring JetBlue TrueBlue Miles
When it comes to domestic airlines offering transfers between two accounts, no airline does it better than JetBlue.
Last year, they expanded their points pooling feature, and now allow pools of up to seven friends, family members or even complete strangers that you can share your points with. The best part? There is no cost to operate one of these pools.
You can add up to seven total members of a pool, no matter whether they’re family or friends. The “Pool Leader” can decide which members can use pooled miles to book reward flights. And it's worth noting that 100% of pool members’ miles earned are added to the pool account.
With that, some other important aspects to keep in mind:
- TrueBlue members can only be part of one pool.
- Pool leaders must be 21 or older.
- Pool leaders can remove members and designate which members can use pooled miles.
- Members can leave a pool at any time, taking unused miles with them.
Our Analysis on Transferring Airline Miles
While airlines allow you to transfer your miles to other accounts, rarely is it a good idea. The fees are exorbitant and will wipe out any potential savings you would realize from using the miles in the first place.
And if both accounts have enough to book tickets separately, there is no reason to transfer and combine them. You can book the tickets from each account and choose seats next to each other. Or better yet, if you have enough miles in your account, you can book a ticket for another person directly from your account. There is no requirement that your miles be used for booking only your tickets.
You can then contact the airline via Twitter or phone and let them know you are traveling together, should anything happen to your itineraries.
Bottom Line About Transferring Miles
Don't plan to transfer airline miles to another account. It's expensive and usually not a good idea. Any money you might save by using miles will be given back to the airline in the form of transfer fees.
Not being able to transfer miles raises a minor dilemma — my wife and I each have over 80k miles that we would like to use for a joint overseas trip — would you prefer each booking a roundtrip, or each booking two one-ways?
You can book each ticket out of each account and then contact the airline to let them know you’re traveling together should anything happen to your itinerary. This is the easiest way and avoids having to transfer miles.
Although it costs money to transfer miles, how does it work if I book my granddaughter on a flight with my miles. Is that the same?
You can book flights for others without any fees. That is the best way to avoid having to transfer miles.
What is the business logic for even having this program? To catch a few free bucks from less discerning individuals? Cash in on high net worth divorces?
Following up on Mike’s question. Don’t airlines want redemption of their miles so that they can book the redemptions as revenue (and reduce the liabilities side of their balance sheet)?
My spouse started on Hospice care a week ago. Do you know if airlines have a bereavement exception where I can transfer his miles without incurring any of the fees you mentioned?
I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m not aware of any such exception but it does not hurt to ask. Otherwise, you could simply book travel from his account for yourself (or others) using his miles.
If I tranfer some points to my daughter account for a flight on Alaska airlines when will points be in her account?
It may be worth asking Alaska directly if you need them ASAP. However, I would imagine the transfer would complete within a few days.
Can I use my dad’s AA miles to upgrade mine and my husband’s seats on a flight purchased even though my dad won’t be traveling with us?