Transferring your credit card points to an airline partner is the best way to redeem them for maximum value, whether you're booking a Delta flight through Virgin Atlantic to save a ton of SkyMiles or using those points to fly business class to Europe at economy rates. But what happens if your points just … don't show up?
It's the prospect that every traveler dreads when trying to book a great deal using their credit card points. Most of these transfers are instant – you should see them in your mileage account in a matter of seconds, or at least within a few minutes. But occasionally, there's a holdup. And as the minutes, hours, and sometimes even days tick by, you might wonder what went wrong – and if you're ever going to get them back.
While I hope you've never been there, many travelers have experienced this exact scenario. We'll walk you through some of the main reasons why your points haven't shown up in your account yet, and what you can do about it. Plus, we'll share some tips to prevent this from happening the next time you go to book an award flight.
Reasons Why Your Points Are Stuck In Limbo
Transfers Aren't Always Instant
This is an easy one. Depending on which credit card points you have and where you're trying to send them, you'll be left waiting.
Scan through our master list of credit card transfer partners and you'll see that while most transfers are instant, some can take up to 24 hours or even several days before you see the points in your airline loyalty account. How soon your Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, or Bilt points will transfer to an airline partner depends on the loyalty program – and the bank that you're transferring them from.
Here are some of the biggest exceptions:
- All transfers to All Nippon Airways (ANA) from Amex Membership Rewards always take one or two days to process.
- Cathay Pacific transfers from Capital One typically take 24 hours, sometimes longer.
- Singapore Airlines transfers are now usually instant from Amex and Capital One but can occasionally take longer from Chase or Citi.
- Transfers from Citi to Qatar Airways can take one or two days.
- While transfers from Capital One or Citi to Turkish Airlines are generally instant, in our experience, it can take up to a few hours for your points to show up in your Turkish account
- Bilt point transfers to American Airlines typically take 24 hours or so, though they can take up to 72 hours in some cases
This is by no means an exhaustive list, as things can go awry any time you're transferring points. Even transfers to popular airline programs like Air Canada Aeroplan, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and Air France/KLM Flying Blue – all of which are usually instant – can sometimes take longer or hit a snag.
Fortunately, most of the big banks have improved the entire process and transfer times over the years. Generally, transferring Citi ThankYou points to any airline or hotel program tends to take longer than other banks.
In some rare cases, it could be worth proactively transferring points so you're not left waiting one or two days for those miles to hit your airline account. We usually caution against it: These transfers are (almost always) a one-way street, meaning you can't pull them back to your credit card account.
But that kind of speculative transfer could also mean you've got points on hand to book this incredible business class seat to Tokyo with ANA before that award availability disappears, for example.
You Just Set Up an Airline Account
Eight times out of 10, this is the reason why your points get stuck in purgatory.
Brand-new airline loyalty accounts often see the most trouble with points transfers. Even though these transfers should be instant, an account set up recently – especially on the same day – might experience issues with transfers clearing as airlines combat fraud.
Maybe you've never flown Virgin Atlantic before, so why would you have a Virgin account, right? Wrong. I ran into a long delay transferring points the first time I tried to transfer my Capital One Venture Miles to Virgin Atlantic to book Delta flights to Iceland. And I'm not alone: Virgin Atlantic, in particular, is notorious for issues with brand-new accounts.
Our advice? Sign up for airline loyalty programs now. Whether it's Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, or any other program – if you're starting to dip your toes in the points and miles world, take a good look at your card's transfer partners and get your accounts set up right now.
It's free to do so, and it will ensure you're all set whenever you want to transfer your points. That's critical for the moment you see a good award deal you want to jump on right away.
Thrifty Tip: Keep all your different airline loyalty account numbers in a spreadsheet, so you can easily reference them when you to go transfer your points.
You Made a Test Transfer
The other two times out of 10, this is why travelers' points get stuck in limbo.
It just sounds logical, right? Before sending tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of points to an airline partner, test it out with a transfer of 1,000 points first to make sure it works. Plenty of travelers – myself included – have fallen into this trap.
Learn from our mistakes. These kinds of repeat transfers often flag the credit card company, airline, or both for potential fraud, leading the second, larger transfer to get held up for review. And by the time the airline determines the transfer is legitimate, the award space you were trying to book could disappear.
Trying to take advantage of a transfer bonus? Make sure you're doing the math for how many points you'll get from a bonus of 15% to 30% or more, then transfer the correct amount of points to avoid running into this same situation. Just like a home improvement project: Measure twice, transfer once.
Thrifty Tip: Unlike other banks that require you to transfer points in increments of at least 1,000, you can transfer Capital One miles by the 100s so long as you transfer at least 1,000 allowing you to fine-tune how many Venture miles you want to send to an airline or hotel.
How to Get Your Points Out of Limbo
The best way to get your credit card points out of limbo is by avoiding the situation in the first place.
Set up and link frequent flyer program accounts now. Make sure you're transferring the right amount of points on the first attempt – double-check your math and don't bother “testing” a transfer.
But sometimes, things still go wrong. Here's what you can do.
Ask an Agent to Hold the Award Space
Award space can be fleeting. The availability to book a seat with miles can disappear in a matter of hours or even minutes – especially the best, hardest-to-book deals.
Take this recent deal we sent our Thrifty Traveler Premium members: Booking Delta One business class for 50,000 points via Virgin Atlantic is one of the best deals in the world of points and miles, but finding the availability to actually book these seats at these low rates is incredibly rare. When you get a unicorn alert like this, you need to book ASAP.
Some (though far from all) airlines will allow you to put award seats on hold, buying time for transferred points to hit your account so you can book before your flights disappear. It varies from airline to airline, though these award ticket holds can last just 24 hours or as many as five days. Either way, it gives you some precious breathing room to get your points.
Several Thrifty Traveler Premium members who encountered issues transferring points asked Virgin Atlantic agents to hold those Delta One seats over to Europe – and it worked: They put the award space on hold for up to 72 hours, more than enough time for those points to clear.
Here's a brief (and by no means exhaustive) of airline programs that will let you put award tickets on hold:
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue lets you hold an award ticket for up to three days
- American Airlines allows award holds of up to five days, and you can even request it online
- Cathay Pacific also allows holding an award ticket for up to three days
- Singapore Airlines has allowed us to put award sets on hold for up to 48 hours in the past
- Turkish Airlines also offers an option to hold award seats
Exactly how long you can hold those seats varies from airline to airline – and some might be more restrictive when trying to book a partner award ticket on another carrier. As with many things in the world of airlines, it all hinges on getting a good agent on the phone.
But the phone part is key. With the exception of American Airlines, you'll almost always need to call (or, in some cases, email) the airline to put a flight on hold.
Calling the airline doesn't have to be intimidating. Just give the agent the details for the flight you want to book and ask whether they're able to put those seats on hold while you transfer the points. If they say yes, ask how long the seats will be on hold for and what you need to do to complete the booking once you have the points in your account.
Log Out & Back Into Your Account
It's always the first thing tech support asks when you tell them you have a problem: “Did you try turning it off and turning it back on again?” And much to our chagrin, it's the same when it comes to transferring your points.
Sometimes all it takes is logging out of your airline account and logging back in. If you don't see your points in your account right away, log out and sign back in a few minutes later – there's a good chance they'll be there.
Call the Airline … or Your Bank
As a last resort, it might be worth calling the airline program where you're trying to transfer your points to see if they can expedite the process – or at least look into what's holding them up. Same goes for phoning the bank whose points you tried transferring.
While they may not be able to help, it can at least help you pinpoint the source of the problem. And considering the flights you want to book could get snapped up by another traveler while you wait, it's worth a shot.
Transferring your credit card points is the best way to maximize their value, but it also introduces another layer of complexity to the process. While most points transfers go through instantly (or close to it), there's the rare occasion where your points get unexpectedly held up.
Don't panic: These transfers are still worth it. But take the steps now to ensure your next transfer goes through smoothly.