If you’re looking to make the most of your hard-earned credit card rewards, the best way to do so is often with transfer partners. Most of the major credit card issuers offer transferable currencies that allow you to use your rewards with their airline and hotel partners. I’ve been able to use these programs to book business-class flights and luxury hotel resorts around the world for a fraction of their retail price.
However, figuring out how (and when) to transfer your rewards can be daunting — especially if you’re relatively new to the world of travel credit cards.
In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know to successfully transfer your credit card rewards to partner programs.
Important reminders about transferring credit card rewards
Before we get into the mechanics of transferring rewards, there are some important things to note to ensure you’re successful in this endeavor.
First, there’s one critical piece of advice that should guide all of your transfer decisions: Wait to transfer your points until you have a specific flight or hotel room to book.
Here at TPG, we frequently talk about ways to maximize your credit card rewards via transfer partners, but the best way to do so is by waiting until you’re ready to actually book a flight or a hotel room. That way, you’re preserving the flexibility of your rewards while simultaneously guarding against unexpected devaluations.
For example, let’s say you decided to speculatively transfer 60,000 points to a hotel loyalty program in the hopes of booking a nice hotel room for your anniversary. Then, before you make the reservation, the program decides to double the price of the room. Suddenly, you’re left with 60,000 points that can’t be used the way you want them — and since transfers are irreversible, you’ve given up the flexibility of those rewards.
On the other hand, transferring 60,000 points to immediately book your hotel room means you’ve locked in the value of that redemption.
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There are some rare exceptions to this, but I have never transferred my credit card rewards without plans to use them right away.
In addition, not all credit cards allow you to transfer your rewards to partners. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is technically a cash-back card, but if you also have a higher-end card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can combine your points in a single account, effectively converting your cash-back rewards to fully transferable points.
It’s a similar story for the Citi Double Cash® Card (see rates and fees). By itself, the card only earns cash-back rewards, but if you also have the Citi Premier® Card (see rates and fees), you can combine your points and enable transfers to programs that partner with Citi ThankYou Rewards.
How to transfer credit card rewards
Now that we’ve covered some important reminders about transfers, here are the steps you should follow to transfer your credit card rewards to partner airlines and hotel programs. Note that the first two can (and should) be done well in advance of making a transfer, since they can save you valuable time when you’re ready.
Set up loyalty program accounts (in advance)
First, before you can initiate a transfer, you need to create accounts with any applicable partner programs. You may already have accounts with major U.S. programs — like American Airlines AAdvantage, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles and United Airlines MileagePlus. However, the majority of award sweet spots come from international airline loyalty programs, so if you’re not currently a member of them, taking the time to join upfront can save you time when you find that perfect award and want to book as quickly as possible.
I don’t recommend doing this with every single partner program, but here are some popular programs that partner with multiple transferable currencies (and have some solid redemption options):
However, there’s another critical step here: Use the exact same name that’s on your credit card. If there’s a mismatch, a transfer can get held up.
As an example, I go by “Nick” in everyday life, but my legal name is Nicholas Ewen. That’s what I use on all of my credit cards, so that’s also the name on every loyalty program account I have.
It’s a similar story if you go by your middle name with friends and family but have your first name on your credit cards. Set up your loyalty program accounts with the name on your credit card.
Add loyalty programs to your online account (also in advance)
Then, once you have your accounts set up, I’d recommend adding them to your online profile with each card issuer — even if you don’t plan to use them right away. This will again save you time when you’re ready to jump on a great deal.
Each one is set up a bit differently, but here are some quick notes on how to do this:
- American Express Membership Rewards: Log in to your account and click on the “Rewards & Benefits” tab at the top. Scroll down and click the “Transfer Points” tab, then click “View All.” Click on “Show details” and then follow the prompts to add an account for you or an authorized user.
- Bilt Rewards: Open up the Bilt app and use the drop-down menu at the top left to select the “Travel Rewards” section. Tap “Transfer” at the top and then select the partner program you want to link. Follow the on-screen prompts to complete the linking process.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: Log in to your Chase account and navigate to the Ultimate Rewards portal (be sure to select a card that’s eligible to transfer). Click the “Travel” drop-down at the top and select “Transfer points to partners.” Click the program you want to use, then click “Transfer Points.” Enter your account number and then follow the prompts to finalize the transfer.
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: Go to thankyou.com and log in to your Citi account. Hover over “Travel” on the top navigation bar and click “Points Transfer.” Scroll down to the airline or hotel partner you want to transfer ThankYou points to, click “Continue” and then follow the prompts.
Note that Capital One doesn’t allow you to save these details — you must input your partner program account number each time you want to initiate a transfer to a Capital One partner.
Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re ready to transfer! Again, we don’t recommend making a speculative transfer to a partner, but doing these in advance can ensure you’re ready to book.
Find availability (and check the paid rate)
After setting up your transfer accounts, it’s now up to you to find the award availability you want. This will happen via that loyalty program’s website. This is especially important for airline award tickets.
For example, you can’t book every single Delta Air Lines flight using Virgin points. And you can’t book all American flights with British Airways Avios. Before initiating a transfer, log in to the desired loyalty program account and search for your trip. If your desired flight (or hotel room) doesn’t show, it’s not available at that time.
If it does appear, you should be good to go (though some travelers prefer to call and ask an agent to double-check that the award space is available).
Finally, before you move to the next step, you need to make sure that you won’t get a better deal by booking through your credit card portal.
For example, let’s say you wanted to book an economy flight by transferring 30,000 Chase points to a given loyalty program. Before you do that, go to Chase Travel and see how many points you’d need to book directly. If it’s only 25,000 points, don’t bother transferring. But if it’s 60,000 points, that’s a great deal.
Calculate the number of points you need
Most credit card rewards transfer to partners at a 1:1 ratio, so figuring out how many you need to transfer is easy. In most cases, you need to transfer in increments of 1,000 points, so if an award ticket is 50,000 miles, you’ll need to transfer 50,000 points.
However, things get more complicated if you’re trying to utilize a transfer bonus. In that case, follow these steps:
- Identify the total number of airline miles or hotel points you need for the reservation.
- Subtract any existing balance in your airline or hotel loyalty program account (if applicable).
- Divide that amount by one plus the decimal equivalent of the transfer bonus (e.g., 20% = 0.20, 30% = 0.30, 50% = 0.50, etc.). Thus, for a 20% transfer bonus, you divide the total reward amount by 1.2.
- Round that amount up to the nearest 1,000.
As an example, earlier this year, I wanted to take advantage of a 20% transfer bonus from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Air Canada Aeroplan. I needed 210,000 Aeroplan points for my ticket, and I already had 1,200 points in my account. That meant I needed 208,800 new Aeroplan points (in addition to my current balance).
When I divided 208,800 by 1.2, I got 174,000 points. I thus transferred 174,000 points from Chase, which became 208,800 Aeroplan points with the 20% bonus. When combined with my 1,200 existing points, I had enough to book the flight.
Initiate the transfer
Once you’ve verified award availability, go ahead and initiate the transfer. Log in to your credit card account using the steps above, and follow the prompts to transfer your points or miles. In some cases, you may be asked to verify your identity or even specific details from your credit card. Once you’ve done this, the rewards will be on their way.
The vast majority of credit card rewards transfer instantly to most partner programs, though be sure to check out our guides to transfer times for Amex, Bilt, Capital One, Chase and Citi for exceptions.
In addition, you may need to log out and then log back in to your loyalty program account to see the transferred rewards.
Finalize the reservation
As soon as the transferred points or miles hit your account, follow the steps to book the award ticket (or hotel room) with the given program. Most of these can be done online, but for some redemptions, you need to call.
Be aware of potential hiccups
Unfortunately, even when you follow the steps above, you may run into difficulties. Here are some that may come up — and how to deal with them.
As noted above, most transfers should be processed instantly. However, there are times when that doesn’t happen. It could be a mismatch between your names on the accounts (which is why it’s so important to verify that before initiating a transfer), but it may also just be a one-time glitch.
As an example, with my transfer from Chase to Aeroplan last year, it took an additional day for the 20% bonus to arrive.
Thankfully, my desired award ticket was still available, so I was able to book it without any problem.
If your rewards don’t arrive instantly (and you’ve logged out and back in), see if you can put your award on hold and give it a day or two. After that, you may want to call the credit card company to see if there’s anything it can do to help.
Phantom award availability
Another potential issue is phantom award availability, which means that a particular flight (or hotel room) appears to be bookable using points or miles but isn’t actually available. While this is rare, it can be a major pain. Since transfers are irreversible, you may be stuck with rewards you can’t then use.
Here are a few suggestions for preventing this:
- Call to verify availability: If you’ve found a great award flight, you may want to call to verify. In this case, call the loyalty program you’re planning to use.
- Check other sites: Another way to verify award inventory is by checking other sites that partner with the airline operating your flight. An award ticket that only shows on a single airline’s search results is much more likely to be phantom inventory than one that appears across multiple sites. You can use our guides to searching for Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance award tickets in this endeavor.
- Place the award on hold: Many airline loyalty programs allow you to hold award tickets, and that’s usually only possible when it’s real availability, not phantom.
If you follow these steps and still run into issues, take screenshots and then call the airline through which you’re trying to book. Explain the situation and insist that it help you book the ticket or allow a one-time courtesy reversal of the transfer. While that’s a long shot, it’s worth a try.
Transferring credit card rewards to partner loyalty programs can be a great way to maximize value, but there are many things to consider before doing so. You should almost always avoid transferring without a specific (and immediate) plan to use them, and setting up partner accounts ahead of time can help ease the process. You should also research estimated transfer times to know whether your transaction will be processed immediately or will take a few days.
However, when this legwork leads to a fantastic award flight or hotel room, it’s all worth it.