Can I Consolidate My Miles Into One Account?

Frequent Flyer Q&A
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 30, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Air Canada, Alaska, American, Amtrak, Delta, Diners Club, frequent flyer, Frequent Flyer Q&A, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Hilton, Mexicana, Midwest Airlines, mileage transfer, Points.com, Priority Club Rewards, South African Airways, Tim Winship, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic.

Dear Tim,

Is there any way possible to consolidate air miles from different airlines and just have one account to deal with?

Linda B.

Dear Linda,

Yes, there are techniques for consolidating airline miles, but they only apply to a limited number of programs. The process can be convoluted, and worst of all, the conversion rate generally represents terrible value.

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The first option that has to be mentioned is Points.com because its primary business is the exchange of miles and points among participating programs. The list of North American airline programs partnered with Points.com's Swap program is limited to Air Canada Aeroplan, Alaska Mileage Plan, American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles, Frontier EarlyReturns, Hawaiian's HawaiianMiles, Midwest's Midwest Miles, and US Airways Dividend Miles.

Points.com is hobbled by a participant roster that doesn't include some of the industry's most important players, including United, Continental, Southwest, and JetBlue. Among the major hotel programs, only Priority Club Rewards is a participant. Further limiting Points.com's utility is the fact that not all participating airlines allow transfers to or from all other programs, as well as convoluted exchange rules.

But the real problem with Points.com transfers is the exchange rate. Converting 10,000 American miles into Midwest's program would yield a measly 988 miles, a loss of 90 percent of the original miles. Worse, exchanging 10,000 US Airways miles would net a mere 488 miles in Frontier's program, about a 95 percent loss.

Aside from Points.com, the two venerable mileage-conversion options involve two-step processes through the programs of Hilton and Diners Club. First, airline miles are converted to points, in the Hilton HHonors or Diners Club Rewards programs. Then those points are redeemed for miles in another program.

In recent years, Diners has pared down its list to a single miles-to-points partner, American. In Hilton's program, miles from the programs of American, Hawaiian, Mexicana, Midwest, South African, and Virgin can be converted into points—a longer list, but hardly a comprehensive one. As with Points.com, the exchange rate is brutal, typically yielding only 20 to 30 percent of the original number of miles after the transfer.

Finally, we'll mention in passing similar conversion opportunities through Priority Club Rewards (American only) and Amtrak Guest Rewards (between Continental and Midwest only).

Between the limited number of programs represented and the highly unfavorable exchange rates, these mileage conversion tactics are either impractical or financially ill advised, or both. Which brings us back to one of our most-repeated mileage program tips: Pick a single program, and focus your earning activities on companies awarding miles in that program. Follow this advice and the vexing question of mileage conversion simply won't arise.

 
 
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