Can I Move Frequent Flyer Miles Among Programs?

Frequent Flyer Q&A
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 1, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: American, booking strategy, Continental, Delta, free travel, frequent flyer, Frequent Flyer Q&A, mileage earning, mileage transfer, taxes and fees, Tim Winship, United.

Dear Tim—

I have a few miles in an American Airlines account that I would like to move into my United Airlines account. Is this possible?

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Michael

Dear Michael—

For consumers, the ability to exchange miles and points between their various airline and hotel loyalty accounts is an obvious plus. If you could, for example, combine those odd lots of American, Continental, and Delta miles into a single account, you'd be a lot closer to an award threshold than you would be if the miles remained dispersed among separate accounts.

The airlines and hotels that issue loyalty points see the matter very differently, however. From their perspective, allowing their customers to readily exchange miles into different programs subverts the core goal of loyalty marketing. After all, if you can convert your American miles into United miles, there's no compelling reason to be loyal to one airline rather than the other. The loyalty effect disappears.

Notwithstanding the ambivalence of travel suppliers, it is possible to convert miles between some programs using the exchange functions in American Express Membership Rewards, Diners Club Rewards, Hilton HHonors, or Points.com.

Converting between American and United miles, your only option is Hilton's Reward Exchange. Here's how it works. First, exchange your American miles for HHonors points (5,000 miles = 10,000 points). Then exchange the HHonors points for United miles (10,000 points = 1,000 miles). At the end of the process, you will have given up 5,000 American miles to get 1,000 United miles, an 80% loss.

So yes, it is possible to exchange your American miles for miles in United's program. But given the exchange rate, you probably won't want to.

 
 
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