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Airlines love running promotions – whether that is buying miles, earning more miles for flights, or even discounting award tickets – it seems like in the miles and points world there is a new promotion almost every day. Most promotions require enrolment and you will receive an email or be alerted about a promotion in your account – it is very important to subscribe to all airline and hotel emails so you never miss a good deal.

What is a Points Transfer Bonus?

The best way to earn miles and points is by using a credit card that earns flexible and transferable points with a bank program – like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards. You’re able to earn points in the bank program and later transfer them to an airline or hotel when you wish – and since most transfers are instant, you should in most cases be able to book your award right away.

Banks frequently run transfer bonus promotions – the standard transfer ratio from most bank points to airline miles is 1:1, however during promotions the transfer ratio may be adjusted to your benefit. For example, American Express frequently runs promotions whereby they offer you up to 30% more airline miles:

  • that means if there is a transfer bonus of 30%, to British Airways for example…
  • you would receive 1,300 BA miles for every 1,000 AMEX points transferred

Transfer bonuses usually last around a month and there are times where a lot of partners have transfer bonuses and then there are times where there are no bonuses. AMEX has a lot of these transfer bonuses and they frequently change – and they are worth taking advantage of.

Is Buying Miles During Promotions Worth It?

Airlines sell miles usually at a cost of $35+tax for 1,000 miles. Very often, airlines have bonuses on buying miles – these can include either bonus miles for the same price or a discounted price on the mileage purchase. There are some airline frequent flyer programs that have offers as high as 150% bonus on purchased miles, that means:

  • normally you would pay ~$35+tax for 1,000 miles
  • during a 150% bonus on purchased miles, you would pay ~$35+tax for 2,500 miles

The 150% bonuses do not happen as often as the usual buy miles promotional offers, which are usually between 35-70%. If you see a promotion on buy miles whereby you either get 50% more miles or the cost of buying miles is discounted by 50%, it is seriously time to think about if buying these miles makes sense. If you have a redemption in mind and you can redeem the miles right away, it could be beneficial.

Most of the time when you buy miles they post to your account right away – there are a few airlines that do not post purchased miles right away, so be sure to check the terms and conditions. There are also a few airlines that let you place an award ticket on hold while you buy or transfer miles – this can be a great tool to make sure the award space you found doesn’t get booked up by someone else.

Transfer/Share Miles Promotions

While perhaps less common, airlines also run promotions whereby they award you a bonus on transferred or shared miles – this includes when you transfer miles from one airline account to another (same) airline account. They could either offer a bonus on transferred miles (for example, you transfer 1,000 miles but the account you transfer to gets 2,000 miles) or they may discount the price to transfer miles.

Transferring or sharing miles between airline accounts is rarely worth it, that’s because the cost to transfer miles is usually:

  • ~$10+tax for every 1,000 miles transferred…
  • plus a transaction fee of around ~$25+tax

The actual cost does vary from airline to airline, but for the airlines that do allow transfers, that is the average cost. We’ve never used a transfer or share miles promotion (or even the feature in general), because it just isn’t worth it in most cases.

All in All

The best time to book award tickets is when there is a transfer bonus that you can take advantage of and there is award availability on your desired flights. Some people do speculatively transfer bank points into airline miles when there is a bonus, but they do not book an award ticket right away – and instead, they let the miles sit in their account. This could be a good strategy if you are planning to use the miles sooner rather than later – because the longer they sit in an airline account, the less valuable they become due to potential program changes and devaluations. The airline world has lots of promotions and taking advantage of them is one of the best ways to maximize your miles.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.