Transferrability of Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Starwood points

Reader jayy asks the following question on the Ask Lucky page of the blog:

I manage FF programs for several family members and was wondering if any of the transfer programs (Ultimate Rewards, AMEX, or SPG) require the receiving account to match the cardholder’s name? Or can you ‘gift’ the points to anyone? Also, what are the usual transfer fees?

That’s a simple, broad enough question that I think the answer might help others, so I figured I’d answer it here. For me part of the beauty of programs like Ultimate Rewards isn’t just that points earned can be transferred to a variety of airline and hotel programs, but also the fact that they can be transferred to anyone’s account within those programs. So I figured I’d provide a quick rundown of the programs as far as transfer times, costs, and restrictions are concerned.

American Express Membership Rewards

Transferability: Membership Rewards points can be transferred to anyone’s account in one of their partner programs, though you can’t transfer your Membership Rewards points to someone else’s Membership Rewards account. Simply “link” their frequent flyer account to your Membership Rewards account and you can make the transfer.

Cost: There are no transfer fees, with the exception of an offset fee for the excise tax for transfers to US frequent flyer programs, where there’s $0.0006 per point fee, with a maximum of $99 per transaction. That’s a lot of zeroes, so to put that into perspective, a 50,000 point transfer to Delta will set you back $30.

Time to transfer: A majority of Membership Rewards transfers are instant, including to Aeroplan, British Airways, Delta, etc. The only program that you should consider transferring to that doesn’t do instant transfers is ANA, and those transfers usually take around 48 hours.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Transferability: Ultimate Rewards points used to be transferable to anyone’s account in one of their partner programs, or to another Ultimate Rewards account. That’s not the case anymore, and you can read more about that in this post.

Cost: There are no transfer fees, period.

Time to transfer: Transfers from Ultimate Rewards are all instant, as far as I know.

Starwood Preferred Guest

Transferability: Starwood points can only be transferred to mileage accounts matching the name of the Starwood account holder. The one workaround is that Starwood allows household transfers, meaning you can transfer your Starwood points to someone else’s Starwood account, assuming the addresses on file have matched for 30 days. Starwood reserves the right to require proof of residence, as they’ve really cracked down on this over the past year or so.

Cost: There are no transfer fees, period.

Time to transfer: Transfers are not instant, and take anywhere from a couple of days to nearly two weeks. Some programs “sweep” transfers weekly, some every two weeks, and some on a seemingly random schedule. This is a huge downside of SPG, as most of their partner programs won’t let you hold a ticket for as long as their transfers take.

Any questions? 🙂

Comments

  1. I have successfully transferred UR points between accounts. All I needed was the credit card number of the account the points were being transferred to.

  2. “Transfers from Ultimate Rewards are all instant” .. which ones have you tried? I know they’re instant to Hyatt and United, I wouldn’t likely transfer to other partners. I assume they’re probably instant to Marriott, Priority Club, Southwest now… but do we think it’s actually instantaneous with Korean?

  3. I was able to transfer Starwood points directly to my US Air account during Grand Slam and I’m not the account holder. It’s a business account and I’m an additional cardholder, so I’m assuming that’s why it wasn’t a problem?

  4. @ SS — That’s correct. I assume the points from your business SPG card go into your personal SPG account, correct?

  5. For what is worth, here is response by Chase about transferring out UR pts to Amtrak. It appears it is NOT instant!

    “I would like to inform that the points transfer from Sapphire Preferred card to Amtrak Guest Rewards account takes 4 to 6 weeks to process.”

  6. During the quest for 1 million AA miles, I transferred SPG points to my wife’s AA account multiple times, as well as from her own SPG account. I read in their T&C that it could only transfer to the card holder…which stressed me out until it went through…but it worked every time… We hav the same last name and address, maybe they don’t check first names or it depends on the program…

  7. I transferred UR points to Amtrak just before Christmas and it took less than five minutes to appear in my Amtrak account.

  8. @lucky – actually, no. My boss is the primary account holder and all points earned on my card, as well the cards of other employees, go into the same SPG account with our boss’ name on it. Still, I had no trouble transferring points from that SPG account to my personal US Air account (different name and address from the SPG account). Perhaps because I’m a cardholder, even though not the primary one, that somehow made it ok? Or, maybe Jason’s correct in thinking that the T&C say one thing, but reality is another.

  9. Lucky,
    SPG can go to anyones account, EXCEPT for American Airlines, which requires matching names, it appears. I have had no success moving the miles to AA from anyone else’s SPG account (though I have certainly tried and failed)

  10. i have transferred my spg points to my dads AA account several times, with same last name but different address. Is this standard?

  11. I also have transfered SPG points to three US Airways accounts during grand slam with no problem. One of the three US airways account holders was a credit card holder (the mom), the two kids are not credit card holders) while the primary card holder (dad) did not get points transfered. We all live at the same address and have the same last name. For some reason with US Airways, it doesn’t keep “in memory” the US Airways account number of my husband’s account (dad) and therefore allowed it each time. But yesterday when I wanted to transfer SPG points to United (Mom) account, I couln’t except by the way of the workaround, because my husband’s United Account number was “in memory” on the loaded page of where you do the transfers.

  12. Lucky,

    Is there an advantage to opening up an account at Miles and More and transferring SPG points to it? I seem to recall you’ve posted that some of their premium awards are only available to their own members. If so, are there other airlines that this strategy makes sense for?

  13. @ Michael T — I guess the question is, what’s the goal? To redeem for Lufthansa first class. If that’s what you’re trying to accomplish then yes, that’s the best way to do it, assuming you can’t wait till last minute to book. But it certainly comes at a cost, since their award rates are on the whole higher than those of US airlines, not to mention they impose hefty fuel surcharges on award redemptions. So assuming you don’t have an unlimited number of miles, they’re not a program I’d regularly recommend transferring to.

  14. Lucky, I was under the impression that you can only transfer Membership Rewards points to a partner program account held by one of the additional AMEX card holders on your AMEX account, not “anyone’s account” as suggested above. Can you clarify? Joe.

  15. @ Joe — You can absolutely link anyone’s mileage account to your Membership Rewards account. While they may say it needs to be one of the additional cardmembers, that’s not the case.

  16. Ben, I think you should update this post to note that Chase Accounts have been shut down for transferring to anyone but yourself. Wouldn’t want people to read this without knowing the new reality! I googled looking for info about Amex points and found this post, so I can see how someone might do the same for Chase points.

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