Reader Zed asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:
I just got an email from Points.com highlighting their points exchange service. They are touting that “there is no additional fee to Exchange!”
I presume that this is not a good deal generally, but are there any circumstances where it might make sense to use this service (i.e. points set to expire, etc)?
Points.com has somewhat of a unique position in the loyalty program industry. They kind of dabble in a lot of different areas, including:
- Facilitating airline mileage purchases/transfers (many airlines and hotels process points purchases through points.com)
- Facilitate the legitimate trading of points between members, with hefty fees involved
- Exchanging your points currencies directly with points.com (no third party involved)
Mileage purchases facilitated by points.com
Obviously it can make sense to use points.com to purchase points when an airline or hotel is running a promotion. For example, when US Airways ran their 100% bonus on shared miles it was facilitated by points.com, so whether you knew it or not, the purchase was processed by points.com (even though you did it on usairways.com).
Trade points on points.com
Points.com also allows members to trade points with one another. This is the only place to legitimately “trade” points as sanctioned by most loyalty programs. Of course it comes at a huge cost. For example, someone posted a trade looking for 4,000 Aeroplan miles, and they have 4,000 IHG Rewards Club points to offer, which is a horrible value to begin with. On top of that there’s an $80 fee.
I’ve never seen a trade points scenario on points.com that’s worth it, so I would ignore this option.
Exchange points on points.com
The other major thing you can do on points.com is exchange points, where you’re not trading with an actual program, but rather directly with points.com. This is the option where no cash trade fee is involved.
There are a couple of circumstances under which it could make sense to take advantage of this.
If you have an orphan account/expiring miles
Back in 2011, Frontier offered 1,000 miles if you signed up for their EarlyReturns frequent flyer program. I’d never collect enough Frontier miles to do anything useful with them, but I could use points.com to exchange them.
The exchange rates sucked — we’re talking 150-200 miles in exchange for 1,000 Frontier miles. But at the same time those 150-200 miles are worth more to me than 1,000 Frontier miles that I’d never use, so it seemed like the best option at the time.
Some of the transfer ratios don’t totally suck
Most of the ratios are horrible, though there are some that don’t totally suck. For example, you can exchange 1,000 Aeroplan miles for 840 US Airways miles. That’s not a horrible exchange rate, especially if you have American Express Membership Rewards points and want to convert them into US Airways miles (given that they’re not direct transfer partners).
So with a specific use in mind it could make sense, but as a general rule of thumb I wouldn’t exchange miles through points.com.
Bottom line on points.com
The most useful thing that points.com does is facilitating mileage transfers, which you still do directly through loyalty programs’ websites. The trade miles option is an absolute ripoff, and the exchange miles option can make sense under specific scenarios, either when you have an orphan or expiring mileage account, or have a very specific points use in mind.