Some points transfers are instant. But others can take days — maybe, even weeks.
In a world of instant gratification and often very limited availability for the best things out there in travel, like upgrades, that can mean intense disappointment, when seats, rooms or suites disappear before the points needed to book them reach their place.
This leaves travelers with the difficult “chicken or egg” situation of whether to transfer points from their credit card to an airline or hotel loyalty program knowing there’s a risk they won’t get there in time, or transfer the points ahead of time, to be ready for action whenever a time comes, but also knowing needs might change.
Here’s how to navigate this tricky grey area of credit cards, points and miles, and familiarize yourself with points transfer time expectations so that you’ll feel confident whatever the use.
Safety In Transferrable Currency
Generally speaking, it’s not a great idea to put all your points “eggs” in one basket.
That’s much easier to avoid with points earned from spending than those earned from actual travel, because points earned through many of the top rewards credit cards can be transferred to a variety of airline or hotel loyalty programs as you wish, instantly.
When collecting points, flexible points, like Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One Venture Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points, you have around 15 different options to transfer your points to airlines or hotels, or use them as cash back.
When you actually fly or stay in a hotel, it’s not the same.
Most of these airline or hotel loyalty programs don’t allow you to exchange your points for another type of points, so you’re stuck with what they offer on the day you want to redeem them as far as availability goes.
That’s not necessarily bad, but wherever possible, the more choices the better, since more possibilities means more chance of landing that coveted seat, suite or room.
There are limited cases where it might make sense to transfer credit card points to an airline or hotel transfer partner in advance, because you know you’ll eventually book something and don’t want to worry about the time it takes to transfer the points you need to book.
Like, for example, if I know my bucket list goal is to fly Emirates First Class, and you can only book these seats using Emirates Skywards Miles, you could transfer a bunch of points over to Emirates in anticipation, but I’ll explain why even then, it still might not make sense.
Generally, the trend is that points transfers are speeding up, so transfer times should be less of a concern as technology catches up.
How Long Will My Points Transfer Take?
Our friends One Mile at A Time maintain really helpful guides to points transfer times for just about every movement your points could ever make.
Many banks, such as Chase and Capital One have recently prioritized IT projects to make transfers virtually instant, to end this worrisome and once very frustrating part of points.
Some transfer partners still take days, but by reviewing these guides, you can at least know which ones to look out for.
Basically, if you see a seat, suite or hotel room and want to snag it, you should be able to transfer your credit card points to one of the partner airline or hotel programs and your points should be there virtually instantly, allowing you to book.
Finding Out For Sure: 1,000 Pt Transfer Tests
Even with currencies and banks that offer pretty instant transfers, a first time transfer can occasionally take longer. Subsequent transfers however, are often much faster.
To add peace of mind to all of this, it’s not crazy to transfer 1,000 points over from your credit card rewards program into an airline or hotel, just to see how long it takes.
Obviously, don’t do this with programs you’ll probably never use, but if you have some you think you definitely will, this can be really smart. A side benefit of this is that it’s a good way to keep points from expiring, for programs that still expire miles.
Say you have 100,000 Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles you’ve earned, but won’t be flying or earning more through travel for a while. Just by transferring 1,000 points in from a credit card, you reset the expiration date of all your miles in that account.
That’s super handy when you might risk losing all your points without activity.
Points Transfers: Don’t Panic, Just Plan Ahead
Running through these little exercises of checking transfer time guides, or running a an actual test transfer will make that happy day when you’re ready to make a booking all the easier.
Keeping that info in the back of your mind as opportunity springs up will only increase the confidence you have to go out and book a dream trip in seconds, rather than days. Transfers will only get faster, so if you see something you want to book, following these steps should ensure it’s all yours.