Let’s face it: Families are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to reward travel. They have to earn more points for more people and struggle to find multiple award seats available on the same flight. When it comes to hotels, things aren’t always better as you need to search for hotel awards that can house enough people in enough beds.
However, families (and even couples) can leverage “two-player mode” to apply for twice as many credit card bonuses and promotions — and perhaps earn some referral bonuses along the way. Of course, having points spread out across multiple accounts makes them harder to use, so the ideal scenario is one where two people can earn rewards and then combine them into a single account for the family. The policies on points pooling vary widely by loyalty program. Some offer generous family-friendly pooling terms and others nickel and dime you on the transfer so much that it probably isn’t worth moving the miles around.
Today we’ll take a look at the different points pooling policies, and which ones are best for families.
For each of these programs I’ll address three important points:
- Whether points pooling is allowed at all.
- What, if any, costs are associated with the programs.
- Who is allowed to combine points.
Sharing Credit Card Points
These days, transferable credit card points should be the cornerstone of everyone’s travel reward strategy. This is equally true whether you’re a solo backpacker or planning for a larger family. Each major credit card points program has its own sharing rules. Some make sharing easy and free, and others make it a bit more restricting. Here are the points transfer and sharing rules for Chase, Amex, Citi and Capital One.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
The big three cards that earn transferrable Ultimate Rewards points are: Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. These cards earn points you can transfer to hotel and airline partners such as United, Hyatt, British Airways, JetBlue, Marriott, Southwest Airlines and more.
There are two ways to share Chase Ultimate Reward points. You can transfer them into someone’s Ultimate Rewards account or transfer directly to their hotel/airline loyalty account (with lots of caveats to both). To combine points into a household member’s Ultimate Rewards account, look at the bottom left side of the Chase Ultimate Rewards menu and you’ll see an option to combine points. Click there to transfer points between your own Chase cards or to someone else.
Chase lets you transfer points to one “member of your household,” although that isn’t clearly defined. You will need his or her last name and credit card number. As with most Ultimate Rewards transfers, it should process instantly. There are no fees associated with pooling Ultimate Rewards points, and while this generous policy sounds like it’s very easy to abuse, Chase includes a word of warning (emphasis mine):
“You can move your points, but only to another Chase card with Ultimate Rewards belonging to you, or one member of your household. If we suspect that you’ve engaged in fraudulent activity related to your credit card account or Ultimate Rewards, or that you’ve misused Ultimate Rewards in any way (for example by buying or selling points, moving or transferring points with or to an ineligible third party or account, or repeatedly opening or otherwise maintaining credit card accounts for the sole purpose of generating rewards) we may temporarily prohibit you from earning points or using points you’ve already earned. If we believe you’ve engaged in any of these acts, we’ll close your credit card account and you’ll lose all your points.”
You can instead choose to transfer directly to one household member’s hotel or airline accounts, provided they are an authorized user on your Chase card account.
The terms for points transfers from a Chase Ink Business card are slightly different, as you are allowed to transfer points to other owners of the business. Chase has been known to shut down accounts for far less serious offenses than gaming the points transfer system, so I would tread carefully here and follow the rules to the letter.
If you’re in a questionable situation, such as transferring points to someone with a different last name (whom you aren’t legally married to) or someone with a different billing address than yours, you might do well to call Chase first and double-check that the transfer you’re making is within the terms of the program.
American Express Membership Rewards
Amex is one of the more restrictive issuers in that it doesn’t permit the transfer of Membership Rewards points between accounts. However, there is still a way to share by transferring your Membership Rewards points to the airline or hotel partner programs. If you add your spouse as an authorized user on your Amex Membership Rewards earning card, you can transfer your points into their frequent flier account. If they transfer their own Membership Rewards points to the same account, you’ll end up with all your points still pooled, just on the airline side of things instead of the Amex side.
Note that this option isn’t limited to families; you can do it for any authorized user you add on your card. Just remember that if you give them the physical card, you will be held responsible for any charges they make.
Citi ThankYou Points
In some ways, Citi has the most generous rules when it comes to combining ThankYou Points, though there are a few very important restrictions of which to be aware. If you have a card such as the Citi Premier Card or Citi Prestige Card, the process is straightforward, but if you need a few pointers, check out the TPG guide to sharing ThankYou points. Citi doesn’t limit you to only sharing points with family members; you can share with anyone you’d like as long as they have a Citi ThankYou account and you can provide their information (name and account number).
But before you begin sharing ThankYou Points, it’s important to know that you can only share a maximum of 100,000 points a year. You can also only receive up to 100,000 points a year from sharing.
Even more importantly, points are only valid for 90 days after they are received. This has a few important implications. First of all, if you’re trying to fly long-haul first class with your special someone, the 100,000-point limit might make it hard to do so. Secondly, you should only combine points once you’ve already found award space and are ready to book your trip. That 90-day expiration window is sneaky, and it would be a real shame to lose your points just because you transferred them too early.
Capital One Venture Miles
Gone are the days when Venture Miles weren’t really miles. Now you can use them at a fixed value to cover travel charges or you can transfer them to airline partners such as Avianca LifeMiles, Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and more (some of these really offer sweet spots).
Capital One makes it free and easy to share miles with other Capital One card holders so that your family can book those award travel sweet spots as quickly as possible. To share Venture Miles, log in to your Capital One online account, navigate to Use My Miles and select Share Rewards. You’ll then be able to shuffle points online without a transfer fee between your own Capital One cards (from a Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card to the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, for example). Alternatively, you can opt to transfer to someone else’s Capital One account. At last report, you had to call in to complete the transfer, but it appears that it’ll be available online soon.
Pooling Hotel Points
Families might be interested in pooling hotel points for a number of reasons. Perhaps only one parent has elite status with the hotel, but the entire family wants to enjoy the room upgrade and free breakfast benefit. Or, perhaps you are trying to take advantage of a fourth or fifth award night free benefit and need to book all the nights from one central account to get that bonus.
If you’ve recently opened a new Marriott Bonvoy credit card to take advantage of the limited-time, 100,000-point welcome bonuses, then you might be especially interested in pooling those points with a family member to book a longer or more luxurious trip. The good news is Marriott will let you do that without a fee — but no more than that.
Every Marriott Bonvoy member is allowed to transfer up to 100,000 points per year, but you have to call customer service to do so. I haven’t transferred any points since the merger completed myself, but when I transferred points in early 2018, the points posted instantly.
Right now, you can earn 100,000 Marriott points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months on the following cards:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card (Offer ends April 24)
- Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express® Card (Offer ends April 24)
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card (Offer ends May 2)
World of Hyatt
Hyatt goes a step above the competition, allowing members to share not just points, but also perks. Sharing points can be done at no cost with any World of Hyatt member, not just someone in your family. If you want to share points, you’ll need to have both the sender and receiver fill out and sign this form (link to PDF).
The fine print says that you are allowed to combine “a sufficient number of points to redeem a particular award,” though the form doesn’t ask you to disclose how you intend to redeem the points. You are only allowed to participate in a points-sharing transaction once every 30 days, though there doesn’t appear to be any annual cap or limit on the total number of points combined.
Those with Hyatt Globalist status can even book awards for someone without Globalist status and that person still receives valuable Globalist perks (like free breakfast) via Hyatt’s “Guest of Honor” program.
While many programs seem to offer points pooling as an accommodation or one-off, Hilton’s points pooling feature is well designed to actually make your booking experience easier. You can start a “pool” with up to 10 other members (for a maximum of 11 people in the group), and members can contribute up to 500,000 points into the pool.
From there, the points can be used for anything you can normally redeem Hilton points for, including room rates, shopping and experiences, or points + cash bookings. Note that an individual member can receive a maximum of 2 million points a year through pooling.
If you need more Hilton points, here are the top Hilton cards for families looking for their next big Hilton redemption.
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card: Earn 125,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Earn 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
- Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Earn 125,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months
IHG Rewards Club
IHG is dead last among the major hotel chains when it comes to sharing and pooling points. Members can send and receive an unlimited number of points each year, but you’ll be charged $5 for each 1,000 points you send. This can add an unexpected expense to planning your trip.
If you wanted to send someone 70,000 points to book a night at InterContinental The Willard Washington, DC, you’d have to pay $350 to do so. With room rates starting at just $85 more than that, you might as well save your points for another trip and book the entire thing with cash. Or, during points sales, you can often buy IHG points for around the same cost as sharing them.
Pooling Airline Miles
TPG has previously covered 21 airlines around the world with the most generous family points pooling programs. While JetBlue is a great option for many families with its free pooling for families of up to seven people, the only other US airlines that made the points pooling list were Frontier, Hawaiian and Sun Country. Noticeably absent were the three US legacy carriers, American Airlines, Delta and United, as well as the family favorite of Southwest. Unfortunately, none of these major carriers have a family points pooling feature, and instead just offer paid points transfer options.
Each of these major US carriers uses a tiered pricing chart for points transfers, which means a different carrier might end up cheaper depending on how many miles you’re trying to transfer. Let’s look at a few examples just to compare:
|Cost to transfer 1,000 miles||Cost to transfer 10,000 miles||Cost to transfer 30,000 miles||Minimum/maximum transfer amount||Processing fee|
Per year: can’t send or receive more than 200,000 miles total
Per year: 100,000 maximum miles received, 100,000 maximum miles transferred
|Delta||$10||$100||$300||Per transaction: 1,000/30,000
Per year: maximum 300,000 miles received, maximum 150,000 miles transferred
|Southwest||$20 for a minimum of 2,000 points||$100||$300||2,000/60,000
Maximum of 60,000 per day, but no annual cap.
While there’s something to be said for a rapid transfer to book the award you want, paying several hundred dollars to get it might entirely wipe out the value of your award. If you’re not in a rush, you should look into buying miles instead, or seeing if you have time to sign up for a new credit card and earn the welcome bonus. Here are the best airline credit cards for families. Alternatively, you could potentially just book the awards you want from the account that has sufficient miles. With the major US airlines programs, you can book award tickets for anyone — ranging from your kids to your friends.
Playing in two- or even three-player mode, where multiple family members apply for credit cards to maximize perks and points, can be a great strategy to fast-track your next family vacation. However, if the points are stuck in separate accounts, the actual booking process can turn into a bit of a nightmare. Targeting programs that allow family pooling and free sharing can be an easy way to overcome this and get your whole crew on the road with less hassle.
Read on for more miles and points resources for families:
- Best Credit Cards for Families
- Beginners Guide to Miles and Points
- Plan a Points and Miles Trip for a (Very) Large Family
- Redeeming Miles and Points for Family Members
- How Families Can Afford to Travel
Featured photo by tatyana_tomsickova/Getty Images