Is it worth it to transfer Hilton hotel points to American Airlines?

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Transfers are possible, not always wise

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

Ask Tony a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Cashing In answer archive.

Dear Cashing In, 
Can
I transfer Hilton points to use on American Airlines flights? – Larry

Dear Larry,
There
are many ways to transfer points between different programs. The people who run
loyalty programs have come to realize that customers value flexibility in their
reward programs. They like to tout them not as a cookie-cutter,
one-size-fits-all program, but one in which you can tailor the rewards to your
individual circumstances and preferences.

However, you
generally can’t transfer points between competing programs. For instance, if
you have United frequent flyer miles, you can’t transfer those to American’s
frequent flyer program. But between airlines and hotels, there are more
options. Be warned that that’s not always a wise move.

Calculate the transfer ratio

To
see whether transferring between programs makes sense, you must pay attention
to the transfer ratio – how many points it takes from program x to move into program y. If the points transfer at a 1:1
ratio, that can be a smart transfer. For instance, Starwood – which owns
Sheraton and Aloft and, in a major acquisition, merged with Marriott – allows
transfers to more than 30 airlines (including American) at a 1:1 ratio.

Most
hotel programs, though, are less generous. Hilton, for instance, allows you to
transfer Hilton points to eight North American airlines, including American.
But the transfer ratios are awful. If you transfer 10,000 Hilton points to
American, you’ll receive only 1,500 American miles. The ratios are even worse
when transferring to United, Delta, Alaska, and Air Canada: Those 10,000 Hilton
points are worth just 1,000 frequent flyer miles in those programs.

Tip: If the points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, transferring between programs can make sense.  

That
feels like a waste of points – unless you have a large cache of Hilton points
or need just a few more frequent flyer miles for an award. To accumulate any
meaningful number of frequent flyer miles at those rates, you would need to
start with hundreds of thousands of Hilton points. Short-haul round trips on
American start at 15,000 miles, and longer flights start at 25,000. That means
you would need between 100,000 and 150,000 Hilton points for the shortest
round-trip flights on American, which are probably not too expensive to begin
with. Regular domestic round-trips would necessitate transferring between
167,000 and 250,000 Hilton points. That’s a lot of potential nights at Hilton
properties going to waste.

The
best way to accumulate American miles is by flying on the airline or by using
one of two American Airlines credit cards. Barclaycard and Citi both have
versions with healthy sign-up bonuses and offer one frequent flyer mile per $1
of spending.

Consider an airline card

Also,
before going to great lengths to stockpile American miles, make sure you can
use them for flights to and from your city to where you want to fly often. The airline is notoriously stingy at making reward
tickets available at the lowest levels.

Generally,
to get the most out of your points and miles, it makes the most sense to use
them in their own programs – American miles on American, Hilton points at
Hilton. When you start moving points from program to program, the companies
tend to siphon off some of the value. You’re left with less.

See related: How to transfer your miles and points into other reward programs, How to transfer AmEx points between airlines 





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