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Travel

Best Ways to Give Rewards Miles and Points

You may want to be generous with your credits, but the carriers have other ideas. Transfers are pricey (and limited).

Sharing airline miles that you’ve accumulated through your credit card or frequent-flier program may sound like a great way to give the gift of travel this holiday season. But transferring miles is usually pricey. The major U.S. airlines levy fees of about 1 cent to 1.5 cents per mile transferred, and most also charge a flat fee of $15 to $30 per transfer. Plus, the programs often impose caps on the number of miles you can move. With United MileagePlus, for example, you can transfer a maximum of 25,000 miles per transaction (with a 100,000-mile limit per year). At a rate of 1.5 cents per mile plus a $30 fee, transferring 25,000 United miles would set you back $405—or what you might pay to simply buy a ticket.

Alternatively, you could buy miles from the airline and give them to someone else. But you’ll pay up to 3.5 cents per mile with the big domestic carriers. “In general, I don’t recommend either option,” says Tiffany Funk, managing editor for travel site One Mile at a Time.Your best bet is to use your miles to book a ticket in the recipient’s name. Most airlines allow you to do so, and you won’t have to pay extra fees. Or, if you know that the recipient regularly flies with a certain carrier, you could buy him or her its gift card, if it offers one. (But you still may want to pay cash rather than redeem miles to buy the gift card—you’ll likely squeeze more value from miles by using them for flights.)

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Want to share hotel points? Hotels typically don’t let you book a room for someone else with your points, says Funk. But their policies for transferring or pooling points are often more generous. For example, with the Hilton Honors program, you can transfer points to another member or pool your points with up to 10 other members free. World of Hyatt lets you share points or other awards, such as free nights and select room upgrades, at no extra charge. And you can transfer Marriott Rewards points for a $10 fee (or no fee if you have a status of Gold Elite or higher).

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