When it comes to using credit cards to pay for travel, the earning of the points is the easy part. Booking award travel is where the process gets complicated. This post is about a specific situation that I imagine more than just a few people have found themselves in. It involves transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to an airline frequent flyer program to make an award booking.
Using flexible points in this manner is the best way to get oversized value for your points and the basis for all posts from people flying in Business and First class seats to locations all around the globe. For this example, I’ll use the flights I booked with ANA for my dad and his wife to fly to Bali. Without them knowing, I went ahead and booked them on the EVA Airways Hello Kitty plane 🙂
To book these flights in Business Class, they each needed 136,000 miles in their ANA accounts. AMEX Membership Rewards transfer to ANA at a 1:1 ratio and they each had healthy point balances, but were a few thousand AMEX points short of having enough miles for the flights.
I was willing to let them have some of my AMEX points to make the reservation but American Express only lets you transfer points into your own frequent flyer accounts. You’re also not allowed to transfer points between Membership Rewards accounts. so I couldn’t just send the points to them.
There’s one workaround that I found that is totally legal and doesn’t even cost extra. American Express will let you transfer points to another person if (s)he an authorized user on one of your accounts. In practice, this means you can transfer Membership Rewards to anyone you want, as long as you’re willing to add them to your account as an authorized user. American Express Rewards Abuse Team has put measures in place to make it difficult for people to abuse this avenue of redeeming points.
I’m not crazy about adding authorized users. The most bothersome thing is the account will show up on that person’s credit report. This may affect their ability to get new cards, since some banks, like Chase and Citi, will only let you sign up for so many cards in a certain time period. I want my dad to be able to sign up for additional cards, so adding him to my AMEX card wasn’t a great option.
The second workaround? I added my dad and his wife as authorized users on my AMEX business account. If you have an AMEX Business Platinum or Business Gold card, you can get additional cards with the same benefits as the cardholder. The problem is that these cards cost money. If you have an AMEX Business Platinum, to add an additional Platinum cardholder costs $300. However, you can also add a cardholder and give them a Green AMEX for free. The same goes for an AMEX Business Gold card and even a Business Green card, which allows additional cardholders for free.
Because I added them to my business card, the account will not show up on their personal credit report. I’m not worried about them charging a bunch of things to my account so there’s no risk involved with providing them cards, which they’ll probably never use.
The process was straightforward. I logged into my American Express Business card account and then clicked on the Employee Controls tab.
From there, I just had to click on the Add Employee Cards:
Depending on which AMEX Business card you have, I’d imagine this screen will be different. Because I was logged into my Gold card account, I was given a choice to add an additional Gold card, for a fee, or a Green card, for free.
If the only reason you’re adding someone is to transfer Membership Rewards to their frequent flyer accounts, there’s no reason to pay for a card. Go Green!
American Express added a restriction in 2019 that stipulates you have to wait 90 days after adding an authorized user before you can transfer points into one of their external loyalty accounts. If you have anyone you think you might be transferring miles to, you’ll need to take care of this in advance.
It’s the same process to add authorized users to the AMEX Blue Business Plus card, which has no annual fee and allows you to add five additional cardholders at no cost. Just be sure you’re adding them to an AMEX that earns Membership Rewards, as I’m not sure the process will work if the person is an authorized user on a co-brand card (like Delta or Marriott AMEX).
You don’t have to use a business card for this to work; you can add the person as an authorized user to any Membership Rewards earning account like the Everyday Preferred. However, doing this would mean the account will show up on the other person’s credit report; thus adding someone to a business account is preferred.
Problems like this pop up when you’re trying to redeem points for award travel. Instead of giving up, you need to look to see what options are available. It may involve jumping through a few hoops but the reward is worth it.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary