How Long Does it Take to Buy and Transfer Points? How Long Does it Take to Buy and Transfer Points?

How Long Does it Take to Buy and Transfer Points?

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There is a lot of speculation about how long it takes for purchased or transferred points to post to your loyalty account. Earlier this year, AwardWallet set out to answer the question once and for all. In March, we launched a new feature called Balance Watch, which can monitor your loyalty account and let you know as soon as your points arrive.

After months of collecting data, we’re excited to announce that we’ve made point transfer and purchase times available to all AwardWallet members. In today's post, we're going to cover how you can use this new information and share what we've learned about buying and transferring miles while building this feature.

Point Transfer Times

Transferrable points from Amex, Citi, Chase, Capital One, and Marriott allow you to convert your points into more than 50 unique loyalty programs. Including programs that can receive points from more than one of these providers, there are over 100 transfer combinations. While some of these transactions process instantly, the majority take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to post to the destination account.

AwardWallet has published the average posting times for the major transferrable points and their partner programs. By default, you'll see the full list of programs covered by our Balance Watch data, but you can also use the search bar to view results by a single type of transferrable points or recipient loyalty program.


Point Purchase Times

Not surprisingly, many of our members have used the Balance Watch feature to track how long it takes for purchased points to post to their account. Although some programs process these transactions almost immediately, many are delayed from a few hours to a few days.


Why Posting Times Matter

If you’ve booked at least a few tickets with points or miles, you’ve probably experienced the disappointment of missing out on your preferred itinerary because award availability changed or someone else beat you to the punch. If you need to buy or transfer points to book an award, you can’t take action until the points post. We built the Balance Watch feature so that AwardWallet members could be notified as soon as their account balance changes.

Reduce the Risk of Losing Your Award

Once you have decided on an itinerary and verified that the airline operating your flights is offering award seats, it’s time to decide what type of miles you should use for your ticket. Although there are some exceptions, most airlines partner with many frequent-flyer programs, which means you often have more than one option to book your trip.

For example, if you want to book a Swiss Air Lines flight, you might use miles from United MileagePlus, Air Canada Aeroplan, or Singapore KrisFlyer (or any of the 26 airlines in Star Alliance).

If you need to buy or transfer points, you may be able to reduce or eliminate the wait by picking a program with faster posting times. If you have Amex Membership Rewards, you can book right away with Aeroplan or Avianca LifeMiles, but you’d likely wait around 36 hours to get your miles if you book with Singapore KrisFlyer.

Why it (Might) Matter Which Program You Use

When you have multiple options to book an award, there are often good reasons to prefer using one type of miles over another. Here are a few factors to consider:

If you think you may have to change or cancel your ticket, you might prefer booking with Singapore Krisflyer to lock in a $50 change fee instead of $125 with United Mileage Plus.

If you’re traveling with an infant, you might choose Aeroplan and pay a flat fee of $100 CAD instead of paying United 10% of the cost to buy a revenue ticket—especially for business class awards.

If your flight is operated by an airline that has hefty fuel surcharges like Lufthansa, you might book with United miles and pay ~$50 in taxes and fees instead of ~$450 with Aeroplan.

Finding the Fastest Transferrable Currency

In some cases, you won’t necessarily need to book with a different program to protect yourself from transfer-time risk. For example, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Etihad Guest both have at least one instant transfer partner, but if you transfer the wrong type of points, you might be waiting on the edge of your seat.



Are the Numbers Accurate?

The purchase and transfer times in our report are based on the average posting time detected by Balance Watch. Balance Watch checks the loyalty account it's monitoring every hour and records the time when the points or miles arrive. While we're confident the transactions are being recorded accurately, there are still a few reasons your experience could differ from our estimates:

Transfer Delays & Technical Problems

Anyone who transferred Marriott points shortly after the merger with SPG knows that an IT issue can wreak havoc. When transfer partners have technical problems, you can throw the averages out the window. As of now, we don't automatically detect and report unusual delays, but it's something we're looking into as a future improvement.

Selection Bias

For a few programs that typically post purchases or transfers instantly, our estimate may be skewed towards the longest wait times experienced by our members. When everything goes right, and miles post right away, there’s no reason to use the Balance Watch feature, so we don’t collect a data point for the instant transfer. When miles don’t post right away, and Balance Watch is activated, we get a data point that reflects the “outlier” case.

Limited Data

Balance Watch is still relatively new, so some averages are based on a limited number of transactions. In cases where we don't have any data, we've provided our best estimate. If you hover your cursor over the estimated time, you can see how many transfers or purchases are included in the current average (or whether the estimate was added manually by AwardWallet).

Human Error

Lastly, we rely on AwardWallet members to accurately report the details of their transfer or purchase. When you activate Balance Watch, you'll be asked how long ago your transaction was initiated. We don't include transactions started more than 24 hours before Balance Watch was activated in our averages. For transfers, we also ask about the source of the incoming points.


Final Thoughts

Although it doesn’t come as a surprise, one of the big takeaways from working on this project is that a well-diversified portfolio of points can give you a significant advantage. If you focus on earning transferrable points, you’ll have access to dozens of frequent-frequent-flyer programs and exponentially more partner airlines to find the best itinerary for your needs.

While it makes sense that many programs haven’t invested in instant transfers due to the logistical challenge of working with another party, we didn’t expect so many programs to have significant delays with purchased points—especially when they charge so much for the privilege of topping up your account.

While Balance Watch and our new transfer and purchase time report won't eliminate the chance of losing a ticket while you’re waiting for your points, we hope it helps you plan ahead and find the best strategy to minimize the risk.

Check out our new resource for transfer times and purchase times, and let us know what you think in the comments!

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