Update: Deal is dead. Some folks have received cancellation emails as well.
Points.com is almost never a ‘good deal’ — the website lets you transfer points from one frequent flyer program to another, but almost always at a substantial devaluation — often greater than 90%.
I would use the site about once a year to earn a partner activity credit in the US Airways grand slam promotion, perhaps transferring about 4 American Airlines miles into 1 US Airways miles. The idea there was any activity with Points.com moving a mile into US Airways would count towards a bigger bonus. Sadly that promotion didn’t come back this year, and I’m quite confident I didn’t use Points.com in 2012.
There are occasionally really good values — arbitrage opportunities — and years ago I would earn eBay Anything points for successful Priceline hotel bids and transfer those points into Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles. I could make about 35 one-night Priceline bookings and generate a business class transatlantic award ticket for the deal. I was always happy to make Priceline bookings for people, and they thought I was doing them a favor!
Sometimes these exceptional opportunities are a mistake, someone keying in an extra digit for instance in the Points.com transfer calculator. And one never really knows which is which, unless or until Points.com removes the transfer value. (And occasionally, since the points don’t transfer instantly, they’ve caught the mistake and reversed the transfer.)
Loyalty Lobby highlights a current very good deal at Points.com, transferring Priority Club points into Amtrak at a ratio of 1000 : 1333.
5000 Priority Club points transfer to (among others) your choice of 439 American Airlines miles.. or 6666 Amtrak points:
I’m actually low on Priority Club points, having redeemed some recently for myself and for others. But I went ahead and made a transfer.
What you can do with Amtrak Points
Of course there’s train travel, one-way Northeast corridor regional trains in coach are 4000 points each way (6500 for business class). The Acela Express train, with tons of blackouts, runs 8000 one-way for business class (12,000 points for first).
Some folks love the ‘roomette’ and ‘bedroom’ awards for long haul train travel, personally I couldn’t imagine taking the train cross country.
But train redemptions usually offer the best value per point, you should be able to do 2 cents a point (meaning you triple the value of those Priority Club points) with Amtrak redemptions.
Since I don’t do a ton of Amtrak travel, even living in DC with regular trips to New York, my intention is to redeem for Hyatt gift cards.
I usually value Priority Club points at 0.6 cents apiece. I’m hugely happy when I can redeem those points at close to a penny apiece. And with this option the points are worth a minimum of 1.3 cents apiece. Because 10.000 Amtrak points are worth a $100 Hyatt gift card.
So this represents the ability to redeem Amtrak points at a penny apiece, which means at 1:1.3 transfers from Priority Club to Amtrak you’re getting 1.3 cents per Priority Club point.
And in addition to Hyatt gift cards there’s also Starwood stay certificates.
You can also straight-up redeem for gift cards or gift certificates worth 1 penny per Amtrak point with Hertz, Macy’s, Applebee’s, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Bloomingdales, Chili’s, CVS, GAP, Staples, Lowe’s, and others.
Elite members of the Amtrak program can transfer points to Hilton HHonors or Choice hotels. Amtrak co-branded credit card holders (who have a minimum in Amtrak spend each year) can as well. Depending on level of Amtrak status this option is capped at 25,000, 50,000, or 100,000 Amtrak points per year.
For folks who qualify, since Amtrak points transfer 1:2 into Hilton, this means you can transfer Priority Club points at a ratio of 1:2.6 into Hilton which is huge. And Amtrak transfers 1:3 into Choice, meaning you’re at about 1:4 Priority Club to Choice with this method.
And since 5000 Choice points transfer into 1000 airline miles, you can even transfer Priority Club points at better than 1:1 into miles in your choice of programs. Of course this option is only available for elite members and co-branded credit card holders with the Amtrak Guest Rewards program. I’m not one of those, I’m just going for Hyatt gift cards.
Buy Unlimited Points at 0.7 Cents Apiece, Redeem Them for 1.3 Cents Apiece
You can leverage the deal by buying Priority Club points at a discount and turning around and redeeming those points at a higher value. Where in the world can you get that sort of investment return?
Priority Club allows you to book Cash and Points reward night reservations, buying 10,000 points in the process for $70 (0.7 cents apiece). Then cancel that reservation [make sure it’s a reservation for a stay far off into the future so as not to run afoul of advance cancellation requirements]. You keep the 10,000 points rather than getting a $70 refund.
Then you can transfer those 10,000 Priority Club points into 13,333 Amtrak points. And Amtrak points are worth a penny apiece in gift cards or gift certificates.
The risk here is that Points.com could decide the transfer ratio was a mistake and refuse to honor it, returning your points to Priority Club. Then you’ll be ‘stuck’ with the 10,000 Priority Club points. Priority Club points, to me, are worth about 3/5ths of a cent though I can certainly get a bit more value out of them so I’m not terribly worried about the risk here but it certainly exists.
Nothing to Do But Wait
I’ve transferred my Priority Club points to Amtrak via Points.com, now I just have to wait for them to show up in my Amtrak account. This will likely take a couple of days, though the Points.com confirmation says it can take up to 7 days.
As soon as the points post to Amtrak I’ll be redeeming them. I don’t like the idea of building up an Amtrak balance, the program has too big a history of making changes with no advance notice whatsoever — whether changes to who their partners are (United dropped out overnight), changes in their redemption rates (making train redemptions more expensive) or changes to their rules (restricting transfers out of the program to elites only) — that I simply don’t trust them as a store of value.
But as an arbitrage play this is great if it works. And worst case scenario is that Points.com just reverses the transfers, putting the requested points back into Priority Club because they declare this a glitch.
It’s that possibility that has me on the fence about really going big and buying tons of Priority Club points in order to make this transfer, although I still may do so.
Update: as pointed out by Ruy in the comments, Points.com published rules for Amtrak transfers say that you can move or get up to 50,000 points per transaction and 100,000 points per calendar year.
If I had realized this I would have split my 61,000 point transfer up as 37,000 points and 24,000 points to stay under the limit of 50,000 Amtrak points received per transaction.
Whether or not that limit is enforced we’ll have to wait and see, Points.com certainly accepted the transaction so doesn’t have this limit hard coded into the transfer process.
And we’re quite near the end of the calendar year so any 100,000 point per year cap could easily be 200,000 points if this lasts until January 1.