One thing that’s always annoyed me about airline frequent flier programs is when they demand substantial fees to transfer miles from one person to another.

If my wife and I each had too few frequent flier miles for a free ticket but have enough if those miles were combined, most U.S. airlines would charge us money to transfer miles we already earned from one spouse to another.

This year the rules have started to change. American Airlines cut the cost of transferring miles by two-thirds. Still, even now moving 20,000 AAdvantage miles to another account would cost $100.

This month, United Airlines raised the bar by becoming the first of the big four — American, Delta, Southwest and United — to allow free mileage pooling

Up to five people can now pool their United MileagePlus miles. For example, my wife and I could pool our miles at no cost, and could add our son to the pool, or even some unrelated friends.

That’s great, particularly for people who don’t take lots of flights. Imagine a family takes some flights on United, and each ends up with several thousand MileagePlus miles.

Each person would have too few miles for a free ticket, but together they could have enough. Pooled miles can be used for United and United Express tickets, but not for upgrades, seat assignments or anything else.

Some smaller and non-U.S. airlines allow mileage pooling, but most have restrictions not seen in United’s program or require at least one person in the pool to have the airline’s affiliated credit card or certain airline status.

The travel-related website put together a list, and JetBlue appeared to be the only other U.S. airline with a no-fee pool option like United’s. Both carriers serve Charleston International.

If you’re thinking about pooling United miles, choose your leader and  members wisely. Once miles are contributed to the pool they can’t been pulled out after 24 hours, and the pool leader decides how they are used.

The MileagePlus member who creates a pool is the leader, who must be at least 18 years old, and then they invite others (of any age) to join. A person can only join one pool, so consider an invitation carefully.

If the pool leader leaves the pool, or dies, all the frequent flier miles in the pool are distributed equally among the members.

Want to transfer United miles to someone outside of a pool? The airline would charge what says is “the most expensive” fee around, at $7.50 per 500 miles, plus a $30 transaction fee. That’s about what American Airlines used to charge, before cutting its fee by two-thirds.

Airlines that charge to transfer miles from one account to another have fees ranging from a half-cent per mile (American) to a penny (Delta, Alaska, Southwest) to 1.5 cents (United). Some also charge transaction fees of $25 to $30 (United, Delta and Alaska). 

So, transferring 10,000 miles could cost between $50 and $180.

It’s rarely a good deal to transfer miles, but sometimes it can make sense — depending on the price — if doing so would put the receiving person just over the number of miles needed for a ticket. Pooling them at no cost is obviously a better option.

Some airlines still have expiration dates on frequent flier miles, and that can be another reason for a transfer. Luckily, now that most of the largest airlines don’t let miles expire (Delta, Southwest, United) there’s less pressure to use them or lose them.

The ability to pool United miles with no fees, and no requirements about airline status or credit card membership, is a clear win for consumers and hopefully a change that will spread to other airlines.

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