United Now a Transfer Partner of American Express … Sort Of

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Earlier this week I wrote about the ability to transfer Continental and United miles and status between your accounts, since they are getting their collective frequent flyer members comfortable with having one account.

Well, what this means is that you can now transfer American Express Membership Rewards instantly to your Continental account (Until September 30, 2011) and then instantly to your United account.

As I mentioned in my original post, United allows one way awards, even on Star Alliance members. So if you have a bunch of Amex points laying around and you are trying to plan a trip to Europe, you now have the flexibility of doing one way awards with Oneworld (through British Airways at a 40% bonus until the end of March) and Star Alliance (United). This gives double the flexibility when trying to plan out award travel. You may see award space on British Airways to your destination and home on a mix of bmi and Lufthansa – now you can book two one ways using your Amex points. And if you don’t feel like spending the time booking your own award, you can always request my professional services to do all of the research for you and recommend the best options for the least amount of miles.

You can book a lot of BA partner awards online, but some will have to be done over the phone. Their US service center is 1-800-452-1201 (note: they are not open 24 hours – the desk opens at 7:30am and closes by 8pm EST most nights)

United one way awards can be booked online, but if you want to redeem for Star Alliance partners, you have to call:
Domestic award reservations: 1-888-467-0507
International award reservations: 1-888-674-4680

I highly recommend confirming award space before you transfer any miles. BA won’t usually let you hold an award and my experience with United has been mixed, so I recommend transferring once you know the award space is there and getting the itinerary ticketed all at once. Since transfers from American Express Membership Rewards are usually instantaneous, so you can even be on the phone with the rep and have the transfer ready to go once they confirm space. Just make sure your British Airways Executive Club and Continental Onepass accounts are linked to your Membership Rewards account:
www.membershiprewards.com -> Points Summary -> Link additional accounts (not enroll)

It may say that it will take 24+ hours to confirm the linkage, but it usually happens right away. I recommend logging out and then back in and then check to see if those accounts show up on your list of airline carriers. Remember- a huge benefit of Membership Rewards is that you can link other people’s accounts to your own and you can send them points. This is a gray area, so don’t call and ask a rep about it, but try it out on your own (start with a small amount). Try sending your wife/husband/friend 1,000 miles – I almost guarantee they will show up in your friends account instantly. This can be a huge advantage when you need to top off an award and you don’t have enough miles.

Remember, you can always buy Membership Rewards points for 2.5 cents a piece (up to 600,000 annually), though they technically limit that to 100,000 for partners who have announced they are leaving the program, though I don’t know if they are enforcing that rule for Continental.

People have also been asking me if I think Continental will run a transfer promo (similar to Delta’s crazy 50% current transfer promo) and my gut tells me they won’t. Continental was never crazy about point inflation and transfer bonuses, so I don’t see that changing before they leave in September. I think they know their impending departure from the program will be incentive enough for people to transfer.

So in summary, if you have Amex points, I encourage you to think long and hard about whether having Continental/United points can benefit you on your next award trip. You don’t have to panic and transfer today, but you should make a decision by the end of September 2011.

And if you aren’t currently any American Express Membership Rewards member, you can get 50,000 points points for signing up for the Platinum card, which is an incredible deal (full disclosure: I get credit if you sign up through my link, so if you like this site, please consider using my link).

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