Maximizing Amex Post 3: Understanding Transfer Bonuses

by on April 22, 2011 · 43 comments

in American Express, Points Guy Pointers

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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

This is another installment in my Maximizing Amex series where I examine the benefits of American Express cards and Amex’s Membership Rewards Program. The articles include; Post 1: Understanding the Card Offering. Post 2: Understanding Membership Rewards. Post 3: Understanding Transfer Bonuses. Post 4: Platinum Card Review. Post 5: SkyTeam Transfer Partners. Post 6: Oneworld Transfer Partners. Post 7: Star Alliance Transfer Partners. Post 8:Understanding Emergency Travel Assistance and Travel Accident Insurance. Post 9: Purchase and Return Protection and Extended Warranty. Post 10: Car Rental Benefits. Post 11: Gold and Premier Rewards Gold Card Comparison.

As I highlighted yesterday, transfers to airline frequent flyer programs are usually the most valuable use of Membership Rewards points (remember: Membership Rewards Express account cannot transfer points to frequent flyer/guest programs). The other really great thing about Membership Rewards points is that they generally transfer instantly. This allows for huge flexibility, because you can wait until you absolutely need to use miles before transferring them. I generally recommend confirming that award space is available in a program immediately before transferring.

However, the one main exception to the “hold onto your points until you need to use them” advice is when there are lucrative transfer bonuses. Transfer bonuses range, but are generally between 10% and 40%. When they become really lucrative, it can make sense to transfer your points prematurely, simply because a good bonus is too good to pass up. And as much as we try to predict what will happen in the future, no one really knows if future bonuses will be run and even if they d0, who knows if they will be more or less lucrative. The best you can do is understand the history of bonuses so you get a sense of what is reasonable to expect, which is the point of this post.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Why would an airline/hotel want to have a transfer bonus?” Well the simple reason is that American Express pays each partner for the miles/points. I don’t know what the rate is, but if you decide to use 100,000 Amex points and transfer them to Delta, Amex will pay Delta say, $700. So who makes out on this deal? In an ideal situation, everyone.

Amex makes out because in general, 100,000 points = $100,000 or so in spend on your card. Without factoring in late fees or annual fees, Amex charges a ~3% transaction fee to each merchant who accepted your payment. So basically, they made $3,000 from merchants because you used an Amex card. Not only that, they are happy that you are happy being able to transfer your points and book a trip that saves you money.

Delta gets paid $700 and let’s you redeem for award seats that very well could have gone out empty anyway, so that’s extra cash in their pocket. In fact, you may even book an award trip and decide to change or cancel it and they pick up another $150. Or you pay $25 for checked luggage. Or decide to use miles for one ticket and pay for the other – thus bringing them more business and filling more seats.

You make out because you are smart and follow and know how to maximize the value of your points. You leverage the current 50% transfer bonus, so those 100,000 points actually become 150,000 points and 25,000 Medallion Qualifying (elite) Miles and you turn around and redeem them for a business class trip to Australia on partner V Australia. An $8,000 ticket for 100,000 Amex points – you just made out like a bandit!

So let’s analyze current transfer bonuses. There are two types of bonuses a) Registration required (usually through a link from the airline/hotel) b) hard-coded, where the actual transfer ratio in is altered.

Current bonuses:
Delta- is by far the most common promoter of transfer bonuses. In fact, right now they have three bonuses running! It’s rare they don’t have one running so I always recommend waiting for a transfer bonus, because usually the wait is only a matter of weeks. Generally Delta transfer bonuses require registration, but post instantly. Sometimes they may take weeks/months to post, which can be frustrating so as a best practice, I recommend signing up for a transfer bonus and then letting it propagate overnight. The next day, you should see it reflecting in your Delta account under -> Skymiles -> Manage My Account ->View Your SkyMiles Promotions

My Delta Promos

50% Bonus and 25,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles until 5/31/11 when you make a single transfer of at least 50,000 points. This is one of the best transfer bonuses I’ve ever seen. It ran for the first time in the fall of 2010 and if you took advantage of it then, you are ineligible to do so with this run through. So if you transfer 50,000 Amex points, you’ll end up with 75,000 SkyMiles (enough for business class to Hawaii) and 25,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles which will get you Silver Medallion status (domestic first class upgrades, free checked bags, free exit row/priority seating, 25% mileage bonus and better customer service) until February 2013. I will admit, being the lowest elite level, the domestic first class upgrades will be sparse, but the other benefits can save you major money and hassle. If you don’t have 25,000 Amex points, you can get that many just for signing up for a $450 Amex Platinum card, which might make sense since you get a ton of other benefits as well (which I’ll be highlighting in a future post).
40% Bonus until June 30, 2011 when you transfer 100,000 or more points
25% Bonus until June 30, 2011 when you transfer less than 100,000 points

Airtran- 25% discount until April 30, 2011. This is hardcoded.

Past bonuses:
Delta: 30% 50% 20,000 Point Rebate 04 $250 Gift Cards, 20%, 15%, 25%, 30%, 20%, 30%, 20%, 35%, 15%
British Airways (Generally hard-coded): 40%, 30%, 20% for Platinum/Centurion, 5,000 Point Bonus
Virgin Atlantic: 15%, 15%,
El Al: 25%
Continental: 25% (2002)
Starwood: 50%, 50%, 50%,
Iberia: 20%,
Aeromexico: 25%

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • KT

    Do you know if the Delta transfer offers (transfer 50k pts to get 75k miles + 25k MQMs and transfer less than 100k pts to get 25% bonus) are stackable? Do you know what happens if I register for both promos and make a 50,000 pt transfer?

    Thanks so much TPG! You have so many great tips!

  • The Points Guy

    KT- not stackable. That has happened in the past but Amex/Delta have cracked down lately and even if you temporarily get both, they will claw back one of the bonuses (least lucrative)
    I like the way you think, though!

  • bac

    Can you confirm the Silver Medallion status will be available until 2/2013? Where do you find that information? I tried to find information about Medallion status expiration on the Delta site but failed.

  • The Points Guy

    @Bac- thats just the way Medallion status works. You have from Jan 1 – Dec 31 of the year to accrue status and then that status is good for the next year and 2 months into the year following. The great thing is status takes effect right away, so if you got status today, it is good until Feb 2013.

  • Matt

    bac: program terms are always subject to change, but status at Delta earned one year is good for the rest of that year and the entire following year, plus through Feb. of the year after.

    In 2011 your MQMs go toward 2012 medallion status, which extends through Feb 2013.

    The path to status with Amex doesn’t involve any “tricks” – you’re given the MQMs that go toward status just as if you’d flown 25k miles this year. It’s not the status that’s extended directly, it’s the qualifying miles that count toward that status that is extended. Thus the normal rules and procedures of skymiles apply.

    Hopefully this helps. I know the whole status game in general can be really confusing at first glance.

  • pianodude

    Let me preface by saying, my wife has mirrored most of the bonuses, etc. mentioned below:

    I transferred 120,000 MR points to Delta last night (50% bonus, so 180,000 Delta miles). Last month I transferred MR points to British Airways under their (now expired) 40% bonus. I accumulated most of these MR points from Amex card signup bonuses over the last year (Platinum, Premier Rewards – 2 times, Business Gold).

    So, along with the Delta Amex cards (Personal and Business) that I recently got (45K bonus points each), I now have accrued over 270,000 Delta points.

    As to BA, my family of 3 recently travelled to Hawaii on AA for 105,000 miles plus $15. And I still have 100,000+ BA miles in my account!

    Many thanks to TPG and FTG for your assistance over the past few months.

  • The Points Guy

    @pianodude- well played! It’s always great to hear success stories so people don’t think i’m making all of this stuff up :-) Safe travels!

  • bac

    Thanks Matt and TPG!

  • mike

    another option with delta skymiles is if you have the delta gold card (as well as maybe others??) you can redeem 11,000 miles for $100 AMEX card with no expiration date. I was able to turn my 25000 MR points into $550 by doing this with the 50% transfer bonus. A good deal for 2 credit pulls and a little bit of spend.

  • John Roads

    Hi PointsGuy,

    If I have already an AMEX card (but never had a platinum card), am I eligible for that promotion?


    Johnnie on the roads

  • The Points Guy

    @mike- good point- i my do a post on the whole gift card exchange- though I think the ratios recently became less lucrative

    @John- yes. As long as you’ve never had the Amex platinum card you can get the bonus. Just make sure you are logged out of your Amex account and you should be set. Many TPG readers have done this and none have had issues getting the 50,000 points

  • Matthew

    I was wondering if anyone knows if you can combine Membership Rewards accounts to reach the 50k threshold required for the bonus. I have ~30k in my Personal (Blue) account and ~20k in my Corporate account, and I believe my Blue points may be eligible because I have a Corporate account. I’m not really sure though.

  • The Points Guy

    @Matthew- you should be able to do this. YOu may have to call Amex to merge your Membership Rewards into one account. I recommend doing this over the phone, because you need to do the 50k in one transaction in order to get the 50% bonus.

  • newdeltaSM

    If you have done 50K for yourself, can you then also transfer MR pts to a spouses Delta acct to get them SM status with this 50% bonus miles/25k MQM promotion?

  • The Points Guy

    @newdelta yes- the bonus is attached to each delta account- not the Amex account

  • Doug

    Do you know if the MQMs typically really do take 4 weeks after the promotion to post, or if they post sooner than that? I have a trip in about a month that I’d love to have the status for.


  • The Points Guy

    @doug normally the mqms post right away, so ad long as you are registered for the promo you should be fine

  • Cindy

    A few questions, just want to make sure I have this right and there is enough time in the month of May to make it work:

    1. Currently have the Delta AMEX Reserve, I am assuming this doesn’t prevent me from taking advantage of the AMEX Plat card sign-up promotion and Delta transfer promotion?

    Then I sign up for AMEX Platinum card, receive card and spend $1,000 immediately/same day, earn 50K Membership Rewards points, transfer the 50K points to Delta, and earn 25K MQM for $450.

    2. Is there enough time to apply, receive the card, get the 50K MR points to post so I can transfer them, and then do the transfer between now and the May 31 cut off? (I wasn’t sure if an entire billing cycle had to go by first, and it took me two weeks to get my last AMEX.)

    3. Unless I am missing something, this is far better than a mileage run to get MQM for status promotion. Since I would have spent the $1,000 anyway, it is as if I am getting 25K MQM for $450, which is less than .02 per mile?

    I am not a fan of credit cards (too much Dave Ramsey several years back), and crossed over to the dark side with my Reserve card last year, but now this almost seems too good to be true if there is enough time to make it work! Saves me several mileage runs.

    One last question – which you touched on above, I just want to make sure I am interpreting it correctly:

    4. Is it possible for my husband to sign up for the AMEX Platinum instead (so he gets the lounge access, since I already do with the Reserve), get the 50K in MR points, and have the bonus MQM post to my Skymiles account instead, even though I am not an AMEX Platinum holder/sharer to his AMEX Plat account?


  • The Points Guy

    Hi Cindy-
    1) yes- you will also get $200 in delta rebates (this is good for some award fees, even gift cards) this reducing your cost even more. I’m doing a detailed post of the platinum card on Monday highlighting this benefit

    2) yes. Since you are already an Amex customer you’ll be able to advance yourself 50,000 points as soon as you get the card and the and 50% bonus post instantly for most people. Once your 50,000 bonus points post in a month or so,they will automatically go towards paying off your advance. I recommend registering for the promo today so that it’s reflected in your account

    3) if you value delta mqms, this is an amazing deal

    4) yes- he can transfer his points to your delta account and as long as you are registered for the promotion you will get the bonus and mqms. Note: he may not be able to advance points if he’s never been an Amex customer

    Hope this helps!

  • Cindy

    It does help – a ton! One last question….
    Are they any fees for the advance and/or transfers?

  • The Points Guy

    Advances are free- you have a year to “earn” back those miles which won’t be an issue because you have the signup bonus

    Transfers have an excise fee- I believe a 50,000 point -> delta transfer will have a ~$50 fee

  • Chris

    TPG: Thanks for all your help. If I am new to Delta, can I sign up for a new Skymiles account and take advantage of this offer right away? Are there any current promos for new Skymiles accounts…I think I saw mention of a sign up and fly promo that might garner 5K miles, but now can’t seem to locate it. If this is doable, are you saying that the transfer to Delta will also involve a $50 transfer fee? Is that standard? Finally, is the advance allowed for all AMEX members or only ones with a prior MR account as I don’t have the later.? I also want to make sure if I start from zero, I can accomplish before the end of May. Appreciate everything!

  • The Points Guy

    Chris- you can sign up for a Skymiles account and register for the promo today. Then get the Platinum card and if you’ve had an account with Amex (doesn’t have to be MR- my partner had an Delra Reserve card and he was able to advance right away) in the past for at least 6 months, they’ll let you advance the 50,000 right away. Otherwise you may have to wait until the points post, but if you hit your $1,000 spend right away, you can probably get the points before May 31. Amex has been very flexible with this offer- they are really amping up efforts around the Platinum card, so I’d be surprised if they didn’t work with you to get you the points.

  • Adam

    TPG-Your site is great, I discovered it when I discovered milepoint. We all appreciate your knowledge and the prompt attention you give to everybody’s questions. Now it’s my turn. Do you believe the value of this delta promotion is so good that it is worth transferring too if I have the miles in my MR and don’t have any set plans to use them, as opposed to leaving them parked in MR? (I have never used Delta, moslty AA, but have signed myself and wife up for Skymiles and registered for promo already)
    Other stats: BA (will have household 290k + 2 companion vouchers by end of year), AA 300k (me) 75k (wife), Membership rewards about 130k.
    I figure since I have other sources for trips, I might as well do at least the 50k transfer to delta for both of us. Or maybe even do an advance to do 80k and have enough for business class to africa (120k with bonus) as you have pointed out elsewhere.
    What good awards does delta have for around 75k?
    Thanks in advance

  • Doug

    @TPG, thanks for everything. To confirm for everyone’s benefit, the 50,000 base points, 50% bonus, and 25,000 MQMs all posted to DL immediately–as in, sooner than I got the confirmation e-mail from AMEX. My account isn’t yet showing elite status, but I assume that’ll come in a few days now that the MQMs are all there.

    thanks again!

  • The Points Guy

    @Adam- I do believe the 50% to Delta is a good deal as long as you know the risks. Delta awards are pretty hard to book, but international awards can be very generous. For US based members, fees are generally pretty low and you can build in a stopover AND an open jaw. I did Seychelles and Paris in busienss class for 120k last summer- an amazing value, IMO. I’d personally get my Delta balance up to 100k so you can get business class to Europe at least. 75/80k is Hawaii im business if that interests you. Also take into account that you and your wife will also have at least Silver elite status on Delta until Feb 2013, which at a minimum gets you free bags, free exit row and premium seating and an occasional first class upgrade (or more if you pick your travel dates correctly). Overall,I firmly believe its a good deal

    @Doug- congrats! Your status should update on Delta’s side within the next 24 hours or so.

  • Brad

    The “excise tax” for a 50k transfer was $30, payable by points or a charge to the AMEX.

    The miles and MQMs showed up at Delta immediately.

  • Adam

    @TPG- thanks for you opinion. I will only plan to use delta miles for premium international travel, so I will aim for 120k miles and maybe mirror that trip to Paris and Seychelles.

  • Cindy

    Thanks again for all your help. When I go to register for the card, it is asking me to log in or authenticate my other AMEX (“in order to apply for other cards”). Since you mentioned above to be logged out of your account in the comment to @John above, do I need to click the button as a first time user and create a separate login for the AMEX Plat card? Seems like I’ll have to give them my info at some point so they will let me advance the points. Also, I can’t get it to show the 50K sign-on bonus in the terms and conditions; I used the link above in your post to connect. Is that offer still valid?

  • Cindy

    Figured it out – thought I’d post in case someone else has the same problem. On my computer, logging out wasn’t enough, since it kept prompting me (already mentioned above). To make it work, I had to then clear all my cookies for your offer to appear with the 50K bonus and for it to let me apply without logging in first. Based on the final screen instructions, it sounds like now I just wait for the card to arrive and then login to the new account to initiate the transfer.

    Thanks again.

  • Bryce

    I checked AMEX today and saw nothing mentioned of the offer. Then I asked a rep about the offer and he stated that it had expired. Is this true, or is there something I am missing? This information would be very helpful.

  • The Points Guy

    Bryce- what offer? 50,000 Amex platinum signup

  • Bryce

    Yes, the AMEX Platinum offer. Has anyone verified that this is still a valid offer? I only know what one rep told me.

  • The Points Guy

    Click on the link- it’s absolutely still valid. Clear your cookies andov out of your Amex accept and apply- you will be fine

  • Bryce

    Thanks, PointsGuy. I really wanted to make sure it was still valid before getting a new credit card. I just talked on the phone to another rep who seemed to know something about this and said it was still valid. Sheesh, they need to keep their reps up-to-date.

    I have only been following your blog for about a week, but have thoroughly enjoyed your wisdom!


  • The Points Guy

    Thanks Bryce- the trick is to apply via the link and not upgrade over the phone. If you call you’ll get a much lower offer

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  • http://[email protected] kate tsai

    Great posting! I currently have AMEX Premium Gold. i tried to upgrade to Platinum for the 50K MR points but was denied due to some new regulation (was told one can only upgrade after holding the gold card for 13 mo). I was told i can try apply for a new platinum (instead of upgrade), which i am thinking about doing but have a question. what happen if i got approved for the platinum, got the 50K bonus and cancel the Platinum card in a couple month, will I get to keep the 50K MR points? how fast do they post the 50K MR points after I spend $1000 required? I really really want the DL MQM miles! :-b

  • Jane

    Hi, PointsGuy–I did manage to snag the Platinum card and get the 50,000 points, and I did some additional strategic spending through the MRP mall (6X for 2 Sears large appliance purchases–yeah! if it goes through). So I now have the 50K, plus last month’s bill, and now this month’s bill (which I just paid), plus the MRP points from Sears (I hope). At the moment, only the 50,000 and last month’s bill are showing as points. I can call a rep to get the points from the bill just paid released, I think.

    I’m sorely tempted to transfer as many of these points as possible under the 50% (w/ 25kMQM) bonus offer, by the end of May. But I’m also wondering if it would make sense to hold off on this first transfer. I’m fine with waiting a while to get Silver Medallion status. Do you think that a similar bonus is likely to materialize later this year? Would it be good to wait, accruing miles, before a first transfer? Will the 25K MQM bonus likely disappear soon?

  • Cindy

    Just wanted to add a follow-up THANK YOU to The Points Guy! Your answers to my plethora of questions and the advice/links all worked. It isn’t even May 31st yet and everything has posted in my Delta account. I was a little leery of doing the points advance since I didn’t want to have to spend time on the phone or email with screenshots to “prove” to AMEX the 50K MR points offer if there were any posting issues as I have read about in other forums. Instead it only took a five-minute phone call after the $1,000 spend and payment for a pleasant AMEX representative to shift the 51K from “earned” to “available” (not an advance), and then within seconds the points were transferred and posted to my Skymiles account ($30.60 tax fee).

    Thanks again!

  • Bruce

    I just upgraded from the american express gold card to the american express platinum card. I was able to get an advance on the 50,000 point bonus fromt the platinum card. The customer service rep that I spoke with at american express was able to set up my sky miles account on the spot and transferred the 50,000 bonus points plus the 40,000 I had from my gold card. As soon as she transferred the points to the sky miles account the 50% bonus showed up in my account. I now have 135,000 sky miles!! I am now at silver mediallion status with enough points to take a first class flight to st. Lucia and back! Thanks points guy for the great advice and I can’t wait to earn another 50,000 points so I can do it again the next time this offer comes around!

  • DowningSL

    I already have the AmEx Platinum Delta card. Can I access any of the other AmEx cards AND GET THE SIGNING BONUS that would allow me to take advantage of the transfer offer with MQMs that is going on right now? Thanks! I have appreciated your column. SD

  • Mk

    Hey points guy,

    I have over 600,000 Amex platinum points and looking to travel to Hawaii with my wife and daughter. Any suggestions to get the best value with these points?

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