Buying American Express Membership Rewards Points for British Airways Redemptions

by on June 20, 2011 · 28 comments

in American Express, British Airways, Oneworld

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A unique aspect of the Membership Rewards program is that you can buy points for $25 per 1,000 up to 500,000 points per calendar year. While I generally don’t recommend buying points, it may make sense to do so while British Airways is running a 50% transfer promotion until July 31, 2011.

At a purchase price of 2.5 cents per point, when you factor in the 50% bonus, it brings the purchase price of each BA mile down to 1.67 cents a piece. This is clearly smarter than buying miles directly from British Airways, which sells points for 2.5 cents a piece with a maximum of  only 24,000 purchased miles per calendar year.

To purchase Membership Rewards points, you need to call American Express at the phone number on the back of your card, enter your card number and security pin and then say “Membership Rewards.” Your points purchase must be part of a transfer, so you can’t just buy points to have them sit in your account.  Once you purchase the points, they will immediately be converted into British Airways miles.

Some key redemptions where I think this could make a lot of sense are:
40,000 mile, roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from US to South American in coach. This is good even for deep South America, like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. These flights are often well over $1,000, so spending $668 for the requisite points is almost always a deal (unless you need the elite miles, because award tickets do not earn miles).
50,000 mile, roundtrip American Airlines business class domestic award (think JFK-LAX/SFO) for $835
80,000 mile,  roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from US to South American in business. $1,336 – quite possibly cheaper than flying coach!
50,000 mile , roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from North America to Asia (like Cathay Pacific, American, JAL) in coach. $835 to fly Cathay Pacific to Bali with a stopover in Hong Kong sound like a good deal to you?
100,000 mile, roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from North America to Asia (like Cathay Pacific, American, JAL) $1,670 for an Asian business class roundtrip with stopovers.
150,000 mile, roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from North America to Asia (like Cathay Pacific, American, JAL) $2,505 for first class to Asia – even if it’s in American Airlines First class which pales in comparison to Cathay, you still get a huge lie-flat bed, which can make all the difference when traveling 11+ hours.
180,000 mile, roundtrip Qantas business class from North America to Australia/New Zealand = $3,006. Those tickets are normally twice that (or more).

Remember, British Airways allows unlimited stopovers on awards, so you can really get a lot of value out of awards if you build in a bunch of flights, for example JFK-Lima (stop), Lima- Santiago Chile (stop)- Santiago Chile to Easter Island (Destination) and back all on LAN.

Before buying points, I recommend you get a sense for availability so you aren’t disappointed after you purchase and transfer your points to British Airways. In general, BA awards to Europe, whether on BA or Oneworld partners, are expensive. Think $400+ in taxes/fees for coach awards and $600+ for business/first.

Before you make any big purchases of points, I recommend reading through my series on maximizing BA miles.
General tipsPost 1 – Booking BA Awards, Post 2 – Booking Partner Awards, Post 3 – Oneworld Alliance, Post 4 – Taxes and Fees, Post 5 – Household Accounts, Post 6 – Companion Ticket, Post 7 – Using ExpertFlyer for Partner Award Availability, Post 8 – The Art of the Stopover, Post 9 – Leveraging Miles and Cash Redemptions, and Post 10 - Using to Find Oneworld Award Availability.

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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  • emily

    Can you also buy MR points to transfer to other airlines as well or is that just for BA?

  • The Points Guy

    @Emily- other airlines as well. I just used BA as my example for this post, but it could make sense for others as well (such as Delta)

  • emily

    Thank you. I’m looking on the AmEx site and it says flat out “You cannot buy points.” Are you talking about a points advance when you make a transfer? I understand that with the points advance if you don’t end up earning enough after the period you will pay for them at the rate you mentioned, but with a points advance you need to have had your card for six months, which I haven’t.

    The reason I’m asking is because I am only 5,000 away from the 100,000 points needed for the Delta transfer to acquire 25,000 MQMs. I am just not going to spend enough to get there, so I’m looking for alternatives. I am considering buying AmEx gift cards, buying coin, and buying Apple gift cards (which get a 3x bonus) to sell on eBay. However I’d much prefer a method where I don’t have to lay down the $5,000 up front. $500 I could definitely handle.

    Any ideas?

  • The Points Guy

    Emily- I’m not talking about point advances. Follow the instructions I laid out (you have to call) and Amex will let you buy points for a transfer at 2.5 cents a piece. Please report back and let me know how it worked out.

  • tivoboy

    With MR, can’t one also ADVANCE points to MR? I’ve been offered this several times, thought it was always available based on historical spend.

  • John

    I was actually wondering about this issue (buying memb. rewards pts to transer). You covered it well. Thanks. I sent a couple of people to your website for the Chase Sapph. card.

    Brian, can you do a detailed post of buying U.S. Air miles and using them for first and bus. class travel on Star Alliance airlines? Gary (View from the Wing) posted on his site that it is now virtually impossible to book U.S. Air miles for F travel on Lufthansa. Ben (One Mile at a Time) seems to think he can get around that. Can you do a few test bookings (holds) in Star Alliance F class and let us know your experience with U.S. Air? A lot of people seem to be buying U.S. Air miles blindly without actually knowing how hard it is to book U.S. Air miles in the premium cabin on Star Alliance carriers due to U.S. Air doing STRONG StarNet Blocking. I booked a flight to India from the U.S. on Lufthansa in First Class using United miles yesterday. It was extremely EASY to do. There was no StarNet blocking. I don’t think I could have done that same booking with U.S. Air miles. Thanks again. Keep up the good work!

  • Phil

    I wonder when they changed this… it used to be you could purchase the points online. Simply put the amount of points you wanted to transfer into the basket and it would offer up buying them online as an option.

    For a big spender $12,500 would get you 750,000 BA miles. Pretty nice. If I recall correctly 500,000 points is the annual limit of what you can buy. 5 round trips in F on Cathay Pacific is not bad for $12.5k!

  • Alan

    Do u know how miles redemption works for people bringing an infant? I have an 18 month old boy. If my wife and i redeem two free tickets by miles do we get to bring him on for free – he does not occupy a seat of course (maybe pay additional tax?) i know we can do that when we are paying customers. Not sure how it is whem we are redeeming miles. Do we include him in the claiming process or add him after securing our seats?


  • Elena

    I have over 600k british airways that I was hoping to use to travel over the summer. The availability is not so great in peak season, but good during off-peak. The biggest gripe I have is that the website has not been working to check availability. It’s just so frustrating to see a message that says “Error Unfortunately our systems are not responding, so we are unable to process your request at the moment. We apologise for this inconvenience and suggest you try again later.” I even called the executive club number and waited 30 minutes for an agent. I hope they fix this problem soon because I have all those points sitting there and I can’t even do my research on flights.

  • TravelinWilly


    The error messages are confounding, as are the wait times on the phone. You are not alone.

  • The Points Guy

    @Elena and Willy-
    I have been having major issues with I’ve been using for most of my Oneworld award searching, though its far from perfect

  • Tish

    @Alan – We booked reward tickets on BA and for our infant (lap) we had to pay 10% of full price of ticket. In our case, it was trip to Asia and we paid approx $500 for him.

  • Daniel

    Hi Brian,

    I was curious how you were able to find the 100K mile redemption on Cathay Pacific for business class to Asia from North America. I keep searching for fares on the BA website (per your “Post 3″ on redeeming BA miles) but everytime I search for a LAX>HKG>DPS trip, it says 200K miles required. Any tips? Thanks!!

  • john

    go to spending ba miles/book with partners/make a reward booking. At some pt during the booking process it will ask you if you want to include partner airlines (press include partners). BA web flt search tool is slow, clunky, and in general sucks. It takes some patience.

  • Michael


    I, too, would appreciate any test bookings you could do (see John’s question above) You have advised us that the 100K USAIR purchase is great, but I can’t seem to find any 100K bookings either from LAX to any EUROPE gateway in September/October and none from LAX-Joburg/CPT next April.

    Any help is greatly appreciated.

  • The Points Guy

    @Daniel/John- the website has been horrible lately. But a cathay Us to Asia roundtrip is business class is only 100k

    @michael- Have you used and searched for Saverpass awards? Anything saverpass will be bookable for 100k US (except Virgin Atlantic).

  • Michael

    I did search using Continental. But (1) how do I designate Continental to use my USAIRWAYS miles?

    (2) Re: LAX-to southafrica. Is that doable for 100K round trip in business do you think?

    Thanks again!

  • John

    @ the points guy, Brian & Michael- DO NOT rely on Continental website availability for U.S. Air Star Alliance availability. Just because it shows as available for award availability on the Cont. system it DOES NOT mean U.S. will let you book it using their miles. AGAIN U.S. AIR IS BLOCKING BIG-TIME ON STAR ALLIANCE PREMIUM FLTS USING THEIR MILES. Call US Air and try doing a Lufthansa first class hold. I think you will find that it is very tough. They are StarNet blocking. I would ABSOLUTELY make sure that you can put a hold on the flt BEFORE you buy the miles.
    If U.S. Air let’s everyone “cash out” their miles on premium award Star Alliance bookings they would lose millions of dollars. They are selling these miles at 1.5 cents a mile to raise cash. They are StarNet blocking to stop the bleeding (of money to other Star Alliance carriers).

  • Michael

    I tried calling this morning and could not get the USAIR rep to hold anything as she could “not find anything available” on Luthansa First or Business LAX-FRAFURT-CDG or LAX-FRA-Anything in September. We tried October and the flights were spaced out 12 days which is too long a duration (I like to take 80-100 hours per trip). Very frustrating.

    Any ideas Brian?

  • bspn

    Hi, i am a newbie here. After the transfer, are there any expiration date for the BA miles? Thanks. Jim

  • Anonymous

    36 months but you can always reset that clock by doing another transfer (as small as 1,000 points)

  • bspn

    Brian, sorry to bother you again. Can i transfer my Amex points to someone else’s BA account? Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    yes, but sssshhh ;-)

  • Robin

    hi Emily ..Do as below.. first get your statement date.. just 5 days before statement date do a purchase of $5000 and hence you will get 5000 points.. Now call Amex care centre and ask them to transfer the points to Delta. wait for 1-2 days. Check if you have got the points in Delta. Then Return the purchase products and it should give you these points for free… ;)))))) .. try it and let me know if it helped !

  • Ak110677

    can i buy miles for sq for amex ? if can how much is 1 mile thx

  • Ak110677

    can i buy miles for sq from amex ? if can how much is 1 mile thx

  • thepointsguy

    You can buy Amex points and then transfer to Singapore.

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