Reader Email Sunday: American Express Membership Reward Dilemma

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This morning I am introducing a new feature to my blog; Reader Email Sunday. Basically, about every week or so I will select a couple questions from my inbox and answer them online so that everyone can view my response and offer their own comments. As always, feel free to contact me here if you have your own question and you may end up on the front page of www.thepointsguy.com!
“Hi, I have had an  an Amex card for many years and have never used the
points. I have now accumulated over 1 million points and am planning to
use them for travel. I notice Continental Airlines is dropping out of
the Amex redemption program and presumably all of their Star Alliance
partners[?]. I am considering moving 400,000 or 500,000 points into my
Continental account before end September as Continental goes to a lot
of the places I wish to visit. If I do so will I be able to transfer
points from Continental to other Star Alliance partners after Sep.30?
Does it make sense to put all these points into my existing
Continental account [where presumably they will continue to not
expire?]. Any thoughts are welcome. Thanks, Steve H.”
TPG: First off, congratulations on accruing over a million points to one of
the best programs out there. I’m a big fan of Membership Rewards
points and they can be extremely valuable if used correctly.

As far as Star Alliance transfer partners are concerned, they are not
all leaving the program. In fact, you’ll still be able to instantly
transfer points to Air Canada Aeroplan. You can also transfer to ANA
(All Nippon Airways) and Singapore Airlines – both of those transfers
take about 48 hours. Each of the three have different award charts,
which means there is no one best program for all awards. Check out
this post on the Star Alliance transfer partners and expect more posts
on the topic leading up to Continental’s departure from Membership
Rewards.

As far as moving points to Continental, that’s not a bad idea
necessarily, but I’d wait as long as possible unless you need to book
awards before September 30. I do not believe Amex will run a transfer
bonus to Continental, but crazier things have happened and there’s no
reason to jump the gun and transfer before you have to. And since Continental
probably won’t have a transfer bonus you should consider taking advantage
of one of Amex’s current 50% transfer bonuses to Delta (registration required)
or British Airways. At 50% there is a huge value to be had if you use those miles
appropriately.

Overall though, I do think Continental/United has a solid frequent
flyer program so transferring isn’t a bad idea. Continental.com has a
pretty good award engine (which they will use once merged) and they
allow one-way awards – even on Star Alliance partners, at relatively
low rates. So to sum it up, I think transferring is a decent choice
(though you should leave a good amount in Membership Rewards so you can
redeem in Skyteam and Oneworld as well).

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