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Which American Express 50% Transfer Bonus is Better: British Airways or Delta?

by on July 20, 2011 · 58 comments

in American Express, British Airways, Delta, Points Guy Pointers

Until July 31, 2011, you can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards Points to British Airways for a 50% bonus (see my original post for more details). Delta also has a 50% bonus for first time transferees that includes a 25,000 elite mile bonus when you transfer 100,000 or more miles, which is valid until September 30, 2011 (See that post here). Since many of you are rolling in Membership Rewards points due to bumping your Platinum card sign-up bonuses to 100,000, I’ve been getting a lot of queries on which transfer bonus is better. As with all things points-related, it depends on your situation. But since I’ve personally helped people redeem millions of miles using Delta and British Airways, here are some of my general tips on each program:

British Airways:
Positives: As a Oneworld Alliance member you can redeem for awards on American (and SAAver level award can be booked with BA miles), Cathay Pacific, Qantas, LAN Chile/Argentina/Peru, Iberia, Japan Airlines, FinnAir, Royal Jordanian, S7 and Malev. BA has other airline partners of Aer Lingus, Alaska and Kingfisher. BA allows one-way awards – even on partners. BA also allows unlimited stopovers, which can be huge value if utilized properly. The cash and miles option can be very lucrative, especially for coach redemptions.
Negatives: Huge fuel surcharges on flights to Europe (think $500 for a coach flight, $700 for business class and up to $1,000 or more for first class). 4 different award charts that have very high mileage if you combine multiple airlines on one award. Buggy website that does not let you book some partner awards and automatically tries routing you on BA flights through London, even if more direct partner options are available. Long hold times for US phone center representatives.

Delta:
Positives: As a Skyteam Alliance member you can redeem awards on Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Czech, Korean, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air Europa, China Eastern, China Southern, Vietnam, Tarom and Kenya. Other airline partners include: V Australia, Alaska, Air Tahiti Nui, Avianca, China, GOL, Hawaiian, Jet, Kingfisher and Malaysia. Delta has flexible routing on award tickets, including a stopover and an open-jaw. You can combine multiple alliance and other airline partners on awards. Delta makes it easy to get elite status – it’s possible to get top tier Diamond status without stepping on a plane if you take advantage of their credit card related MQM promotions. Miles never expire. Excess elite miles earned past an elite threshold will roll over to the next year making it easier to retain elite status. Domestically I find Delta’s planes to be top-notch, most with wi-fi and/or in-flight entertainment. There are often 10-50% American Express transfer promotions. Delta does not charge an extra fee for last minute award bookings.
Negatives: Three tier award chart means you generally pay more for awards if you redeem for Delta operated flights so think 40,000 for a domestic coach award or 200,000 for business class to Europe (partner flights are always at the low award level).  Delta also charges the same amount of miles for roundtrip as one-way, so it does not make sense to book one-way trips using Skymiles. Delta.com’s award engine is flat-out broken and most airline partner awards do not show online, so you need to use tools like Expertflyer to do your own research before calling in to book (and even then reps will often challenge you that award space is not available). Delta charges a hefty surcharge (roughly an extra $200) for award trips that begin in Europe. Delta charges $150 per ticket if you need to make any change at all on an award or to redeposit the miles. Also, Amex charges a .006 cent per point fee to transfer to Delta, so 100,000 will cost $60. There is no fee to transfer to British Airways. Delta also does not allow international first class redemptions- only up to business class.

That being said, here are my recommendations based on where you want to travel:

Domestic US/Canada: British Airways. Since they are a Oneworld partner, you can redeem miles on American Airlines flights and in my opinion, American has the most domestic award availability at the low mileage levels. BA also lets you do one-way awards (even on partner airlines like American) so you can mix and match classes of service.

Europe: Delta. Delta only charges 100,000 miles for low awards to Europe vs 100,00-120,000 on British Airways based on what region your destination is in. With Delta you have more partner options (which always price at the low award levels) and the taxes are exponentially cheaper on awards and you can combine multiple partners on a trip, so if you use your stopover and open-jaw wisely you can cover a lot of ground.

Asia: British Airways. One-partner BA awards to Asia from the US are only 50,000 miles in coach, 100,000 in business or 150,0000 in First and you have several choices including Cathay Pacific, JAL and American. If you use JAL or Cathay you can stop in either Tokyo or Hong Kong respectively before continuing on to another destination in Asia. Taxes are reasonable – usually around $300 or so, even for premium cabin awards.

Australia/Oceania: Delta. Delta’s partner V Australia has good availability, but you have to call and some agents still don’t know they are a partner. Even paying mid/high tier for a Delta award on LAX-SYD can be a better option than having no choices at all, which is often the case if you try to use British Airways miles on Qantas flights. Delta’s partner Air France also flies Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti and has surprisingly good availability. You can also route to Australia via Hawaii and fly Hawaiian airlines. Overall, I think there are more options to get down under on Delta than using BA miles since I find Qantas award availability to be scarce at best and flying BA through London will cost 280,000 in business class and take forever.

Latin/South America: British Airways. Since you can use miles to redeem on American or Lan, they have an extensive route network and good award availability. You can also maximize the stopovers with South America awards – only 40,000 miles for coach to anywhere in South America (including deep south like Buenos Aires and Easter Island). Remember, you can only use one airline on awards if you want to use the least amount of miles possible, so you can only fly LAN if you fly from their US gateways of New York JFK, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you don’t start your trip out of one of those cities, you will have to fly American Airlines, which has extensive service to the region.

Africa: Delta. Delta has lots of availability if you route through Paris (even to Johannesburg) or Amsterdam. Kenya Airways is also a partner, so you can get to more cities in Africa than flying British Airways and taxes and fees are drastically lower. I once booked clients from Toronto to Nairobi on British Airways in first class and taxes/fees were $1,300 per ticket!

India: Delta. British Airways arguably has more availability, though fees/surcharges can be ludicrous. American does fly ORD-DEL, but finding award space on that route is like finding a needle in a haystack, however it can be done and the fees are reasonable. AA to Delhi will cost 80/160/240k miles in coach/business/first. Flying BA through London will cost 90/180/270 for coach/business/first and a ton in taxes. will cost you. Delta no longer flies nonstop to BOM, but they do have options with via Amsterdam and Paris with KLM and Air France. They also partner with Jet on the JFK-BRU-BOM route, though that availability is scarce (you have to call Delta to check it). Delta will cost 80,000 miles in coach or 120,000 business class.

I know there will be a lot of exceptions to these recommendations, so feel free to share your thoughts – especially if you think I’m wrong :-). Remember – Delta also throws in 25,000 elite miles, which in itself will get you Silver Medallion status until February 2013, so if you are torn between the two, that could be a deciding factor on which is more valuable to you. While Silver elite status is the lowest tier, it will still get you free priority/exit row seats, occasional domestic first class upgrades, free checked bags and overall better customer service. Definitely something to consider as long as you are aware you will probably have to work a little harder to book a low level Delta award.

So what are your thoughts on which transfer option is better?

Some related reading to brush up on both programs:
British Airways: 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 Qantas.com to Find Oneworld Award Availability.

Delta: Delta.com Quirks and How to Work Around Them, 10 Tips on Using Delta SkyMiles, Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on Delta Awards

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • http://infamousdx.com Mike L

    Totally agree. I found it very easy to get the 100k trips to Europe with Delta on both DL and AF. Fees were so minimal compared to routing BA which is always through London. That’s basically not even an option for the YQ they charge.

    Luckily, the BA site has been functioning VERY well lately (knock on wood) and the errors have become almost non existent.

  • MarkJ

    I did my AMEX transfer to British Airways yesterday for the 50% bonus. I have about $10,000 in spend left to do on my Chase/British Airways card this year and then I will hit the threshold to get another 2 for 1 certificate.

    I know the fees are high but I really loved my BA First Class trip this year and I look forward to repeating it next year.

  • Subbu42

    Thanks for the post, Brian. Doesnt DL charge some sort of transfer fee when you transfer MR into DL? The BA transfer is free, right? Maybe that could be a consideration too for some people (although the fees are not too high as far as I remember). Also, how you would rate AF J in comparison to some of the OW carriers that can be accessed via BA?

  • Anonymous

    Good point Subbu- I added the excise fee to the negatives list for Delta- its $60 on a 100k transfer.
    As for AF J versus FinnAir and BA J, its not as nice, but its perfectly fine (angled lie flats).

  • Chris D.

    Nice, timely post! You definitely convinced me that I should transfer the rest of my MR points (I got the Bump the Bonus!) to BA. I read somewhere yesterday that it might also work to transfer my wife’s MR points to my BA account. That could make that BA account pretty incredible! Question, though: do you foresee BA fees being raised on partner awards, to a comparable level as their own fees?

  • http://www.facebook.com/todd.brezinski Todd Brezinski

    I had the 100k BA card bonus and 100k from the Platinum AMEX upgrade and was planning a Asia trip and agree with you above. I took Cathay in with a stopover in Hong Kong and final destination Taipei. Then I used 20k miles transferred to FlyingBlue to book a KLM one way from Taipei to Bangkok. The return flight through BA uses JAL so I have a stopover in Tokyo. 110K miles, business class except for the one way.

    What are your thoughts on transferring to Delta or straight to FlyingBlue if going to Europe??

  • Jake A

    Question: So, let’s say I have 40K miles with Alaska. I also have miles with both American & Delta. How do I go about combing the Alaska miles with the DL miles for a larger trip (1.e. award of 100K to EMEA)? Thanks.

  • Vinny

    How about for travel to India? YOu mention 100K for Asia but that is to the Far east. India (or South Asia ) is quite a bit more expensive from what i can see. I am considering transferring MR points (and taking advantage of the 50%) to BA for an India trip but not sure if that is the best option.

  • Kevin

    A very helpful post! I had been thinking about buying MR points to top off my BA account so I could use BA miles for 2 business class tickets to Australia on Quanta’s since I thought they would be 160-180k miles each but it looks like I was wrong with that and that perhaps I should be looking at using Delta to get to Australia instead.

  • Farscapeone

    Quoting you above, “Delta makes it easy to get elite status – it’s possible to get top tier Diamond status without stepping on a plane if you take advantage of their credit card related MQM promotions.”

    Would you consider blogging about how to do this?

  • Gpapadop

    “Delta only charges 100,000 miles for low awards to Europe” – Is this true for coach? Did they already raise it or you just assume it is the 2nd level of the 3 tiered levels? ;-) Or is this business class?

  • Anonymous

    How could I forget India!? Sorry about that- I updated the post. I lean Delta on that one because its less miles and taxes, but there are no nonstop options from the US.

  • Anonymous

    If you can find a Qantas flight from the US to Australia ONLY on Qantas (leaving from LAX/DFW/JFK) then you should be able to get it for 80k coach or 160k business. However I’d highly recommend finding award space or at least getting an understanding of what they have available before buying the points. It can make sense, but just prepare yourself before you take the plunge so you dont wind up with miles you cant use.

  • Anonymous

    Good idea!

  • Anonymous

    Business class. 60k roundtrip for coach. This is low level (easiest way to do that is by flying partners). Things get messy with the tiers, but they are possible to avoid

  • Gpapadop

    Future blog topic to consider: How upgrading works in Delta? Order of processing, complications arising from being on the same PNR with another elite (lower status) or one w/ no status. Especially, the companion upgrades processing. If FC is not full, can we pick someone interesting waiting at the waiting area and offer to upgrade them at the gate? I used to do this all the time with Northwest but Delta is sure a different animal to tame:-) Thanks again. By the way I am still a great seatmate even though the contest is over;-)

  • Brian Lockhart

    How do you go about booking AAmiles SAAver awards with BA miles? Would they be cheaper than 25k normal one world domestic awards?

  • Kevin

    Great idea! I look forward to reading this when it gets posted.

  • Kevin

    Thanks TPG! Yes I’ve recently learned how limited Quanta’s makes their business class awards to other airlines. My travel plans are for whenever it works out so looks like I need to get an Expertflyer account and start looking at availability.

    Very good points all around. Although even if I can use the BA miles for this trip I’m sure I’ll be able to find some other way to use them… ;)

  • Jim

    Don’t forget these are not the only choices. We have until Sept 30th for CO. I just checked BA for Hawaii on AA and they want 105000 miles for first. Same flight on AA or CO is 80000. That really eates up the 50% bonus. May you could add to your post the the benefits of using these MR points on Star Alliance. Example, 90000 Aeroplan miles will get you to Europe in business on Lufthansa and give you two stopovers.No fuel charges and great availabilty.

  • Megerton

    I’m interested in this as well, and also what about Hawaii? Using BA, isn’t it only 35K miles year-round? Thoughts on Hawaii stopover potential for both programs?

  • Mitch

    For US to EU, I believe FB is going to hit you with fuel surcharges, while DL won’t, even if you’re redeeming for the same flights.

  • Sfobuddy

    I already blew my first time transfer option with Delta earlier this year, but I do have a boatload of MR points. Do you think another transfers bonus will present itself beyond 1/2012?

  • Dan

    Brian,

    Agree on everything for the most part, but have a question about India. Is CX not valid for a BA one-partner award from North America to South Asia?

    But now you’re making me think again. I could only get one BA 100,000 miles card (wife couldn’t get approved) and was able to transfer enough MR points to BA to get two J tickets to South America. However, you just reminded me that we can get two J tickets to SE Asia on BA for only 40,000 more miles, which isn’t unreasonable.

    Choices… go to SA where we’ve never been, or back to SE Asia where there’s so much we want to go back and see?

  • Naroowal

    Brian,

    Great post as usual. Very informative. Thank you for all the information.

    - naroowal

  • Maverick

    For travel to india, Is it a good option to book cathay award from SFO to HKGand then another award ticket (or paid ticket) from HKG to DEL/BOM. What do you think ?

  • Maverick

    For travel to india, Is it a good option to book cathay award from SFO to HKGand then another award ticket (or paid ticket) from HKG to DEL/BOM. What do you think ?

  • Maverick

    For travel to india, Is it a good option to book cathay award from SFO to HKGand then another award ticket (or paid ticket) from HKG to DEL/BOM. What do you think ?

  • Ed

    Need help ASAP on this one! Has anyone actually done the 100K Amex to Delta transfer and, if so, how long did it take for the STATUS part of it to happen? (The website say s “up to 6 weeks” but I need it to happen very fast, so that I can use status to nab some decent seats…)

    Thank you to anyone who can help!

  • Anonymous

    Usually the MQMs hit the same day as the transfer and the status should be updated within 48 hours (usually the next day).

  • Ed

    Thanks, Brian. Just to be sure: you know this because you have recently done this? I have dealt with a lot of inept Delta reps recently and I can’t get them to answer a thing about this, so I just want to make sure I hear it from someone who has done this before I pull the trigger! :-)

  • esque

    I did this 48 hours ago. The MQMs hit immediately; I had a new status when I woke up yesterday.

  • Solo3

    Agreed 48hrs complete package. I contacted AMEX rep and received advance MR points to take advantage of the 100K transfer. I’m now a Silver Medallion Member.

  • Ed

    This blog rocks. Thanks, guys (gals)

  • Larry K

    Has anyone who recently got awarded the 100k Amex bump been able to transfer to BA, given the MR points won’t appear until after the July 31 deadline?

  • Ed

    Okay, I have yet another question (two, actually) about the Delta transfer.

    1) On the Amex-to-Delta screen where the transfers will take place, when I type in that I want to transfer 100,000 points from Amex, only 100,000 shows up in the calculated Delta Skymiles box. How come 150,000 doesn’t show up?

    2) Website repeatedly says this is a targetted offer. Not sure I was targeted or not. How can I tell? (And is my problem for Q1 related to this, possibly?)

    Thanks again!

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  • Eric

    I really want to transfer to delta and then redeem 2 tickets on AF to Bora Bora in business. How big of a pain is that? My wife and I are completely flexible. Doesn’t matter the days or month so long as it is at least 8 to 10 days long. Is it next to impossible for that redemption?

  • Gary Leff

    I’d agree with all of your region-by-region assessments except Europe. There are specific flights on which Europe is easy via Delta, e.g. IAH-AMS, IAD-CDG, but getting a domestic flight to the international gateway can be a challenge (especially if you don’t live in an Alaska city). And while BA’s awards are more miles to much of Europe, and BA adds fuel surcharges to those awards, there are two HUGE advantages:

    (1) availability. and not just for a few seats. If you want to find space for a family of 6 in business class, where ya gonna look? BA. They have tons of North American flights, SAN/LAX/SFO/SEA/YVR/YYZ/PHL/BOS/JFK/EWR/ATL/IAD/IAH/DFW/PHX/LAS to offer an incomplete list and not even touch Florida at all. And getting to those gateways you’ve got American flights.

    (2) the product. The BA seat is unquestionably better than AF/KL.

    Now BA intra-Europe availability can be spotty, amazing on some routes and a challenge on others. But for transatlantic premium cabin availability, especially from the West Coast and with multiple seats, nobody is going to come close to BA. The fuel surcharges are annoying but I’m often willing to pay for the better availability not to mention better product.

    But as with all such things, YMMV, reasonable people certainly *will* disagree.

    Cheers,
    Gary

  • bitachu

    there is a blog posting regarding booking flights using BA miles on BA site for American..just look at the bottom of this posting

  • Lantean

    Hmmm… Am I the only one who is suddenly not able to advance American Express Membership Rewards Points?
    Somehow it doesn’t give me that option any more…

  • Rita

    I have 172,00 Delta ff pts. My husband has 296,000 Delta ff pts. We want to go on the Round the World Delta Ticket= 180,00 pts for economy and 280,000 business class.
    Should we go economy or business class?
    How can I transfer 60,000 Amex points to me with extra 50%? When I tried they said I would not qualify since I had done that already and it was only for first time users. My husband would qualify but it does not help me. So should we just go economy? BTW my husband is a Medallion traveller which works for both of us but I should be one soon anyway.
    Thanks!

  • Euan

    Couldn’t agree more, particularly when it comes to BA’s availability.

  • mrhats2

    This is a really great post and helps answer a question I think many of us AMEX holders have been wondering about. After reading up on all these programs I still think it makes a lot of sense to redeem Continental miles. Since the AMEX partnership is ending soon and United miles look like they won’t be super easy to come by (see the new Explorer card), it seems like a good time to put a lot of miles into Star Alliance. For the way I travel Star Alliance rewards are probably better than Delta (booking medium-term in advance, some one-way travel, some awards booked originating overseas). And in general I think United/CO miles are worth about 50% more than Delta Skymiles anyways, so this bonus is more just evening things up. Sure you can search for those low bucket fares ad nauseum, but sometimes it’s just easier to have your miles in a program that makes redemption easy, instead of a constant tug of war. Just something to consider as that September deadline to transfer AMEX MR points to Continental is approaching.

  • Jdjjdkdkdkx

    Which is better for Hawaii? Which is better for HNL? For OGG? For LIH? For big island?

  • http://twitter.com/manuvns Kripal Singh

    oh well a whole lot depend on how many miles you have in delta or BA account right now :)

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  • YYZ_Traveller

    For those Canadians follower.. RBC rewards are having a 50% bonus for BA conversion , minimum 10000 reward points transfer required . This promo is good till Aug 31.
    http://www.britishairways.com/travel/avion50/public/en_ca

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  • Andrew

    I think you made a mistake, north america asia “one partner award” in coach is 80,000 not 50,000

  • Andrew919191

    I think you made a mistake, north america asia “one partner award” in coach is 80,000 not 50,000

  • Anonymous

    No- it’s 50,000. You might be looking at the BA chart which routes via London

  • Andrew919191

    http://www.britishairways.com/travel/partnertable/public/en_us
    if im still wrong please post a link to where i could c 50k

  • Anonymous

    That is for South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka)
    Far East is how they classify Asia and thats only 50k roundtrip in coach (100 biz/150k first)
    Check out their region classifications http://www.britishairways.com/travel/ecredeemzonesforbapartner/public/en_us/templateId=ba6.jsp

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