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Should I Transfer American Express Points to Continental By September 30th?

by on September 13, 2011 · 48 comments

in American Express, Continental

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Due to the amount of emails I am getting on this topic, I know this is the question on many people’s minds. The correct answer is: it depends and only you can decide what the right decision. Here is my take on it (because I’m also contemplating the same thing).

Pros of making a big transfer:

1) Star Alliance has great award availability and continental.com makes it easy.

2) Continental/United allow one-way awards – even on partners, for half the price of a regular award. Aeroplan and ANA do not. Singapore does, but they have a bad award chart and high fees, making them one of my least favorite Amex transfer partners (plus miles don’t post instantly).

3) Continental has low fees. They are among the most reasonable airlines when it comes to taxes/fees – especially on premium international awards.

4) Continental partners with Virgin Atlantic and a bunch of other non-Star Alliance carriers.

5) Continental has flexible routing rules, like being able to fly to Asia via Europe and allows a stopover and open jaw on awards. See more on maximizing Continental/United awards here.

6) Continental miles can also be accrued en masse by getting a Chase Sapphire Preferred (50,000 points and first year fee waived) and Chase Onepass Plus or United Explorer cards, so on top of a big Membership Rewards transfer, you can have a huge amount of Star Alliance miles in no time.

7) Continental and United miles can be combined and switched back and forth to help create one huge balance.

Cons of making a big transfer:

1) Delta currently has a 50% transfer bonus plus 25,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles if you transfer 100,000 or more. While Delta Skymiles may be less esteemed than Onepass miles, they can still be extremely valuable and the 25k elite miles will get you at least Silver Medallion status until 2013 (which means free bags, free priority seats, upgrades and more). I don’t anticipate Amex/Delta running these crazy elite mileage promotions once Continental is gone. In my eyes it’s an attempt to lock in loyalty to minimize the defection once Continental leaves. I think they’ve done a good job at creating tons of loyal Amex/Delta customers, so I would suspect the gravy train will end and go back to the normal 0-30% transfers we used to have.

2) The merger isn’t quite complete and we could see some negative changes once Onepass officially rolls into United’s Mileage Plus on January 1, 2012. We saw Delta make some negative changes once Northwest flyers were locked in (like losing Nwa.com, which was infinitely better than Delta.com at booking award travel) and United used to be known for blocking Star Alliance availability. Mergers happen so cost savings can be realized – don’t think there won’t be “synergies” in the frequent flyer programs either.

3) You may be putting all of your eggs in one basket. While Star Alliance award availability is pretty good, it’s not perfect and if you dump all of your Amex points into Continental, you may not be able to transfer to Oneworld partners (like British Airways) or Skyteam (Delta, Air France) or other options like soon to be Virgin America, Airtran and Frontier.

4) You lose the flexibility of using Amex Pay With Points. I generally don’t recommend this option, but it can make sense in some situations. For example, if you are low on cash and want to book a $200 flight with your points, instead of transferring to a frequent flyer program and trying to redeem a 25,000 mile award, you can use Pay With Points. If you have a Centurion or Platinum card, each Amex point is worth 1.25 cents (it’s actually marketed as a 20% rebate, which is the same thing as a 25% bonus), so that $200 ticket would only cost 16,000 points, plus you earn miles/elite status on the airline ticket you book. All other Membership Rewards cards value points at 1 cent apiece for Pay With points.

5) Amex points don’t expire as long as your account is active, but Continental miles will expire after 18 months of inactivity once they become Mileage Plus. It’s easy to keep them active, but it’s a point of consideration nonetheless.

6) You will get charged a $.0006 per point tax on all transfers to Continental (you don’t pay this fee on foreign carrier transfer partners like Aeroplan or British Airways. This fee amounts to $6 per every 10,000 miles transferred, but can add up if you plan to move a bunch of points.

7) Amex points can be transferred to anyone’s account. So for example, if your spouse needs an extra 5,000 miles to get an award, you can transfer points from your Amex into their account. This flexibility has allowed me to help friends/family in many occasions. If you transfer all of your points to Continental, you will lose that flexibility and will have to pay to transfer any miles to a different United/Continental account.

What I’m Going To Do

Overall, I’m probably going to transfer about 35% of my current Membership Rewards points to Continental. I really like their program and I’m optimistic about the post-merger aftermath. The main reasons I’m transferring is that I really value the flexibility of one-way awards and the ease of booking at continental.com.

So, are you going to transfer Amex points to Continental before the September 30, 2011 deadline? Tell me about your decision!

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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  • Ri Zheng

    I probably won’t transfer my 180K Amex points because I have 240K Sapphire Points plus 130K Continental miles, effectively I will have 370K Continental Miles if I transfer from Sapphire.

    I also have over 200K Delta Miles(planning to do the transfer bonus) that will put me over 400K Delta miles, for my Amex Points. I think I will go for the 40% Amex bonus rebate instead of the 50%, Silver Medallion doesn’t seem to be useful because I only fly 2-3 times a year, the chance of flying Delta is likely to be once or twice. So Silver Medallion probably not too useful, considering I have a Delta Amex card(closing it March next year)? What you think makes more sense in my situation? I do understand that Delta is harder to redeem but I can even redeem Amex points for gift cards if need to be.

  • Sammy J

    1) Delta currently has a 50% transfer bonus plus 25,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles if you transfer 100,000 or more. While Delta Skymiles may be less esteemed than Onepass miles, they can still be extremely valuable and the 25k elite miles will get you at least Silver Medallion status until 2013 (which means free bags, free priority seats, upgrades and more).

    -this is for first time only transfers correct? i tried to register my DL FF# and was told my account was not eligible? it sucks because i made a 100K transfer a month ago and didn’t know about this

  • jcmitchell21

    My wife got in on the Amex gold 75k, I think we are gonna push it all into Continental because that combined with existing balances and recent credit card bonuses will put us both around 125k … a good start to a pair of international first tickets.

  • Ri Zheng

    yes 1st time

  • Anonymous

    Correct, but if you created a new Skymiles account it would be eligible (or try one of your family members- just note they will get the MQMs).

  • Anonymous

    A good start indeed. If you each get the Sapphire Preferred that will be 50k x 2 = 100,000 more that can be instantly transferred to Continental… sign up for the stamps.com and put some money on those cards and you are there! http://thepointsguy.com/2011/09/2500-free-chase-ultimate-rewards-points-with-stamps-com/

  • Anonymous

    FWIW I took up the DL promotion of 50% bonus and 25K MQM’s. I figured since Continental is going away on 9/30, DL may not have a reason to have another good promotion next quarter. Maybe they will and I just screwed myself, but oh well. I did the transfer on the MR website, and before I could log into my DL account, the miles and MQM’s were already there (literally about 5-10 seconds!). I have no use for Continental miles since they don’t fly out of my home airport.

  • P J

    I find CO’s award booking engine far superior to anything else out there and their miles so much more flexible to use on partner flights, but unfortunately I think UA is going to make a crappy decision and keep their current UA site as the surviving engine come Jan. Regardless, I’m moving the points to CO.

  • Anonymous

    I heard that UA is going to keep Continental.com’s engine post integration. Someone please correct me if I am wrong

  • Jon S

    I’m waiting until sept 29 and hoping Amex runs a promo for this transfer. If not, I may move a bunch at the 1 to 1 rate

  • Ri Zheng

    yes, that’s the word on the street right now

  • Dan

    You know what? I really don’t know. I’ve got too many what-ifs going on, mostly complicated by the fact that I won’t know BA’s new pricing chart until after the transfer deadline for CO. I want to fly F on CX via BA miles, but it’s possible that an increase will put that award out of my range.

    I’ll probably transfer 15k MR points to CO to top off two European coach award and roll the dice with BA.

  • Dave

    So, does UA keeping Continental.com engine mean that awards availability are as good as today? Or does it mean just the interface will be the same, but awards availability will be UA’s or unknown?

  • Daniel Peake

    Isn’t it $0.0006 per mile or .06 cents per mile? You said it’s .006 cent which is $0.00006.

  • Daniel Peake

    Isn’t it $0.0006 per mile or .06 cents per mile? You said it’s .006 cent which is $0.00006.

  • Daniel Peake

    Award availability via CO and UA are the same for Star Alliance flights. It’s just that continental.com can book most of them where you have to call UA to book a lot of their partners. The underlying availability is the same.

  • Daniel Peake

    Award availability via CO and UA are the same for Star Alliance flights. It’s just that continental.com can book most of them where you have to call UA to book a lot of their partners. The underlying availability is the same.

  • Anonymous

    .0006. $6 per every 10,000 as given in the example

  • Moe Safer

    I believe that Aeroplan does give Star Alliance one-way awards. Although not at half the number of points of a return trip.
    The redemption chart can be found here:
    http://www1.aeroplan.com/static/pdf/air_reward_chart/StarAlliance-OneWay-RewardChart-EN.pdf

  • Csschuh2

    That is great advice that the Delta agent won’t share with you when you call to complain about this “small print” detail. I haven’t transferred miles from AMEX to them in years yet it is a one-time LIFETIME offer. Wouldn’t that eliminate like 90% of all AMEX Rewards account holders from this “special” offer?

  • Csschuh2

    I just transferred 250K to Continental and had to go through an AMEX agent to do so when their website didn’t function properly. The fee capped at $99 for that.

  • Anonymous

    I’m transferring because I have a *A award ticket ready to redeem, only thing I’m waiting for is:

    1) some more Amex MRs to post so I have enough
    and/or
    2) any last-minute MR -> CO bonuses.

  • jcmitchell21

    My wife has already through your link I believe. I got the Chase Cont. card a month ago, and would love the 50k of the Sapphire, but don’t think my inquiries or current credit available with Chase will allow me.

    Thanks for all the work you put into your site!

  • Drjablow

    I am EWR based so I thought I was going to move all my Amex points. I usually use 280K points every year to take the family to the Caribbean for Christmas. So I have to pay 70K miles to CO for each ticket. I figured if I stay with Amex points it will cost less as long as they keep the 20% points rebate.

  • http://infamousdx.com infamousdx

    Don’t hold your breath on #2. Why would either side promote a bonus for a disappearing relationship?

  • jg

    for point # 5 you mean inactivity . please add in – in

  • Imssc1

    I have accumulated a lot more points on my continental FF account. Can I use thes points to include my wife on a reward through my account without a transfer of miles fee to her account?

  • Anonymous

    You can book an award in her name from your account

  • Tt

    you’ve convinced me to transfer to CO… .. nice comparison

  • KP

    I’ll prob transfer 100k just to have there! I’ve redeemed 4 awards on CO this year for other people and it has been a breeze!!!

  • P J

    Actually, this is not true. UA does not always show the same availability nor the same partners or as many partners. I have done this many times this year and needed to call into UA and TELL THEM to check various partner flights that I knew were available because of CO’s engine and UA does not show. This has been proven over and over this year with flights to Singpore, Bali, Norita, and Hong Kong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/acetracer Andy Mesa

    Also worth mentioning that you can transfer Continental miles to Amtrak, and that’s the only way to transfer Amex points to Amtrak. I transferred over a good chunk of points just this week for that purpose.

  • Adam

    I only have 75K from the gold card offer, and already have a bunch of UA miles so a CO transfer doesn’t feel too valuable. My wife and I both got in on the BA 100K card, so I’m thinking of holding onto the 75K to top-up any miles needed for a BA/partner award. Alternately, take a hit and transfer to SPG (just started earning those)…

  • http://twitter.com/Promo_Jake Jacob

    is there a minimum amount that the purchase needs to be from the shopping mall?

  • Pamela

    I’ve checked to see the advantages and disadvantages of booking a flight on CO directly thru Amex vs. through the CO site. I can’t see much difference, it even appeared to be a better deal and faster process to do it direct through AMex. SO…I must be missing some information. Can someone tell me why it is better for me to transfer my points to CO? I virtually do not fly any other airline. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    If you use Amex points to book a Continental flight you will get 1 cent per point (1.25 if you have the Platinum card). So if its a $1,000 flight, it’ll cost 100,000 points. However if you transfer to Continental and book it as an award ticket, that same flight may only cost 60,000 points (though you dont earn miles).
    This gets even more extreme for first class tickets. A first class flight NY to Tokyo on ANA may cost $10,000 which would be 1 million Amex points. The same ticket may be available as an award for 135,000 Continental.

    Award tickets generally cost a lot less than Pay With Points- especially for premium international travel. Thats why people are moving points into Continentals program before its too late.

  • Anonymous

    $1

  • Whateverasha

    The great thing is what Brian always tells us …… I applied for both and got my sapphire and was told on the one mile but I called and they approved me. I just told them I have two different needs for two types of cards.

  • Anonymous

    Well, AMEX pays CO for the miles, and 9/30 is the last time CO can get any money from them, so CO could offer a bonus if they really want AMEX users to transfer to them.

    Then again, if it hasn’t been done by now, it probably won’t happen at all.

  • sil

    It was either delta for 1st time transfer bonus of 50% and Silver medallion or continental. Instead of all my eggs in one basket, I transferred 100k to Delta for the bonus and the left over 127k to CO. Since I had only 600 miles on DL, i will have 150600 for RT on Biz to asia/europe and one for Canada. With the transfer to CO/UA, I will have a total of 183k and will transfer some from Sapphire to 240k for 2 biz to Asia with my mom.
    Now I have nothing left in AMEX and I will regret it should Alaska ever join AMEX MR. Alaska and AA are my favorite mileage plans.

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  • Iris97

    In an email I received, Continental is offering “Need more miles to reach a reward trip? Now through Sept. 27, 2011, buy miles and we’ll give you 20% bonus reward miles to help you get there even sooner” Does this make it a significantly better idea to transfer miles, or do the pros and cons still remain the same?

  • Iris97

    In an email I received, Continental is offering “Need more miles to reach a reward trip? Now through Sept. 27, 2011, buy miles and we’ll give you 20% bonus reward miles to help you get there even sooner” Does this make it a significantly better idea to transfer miles, or do the pros and cons still remain the same?

  • Iris97

    In an email I received, Continental is offering “Need more miles to reach a reward trip? Now through Sept. 27, 2011, buy miles and we’ll give you 20% bonus reward miles to help you get there even sooner” Does this make it a significantly better idea to transfer miles, or do the pros and cons still remain the same?

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  • Acefox01

    Just transferred 50k points over (of 100k+) amex points to Continental as I also primarily use EWR and that is Continental’s/UA hub. I think I can keep the points active in an 18month time, and if I can’t I’ll just sign up for a Chase account. I really hope both ANA and Mileage Plus compete for better deals though.

  • Debbiemrios

    Will you please clarify what the 20% points rebate is and how it factors in to your decision? Thanks.

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