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American Express Membership Rewards is now offering a 50% bonus on transfers to British Airways Avios points until May 31, 2012. The bonus is hard coded into the transfer ratio, so 1,000 Amex points = 1,500 Avios points and they transfer instantly. The most recent Amex transfer bonus to Avios back in November was just 30%, so this is the biggest bonus to BA that Amex has run since last summer’s 50%. If you need a British Airways account, you can get one for free here.
While British Airways did revamp the program in November and some amazing redemptions disappeared, my aversion to the program has died down because there are also some incredibly valuable aspects including no fees on last-minute award travel and the low miles required for short- and medium-haul redemptions. While fees are high on flights to Europe and Australia, they are nominal if you redeem on partners like American and LAN for travel within the Americas and even Cathay flights to Asia aren’t too bad.
Remember, you can also transfer Amex points to anyone else (simply log in to your membershiprewards.com account -> Points Summary -> Scroll to bottom right where you see accounts, scroll to bottom and select “Link additional accounts”), so this might be a good time to top up your family or friends’ accounts to get them to levels needed for awards. Amex will even let you advance points for free as long as you earn them back within a year – 15,000 for Premier Rewards Gold/Gold/Green and up to 60,000 points for Platinum. Remember, you can also set up a Household Account to pool your Avios points, which makes the logistics of booking travel amongst several accounts much easier.
Before you transfer, figure out if Avios will indeed make sense for your award redemption. See below for the distance based mileage chart. If you need to figure out how many miles a route is, this site will help you figure it out. You can also use this calculator to figure out how much your trip will cost in Avios points. Note: You must price each leg of your itinerary individually. So for example, you can’t enter Toronto to Lima. You’d have to do Toronto to JFK, JFK to Lima and add how much each individual leg costs to get your final price. Annoying, I know, but just think of the bonus and that should take some of the sting out of it!
To book partner awards just go to britishairways.com -> log in with your password -> Executive Club -> Spending Avios -> Book flights with Avios. When searching for partners it’ll prompt you to pull in partner availability after it tries to search initially for BA flights. Also, complex awards and stopovers in cities other than London generally need to be booked over the phone at 1-800-452-1201.
Let’s say you want to take a last minute trip from Los Angeles to Lihue (Kauai, which is amazing). There’s saver award availability, so using AA miles it would cost 45,000 and $80 per ticket. However, that same flight is only 25,000 Avios (so a mere 16,667 Amex with the 50% bonus!) roundtrip and $21. To buy the ticket it would cost $665, so your 16,667 Amex points are worth roughly 4 cents each. Pretty good for coach award!
Some other popular flights that are incredibly cheap with Avios – especially with this 50% bonus – are within South America.
LAN from Lima to Cuzco (where you can fly to begin your journey to Macchu Pichu) is a notoriously expensive route at only 364 miles.
Coach flights cost $602 roundtrip on LAN almost every day of the week. Roundtrips can be booked for 9,000 Avios (6,000 Amex with this promo) and $12.97. That’s a shocking 10 cents per Amex point in value! You can stretch it even further by using the cash & points feature, which is 4,500 Avios (3,000 Amex points) and $82 roundtrip an astonishing 17.3 cents per Amex point in value!
Intra-Asia flights are another sector where you can find deals. Hong Kong to Bali in business class roundtrip is only 50,000 Avios (33,333 Amex) and $74.
Flights to Europe, especially in coach, are generally not a good idea because they carry enormous fuel surcharges (think $600+ for coach and $900+ for business/first). However, while BA has huge fees, the amount they require for awards from the northeast (Boston/NY/Philadelphia) is only 80,000 for business class (60,000 Amex points) and BA has a really strong business class product and nice lounges. And per this Philadelphia example, buying their product isn’t cheap! You could use 80,000 Avios (53,300 Amex points) and $1,093 to fly roundtrip versus paying $9,128 for the same trip. 53,333 Amex points saves you $8,035, or 6.6 cents a point. If you are a business owner, this could be a great way to cut down on international travel costs.
British Airways also has a competitive upgrade program as well. If you buy World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) ticket you can upgrade from JFK-London for only 10,000 Avios each way!
Overall, if you work this promotion appropriately, you can get monster value out of your American Express Membership Rewards points. Should you speculatively transfer points to British Airways? It really depends on your current situation and what you want out of your Amex points. If you are planning to take your family to Europe in coach I’d advise against British Airways. If you are trying to get your family from Dallas to Orlando in coach on American Airlines, I say go for it and strike hard with this promo! Do your research and as always, feel free to comment here for advice.
If you are in the market for a new Amex card that is part of the Membership Rewards program, the top cards are listed below. Before you apply for any card, make sure you are logged out of your Amex account or open these links from a new browser or else it may erroneously say the promotions are no longer valid:
Platinum: 50,000 points when you spend $3,000 within 3 months. $450 annual fee. You need to be referred by an existing Platinum cardholder for this promotion- if you need one email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Detailed review.
Mercedes-Benz Platinum: 50,000 points when you spend $1,000 within 3 months. $475 annual fee.
Business Platinum: 25,000 points when you spend $5,000 within 3 months. $450 annual fee.
Premier Rewards Gold: 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 within 3 months. $175 annual fee, waived the first year. Detailed review.