25% Amex Transfer Bonus to Virgin Atlantic: Hilton Transfer Angle

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Starting today and running through May 15, 2012, US American Express Membership Rewards members will receive a 25% transfer bonus when transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.

The usual ratio is 1:1, so this will be 1 Membership Reward point to 1.25 Flying Club miles. This is not hard-coded into the transfer ratio and the T&C state that the 25% bonus will be applied within 14 days of the transfer. I just did a 1,000 point test transfer at 2am EST and 1,000 instantly showed up in my Flying Club account, but no bonus.

Virgin Atlantic operates non-stop flights to London from New York JFK, Newark, Boston, Washington, DC, Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Vancouver.

However, you can also use Virgin Atlantic miles on airline partners including Virgin America, V Australia, ANA, Hawaiian Airlines, SAS, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways and US Airways among others.

Perhaps most interestingly, you can also transfer Virgin miles to Hilton at a generous 1:2 ratio. So 10,000 Amex turns into 12,500 Virgin with this promo and then those can be transferred to 25,000 Hilton, in essence a 1: 2.5 transfer ratio to Hilton which certainly beats Amex’s direct 1: 1.5 Hilton transfer ratio. Hilton free nights start at 7,500 points a night and go up to 50,000 for Category 7 properties and they have VIP awards for elite members.

I personally find great value with Hilton awards in London – especially on Cash & Points rewards. For example, you can get the Hilton on Park Lane for 25,000 points (10,000 Amex) and £54 ($86). The cheapest non-refundable rate is £267 ($427) including tax, so 10,000 Amex points saves $341, or 3.4 cents a point. Room rates vary greatly, so always do the math before deciding if using this promotion for Hilton points makes sense for you.

Hilton London scenario

I recently got in on the one-day special 75,000 point sign-up bonus for the Business Gold Amex – If I wanted to turn that sign-up bonus into Hilton points via this Virgin promo I’d end up with 187,500 Hilton points! Not bad for a single card sign-up.

In my opinion, this isn’t as exciting as the 50% British Airways transfer bonus, but if you need Hilton points, it could make sense.

I could only ever see redeeming Flying Club miles for Upper Class (business class) redemptions, which range from 80,000-100,000 miles roundtrip from the East Coast of the US plus around $800 in taxes and fees (full award chart here). In terms of this promotion, that would take between 64,000-80,000 Amex points.

In that case, though, you can transfer as few as 63,000 points to ANA, which is a Membership Rewards transfer partner to book a ticket to London in Upper Class on Virgin, which is also an ANA partner. While ANA is in the Star Alliance, they have a partnership with Virgin Atlantic and their award chart is distance based. JFK/BOS-LHR comes in just under the threshold for 63,000 miles for business class – an excellent deal. Not only that, but ANA charges less than Virgin Atlantic, so you make out on both fronts.

Economy award tickets from the east coast start as low as 35,000 miles roundtrip (from JFK and Newark), which would require just about 28,000 Membership Rewards points, but even the fees on those tickets are $543, and personally, I just don’t think I’d be willing to pay over $500 in surcharges for an economy ticket. Still, when those ticket prices start getting super high over the summer, it might be worth it.

To take two examples, I just priced out a sample ticket from JFK-LHR in June on two different sets of dates. One (from a Wednesday to a Wednesday) came to $407 in fare and $654 in taxes for a total of $1,061. If you were to transfer Amex points to Flying Club and then use miles to book this itinerary, you’d be using 27,000 Membership Rewards points and paying $543 in taxes, so your 27,000 points would equate to $518 in value, or about 1.85 cents each. Not too bad for a coach redemption.

Even on this moderately expensive economy fare, the transfer bonus doesn't get you much value.

However, traveling that same week, but from a Sunday-Friday, the itinerary came out to $1,128 plus $654 in taxes for a total of $1,782. So in this case, my 28,000 Amex points would be worth over 4.4 cents each. Much more value, though who would ever pay nearly $2,000 for a coach ticket from the East Coast to London if they had a choice and time to plan in advance?

Here's a much more expensive ticket booked right around the same time that might squeeze some extra value out of those points.

That said, who knows how high airfares to London will rise this summer with the Olympics in July and August, so never say never. Plus, I’m generally impressed with Virgin’s award availability and your best bet to check it is to sign up for a Flying Club account –  you don’t need any miles in your account to price out awards.

If you are looking to pad your Flying Club account, also check out the current 1,250 mile bonus for shopping online at select retailers.

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