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Update: This can no longer be done.
Although American Express Membership Rewards has 19 airline partners and three that are in Star Alliance, they no longer have a US based Star Alliance carrier since United/Continental left in October of 2011. Now cardholders must go through another partner such as Air Canada’s Aeroplan, All Nippon Airways Mileage Club or Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program for Star Alliance redemptions.
However, a FlyerTalker named easygoing77 recently posted a creative way to convert American Express Membership Rewards point to US Airways Dividend Miles via Aeroplan and Points.com. I was skeptical at first because points.com rarely offers valuable ways to transfer miles between currencies, but lo and behold for some reason Aeroplan to US Airways transfers are at a 1: .85 ratio, meaning you can transfer 100,000 Amex points into 85,000 US Airways miles- not bad.
Setting Up The Transfers
Before you get started, you’ll need to have accounts for Membership Rewards (if you have an Amex card like the Premier Rewards Gold card or the Platinum card, these are the points you earn), Aeroplan, US Airways Dividend Miles and Points.com.
You can sign up for Aeroplan here. If you need a US Airways account, you can register for one here. The last piece in the puzzle is a points.com account for managing the points/miles transfer, which you can sign up for here. It’s free to join all three.
Next, you’ll “Add Programs” to your points.com account including your Aeroplan and US Airways frequent flyer numbers.
Add your individual airline and hotel accounts to your points.com profile.
Now, go to membershiprewards.com -> Use Points -> Airlines -> Aeroplan/Air Canada Transfer points. Amex points transfer to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio and must be transferred in increments of 1,000.
Points usually post instantly and once the miles are in your Aeroplan account, log into points.com and click on the “Trade, Exchange & Buy” tab at the top of the page.
Under Step 1, click on “get more into a program” in the “would like to” box, and then select US Airways from the dropdown bar under “select a program and amount.”
That will pull up all the options in the “exchange” portion of Step 2, and as you can see, 1,191 Aeroplan miles gets you 1,000 US Airways miles (the rest of the options are such horrible exchange rates they’re not even worth mentioning).
The exchange ratio you’re getting is 1 Aeroplan mile to 0.85 US Airways miles, a 15% drop, but possibly still worth it since US Airways doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on most Star Alliance awards and they have much lower redemption rates on certain awards since Aeroplan raised most of theirs last year.
Keep in mind that under the rules of exchange on Points.com, you must exchange at least 15,000 Aeroplan miles at a time, and no more than 50,000 in a single transaction, and you have to wait until the exchange goes through before making another transfer and sometimes they take up to 48 hours to go through.
Considering you can pretty much book any Star Alliance award with Aeroplan miles, why bother with the second transfer to US Airways?
Aeroplan has some high-value redemptions like 90,000 miles roundtrip business class North America to Europe awards, but it also levies substantial fuel surcharges on certain Star Alliance partners (Adria Airways, TAP Portugal, Lufthansa, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines and THAI) while US Airways surcharges are much less (though it does charge for simply booking award tickets!).
If you have no miles, or just a very few, in either your Aeroplan or US Airways accounts and would need to transfer enough Amex points for an entire award redemption, and the fuel surcharges and taxes to redeem with Aeroplan are reasonable, consider skipping the second transfer via points.com.
However, where this might be worth it is if you need to top up your US Airways account for a particularly valuable redemption. Remember, you need to transfer at least 15,000 Aeroplan miles per transaction and up to 50,000, so you would end up with between 12,601-42,005 Dividend miles.
If your transfer is toward the lower end of the spectrum, it might be worth burning a couple thousand miles in order to score an ultra-valuable redemption like US Airways’ 110,000-mile requirement for roundtrip award tickets in business class from North America to the South Pacific/Australia – especially because you can route through Asia with a stopover and basically get two trips in one. The same award would require 135,000 miles (from Canada and the continental US) with Aeroplan, so as long as you are saving more miles with the US Airways redemption than you’re losing with the Amex -> Aeroplan -> US Airways transfer, you’ll still come out ahead. Some of my other favorite US Airways redemptions are 90,000 mile roundtrip business class tickets to North Asia and off-peak awards to Europe for only 60,000 miles.
Yes, the math can get a little complicated, but if you’re seriously considering this transfer option, make sure you crunch all the numbers involved (the main one is that exchange/transfer ratio and the number of points you lose from it since that will be your basis of comparison) and it should be fairly straightforward to figure out if the double-transfer is the best way to go. USAirways.com only shows US Airways flights, so if you want to compare the taxes/fees for Star Alliance flights, you’ll have to call US Airways at 1-800-428-4322 and the great thing is that they allow award holds for up to 72 hours. For more information on maximizing US Airways awards, check out this post.