Sunday Reader Question: Using the British Airways / Amex 30% Bonus for Flights to Tokyo

by on December 16, 2012 · 13 comments

in American, American Express, Avios, British Airways

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TPG reader Julie asks:

“I’m thinking about transferring 120,000 Amex points to British Airway Avios points to travel from LAX to Tokyo.  Since BA is having their 30% promotion, do you think this is a good conversion? The lowest price I found was approx $900.00 for (2 one way tickets).”

I have some good news and bad news for you. British Airways Avios are great for a lot of reasons and the 30% transfer bonus can get you huge value on certain redemptions and they recently revamped their website to make booking partner awards a little bit easier. Unfortunately though, economy class redemptions from Los Angeles to Tokyo do not make sense with Avios, because they tack on huge fuel surcharges to these flights (whether operated by oneworld partners American or Japan Airlines). For example, a one-way economy class flight on American will cost 25,000 Avios and a whopping $350.70 in fees.

25,000 Avios and $350!

25,000 Avios and $350!

The same exact flight using American Airlines miles costs 25,000 miles and $2.50 (peak economy SAAver flights are 32,500 May 1- September 29).

AA has much more reasonable fees

AA has much more reasonable fees

Not only that, AA has extremely flexible routing rules as well, which mean you can tack on extra flights as part of your award. AA allows you to build in a stopover in the North American gateway city where you leave/enter the continent on an international trip. In this case, that would be Los Angeles if you get a Los Angeles – Tokyo nonstop flight. What this means is that prior to your flight you can add on an extra leg, like New York to Los Angeles for free. You just pay the $2.50 in taxes. So when booking your trip  it would look like New York to Tokyo with a stopover in Los Angeles.

The same works for your flight home. Don’t end in Los Angeles – tack on an extra trip in the future anywhere in the US. Even if you don’t have firm dates, AA allows award changes for free as long as the origin and destination remain the same. Just note: AA also charges $75 for awards booked within 21 days of departure, so even if your origin and destination remain the same, if you’re in that 21 day window you’ll get hit with the fee (waived for elite members).

One Small Problem
So American AAdvantage sounds great, but you can’t transfer American Express points to American Airlines, unfortunately. Instead, you should focus on building up a balance of American AAdvantage miles. There are currently two AA Citi cards that offer 50,000 miles after $2,500 in spend on each, with the first year annual fee waived. You can get both in one day with only one hit to your credit, so many people have pulled in 100,000 AA miles with this approach (myself included). That right there is enough for two roundtrips from Los Angeles to Tokyo, with a bunch of other add-on flights.

Starwood Preferred Guest points transfer to American at a 1:1 ratio and a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. If you’re currently using a Membership Rewards card, you might want to consider getting the Starwood American Express, which allows you to earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent – but since there is a 25% transfer bonus, it is essentially like earning 1.25 American miles per dollar spent. The bonus on that card is currently 25,000 Starpoints: 10,000 after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 Starpoints when you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months of cardmembership. There is also a Business Starwood Amex, which has the same 25,000 point offer and it is possbile to have both cards and get both bonuses.

Also, make sure to shop through the for bonuses for online purchases at popular retailers and also sign up for AA Dining, which is currently offering a 1,000-mile new member bonus with your first dine.

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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  • Pointsloverrrr

    Is Alaska Air a partner of AA? If so, is it allowed to use them for the positioning flight – say DCA-LAX?

  • Joey

    “There are currently two AA Citi cards that offer 50,000 miles after $2,500 in spend on each, with the first year annual fee. ”

    Sorry to be a brat on a Sunday morning, but missing the word “waived” on the end makes it a different sentence and worried me for a moment. Thanks for all you do TPG!!!

  • CriticalReader

    Instead of pushing credit cards (for your referral fee that you fail to disclose), why not talk about other Amex transfers that might make sense (DL for one just announced a few new Tokyo routes). You push Amex MR cards often for the high-value of being able to transfer the points, but today you tell your loyal reader that the points she has are not sufficient, so she must sign up for another cc and begin earning points anew. This is double-speak.

    Good luck out there.

  • Agranas

    How do you actually go about booking the NYC to Tokyo trip your talking about?
    This person wants LA to Tokyo but by adding the start and finish to NYC she will get a free round trip to NYC? Can you book this online? Do you have cancel the NYC to la portion or just by not showing up do you have that portion somehow credited to your account. If all of this has been explained on another thread (as I’m sure it has), can you please direct me there?

  • PJ

    you spend 2500 and get 50K that is 20X rebate. If you have endless new cards coming in , that means you are getting the best of credit card rebate..

  • thepointsguy

    Actually the citi AA cards don’t earn me a referral, but I recommended them and for her to accrue AA because for that route, I honestly believe AA miles are the best (especially because of the free tag flights you can add on). I never said it wasn’t possible to use AA miles- I answered her question of whether she should use BA (No) and then gave my advice on the best route to take.

  • thepointsguy

    You can actually book them online using the multi-city search. even on a one-way award it’ll show at the top “This international award allows a stopover at Los Angeles – LAX for no additional miles. Mileage required for both flights is displayed on the Award Legend for the international flight.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes, Alaska is a partner and you can use them for the “free” flights as well

  • thepointsguy


  • Hqly2001

    I only see one 2500 visa aa card, the others are 5,000 spend i think.
    I bpoked sfo- hkg – sfo, can i call in and add sfo- jfk now? Any fees?

  • Mel

    The hypocrisy revealed by this post is amusing.

    A week or so ago when you were pimping your AA referral links for the same 50,000 miles at an obscenely higher spend, you defended yourself (weakly) by claiming how people might fear that the existing links without landing pages were risky (which they are not).

    Now that referral link has expired, and you answer a reader question by touting the 2x 50,000 AA sign-up, with nary a mention of the fact that they are “unofficial” links without landing pages, and you must be aware of that “risk.”

    Why don’t you provide consistent information, as opposed to just the information which suits you in a given situation?

  • The Points Guy

    Actually, if you notice, the link I included above takes you to a post about applying for the two Citi AA 50k offers which outlines them and talks about the risk of applying blindly for unofficial offers where the mileage bonus is not explicitly stated up front – so I’m not directing her to an application, but to a post outlining those offers.

    The point I made about official versus unofficial links is still valid – I never said those 50,000-mile applications were bad, and in fact I’ve gotten in on them myself. The point was that for the past few weeks people had the option to keep applying through those unofficial links or to use official links to explicitly stated 50,000-mile offers. For some people for whom the higher spending requirement isn’t an issue, that could be a better option than applying blindly. The point was – there was a choice at that time, but now there no longer is.

  • Mel

    I didn’t say you linked to a referral; not sure what point you’re making there.

    Anyway, so in your opinion, is there a risk associated with the unofficial links, or not?

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