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.
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).
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 AAdvantageeshopping.com 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.