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SRQ: What’s The Best Use Of Amex Points To Get To The Caribbean?

by on February 17, 2013 · 16 comments

in American Express, Delta, United, US Airways

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TPG reader Craig is sitting on some American Express Membership Rewards points that he wants to use to get to the Caribbean. Here’s what he wants to know:

“I have 525,000 points I earned with an American Express Business Gold Rewards card. I travel to several Caribbean islands each year and usually fly with US Airways out of Philadelphia or United or Delta out of Newark routing to St Maarten or Tortola. My question is: how would you move these points to maximize them for award travel airfares to the Caribbean?”

I've wanted to visit St. Marten myself for plane-spotting like this.

I’ve wanted to visit St. Marten myself for plane-spotting like this.

Because Amex seems to be your points program of choice and Air Canada’s Aeroplan frequent flyer program is a 1:1 transfer partner, one option to consider is transferring points to Aeroplan since it is a member of Star Alliance and you can use these miles to redeem on United. The Aeroplan award chart requires 40,000 miles for a roundtrip coach level award from the U.S. to the Caribbean, or 60,000 miles for a business class award.

Aeroplan Award Chart.

Aeroplan Award Chart.

Checking some sample dates, I was able to see some decent availability on United this spring.

Using Aeroplan miles you can book on Star Alliance partner United for 40,000 miles from Newark- St Maarten.

Using Aeroplan miles you can book on Star Alliance partner United for 40,000 miles from Newark-StMaarten.

You’re sitting on enough miles for about 13 of these redemptions in coach and nearly 10 in business already, but if you want to maximize
your points, you could wait until there is a transfer bonus from Aeroplan’s other partners if you want to put some points from other disparate programs to use for this particular redemption and use your Amex points for something else.

Another option is to transfer to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program. Check out their partner award chart, but as a summary coach awards from the U.S. to the Caribbean are 35,000 miles roundtrip and business class awards are 60,000 miles roundtrip. However, transfers to Singapore can take up to two days, so if you’re trying to snag award seats, that window could thwart your plans and the availability could be gone by the time the transfer processes.

So if you are just looking for coach redemptions, you could save 5,000 miles on each roundtrip coach award by transferring to KrisFlyer instead of Aeroplan. Just note that there haven’t been any recent Amex transfer bonuses to KrisFlyer, so what you see is what you get and you will probably not be able to find redemptions at a lower level than that.

Finally, in terms of Amex Star Alliance transfer partners that could be worth looking at, let’s investigate ANA’s award chart.

ANA'a distance based award chart.

ANA’s distance based award chart.

Here things get quite interesting. ANA’s awards are distance-based, so your trip from Philadelphia on US Airways or Newark on United to St. Martin both clock in at nearly 1,700 miles each way, or 3,400 miles total. The above amounts are based on total roundtrip travel distance and since they fall within the 2,001-4,000 mile range, these redemptions would require just 22,000 miles for economy or 44,000 miles for business roundtrip. Both are a lot lower than the other Star Alliance options, and well below normal North America-Caribbean redemptions. Just with your Amex points alone, which transfer to ANA within 48 hours at a 1:1 ratio, you’re looking at nearly 24 roundtrips in economy or almost 12 in business class!

Since you’re based on the east coast, you could also consider flying from New York JFK to St. Marten on American Airlines by using British Airways Avios, which is another transfer partner of American Express. It sounds like this isn’t your top option since you’re a Star Alliance guy and fly more from Philadelphia or Newark, but during the winter, AA has a non-stop JFK-SXM flight that can cost around $800 for coach roundtrip. However, Avios is another distance-based program, and using the mileage calculator, you would only need 20,000 Avios for coach or 40,000 for business roundtrip.

Roundtrip using Avios would be just 20,000 in economy.

Roundtrip using Avios would be just 20,000 in economy.

Then if you can wait until there’s another Amex-British Airways transfer bonus, where you can sometimes get up to 50% more Avios, you could need as few as 14,000 Avios to fly roundtrip in economy – a potentially stellar value.

Finally, in terms of Amex transfer partners and since you mentioned it, Delta requires 17,500 miles each way for economy redemptions (35,000 miles roundtrip) and 30,000 miles each way in business (60,000 roundtrip) to the Caribbean from the continental US, Alaska and Canada at the lowest level.

Delta's Caribbean Redemption Rates.

Delta’s Caribbean Redemption Rates.

If you’re a Skyteam flyer or have any status on Delta at all, this could be a decent option since it’s a US-based frequent flyer program that requires the reasonable economy redemption at 35,000 miles roundtrip – the same as Singapore’s KrisFlyer – and the standard 60,000 miles roundtrip. Delta hasn’t had an Amex transfer bonus in a long time at this point – which would sweeten the deal even further – and I wouldn’t hold my breath for another one anytime soon, but if one did magically appear, this could be a really good redemption of Amex points, especially if the bonus were at least 50%, where you would only need 24,000 miles for a roundtrip economy redemption – getting down almost to the level of the ANA requirements.

However, Delta rarely releases low- level awards and you need to have it available between Philadelphia and Atlanta and Atlanta/ SXM- something that may be hard to do. If you redeem for a mixed award of several tiers the price will increase drastically.

That said, it sounds like you tend to fly Star Alliance carriers like US Airways or United, so if that’s the case, you might still consider a transfer to ANA in order to fly either of those two airlines down to St. Marten since its redemption levels are so low, low-level awards are a bit more plentiful than on Delta, and you can still fly either of your carriers of choice.

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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  • Jesse

    the point guy, do you know if Chase allow to move the credit line between personal credit card and business credit card? I have a low credit line Chase ink business card. I want to increase its credit line by reallocating portion of my personal credit line.

  • Ken

    Isn’t the ANA chart round-trip miles? PHL-SXM would require just 22,000 miles.

  • MichaelSpain

    Hey, Jesse. My understanding both from previous TPG posts and in talking to Chace about my Ink Bold Business card is as such: Chase considers your business accounts separately from your personal, as do the various credit bureaus. When I applied for my Ink Bold, the rep told me “we’ll give you a $10K credit limit at this time, but if you find because of your expenses we need to increase that, just let us know.” So, if it were me, I’d just call the number on the back of your Ink product and tell them ‘because of upcoming business expenditures I need a larger line of credit’…and always ask for more than you need so that you’ll get what you want AND to help your ratios in the future. Hope that’s helpful (and that I’m right). If not, I’m confident other readers will let us both know rather quickly ;-)

  • Nickngo

    How many points does it require to fly from Los Angeles to Africa? I have the points from Bank of America.

  • http://twitter.com/Mileage_Update Mileage Update

    Which BofA program are you referring to?

  • Jesse

    Thank you Michael. But does the increase of credit line cause another hard inquiry to my credit background?

  • Barry

    Why not BA Avios? Roundtrip JFK-SXM in coach is just 20K +$5 on AA, and transfer bonuses are common.

  • paul

    The ANA chart is the total itinerary miles, not one way

    At under 4,000 miles roundtrip, both EWR and PHL to SXM is 22K

  • pssteve

    Ditto with Barry. How much would fuel surcharges and various taxes be with AC and others compared with BA/AA??

  • thepointsguy

    Yes you can transfer and no, I don’t believe it pulls a hard inquiry- that only happens when you want more credit- not simply shifting existing lines

  • Guest

    For personal cards, I believe it is always a hard inquiry with Chase if you ask for a CLI. Not sure if they follow the same practice for their business cards, but it would stand to reason that they do.

  • The Points Guy

    Thanks for catching that – that’s what I get for writing late at night!

  • Mike

    I cant find any dates for nyc-sxm using avios. Anyone find any dates at all?

  • Dwight

    I’m not finding any dates either on Aeroplan

  • Barry

    There was enough availability 2 days ago for me to price it out, but I’m sure not seeing much now. March 13-20 has at least 2 seats open each direction. And late March has a bunch of jfk->sxm seats, as long as you’re not planning to come back home!

  • Barry

    And now I’m seeing 20K miles plus $68 round trip, not $5. I think that was the fee all along.

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