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TPG reader Todd has been smart about using a corporate credit card to accrue American Express Membership Rewards points, but now that he’s changing jobs, he’s got to decide what to do about them. Here’s his question:
“I am changing companies and am being told by Amex Membership Rewards that the points I’ve accrued on my corporate card can’t be transferred to my personal Membership Rewards account. I’ve pushed them, but am striking out.
I have about 2 million points so I don’t want to lose them. If I need to redeem them, what hotel chain is my best bet? I fly almost exclusively Delta out of Salt Lake City (SLC) so even though Delta’s currency is headed in the wrong direction I’m inclined to transfer some of them to Delta (I’m Platinum and intentionally stay under Diamond). I could also sell them to a service like Cash Your Miles that buys them for about 1 cent per mile.
I need to make a decision in the next week. Any ideas?”
I’m not sure what exactly is happening in Todd’s situation, because when I worked at Morgan Stanley, my corporate Amex cards were actually attached to my personal Membership Rewards account so that even when I left and closed that corporate account I was able to retain those points. However, if your company has some sort of special arrangement that does not allow you to do so, transfer them all before the account is closed, or risk losing them.
You mentioned selling them to a broker. I don’t really discuss this option, though they’re out there. Essentially, by selling to a points broker, you’re transferring your points into one of their partner mileage or points accounts and then they sell discounted airline tickets or hotel rooms to other customers. It violates the Membership Rewards programs’ rules and you’re often not getting a great value on your points, plus if you get caught you can lose all your points. For instance, I contacted brokers just to see what they were offering for Amex Membership Rewards points and I got a 1-1.3 cents value on them, so in all, you’d be getting $26,000 at most – but again, if Amex found out, you could lose all of them and not see any money.
In terms of transfers, you’ve got tons of options thanks to Amex’s multiple transfer partners – and with 2 million points, you might be in the enviable position of having too many points and not enough time to use them.
Personally, I would transfer to British Airways in Oneworld and Air Canada Aeroplan in Star Alliance, though I would try to wait until there was a transfer bonus to do so – it doesn’t sound like you have the luxury of time, though.
If I had to make a split-second decision right now, I would probably transfer half my points to Aeroplan and half to British Airways – though maybe I’d hold about 500,000 back for pay-with-points redemptions that came up.
I would choose Aeroplan because it is part of Star Alliance and has 26 other airline partners that reach to pretty much every single corner of the globe. Although they devalued their award chart and instituted some huge fuel surcharges back in 2011, there are still several great redemptions to be found including 90,000 miles for roundtrip business class from North America to Europe; or using 125,000 miles for roundtrip US to Asia in business class routing across the Atlantic so you can effectively build a “round the world” itinerary with 2 stops, one of them in Europe.
In terms of British Airways, there are tons of great values to be had from using Avios points – though I would try to avoid flying British Airways to and from London because of the enormous fuel surcharges and fees on tickets through there. However, you can look at my whole British Airways Avios series to get some great ideas for how to maximize Avios:
- Short haul flights (A Toronto to New York roundtrip is only 9,000 Avios roundtrip)
- Medium-Long Haul flights on British Airways partners to anywhere but Europe and Australia (to avoid high taxes/fees)
- Aer Lingus flights to Dublin, especially from Boston
- Upgrades from paid Premium Economy to Business class
- Last minute awards because British Airways doesn’t levy last minute booking fees
- Spotlight on Taxes and Fees
- Distance-Based Awards
- Household Accounts
- Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets
- The Avios and Cash Option
- Save Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to Iberia
- Using Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions
- Using Avios to Book Domestic First Class FlightsDirect Flights, London Stopovers and UK Destinations
- How to Redeem British Airways Avios Without Huge Fees
- Using British Airways Avios on Aer Lingus to Avoid Huge Fees
I know you said you were a Delta flyer, but you’ll incur a 0.6 cents/mile fee on these transfers, and finding low-level award availability has become as difficult as spotting the Loch Ness monster lately. I also have a hunch that the SkyMiles program might change drastically soon, so you might be better off putting your miles somewhere else.
Then, as I mentioned, I don’t normally recommend Pay With Points where you can redeem Membership Rewards points for 1 cent per point, but if you have 500,000 leftover, there’s $5,000 you can put towards whatever travel you want, such as an expensive cruise you couldn’t otherwise have booked, or premium class tickets on airlines that might be discounted for summer and that it makes more sense to pay for with points instead of miles, and you will earn elite status and miles, and since you have more miles than you could probably possibly use, this could be a decent option for you.