Advertisement

Maximize Monday: What Do 50,000 Amex Points Get You?

by on April 22, 2013 · 48 comments

in Alaska, American Express, ANA, British Airways, Delta, Hilton, Maximize Monday, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

In light the current limited-time 50,000-point sign-up bonus on the Business Gold Rewards card from American Express, as well as today’s launch of the a 35% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios now through June 7, 2013, I thought that for today’s Maximize Monday post, I’d write about American Express Membership Rewards and just what 50,000 points will get you.

Although I’m not personally taking advantage of this Business Gold Rewards offer since there have been offers of up to 75,000 points in the past, I did recently get the Mercedes-Benz Platinum American Express card with its own 50,000-point sign-up bonus, and I’d say that 50,000 points and above qualifies as a good offer from American Express.

To read about great ways to maximize Membership Rewards points and why I find them so useful, check out my Top 10 post on reasons I like Membership Rewards cards, but one of the major reasons is the program’s numerous transfer partners, giving you the ultimate flexibility when redeeming your points.

Transfer Partners

50,000 Membership Rewards can be worth a tremendous amount of value thanks to the program’s 21 airline and hotel transfer partners which include:

Airlines
Star Alliance:
Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore, All Nippon Airlines
Oneworld: British Airways (current 35% bonus), Iberia, Cathay Pacific
Skyteam: Delta, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Alitalia, Aeromexico
Other: Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, El Al, Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines

Hotels
Starwood 3:1
Hilton 1: 1.3
Best Western 1:1
Jumeirah 23:1

Not all points are created equal, and Amex Membership Rewards points are among the most valuable out there by my estimation thanks not only to the flexibility you have to transfer them to the program’s numerous travel partners, but also because of the opportunities for high-value redemptions, especially if you leverage the program fully and take advantage of transfer bonuses and all the partners – and even partners of partners.

If you are thinking of getting in on this credit card offer or future Amex ones, here are some redemptions you should keep your eye on. Remember, value is in the eye of beholder, but here are some ways I think are worth it to maximize your Amex points.

British Airways Short-Hauls

British Airways’ Avios frequent flyer program is distance-based, so some of the best values out there are on short-haul flights that are still quite expensive.

For example, if you want to fly from New York to Montreal roundtrip, you need just 4,500 Avios each way for a total of 9,000 plus $57.

LGA YUL Avios

That same ticket could cost you around $500, meaning you get around 4.9 cents per point in value.

AA JFK YUL 496

With the current 35% transfer bonus, 50,000 Amex points = 67,500 Avios. You could book 7.55 of these trips, bringing your potential value up to approximately $3,300!

Another option is to take advantage of Avios’s points and cash pricing, so this same $496 ticket would only cost you 4,500 Avios and $126.78. So you’re essentially buying back 4,500 Avios for $70, or 1.55 cents each, and the Avios you are still using are worth 8.3 cents each.

LGA YUL Avios Cash options

US Airways Redemptions using ANA

Although US Airways isn’t a partner of Membership Rewards, its Star Alliance partner airline ANA is, and offers some great values on US Airways, especially if you’re considering flying it to Europe. That’s because ANA’s award redemptions are distance-based like British Airways, meaning that getting from the east coast of the US to Europe requires far fewer miles using ANA than with other programs, including US Airways’s own Dividend Miles.

For a quick example, look at this economy class award itinerary from Philadelphia to Frankfurt later in the summer. It requires just 43,000 miles and $124 in taxes and fees.

ANA US Airways PHL FRA ECO

That same ticket would cost $1,622 (high season!) so you’d be getting a good value of 3.5 cents per mile (or Amex point).

US Airways PHL FRA 1622

If you can rack up some points in a hurry, business class awards on the same route are 68,000 miles using ANA and the same $124…

ANA US Airways PHL FRA BUS

As opposed to paying $3,070 and getting 4.33 cents per mile in value.

US Airways PHL FRA 3070 fullSo it can definitely pay off to take advantage of partners of partners – especially when Amex has so many partners itself and each of them has partners of their own.

Hilton Transfers

One of the best ways I get more bang for my Amex point is by taking advantage of partners of Membership Rewards’ travel partners, and one of my favorite examples of this is by transferring Amex points to Virgin Atlantic miles and then converting those miles to Hilton HHonors points because Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles transfer to Hilton at a 2:1 ratio. So instead of the usual 1 Amex point to 1.5 Hilton HHonors points, you can transfer 1 Amex point to 1 Virgin Atlantic mile and then transfer again to get 2 Hilton HHonors points for a 2:1 final transfer ratio. That’s how I, using a past 35% transfer bonus from Amex to Virgin Atlantic for a 1:2.7 Amex to Hilton transfer ratio. Just keep in mind, you have to call Virgin Atlantic to make a transfer at 1-800-365-9500 during the hours of 8:30am – 11:00pm ET seven days a week.

If you were to get the Business Gold Rewards card with the current bonus and transfer all of them to Virgin then Hilton, you’d end up with 100,000 points.

Now, 100,000 Hilton points doesn’t mean quite as much now thanks to the HHonors program devaluation from March, but it’s still the potential for two free nights at Category 6 – 9 hotels (in low season), or one night in high season at a Category 10 hotel (95,000 points).

You can take advantage of Hilton’s seasonal pricing (which sometimes seems to be an excuse to blow award rates disproportionately high) to your advantage.

For example, the Hilton Sa Torre Mallorca in Spain is a beautiful Category 8 hotel where rooms will normally run between 40,000-70,000 points with Hilton’s new award pricing – and indeed, it’s running at the maximum 70,000 points July –September. But the weather is still sunny and warm in May, June and October, when rates are at just 50,000 points.

HIlton Mallorca

So this room in June – just a week before high season starts – would cost you just 50,000 points a night instead of paying 276 EUR ($360), so your entire Business Gold Rewards bonus would be worth $720 in value for a two-night redemption.

On the other hand, you could blow all 95,000 points on a single night in high season at a top-tier Category 10 hotel somewhere – though I wouldn’t recommend it. To take a quick example, let’s say you were hanging out in Koh Samui next month and needed a room for a night. The Conrad Koh Samui is a Category 10 hotel where it pretty much always seems to be high season according to Hilton’s award search tool, so award rates start at 95,000 points for much of the year.

Conrad Koh Samui

Next month, you could get a night in a One Bedroom King Ocean View Pool Villa for 95,000 points – your whole bonus – but you’d be saving the nightly rate of 21,500 THB ($750). So while it’s a splurge, at least you’re getting several hundreds of dollars in value from your redemption.

Using Delta Miles on Alaska

Delta hasn’t been offering any Amex transfer bonuses lately so I haven’t been making large points transfers, but one of the airline’s more interesting non-alliance partnerships is with West Coast powerhouse Alaska Airlines, which has a bunch of interesting routes including several to Anchorage, Alaska. This is actually a sweet spot in Delta’s award chart since a first class award ticket is just 45,000 miles roundtrip from the continental US to Alaska (lower than a domestic roundtrip first class redemption – and a route that people might be interested in for the summer cruising season up there).

Although Delta.com is quirky and may try to route you through one of its hubs like Salt Lake City, you can actually search either ExpertFlyer for Alaska award space or just on AlaskaAir.com for saver availability and if it’s up there, you should be able to call in to Delta to book the ticket if you can’t get it to price online (though it should show up as an option if you guide it or use the multi-city search).

For example, I found this fare for just 50,000 miles and $5 roundtrip from LAX-ANC in April-May on Alaska, but remember, this same ticket will be just 45,000 Delta miles.

Alaska Award LAX ANC

If you were to buy it, the ticket would cost $1,572.

Alaska First Class 1572So in this instance – on an expensive domestic first class ticket to a region that’s usually classified beyond the continental US, you’re getting a value of 3.5 cents each from your Membership Rewards points.

Virgin Atlantic Upgrades

While Virgin Atlantic, like British Airways, charges sometimes astronomical fees and taxes on award tickets to London, one of the best values for using Virgin Atlantic miles is to redeem them for upgrades on paid tickets.

For instance, from JFK, Boston, DC or Chicago, you need just 10,000 miles each way to upgrade from economy to premium economy or premium economy to Upper Class on the airline, and 20,000 miles each way to upgrade from economy to Upper Class (skipping premium economy). You can find tickets in the upgradable fare classes by searching for flights on this page at the bottom.

Virgin Atlantic Upgrades

So if you were to buy an upgradable economy fare in M class from Boston to London in May, it would cost you $1,152 including $680 in taxes and fees.

BOS LHR Upgradable Virgin

You could then use 40,000 Amex points transferred to 40,000 Virgin Atlantic miles to upgrade your itinerary to Upper Class. To buy those same tickets would cost you $6,536, so subtracting out the fare you paid to upgrade, your 40,000 Amex points you used to upgrade would be worth about 13.5 cents each, a great value! Though once again, if you would never pay the $6,536 it would be misleading to think you were getting that entire “value”, so put your own valuation on being able to fly business class and do the math from there.

Virgin BOS LHR Upper

 

Air France KLM Flying Blue Promo Awards

Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of SkyTeam partners Air France, KLM and Air Europa and is another 1:1 airline transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. Promo awards are 50% off normal award levels and run all year long, but the gateway cities generally change every two months on a rolling basis. That means using Promo Awards, you can find award itineraries from North America to Europe and beyond for as little as 50,000 miles roundtrip in business class if you can leave from one of the participating cities in North America. In May and June, the cities in North America from which discounted business class fares are available are Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK and Montreal, though you won’t be able to book these awards until April 27.

The last round of business class promo award cities included just New York JFK and Toronto Pearson and they’re bookable until April 30 for flights until April 30, but there’s actually still quite a bit of availability left.

For instance, I found this roundtrip itinerary from Toronto YYZ to Paris Charles de Gaulle on Air France next week for 50,000 Flying Blue miles plus 745 EUR ($970).

Flying Blue YYZ CDG

That’s a lot of taxes and surcharges to pay, but keep in mind that same itinerary would cost you $6,772 if you were to buy it (not that I’d ever pay that much, but that’s the going rate).

AF YYZ CDG

So your 50,000 Amex points would be getting you over $5,800 in value, or over 11.5 cents each (or whatever you actually value that business class seat at).

Pay With Points

Although I don’t use it often because I regularly get better value from my points by redeeming them for premium international airfares, American Express’s Pay With Points feature can still be a valuable option if you’re rich in points but don’t have the cash sitting around to book a flight or hotel room. Not only that, but if you do the math and find that you’re only getting a value of 1 cent or less per transferred point, this might be a better option for you since you redeem Amex points at a fixed rate of 1 cent each (1.25 cents each if you have the Business Platinum card) and you still get the mileage and elite credit on an airline. With hotels, you’re not supposed to get points and elite credit if you don’t book directly through the hotel or chain, but many readers report getting credit for stays booked through Amex Travel.

So to take a quick instance where this might be worth it, instead of transferring 25,000 points to Delta to book a roundtrip domestic economy award from New York LGA to Miami, I could go through Amex travel and pay either $219 for the ticket or use 21,879 points at a rate of 1 cent per point. Still not a high-value redemption, but a way to save a couple hundred dollars with some spare points if I had them, plus I’d still get mileage and elite credit for the flights.

LGA MIA

In terms of booking hotels, just the sign-up bonus alone of the current Business Gold Rewards offer would be worth $500 at the Pay With Points rate of 1 cent per point. Not bad, especially since the $175 annual fee is waived the first year.

Again, I don’t normally find Pay With Points to yield the best value, but if you have a lot of extra points sitting around and need some stays or flights to put toward elite qualification, this could be an option for you- or at least a base line of minimum value so you can decide whether transferring to a partner airline or hotel actually makes sense.

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.

Previous post:

Next post:

  • Mike

    What would be the best one to go from SFO to the UK? BA is 50k points round trip economy plus a few hundred dollars in tax using avios

  • kapooyah

    Quick question if you dont mind. I have the 50,000 AMEX points but i dont need them anytime soon since i dont really book hotels or flights. However i may need them in a year or two. Since i need to close my account before the year is up where would you recommend i transfer my points to? Overall what is the best account to permanently have these points in? thanks

  • mariana

    I might take advantage of the avios 35% promo even though I have no redemption in site. For a family of 4, it’s hard to try to plan anything with the above mentioned airline partners because 50k membership reward points are not that many to get you anywhere for 4. however, if i maximize and take advantage of this promo, i can get 67.5 avios points in my household account, which then i can use for short-haul trips for 4.

  • JR

    TPG – I live in Cincinnati, a Delta hub, where the airfare is very high due to minimal competition for Delta. Generally speaking, would Air France overall be the best use of AMEX MR points if I want to redeem for domestic coach? I would think availability would be higher being a hub city but you also get the flexibility of one-way awards and don’t get boxed into mid-level awards with SkyMiles Thanks.

  • Phillip

    I really appreciate your post as I was able to take advantage of the AMEX Gold 50K offer on the personal card.

    My future travel plans are uncertain. But it is clear that transfer bonuses are becoming fewer and fewer. So I was wondering if it might make sense to “park” just 9000 miles in Avios (via a 7000 MR exchange) at the end of the promotion period for future use. Those short-haul redemptions are an exceptional value. And you get a long time to use those miles. Thanks.

  • Sherm

    you missed Choice Hotels, potentially one of the best exclusive transfer partners for MR program.

  • thepointsguy

    What choice redemptions do you find most valuable?

  • thepointsguy

    Well the issue is that low level delta awards needs to exist for domestic AF awards, which is rare. Delta actually has lower fees so of just transfer there. Otherwise try flying AA via Avios? Really depends on where you’re trying to go

  • thepointsguy

    Really depends but I think 35% to Avios is your best bet. Or downgrade the card to a no annual fee Blue to keep the points active and then in the future if you get a MR card you can transfer to a partner of your choice.

  • stansso

    Yes, you can keep the points active with the Blue card, but you can’t downgrade a charge card to a credit card — it requires a new application.

  • Jerry

    Hi Brian,

    I have posted several comments, but i never really said it… i really like your blogs, your advices are priceless

    my only regret is that, being a French user, choices are very limited in Europe in terms of credit cards (where Visa and Mastercard dominate but very few loyalty/ffp programs based on credit cards)

    anyway, very interesting topic

    due to the lack of programs, i do own a American Express Flying Blue Gold card, the only real advantage to it is that my FB miles never expire as long as I spend at least a euro with my card
    otherwise, i feel like the value of my miles are worth other values you may highlight thru several US programs…

    as an alternative to the Amex FB program, which is only limited to FB, i was wondering if it worth for me switching from the Amex FB to the regular French Amex Membership Rewards program ?

    With Amex FB, i do earn miles on both my flights and my purchases and i was wondering if, earning less MR points will still have more value than the FB miles i earn

    btw, i have to say that in France, Amex is not as a strong as anywhere else, therefore, we don’t have much bonuses or special offer to get bonus sign up or double/triple points during specific period (like you may have in the US to convert MR points into hotel points)

    thanks

  • cookie8071

    Thanks for this discussion, especially regarding the Pay with Points option. I have a Gold Business Amex and close to 600K points as well as a Delta Skymiles Amex. I realize I’m not getting the maximum value when I use PwP, but I do get maximum flexibility and convenience, along with significant cost savings for my everyday travel needs. Now, I need to find a great trip for those 600K!

  • Max

    How do you book hotelssf 1 cent per point? When I search it is more like .75 cents per point.

  • Michael Paul

    It’s way more than a few hundred dollars though, more like $1100 total. Best to use Avios for an upgrade to Business for 12,500 pts one way, or redeem for first class reward, as the fees are about the same regardless of cabin.

  • anon

    Should I jump on this or wait for a bigger/better transfer rate? Won’t really need avios till next year. Anyone know whether the 50% bonus will be back later this year?

  • Kyle

    My girlfriend wants to fly from CVG to GRB. Right now there are MileSAAver flights available on AA. I have 50k MR points.

    If I create a British Airways family account (she lives at same address as me), would she be able to fly without me using the Avios?

    There isn’t a non-stop available, but with the current 35% bonus this would cost 13,333 MR points right now. I would need to call British Airways to book the flight, correct?

  • thepointsguy

    Yes you can book whomever you’d like a flight, unless you have a Household account, in which case you can only book flights for those you add to your Household account.

    It may show up on britishairways.com, but it may not if there is a connection. If not, call BA and ask them to waive the phone booking fee since it didn’t show up online

  • thepointsguy

    No one knows whether a better bonus will come. It’s really anyone’s guess at this point

  • thepointsguy

    That’s $6k worth of travel- or if you get the business platinum those points are worth $7,500!

  • thepointsguy

    I’d rather have Membership Rewards since you have so many other partner choices. My 2 cents!

  • thepointsguy

    Sounds like a smart plan to hedge your bets- take advantage of the 35% and also save some for future bonuses. You can also leverage the Cash and Avios to pay a cash copay and get 2 roundtrips for 9,000

  • thepointsguy

    Try doing 2 awards SFO-BOS and then BOS-DUB on Aer LIngus and then buying whatever remaining flight? Not the most direct, but a good way to avoid the fees. Or find routing on Air Berlin which also has low fees for transatlantic Avios awards

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaeljbogle Michael Bogle

    This may be a real dumb question, but how do I look on ANA’s webpage for flights to Europe? I can’t even find Europe as an option. Am I doing something wrong here? Thanks!

  • thepointsguy
  • http://www.facebook.com/michaeljbogle Michael Bogle

    Sorry, just found that on a google search!

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaeljbogle Michael Bogle

    Is it normal for there to be only one available business class ticket between Charlotte (CLT) and Paris from now until September? Usually I can find a lot of US Air flights out of CLT, but there’s really nothing available that I can see. Weird.

  • JMSL

    The Cash plus Avios option only seems to be available for certain international flights – I’ve never been able to get it to come up when searching for domestic AA flights.

  • Philbert

    Thanks for the article, TPG. My wife’s 50K MR just posted and I’m debating on where to xfer them. I only have miles in two of their airline partners: BA & DL (most of my 1 MM miles are in UA and AA with 100K + in DL & US). I do like Hilton cat. 3>4 stays (thinking MR>VS>Hh) but think I’d get the most bang for the buck from xfers to BA. Living in an area served by AS I can see a good value on <650 mile trips (using BA Avios). Your thoughts?

    Philbert

  • SR

    Thanks for the post. This type of information and breakdown is what keeps me a reader of your blog!

  • Andy

    Thanks so much for the post. Is there an easy way to see BA short-haul award availability in the US (through AA)? I am based at BOS and can only seem to find availability for BOS-NYC.

  • Jim @neverstoptraveling

    Another good post. Thank you. Since I’m time-starved you’re the only way I can keep up with all the points info.

  • TravelScrounger

    If you don’t have a specific need, why not wait? Leave them as MR until an award interests you.

  • sofeea

    I have three personal AmEx cards right now, all of which I was approved within the last six months (Delta, Gold Premier and MB Platinum). Would this affect my application for the Business card? Thanks!

  • thepointsguy

    Shouldn’t be an issue but only Amex can tell you if you’ll get approved or not

  • cookie8071

    Hmmm. I charge about $20,000 a month on my Gold Amex. Will research upgrading…do you have a handy link?

  • thepointsguy

    http://www.thepointsguy.com/go/businessplatinum or call Amex to see if they have special offers to upgrade

  • Michael Hasan

    Brian, I’m still a little confused on how you apply for a business credit card when you don’t have a business. AMEX wants a legal business name, federal tax ID #, and other company info. What do you put down for these various items when applying? Do you just make stuff up?

  • decker62

    I have almost 500000 points of AMEX, me and my wife are planning a trip to London and Paris in March of 2014 any suggestions and how we can use this points in the best possible way. I want to use them for hotels and flights.

  • Taylor Kline

    I was not happy with the available redemption options with the American Express Membership Rewards, so I did a little financial hacking to get cash rewards or Amazon.com credit at a nearly 1:1 value. Blogged about it here: http://streamingfreebies.com/blog/2013/05/easily-turn-american-express-membership-rewards-into-amazon-credit-or-cash/

  • Courtney Carey

    Hi there! I am new to AmEx. I have the Premium Rewards Gold Card and have managed to acquire 31,000 points. I’d like to go to Santiago, Domincan Republic soon. Delta has a flight for $406 and I also have about 10k Skymiles points. How can I best use my points in this case. I could probably accumulate 10 or 15k more points by end of Sept when I’d like to travel. I appreciate your feedback. Many thaks

  • shay peleg

    I would say focus on airline award tickets (first class)

  • shay peleg

    What’s the point?

  • shay peleg

    You sign up as a sole proper tier (on your own name)

  • Taylor Kline

    The point is to be able to get either cash or Amazon credit out of the AMEX membership rewards, instead of being stuck with their very niche redemption options. Does that make things more clear?

  • Blobby34

    You need to factor in the annual membership fee in your calculations ( $450? )

  • Meni

    Hi,
    Can you please help me.
    I need to book a flight from BWI/IAD/JFK/LGA/EWR to London roundtrip.
    I have over 300k amex points, what is are my best options, as far as not having to pay enormous taxes and fees yet still getting good value for my miles. What would you do?
    Thanks so much!

  • lv

    what airline would you suggest if i’m going to Australia? also, would I be able to get free lay over for a couple of days. For excample if I’m flying lax to Melbourne and if there was a connecting flight in Sydney, would I be able to take advantage of this?

  • Eric

    sole proprietor

Print This Page