Update: The current offer for the American Express Business Gold Rewards Card is 50,000 points after $5,000 in spend during the first 3 months.
In light the current
limited-time 75,000-point sign-up bonus on the Business Gold Rewards card from American Express, as well as the 35% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios now through June 7, 2013, I wanted to write about some ways that you can maximize American Express Membership Rewards and just what 75,000 points will get you.
75,000 Membership Rewards can be worth a tremendous amount of value thanks to the program’s 21 airline and hotel transfer partners which include:
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
Hilton 1: 1.3
Best Western 1:1
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.
That same ticket could cost you around $500, meaning you get around 4.9 cents per point in value.
With the current 35% transfer bonus, 75,000 Amex points = 102,500 Avios. You could book over 10 roundtrips, bringing your potential value up to approximately $5,000.
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 – that would make the value of those Membership Rewards points you transferred almost $6,250! Extreme? Possibly, but still an option- and for coach travel.
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 flying 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 business class award itinerary from Philadelphia to Frankfurt later in the summer. According to the ANA award search, the flight requires just 43,000 miles and $124 in taxes and fees.
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 points).
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 in taxes and fees…
As opposed to paying $3,070 – so you’d be getting 4.33 cents per mile in value.
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. Although ANA charges some high surcharges on some partners, by picking judiciously, you can really maximize the value of your miles – and this one sign-up bonus is more than enough to get you to and from Europe in business class.
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 150,000 points.
Now, 150,000 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) plus enough left over for a Category 9 hotel in low season at 50,000 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 Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand is a beautiful Category 10 hotel where rooms will normally run between 80,000-95,000 points with Hilton’s new award pricing. In fact, this resort runs at the maximum redemption rate of 95,000 points almost all year long except for February and March, but if you’ve got some romantic Valentine’s or spring break plans in mind, you could be in luck, because February and March the hotel has award redemptions at 80,000 points per night.
This One Bedroom Water Front Pool King Villa would cost you 80,000 points per night or about $730 if you were to pay for it. Because you’re spending $5,000 to get the full 75,000-point bonus on this card, you’d end up with at least 80,000 Amex points. That translates to 160,000 Hilton points – enough for two nights here, bringing the value of your sign-up bonus and minimum spend to $1,430.
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.
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.
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.
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, Dallas and Montreal.They’re bookable until May 27 for flights until June 30, but there’s actually still quite a bit of availability left.
For instance, I found this roundtrip itinerary from New York-JFK to Madrid on Air Europa for 50,000 Flying Blue miles plus $945 in taxes and fees.
If you’re not able to redeem for a Promo Award (and pricing will go up in June once the Flying Blue award chart changes) 75,000 Amex points will be just enough to get you a roundtrip award ticket in Premium Economy from North America to Europe as award levels increase to 37,500 miles each way. So this sample itinerary from CDG-LAX and back would cost you 37,500 miles and $506…
70,000 Asia Miles will get you a one-way Business Class award from Los Angeles-Hong Kong. To pay for this outright, it would cost $3,917.00, so you are getting almost a $4,000 value if you were to transfer your 70,000 Amex points from the sign-up bonus to Asia Miles.
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 or over 3,000 point on a domestic award redemption, plus I’d still get mileage and elite credit for the flights.
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.
75,000 Amex points is worth a lot – both in terms of the monetary value of the redemptions possible as well as the various redemptions you can use these points for. What with the low $5,000 spending requirement (about half what Amex usually requires for bonuses this high on this card), you could be looking at a very serious return on your spending…and some great travels.
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