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TPG reader Decker wants to take his wife on a trip to London and Paris next spring:
“I have almost 500,000 points with American Express. My wife and I are planning a trip to London and Paris in March of 2014. Do you have any suggestions for how we can use these points in the best possible way for hotels and flights?”
With half a million American Express points you have a lot of options and should be able to cover both your hotel accommodations and flights while even spoiling your wife with business class roundtrip!
Let me start off with flights because you have a lot more options there. There are a couple different routes you could take. I’m not sure where you’re based but I’m going to use New York to show you some examples.
Right off the bat you should take advantage 35% transfer bonus that American Express is offering to British Airways that is valid until June 7. Flying on British Airways you’re looking at 80,000 Avios roundtrip in business class for each ticket and about $600-$700 dollars in fees per ticket, which is pretty steep.
If you want to minimize the fees, I would recommend flying Aer Lingus (which has a ton of business class availability) via Dublin or Iberia via Madrid. I actually just booked a roundtrip business class ticket on Aer Lingus the other day for 80,000 Avios round trip (only 60,000 Amex points with the 35% transfer bonus!) and about $80 in fees – much better than $700. When connecting through Madrid you can fly Iberia. I would recommend even staying a day or two in Madrid since its such a great city. The trick with Iberia is you need to transfer your BA Avios to Iberia Avios which takes a little bit of coordination, but it can save you a ton of money in fees. With the 35% bonus you’re looking at some really valuable awards there.
Another option is to fly Air Berlin which flies to a lot of different US airports including Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, New York JFK, and Ft. Meyers and throughout Europe, though you’ll have to connect somewhere in Germany – probably Berlin or Dusseldorf.
If you don’t want to fly British Airways or deal with any of those loopholes you can also transfer your Amex points to one of the program’s Star Alliance partners. Aeroplan is a great option which I priced out for a flight from Newark to London and then returning from Paris to Newark. A ticket in business class on this flight would be 90,000 miles and $200 in taxes and fees which isn’t terrible since both London and Paris are expensive airports to fly in and out of especially in business class.
If you really want to stretch your points you can transfer them to ANA, which will take about two days, but it will only cost you about 38,000 points roundtrip in economy or 63,000 miles in business class to go from New York to London on United for example.
Moving onto hotel accommodations, you have a lot of different options here as well. While you can redeem your Membership Rewards points for Four Seasons and other hotel gift cards, you’ll only be getting about .8 cents per point. With my redemptions, I like to get at least 1 cent per point if not more.
The way that I would go about booking a hotel is to transfer your Amex points to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio and then transfer to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio, essentially getting two Hilton points for every Amex point you transfer. Note that this does take a couple of weeks so don’t expect it to happen overnight, but since you’re planning ahead for next March, you have plenty of time.
Hilton will also give you the 5 night free which is an added bonus to this option. I priced out a couple London properties where you can get a room for about 41,000 points per night, so if nightly rates are usually $300 or $400 you’re getting much more than .8 cents per point in value.
While it’s not going to be an incredible redemption it’s still a better option than gift cards. American Express points are not great in general for hotels in my opinion. I would much prefer to use my Chase points and transfer them to Hyatt. 22,000 points will put you up at the Park Hyatt Vendome for a free award night, which is an incredible hotel.
If you only have American Express points, I would consider those options, though I did check out Best Western. Most European Best Westerns go for 36,000 points her night so that’s 36,000 American Express points, but those hotels are generally not $300 per night so you’re getting less than one cent in value..
In my opinion your best bet is to take advantage of the Virgin Atlantic to Hilton tip and then flying either ANA or Aeroplan depending on where you’re based. I hope this helps and I hope you guys have a great trip!