What Is The Most Economical Way To Use American Express Membership Rewards Points to China?

by on July 14, 2013 · 21 comments

in Aeroplan, American Express, Delta, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG Reader KG asked:

“My family consisting of 4 adults and 4 children are planning a trip from Jacksonville to either Hong Kong or China early in 2014, for our adoption of toddler. We are trying to research lowest rates.  I have an American Express Platinum Card with 260,000 points and want to know the best way to use points or whatever advise you can provide would be greatly appreciated.”

First off, congratulations on the adoption! While it must be a rewarding experience, I can only imagine the logistics involved with an overseas adoption so I hope I can help at least defray the cost of your flights. I know adoptions can be extremely pricy, so hopefully you can use your points and miles to help with the travel costs since you have quite a group going! Another added perk of using miles is that if your plans change, the change fees on award tickets are generally much lower than paid tickets. Most airlines will let you change or redeposit miles for anywhere between $40 and $150 whereas flight changes on international trips can often cost $250 plus any difference in fare.

American Express offers their Pay With Points option.

American Express offers their Pay With Points option.

Off the bat, American Express will let you redeem points through their Pay with Points option for 1 cent apiece, so they would give $2,600 towards travel. If you’re lucky from Jacksonville to Shanghai that maybe will get you 2 tickets, maybe a little bit of a third.

Aeroplan JAX-PEK

You can book United flights through Aeroplan.

I think your best bang for your buck would actually be to transfer to Aeroplan, which is an instant 1:1 transfer partner and since Air Canada is a Star Alliance member, you can book United flights and the taxes and fees aren’t too pricey. It’s 75,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip for economy, so if you can get to 300,000 Amex points, then you’ll have four of the tickets covered, which can greatly reduce the price of the overall trip.

A search for 4 saver level coach tickets shows lots of options. Saveer level awards can be booked using most Star Alliance miles, including Aeroplan

A search for 4 saver level coach tickets shows lots of options. Saver level awards can be booked using most Star Alliance miles, including Aeroplan

I pulled up some sample itineraries for March 2014, and their were plenty of days that had four seats available and they were actually pretty good itineraries. Amex used to have a Points Advance feature on the personal Platinum Card where you could advance yourself up to an additional 60,000 points, but unfortunately they just discontinued it as of June 30th. I would recommend spending as much as you can to at least get your points up to the 300,000-point mark.

There are a bunch of great sign-up bonuses right now. The Mercedez-Benz Platinum Card is offering 50,000 points after spending $3,000 and you can get the sign up bonus even if you currently have the American Express Platinum Card as I did this earlier this year.

However, the Platinum card isn’t the best American Express card for earning points. Sure the perks are amazing, but you’re only earning 1 point per dollar. The Premier Rewards Gold gives 3x on airfare, 2x on gas and groceries and a 15,000-point bonus when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year (essentially making it a base earning of 1.5 points per dollar when you hit that threshold). The Premier Rewards Gold currently has a 25,000-point sign-up bonus with the $175 annual fee waived the first year, so it could be a  good way to push you over 300,000.

If you have a business, you can get the Business Rewards Gold, which has a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after you spend $5,000 within 3 months and the $175 annual fee is waived the first year. The card also gets 3x on airfare, 2x on advertising, select media, shipping and gas.

Low Level Delta award JAX-PVG for 70,000 SkyMiles.

Low Level Delta award JAX-PVG for 70,000 SkyMiles.

Other Options
Amex does run transfer bonuses from time to time, but things have been pretty quiet this year and I wouldn’t hold your breath for an Aeroplan transfer bonus.

Another transfer partner from American Express is Delta, and they actually have the cheapest option for your route, at only 70,000 SkyMiles if you can find a low-level award, which can be very challenging, however it can’t hut to try and price out online to see if anything exists for your dates.

Other partners like British Airways Avios and ANA are distance based and would require far more than 70,000 points for a ticket. Singapore airlines is 90,000 miles per ticket and Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific) at least 80,000. As far as I can tell Aeroplan will likely require the least amount of miles and a reasonable amount of taxes per ticket compared to other options.

Boosting Non-Amex Accounts to Cover More Tickets
US Airways, which is not an Amex transfer partner only charges 60,000 miles for US to Asia award tickets. To top up your US Airways you can transfer in points from Starwood Preferred Guest (20,000 points = 25,000 miles) and the SPG Amex currently offers 25,000 points after $5,000 spent within 6 months with the $65 annual fee waived the first year.

United, a Chase ultimate rewards partner, requires 65,000 miles and ~$40 per roundtrip ticket JAX-China. The Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 points after $3,000 spent within 3 months and the $95 annual fee waived the first year. The business Ink Bold and Ink Plus both offer 50,000 points after $5,000 spent within 3 months with the $95 annual fee waived. You can get two cards in one day, so that could be well on your way to getting an additional 2 tickets paid for.

United also has their Explorer card and they are offering targeted bonuses of up to 65,000 miles. You can check online or go into a branch for the best offer. If you aren’t near a branch and can’t get the 65,000 to load, the public signup bonus is 30,000 miles

Hopefully this does help and best of luck with the adoption! You can also tweet me @thepointsguy if you have any more questions.

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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  • sam

    That’s a wealth of information to get him started.

  • Tony

    It’s another 32,500 points through United to book a round-trip flight.

  • fsujmt

    If he’s a current AMEX Plat cardholder, he won’t be eligible for the 25K AMEX Premier Rewards Gold sign-up offer.

  • disqust101

    Er, isn’t Hong Kong part of China?

  • Chris Malstead

    I have a similar question but to transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to get to Mumbai in February. It seems like the best bet might be to use points for a flight over and to buy the flight back. The United website shows a good one-way flight on ANA (JFK to Narita to BOM) but I can’t seem to get the ANA flight one way on ANA’s site and don’t see the ANA flight on AirCanada’s points reservation site. Does ANA really not offer 1 way flights for ff miles as I was told over the phone? Are there other “back door” to Star Alliance flights using AMEX Membership Rewards.

  • Al Rajan

    If you do want to transfer your MR to Aeroplan, you can take advantage of a transfer to US Airways from

    For 1 of your tickets, transfer 71K MR to Aeroplan, then through, transfer those 71K Aeroplan to 60K US Airways which can get you on the same United flights that Aeroplan would put you on.

    You will be limited to 100K Aeroplan miles transfered out each year, so you can only have the mileage savings on 1 of your tickets. (unless you set up 4 Aeroplan accounts and transfer them to 4 US Airways accounts).

    Read up on it here:

  • Blacktea

    Ana airlines actually provide round trips to china from a major city within US for 65000 miles. I know of this because I was looking at my options to go back in August. I do not know the taxes and fuel surcharges because I haven’t transferred my miles yet. Good luck in finding the right airline that works for you.

  • Sharon

    The travel schedule for adoption trip is usually very unflexible. I wouldn’t recommend booking any tickets until they get their TA (Travel Advice) from China. The TA will detail the dates they need to be in China to pick up their child from the province s/he is at, signing adoption papers etc, then travel to Guangzhou for medical exam and US Consulate appointment etc etc. The 10-day trip is usually very hectic, and usually takes place 2-4 weeks after the TA arrives. At that point, there may or may not be award space available, especially having all 4 to 8 people on the same flight. Most adoption agencies partner with a travel agency specialized in China adoption (such as Lotus Travel in Seattle) and the travel agency has negotiated special rates with Air China which will get them US-China and inter-China flights in short notice.

  • KG

    Thanks, Sharon. Sounds like you are familiar with China Adoptions? Yes, we do know to wait until after we have final TA from China. We have been told it will be after first of year. I also know that the agency does work and recommend Lotus Travel. I however have miles that I can use since all the family wants to go. Any and all advice is greatly appreciated.

  • Shuai Zeng

    Why doesnt he just transfer to from Amex to Cathy?? its about 80,000 point per round trip to HKG.

  • sharon

    Yes KG, I am. I was born and raised in Guangzhou and have been living here in the U.S. the last two decades. 9 years ago my husband and I adopted a 9mth old baby girl from a city 3 hours outside of Guangzhou. I have taken our family of five to Guangzhou a few times now, and for the upcoming trip in December we are using miles to fly first and business class on Cathay and AA. It is complicated to get a large family to fly to China on miles, and even more so when it involves adoption. Since you have at least 6 months, I think you can do it, just takes a bit more planning. :-)

    I am more than happy to give more advice via email. Maybe the points guy can forward my email address to you.

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  • sharon

    Hope you are still reading this. It seems to me that for a group of 8, you might want to consider flying into Seoul from either SFO, Seattle or Chicago via Asiana; or to Beijing from Houston via Air Canada. United also has plenty availability from SFO to Kyoto (airport code KIX) but from Kyoto there is no direct flight to China. There are many flights and seats from Seoul to any China cities including HK. So time to boost your United miles even more :-) You need 60000 miles for an economy roundtrip.

    Regardless where your baby is, your trip will end in Guangzhou and you will be spending 2-3 days there. If you are not traveling with any other adopting families, you might get to pick the hotel in Guangzhou. In that case, consider the Marriott China Hotel (gear to adopting families) or the Marriott Tianhe (newer and close to the US Consulate). Both hotels are category 3 and requires only 15000 points per night. The Chase Marriott card will be useful as it comes with one free night plus 50000 points (I received a targeted offer of 75000 points). Those points come handy for hotels in China!

    One thing to remember, you would need a ticket for the baby on the return trip!

    Hope this helps.

  • KG

    Thanks so much for all the info. I am trying to digest all the suggestions. I had hoped to stay at Marriott, my preferred hotel and I will have some points to use with them also. All suggestions are welcome.

  • KG

    If you didn’t know, Yes, of course it is – just a typo

  • Sharon

    I added something last week but it didn’t seem to post. Most family would add a 3-4 day visit to Beijing before flying to the province where their babies are. So this is something you might want to consider. It will add to your cost, but the cost might be worthwhile. Marriott has lots of great properties in Beijing (and rest of China) that are category 3 or 4, it will help you lower your cost. If your agency doesn’t arrange this (which I highly doubt), you can check out China Highlight, they can arrange private tour for your group and they are very quick in responding to emails. You can use your points for hotels, and China Highlight would arrange transportation, tour guide and sight seeing.

    Since your trip will end in Guangzhou, I would recommend stop by Hong Kong for couple days if you can. Even if it’s just one day, it will be worth it. Hong Kong is only two hours by train from Guangzhou, your guide or the hotel can purchase train tickets for you. The only issue is hotels in HK are very expensive, this is where free Hilton nights or free Hyatt nights (via credit cards) will come in handy. Or you can redeem Hyatt points at 12000 points per night at Hyatt TsimShaTsui, a very good location.

    I don’t know when your trip will be. But if it happens in April, beware that the spring trade fare is in early April in Guangzhou where the hotel prices might double.

  • KG

    Thanks so much. Just received word yesterday that China has approved all paperwork and now the child will be matched with our family. I checked out China Highlight website, looks great and will certainly check it out. I look forward to hearing more from you!

  • Sharon

    Wow congratulations! That’s good news! How long is this “match” process going to take? 9 years ago it took us 5 months, and in recent years the wait was a long 4-5 years. In any case, if you can, stock up more United points and hotel points/free nights while you wait. Are there any specific questions you want to ask me?

  • KG

    Since we are not adopting an infant, the agency has told us 3-6 months. Do you suggest flying into Beijing? instead of Hong Kong? Or wherever is closer to Providence that child is in? Yes, we know the US Embassy is in Guangzhou and that will be our departing airport. Again, thank you for great info. I welcome any advice.

  • Sharon

    I kinda guessed that you are not adopting an infant, but rather a child on the waiting list. If referral is coming in within 3-6 month, and actual gotcha day usually happens 2 months after that, you are potentially looking at traveling as early as December. While it would be a great Christmas gift, award tickets during that time are very difficult to get now. And if travel happens end of January and early February, you will run into similar problem as Chinese New Year is January 31 next year (though it would ton of fun to be in Guangzhou and HK that time of the year!) I guess we will wait and see what the actual dates will be.

    As far as where you fly into, it really depends where your child is and if you want to see Beijing beforehand. HK would be better on the return, or if you choose the skip HK, then you just fly back from Guangzhou.

    There are lots to consider when you plan your routing, such as the airline routing rules, the availability of seats for 8, and the need to keep the group together, month when you travel, the cities you want to visit, the city your child is in, etc etc. and I think it is too long to elaborate here. So if you like, send me an email at everythingbamboo at yahoo dot com. I will write back to you with my thoughts.

  • Miles

    Maybe because 75,000 is less than 80,000??? No?

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