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I often discuss how helpful credit card sign-up bonuses can be for earning award travel, but it’s important to understand how to redeem those points once you get them. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at some great uses for the sign-up bonus from one popular Amex Membership Rewards card.
American Express made some big changes to the Premier Rewards Gold card earlier this year in order to compete with other mid-range travel reward cards. The card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 within three months of account opening, and some people have received targeted offers for as much as 50,000 points through the CardMatch tool.
While the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi ThankYou Premier both currently offer higher standard sign-up bonuses, there’s still a lot you can do with 25,000 Membership Rewards points. It’s not enough for an international business-class award, but you might be surprised at some of the valuable award seats that are available for this amount. In this post, I want to take a look at what I think are the top 10 travel awards you can get for 25,000 Membership Rewards points (or less).
1. Flying Blue awards to the Dutch Caribbean. Just as Flying Blue (the frequent flyer program of KLM, Air France and others) is one of the best transfer partners for Citi ThankYou points, it’s also a great place to transfer your Membership Rewards points, especially when you can find a sweet spot in the award chart. Thankfully, Flying Blue includes the former Dutch colonies of St. Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao as part of North America, and offers economy awards to these islands from the United States and Canada for just 25,000 miles round-trip. Although Delta is the only Flying Blue partner that serves these islands, I found award space to be surprisingly abundant.
2. Air Canada short-haul awards. With summer just around the corner, a trip to our northern neighbor could make for a nice, quick getaway. Fortunately, you can transfer just 15,000 Membership Rewards points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan program in order to fly there round-trip on many short-haul routes. Among the city pairs that fit the definition of short haul are Atlanta-Montreal, Charlotte-Toronto and Boston-Halifax.
3. Air Canada partner awards within the Asia 1 Zone. Another sweet spot in the Aeroplan award chart is 20,000 miles round-trip within the “Asia 1” zone, which includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. This includes flights over a vast area of the world on seven different partners: Air China, ANA, Asiana, EVA, Shenzhen, Singapore and Thai. This award can take you from Tokyo to Singapore, which is nearly the same distance as New York to Anchorage!
4. Air Canada within the Europe 1 Zone. Similar to the previous sweet spot in Asia, Air Canada offers round-trip awards within part of Europe for the relatively low rate of 20,000 miles in economy. While its “Europe 1” zone isn’t as large as “Asia 1,” it does include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The six partners that offer flights between these countries are Austrian, Brussels, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Scandinavian and TAP Portugal. British Airways’ distance-based awards are cheaper for economy flights within Europe, but Air Canada is a good option if there’s no availability elsewhere.
5. British Airways awards to Hawaii. One of the best ways to redeem British Airways Avios points is for flights to Hawaii from the West Coast, which cost only 12,500 miles one-way or 25,000 miles round-trip. With this distance-based chart, economy class flights of 3,000 miles or less include flights to Hawaii on partners American, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines from cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix and even Anchorage.
6. British Airways awards between Boston and Dublin, Ireland. Just like awards from the West Coast to Hawaii, Aer Lingus flights between Boston and Dublin fall just under 3,000 miles, making this a very inexpensive way to cross the pond using 25,000 British Airways Avios round-trip.
7. Iberia short-haul flights. The Spanish carrier Iberia is part of the British Airways corporate umbrella, and it even uses the name Avios for its loyalty program. You can transfer points directly from Membership Rewards to Iberia Avios, and even between British Airways and Iberia Avios. One of the strengths of this program is that it gives you access to short-haul flights on both Iberia and its low-cost subsidiary Vueling, which can be a bargain when crossing the boundaries of award zones in traditional frequent flyer programs. For example, a round-trip flight from Madrid to Tel Aviv is only 25,000 Iberia Avios plus about $125 in carrier surcharges and taxes. In contrast, Air Canada charges 50,000 miles for flights between those two cities.
And should you want to visit North Africa, it’s just 16,500 Avios (and $63 USD) round-trip from Barcelona to Marrakech, Morocco.
8. Virgin America to Hawaii. Perhaps the cheapest award flight to Hawaii is found by using Virgin America Elevate points for flights on Hawaiian Airlines. Flights from West Coast cities are only 20,000 points round-trip to Hawaii, with just the $11.20 in TSA fees.
9. Virgin Atlantic to London. In terms of sheer miles flown per point redeemed, you probably can’t beat an award on Virgin Atlantic from Los Angeles to London using Virgin America points. The flight travels nearly 11,000 miles round-trip and costs only 25,000 points, although you’ll have to pay $475, which is mostly fuel surcharges. Nevertheless, these flights tend to price out at around $1,100 – $1,500, and the award seats are widely available, so you’re still getting significant value. Avgeeks out there may also be interested to know that Virgin will soon be serving this route aboard its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. To find availability, you can search Delta’s website for dates with 60,000-mile round-trip awards on nonstop flights, most of which show the available award seats on flights that are operated by Virgin Atlantic.
10. New York JFK to Frankfurt Germany on Singapore Airlines for 20,000 Virgin America Elevate points. Crossing the Atlantic for 20,000 points is always a steal, and it’s even better when you can do so for only $147 in taxes and carrier imposed fees. Better yet, you can fly on the A380 with Singapore Airlines, which is known for offering great service to all passengers, not just those in business and first class. For example, the airline offers over 1,000 entertainment options (viewable on 10.6 inch screens), as well as in-seat power.
What’s your favorite use of 25,000 Membership Rewards points? With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.
With some great bonus categories and an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card has a lot going for it. If you don’t have PRG, now’s as good a time as any to add it to your wallet, as Amex added some great new benefits several months back.