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American Express Membership Rewards has made headlines in the past couple of months due to changes with some of its transfer partners. Best Western will no longer be a partner beginning January 1, and British Airways has now taken a double devaluation. Effective October 1, the transfer ratio of Membership Rewards to BA dropped from 1:1 to 250:200, and short-haul award flights within the US will raise in price from 4,500 to 7,500 Avios one-way beginning February 2, 2016.

With partnerships seemingly changing every month, it can be difficult to keep track of all the latest cut-off/effective dates. Not leaving yourself enough time to transfer points from your Membership Rewards account to the affected program could leave you high and dry. Following up on our post on Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer times, I wanted to look at the time it takes to move Membership Rewards points to all MR transfer partners.

The TPG team and I did some research for each of the program’s transfer partners. In September, I transferred 1,000 points from my Membership Rewards account to each of Amex’s partners and tracked how long it took for them to show up. Note that I made two unsuccessful attempts to transfer Amex points to Emirates. Amex is apparently working to investigate the issue, but in the meantime I won’t be able to provide a transfer time for Emirates. Otherwise, here’s what I found:

Program Transfer Time
Aeromexico Club Premier 24 Hours
Air Canada Aeroplan Instant
Air France/KLM Flying Blue Instant
Alitalia MilleMiglia Less than 24 Hours
All Nippon Airways Mileage Club 36 Hours
British Airways Executive Club Instant
Cathay Pacifc Asia Miles Less than 24 Hours
Delta Skymiles Instant
El AL Matmid Less than 24 Hours
Emirates Skywards  Unable to Complete
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles Instant
Iberia Plus Instant
JetBlue TrueBlue Instant
Singapore KrisFlyer Less than 24 Hours
Virgin America Elevate Instant
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Instant
Best Western Rewards 24 Hours
Choice Privileges Instant
Hilton HHonors 15 min
Starwood Preferred Guest Instant

Note that the times listed above represent my personal experience, and shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. However, others have reported a similar timeline when transferring points from Membership Rewards. Your transfers may be faster or slower, but you can use these times as guidelines when planning your trips.

Instant transfers are obviously always preferred, and Amex does a good job of making that happen compared with some of the transferable points competition like Starwood and Citi ThankYou points. If you haven’t done so already, link all your different transfer partner accounts to your Membership Rewards account. This prevents delays in the future when you may need to make a quick transfer. For example, it took two days just to link my Best Western Rewards account to my Membership Rewards account.

I hope the British Airways transfer ratio is the last ratio we see Amex change. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
I hope the British Airways transfer ratio is the last rate we see Amex change. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Of course, the greatest risk when transferring points is that award availability can change while you’re waiting for points to show up in your account. Transfers are irreversible, so in the worst-case scenario you’ll be stuck with thousands of points in a program you have little use for beyond your originally intended award ticket or hotel night. Here are a few tips for how to avoid that situation:

1. Put your award reservation on hold prior to transferring. Not all programs allow you to do this, but those that do make things much easier. For example, Singapore KrisFlyer allows you to hold an award reservation so long as you have 50% of the necessary miles in your account.

2. Choose flights that have more than one available award seat. This is helpful in case someone else books before your miles show up. Use tools like ExpertFlyer or KVS to find how many award seats are available on a flight. You can also do a single search for three or four passengers – that way, you can determine precisely how many seats are available.

3. Select uncommon routes. You can improve your chances by flying along routes that are less popular or originate from non-hubs, since those often have better award availability. For a Transatlantic flight, one example is from Raleigh-Durham to London on American. For a Transpacific flight, check out ANA’s flight from San Jose to Tokyo-Narita.

4. Let the availability determine your destination. If you have some flexibility and your original itinerary is no longer an option because availability has dried up, one solution is to choose your destination based on which awards are still bookable. If you want to fly six people in business to Hawaii for Christmas, I’d keep in mind the difficulty of that task and search for other destinations with availability — perhaps finding a diamond in the rough.

If your original flights have disappeared, don’t panic. Keep in mind that award availability changes frequently and can increase dramatically as you get closer to your departure date. Check regularly and be ready to act quickly when seats do open up.

Best Ways to Earn and Best Transfer Options

Two of the best ways to earn Membership Rewards is with the Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express and the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card. The EveryDay Preferred card earns 3x points at grocery stores on the first $6,000 spent annually, 2x points at gas stations and for each month you make 30 eligible transactions, you receive a 50% point bonus. The Premier Rewards Gold Card earns 3x points on all airfare purchased directly with the airline and 2x points at gas stations and supermarkets. These bonus categories, in addition to any offered sign-up bonus and ancillary benefits, make the cards a staple in my wallet.

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I’ve used 30,000 Membership Rewards to fly round-trip to Hawaii. Image courtesy of Richard Kerr.

With the variety of transfer partners Membership Rewards offers, it’s tough to pick out just a few of the best transfer options. We went in detail earlier this year on redeeming your points for maximum value. With recent changes in mind, here are a few of the best-value transfers:

  1. 51,000 Membership Rewards to Singapore KrisFlyer to fly Singapore-Tokyo on the A380 in a suite.
  2. Transfer to Choice Privileges for award stays in Europe.
  3. 10,000 Membership Rewards to Delta for one-way flights.
  4. 30,000 Membership Rewards to Flying Blue for East Coast to Hawaii round-trip.

As I mentioned above, transfer times may vary from one person to another.

Please share your own experiences in the comments below, as well as your strategies for transferring and redeeming Membership Rewards!

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Receive 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • No matter where you're traveling, when you use your Premier Rewards Gold Card there are no foreign transaction fees from American Express.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $100 a year in baggage fees and more at one airline.
  • Get a $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges, plus a room upgrade upon arrival, if available with The Hotel Collection at Terms apply.
  • There is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $195.
  • Terms and limitations apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $195.
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.