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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:
|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|
|El AL Matmid||Less than 24 Hours|
|Emirates Skywards||Unable to Complete|
|Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||Instant|
|Singapore KrisFlyer||Less than 24 Hours|
|Virgin America Elevate||Instant|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||Instant|
|Best Western Rewards||24 Hours|
|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.
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.
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:
- 51,000 Membership Rewards to Singapore KrisFlyer to fly Singapore-Tokyo on the A380 in a suite.
- Transfer to Choice Privileges for award stays in Europe.
- 10,000 Membership Rewards to Delta for one-way flights.
- 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
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Balance Transfer Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||Introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $195||See Terms||Excellent Credit|