Buying American Express Membership Rewards Points for British Airways Redemptions
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
A unique aspect of the Membership Rewards program is that you can buy points for $25 per 1,000 up to 500,000 points per calendar year. While I generally don't recommend buying points, it may make sense to do so while British Airways is running a 50% transfer promotion until July 31, 2011.
At a purchase price of 2.5 cents per point, when you factor in the 50% bonus, it brings the purchase price of each BA mile down to 1.67 cents a piece. This is clearly smarter than buying miles directly from British Airways, which sells points for 2.5 cents a piece with a maximum of only 24,000 purchased miles per calendar year.
To purchase Membership Rewards points, you need to call American Express at the phone number on the back of your card, enter your card number and security pin and then say "Membership Rewards." Your points purchase must be part of a transfer, so you can't just buy points to have them sit in your account. Once you purchase the points, they will immediately be converted into British Airways miles.
Some key redemptions where I think this could make a lot of sense are:
40,000 mile, roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from US to South American in coach. This is good even for deep South America, like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. These flights are often well over $1,000, so spending $668 for the requisite points is almost always a deal (unless you need the elite miles, because award tickets do not earn miles).
50,000 mile, roundtrip American Airlines business class domestic award (think JFK-LAX/SFO) for $835
80,000 mile, roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from US to South American in business. $1,336 - quite possibly cheaper than flying coach!
50,000 mile , roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from North America to Asia (like Cathay Pacific, American, JAL) in coach. $835 to fly Cathay Pacific to Bali with a stopover in Hong Kong sound like a good deal to you?
100,000 mile, roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from North America to Asia (like Cathay Pacific, American, JAL) $1,670 for an Asian business class roundtrip with stopovers.
150,000 mile, roundtrip single Oneworld partner redemption from North America to Asia (like Cathay Pacific, American, JAL) $2,505 for first class to Asia - even if it's in American Airlines First class which pales in comparison to Cathay, you still get a huge lie-flat bed, which can make all the difference when traveling 11+ hours.
180,000 mile, roundtrip Qantas business class from North America to Australia/New Zealand = $3,006. Those tickets are normally twice that (or more).
Remember, British Airways allows unlimited stopovers on awards, so you can really get a lot of value out of awards if you build in a bunch of flights, for example JFK-Lima (stop), Lima- Santiago Chile (stop)- Santiago Chile to Easter Island (Destination) and back all on LAN.
Before buying points, I recommend you get a sense for availability so you aren't disappointed after you purchase and transfer your points to British Airways. In general, BA awards to Europe, whether on BA or Oneworld partners, are expensive. Think $400+ in taxes/fees for coach awards and $600+ for business/first.
Before you make any big purchases of points, I recommend reading through my series on maximizing BA miles.
General tips, Post 1 – Booking BA Awards, Post 2 – Booking Partner Awards, Post 3 – Oneworld Alliance, Post 4 – Taxes and Fees, Post 5 – Household Accounts, Post 6 – Companion Ticket, Post 7 – Using ExpertFlyer for Partner Award Availability, Post 8 – The Art of the Stopover, Post 9 – Leveraging Miles and Cash Redemptions, and Post 10 - Using Qantas.com to Find Oneworld Award Availability.