Sunday Reader Question: Are The Amex Membership Rewards Free Flight & Companion Pass Vouchers Worth It?
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TPG reader Chris writes:
Cathay Pacific is a Oneworldcarrier, which means you can use other carrier’s miles, like British Airways, to book their awards. British Airways so happens to be a transfer partner of American Express, so you should analyze whether transferring to British Airways or ordering one of these free tickets makes the most sense in your situation.1) Economy Class Ticket to Hong Kong: 125,000 points
Positive: No blackout dates and you earn Asia Miles on the trip
Negative: By transferring your Amex points to British Airways and booking Cathay Pacific award tickets you could get JFK to Hong Kong for 70,000 roundtrip in coach, 140,000 in business and 210,000 in first. There’s currently a 30% transfer bonus, so those numbers actually come down to 54,000, 108,000 and 161,000. So with enough flexibility you could fly in business class for less points than coach! British Airways does levy taxes/fees of about $300, but they don’t charge the $150 late ticketing charge like Cathay does on these vouchers. Plus you can always change your mileage award for $90 versus the economy ticket expiring after 6 months.
However, if no award availability exists and you want to use points for this trip, I’d first check the price of flying in economy and potentially using Pay with Points – which is Amex’ own system of letting you buy any flight using your points at 1 cent a piece. For example, if the JFK-Hong Kong flight you wanted was only $1,000 it would cost 100,000 miles using Pay With Points (much better than spending 125,000 on this certificate). As a Platinum or Centurion cardholder your Pay With Point points are actually worth 1.25 cents a piece, so a $1,000 fare would only cost 80,000 points. Plus, you also earn miles on Pay with Points redemption just as if you would have purchased the ticket with cash (but be sure to check the fare class earns full mileage).
The same details as above, but you instead save 65,000 points by spending a $495 co-pay. This is essentially like buying 65,000 Amex points for $495, or at .8 cents a piece, which is actually a good price (Amex sells them directly for 2.5 cents a piece).
If you transfer to British Airways, you can get this trip roundtrip in coach for only 25,000 miles, business class for 50,000 and First for 75,000. With the current 30% transfer bonus, those numbers go down to 20,000/40,000/60,000. Once again, why fly coach when you can fly in business class for less! I recently flew JFK-Vancouver-JFK in Cathay Pacific business class on an award and had taken advantage of a previous 40% transfer bonus so my point outlay was only 36,000 and $50. You just can’t beat that, especially when coach flights were selling for over $600! Check out my review of the new and old Cathay Business class products.
Qantas is also a Oneworld carrier, so you can transfer points to British Airways and their coach awards from Los Angeles to Sydney are 100,000 for coach and 200,000 for business, 300,000 for first (use this calculator to find out their award prices from other cities).
Economy Class Ticket to Australia/New Zealand: 92,000 points
Economy Class Ticket to South Africa: 95,000 points
As for the companion ticket, it requires a “regular” fare, which means your most discounted online fares most likely won’t be eligible. You’ll have to call to find out at 1-800-722-9675.
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