Coming: 35% Transfer Bonus Amex to Virgin Atlantic= 80% Transfer Bonus to Hilton!
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Starting tomorrow, November 27, 2012 through December 29, 2012, American Express cardmembers who transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club will receive a 35% bonus.
The normal transfer ratio is 1:1, so with this bonus, instead of transferring 1,000 Membership Rewards points to 1,000 Flying Club miles, you'll get 1,350 Flying Club miles instead, and points transfer instantly. The bonus will be hard-coded into the transfer page, so you won't have to register or do anything special, just transfer miles as you normally would. Past bonuses have been in the 15-25% range, so 35% is pretty good in my opinion- especially if you know how to leverage your Flying Club miles.
While not on the scale of the 50% bonus on Amex transfers to British Airways in May and a 40% bonus in September, it is slightly higher than the 30% Avios transfer bonus Amex is going to launch on December 3. However, bigger isn't always better and I'd still probably go with transferring to Avios, unless you a) absolutely love flying Virgin Atlantic b) Want to upgrade Virgin Atlantic Flights c) Can take advantage of their airline partners d) need Hilton points.
Flying roundtrip from New York to London on an award ticket requires 35,000 miles plus $700 for Economy (probably a horrible redemption), 55,000 miles and $810 in Premium Economy (still probably worth it to just buy the ticket) and 80,000 miles plus $1,300 in Upper Class. To get those 80,000 miles, you'd only need 59,260 Amex points. You'd still have to cover those $1,300 in taxes and fees, but that's still a pretty significant discount on tickets that can go for $4,000+ miles. That economy ticket will still cost you $700 in taxes and fees, but only 25,926 miles. That's almost like flying a domestic roundtrip. Have a look at the rest of Virgin Atlantic's redemption requirements here.
The second is, remember that Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles transfer to Hilton at a 2:1 ratio. This is a great way to make even more of those Amex points, which transfer to Hilton HHonors directly at a ratio of 1 Amex point to 1.5 HHonors points. With this promo, however, 1 Amex point = 1.35 Virgin miles = 2.7 HHonors points, 80% more than transferring directly from Amex. 100,000 Amex points will turn into 270,000 Hilton Honors points, which if you are a Hilton elite, is more than enough for a 8 night stay at a Category 6 property like the Hilton Los Cabos, which is only 240,000 points with the GLON rate. Check out this post for more information on maximizing Hilton awards.
So if you wanted to stay at a top-tier Hilton resort like the Grand Wailea, which an require up to 80,000 points for a free night (depending on season), instead of using 54,000 Amex points per free night at the usual 1.5 ratio, you could instead transfer 30,000 points to Virgin Atlantic for 40,500 miles, then transfer those miles into 81,000 Hilton HHonors points for a free night. 30,000 Amex points for a free night at a top-tier Waldorf Astoria is a pretty good deal, especially considering the normally dismal transfer ratios. The one consideration is that transferring Virgin miles to Hilton can take several weeks, so you'll have to take your chances on award night availability.
Still, I'm glad to see Amex upping their game as the year comes to an end by offering more transfer bonuses. I'm about to hit Hilton Diamond status thanks to my Citi Hilton Reserve card (which also gave me two free weekend nights at any Hilton in the world), so I'm looking forward to redeeming at some of Hilton's top properties in 2013.
Other Airline Partners
Virgin Atlantic also allows redemptions on a number of other partner airlines, like Virgin America, Virgin Australia and Jet Airways. Most of those awards need to be booked over the phone, so call to get a sense of availability and taxes and fees before you transfer any points- it may make sense to book it through another program to avoid fees.
Virgin Also has a decent upgrade program- only 10,000 miles to upgrade from Premium Economy (W,S fares) to Upper Class from the East Coast to London and you can even search for upgrade availability online.
This transfer bonus is good until December 29, 2012, so you have plenty of time to rack up more points. Today is the last day to take advantage of the 50,000 point Business Gold Rewards card and if you hit the $5,000 spend requirement quick enough, you may be able to have the points post to your account in time to take advantage of this promo (if not you can still take advantage of the 30% Avios bonus which ends January 14, 2013).