Can You Turn Amex Points Into American Miles? Can You Use Amex To Book Etihad Awards?

May 26, 2013

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Update: Some of the offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

This reader question comes from TPG reader Steven, who asks:

“Can you turn Amex points into American Airline miles? I want to use them to fly Etihad from the US to the Middle East.”

The answer to Steven’s first question about converting Amex points into American miles is: yes, but it’s at a terrible conversion rate. That’s because first you have to transfer your Amex points into Starwood points at a dismal 3:1 ratio, and then you can transfer Starwood points to American Airlines miles at a 1:1 ratio and you get a 5,000-mile bonus for transfers of 20,000 miles – so at least there’s a little 25% bump there. Still, let’s say you transferred 60,000 Amex points to get 20,000 Starpoints, which you then transferred to American miles for a grand total of 25,000 miles – that’s a pretty terrible conversion rate! You’re only getting about a 42% return on your points! No thank you.

So let’s say you wanted to fly Etihad roundtrip from JFK to Abu Dhabi. That’s 90,000 miles in economy or 135,000 miles in business class. That would require you to transfer 330,000 Amex points (!) for business. They’re a great airline and all, but you can get the same seat for a lot less points.

Amex points only transfer to SPG at a dismal 3:1 ratio.
Amex points only transfer to SPG at a dismal 3:1 ratio.

However, Etihad is a partner of All Nippon Airlines (ANA), which is also an Amex transfer partner and transfers take about 2 days. ANA awards are distance based and since JFK- Abu Dhabi is 13,374 miles roundtrip, it would be 60,000/90,000/140,000 for economy/business/first class roundtrip and between $500-$1,200 in taxes/fees. Not cheap, but the amount of points needed is less than Alitalia in most cases and you can redeem for First Class.

ANA Award chart for roundtrip flights based on how far the flights are in total miles roundtrip
ANA Award chart for roundtrip flights based on how far the flights are in total miles roundtrip

You can also use Alitalia, which is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, and is also an airline partner of Etihad. Per Alitalia’s Etihad award chart, to book a roundtrip economy class ticket from the US to the Middle East, you only need 120,000 Alitalia MilleMiglia miles, or 180,000 in business, so much more than ANA.

Alitalia's Etihad award chart.
Alitalia’s Etihad award chart.

So even though 180,000 points is a lot and might not be the best redemption value out there, it’s still a whole lot better than spending 330,000 points – it’s almost half!

If you’re really looking to score some American miles, you might want to open either the personal or business version (or both!) of the Starwood Amex, which is currently offering 25,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 6 months (though that sometimes goes up to 30,000 points), so that when you go to transfer points, you’re at least getting a 1:1 ratio, and potentially a 25% bonus on those 20,000-point transfers.

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Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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