Video SRQ: What Is The Best Use Of Amex Points For Domestic Travel?
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TPG reader Tim
"I would love to see you address best ways to use of Amex points to book domestic travel this summer. I'm sitting on a lot of points, but obvious avenues like using Avios to book flights on American (via British Airways) seem worthless as all flights seem to show no availability. I am looking to go LAX to New York or Boston or even Atlanta."
The good news is that American Express Membership Rewards has a lot of different transfer partners where you can get the most value when redeeming Amex points.
The program's 21 airline and hotel transfer partners include:
Star Alliance: Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore, All Nippon Airlines
Oneworld: British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific
Skyteam: Delta, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Alitalia, Aeromexico
Other: Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, El Al, Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines
Hilton 1: 1.3
Best Western 1:1
The other option you have is Pay With Points where you can book any flight you want at a rate of 1 cent per point (you actually get 1.25 cents per point if you have the Business Platinum card) and the great thing about these redemptions is that you actually earn mileage and elite credit and you can enjoy any elite benefits you normally would like if you just purchased the ticket. While I generally can get more value with my points when transferring directly to the airline partners (especially during transfer bonuses), Pay With Points can come in handy when you have points to burn and are looking to save money while still earning elite status.
In terms of transferring points to one of the program's partners, here are the key ones that you should consider:
Although United and US Airways are not transfer partners, other Star Alliance carriers including Air Canada, Singapore and ANA are, and you can use those miles to book tickets on United or US Airways. I personally use Aeroplan the most because transfers are instant, the fees are somewhat low, and it's 25,000 miles roundtrip for coach and 50,000 for business class for domestic roundtrip redemptions.
Singapore is also a Star Alliance airline and though economy awards using their miles also requires 25,000 for roundtrip economy tickets, a business class ticket on United or US Airways will only cost you 40,000 Singapore miles, so that's potentially a very good deal - especially if you're redeeming for a transcontinental ticket where business class could cost you north of $2,000 - and first class will cost you 60,000 miles.
ANA is also an option, but their award chart is based on distance, so a transcontinental roundtrip economy award will be 38,000 miles while business class will be 63,000 miles and first class will be 90,000 miles, so I'd generally stay away from it based on the routes you mentioned.
Apart from Star Alliance partners, Delta has limited award availability at the low levels on those transcontinental routes, so I wouldn't spend a lot of time looking into these awards, though it's worth a shot to do some searching and see what you can turn up.
You could also consider transferring to JetBlue and Virgin America, but here's why I would suggest not doing that. That's because Amex points transfer to JetBlue at a pretty dismal ratio of 250 Amex points to 200 JetBlue points. JetBlue points are redeemable at one cent apiece, so you're only getting 0.8 cents in value from each of your Amex points. Much better just to book your flights using Pay With Points where you're getting 1-1.25 cents per points depending on what card you have and you still earn TrueBlue points.
The same goes for Virgin America. Virgin Elevate points are worth about 2 cents apiece at most, but you can only transfer Amex points to Elevate points at a ratio of 2 Amex points to 1 Elevate point, so even at best, you're only getting about 1 cent per point in value so you might as well use Pay With Points, earn points/miles on your fare and have the flexibility to book whatever flight you want.
If your heart is set on flying Virgin America, there is a workaround thanks to the airline's partnership with Hawaiian (another Amex transfer partner), where you can redeem Hawaiian Miles for award seats on Virgin America, though roundtrip domestic economy awards of 2,000 miles or over cost 40,000 miles, 65,000 miles for Main Cabin Select, and 90,000 for first class. That could make sense if you are redeeming for first class on an expensive route where tickets can cost in the thousands of dollars.
In general, I'd suggest doing some searching with the Star Alliance partners, and don't discount British Airways. I know it can be a pain to search for American awards on the website, but especially with transfer bonuses like the 35% one that expired Friday, Avios can offer huge value on certain flights. For more info on maximizing British Airways Avios, check out my series: The posts in my series include: Master FAQ Post on British Airways 100,000 Mile Offer, Distance-Based Awards,Spotlight on Taxes and Fees, Travel Together Companion Ticket, Household Accounts, Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets, The Avios and Cash Option, Save Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to Iberia, Using Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions.