What Is The Most Economical Way To Use American Express Membership Rewards Points to China?

Jul 14, 2013

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TPG Reader KG asked:

“My family consisting of 4 adults and 4 children are planning a trip from Jacksonville to either Hong Kong or China early in 2014, for our adoption of toddler. We are trying to research lowest rates.  I have an American Express Platinum Card with 260,000 points and want to know the best way to use points or whatever advise you can provide would be greatly appreciated.”

First off, congratulations on the adoption! While it must be a rewarding experience, I can only imagine the logistics involved with an overseas adoption so I hope I can help at least defray the cost of your flights. I know adoptions can be extremely pricy, so hopefully you can use your points and miles to help with the travel costs since you have quite a group going! Another added perk of using miles is that if your plans change, the change fees on award tickets are generally much lower than paid tickets. Most airlines will let you change or redeposit miles for anywhere between $40 and $150 whereas flight changes on international trips can often cost $250 plus any difference in fare.

American Express offers their Pay With Points option.
American Express offers their Pay With Points option.

Off the bat, American Express will let you redeem points through their Pay with Points option for 1 cent apiece, so they would give $2,600 towards travel. If you’re lucky from Jacksonville to Shanghai that maybe will get you 2 tickets, maybe a little bit of a third.

Aeroplan JAX-PEK
You can book United flights through Aeroplan.

I think your best bang for your buck would actually be to transfer to Aeroplan, which is an instant 1:1 transfer partner and since Air Canada is a Star Alliance member, you can book United flights and the taxes and fees aren’t too pricey. It’s 75,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip for economy, so if you can get to 300,000 Amex points, then you’ll have four of the tickets covered, which can greatly reduce the price of the overall trip.

A United.com search for 4 saver level coach tickets shows lots of options. Saveer level awards can be booked using most Star Alliance miles, including Aeroplan
A United.com search for 4 saver level coach tickets shows lots of options. Saver level awards can be booked using most Star Alliance miles, including Aeroplan

I pulled up some sample itineraries for March 2014, and their were plenty of days that had four seats available and they were actually pretty good itineraries. Amex used to have a Points Advance feature on the personal Platinum Card where you could advance yourself up to an additional 60,000 points, but unfortunately they just discontinued it as of June 30th. I would recommend spending as much as you can to at least get your points up to the 300,000-point mark.

There are a bunch of great sign-up bonuses right now. The Mercedez-Benz Platinum Card is offering 60,000 points after spending $5,000 and you can get the sign up bonus even if you currently have the American Express Platinum Card as I did this earlier this year.

However, the Platinum card isn’t the best American Express card for earning points. Sure the perks are amazing, but you’re only earning 1 point per dollar. The Premier Rewards Gold gives 3x on airfare, 2x on gas and groceries and a 15,000-point bonus when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year (essentially making it a base earning of 1.5 points per dollar when you hit that threshold). The Premier Rewards Gold currently has a 25,000-point sign-up bonus with a $0 Intro Annual Fee for the 1st year, then $195, so it could be a  good way to push you over 300,000.

If you have a business, you can get the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, which has a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after you spend $5,000 within 3 months and the $175 annual fee is waived the first year. The card also gets 3x on airfare, 2x on advertising, select media, shipping and gas.

Low Level Delta award JAX-PVG for 70,000 SkyMiles.
Low Level Delta award JAX-PVG for 70,000 SkyMiles.

Other Options
Amex does run transfer bonuses from time to time, but things have been pretty quiet this year and I wouldn’t hold your breath for an Aeroplan transfer bonus.

Another transfer partner from American Express is Delta, and they actually have the cheapest option for your route, at only 70,000 SkyMiles if you can find a low-level award, which can be very challenging, however it can’t hut to try and price out online to see if anything exists for your dates.

Other partners like British Airways Avios and ANA are distance based and would require far more than 70,000 points for a ticket. Singapore airlines is 90,000 miles per ticket and Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific) at least 80,000. As far as I can tell Aeroplan will likely require the least amount of miles and a reasonable amount of taxes per ticket compared to other options.

Boosting Non-Amex Accounts to Cover More Tickets
US Airways, which is not an Amex transfer partner only charges 60,000 miles for US to Asia award tickets. To top up your US Airways you can transfer in points from Starwood Preferred Guest (20,000 points = 25,000 miles) and the SPG Amex currently offers 25,000 points after $5,000 spent within 6 months with the $65 annual fee waived the first year.

United, a Chase ultimate rewards partner, requires 65,000 miles and ~$40 per roundtrip ticket JAX-China. The Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 points after $4,000 spent within 3 months and the $95 annual fee waived the first year. The business Ink Bold and Ink Plus both offer 50,000 points after $5,000 spent within 3 months with the $95 annual fee waived. You can get two cards in one day, so that could be well on your way to getting an additional 2 tickets paid for.

United also has their Explorer card and they are offering targeted bonuses of up to 65,000 miles. You can check online or go into a branch for the best offer. If you aren’t near a branch and can’t get the 65,000 to load, the public signup bonus is 30,000 miles

Hopefully this does help and best of luck with the adoption! You can also tweet me @thepointsguy if you have any more questions.

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