Using Points.com To Convert American Express Membership Rewards into US Airways (and Eventually American) Miles
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Points.com is a points exchange and clearing house that allows members to trade one kind of points and miles for another and to track your balances and see certain promo offers. You can also redeem your points or miles through it for retail gift cards or for Paypal credits. It’s free to join and its interface is easy to use. You can actually trade your points/miles for other members’ points/miles in other programs, and you can exchange points/miles between your own accounts.
Sounds fantastic, right? Well, there are a few downsides – namely that the participating programs can be limited or stop participating at any time, and the exchange ratios are often not worth it, or there are transaction fees involved.
However, there are certain times when it’s worth it to do so, and a reader responding to my post on the best programs to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points at the moment suggested one that hasn’t been around for a while. As I mentioned, mileage and points programs often start or stop allowing points/miles exchanges via Points.com, and one of those programs was US Airways. For a long time you could swap a variety of other airlines’ miles for US Airways Dividend miles, but then US Airways cut that off last year at some point.
Now, however, it appears that the ability to exchange other points and miles for US Airways miles is available on Points.com again. While the exchange ratios are mostly dismal, the one bright spot is actually Air Canada’s Aeroplan mileage program, which is offering the exchange at the following rate:
As you can see, it would take 100,000 Aeroplan miles to get 84,011 US Airways miles. I chose 100,000 because per Aeroplan’s rules for Points.com exchanges, you must exchange at least 15,000 miles up to 50,000 miles per transaction, and you can only exchange out 100,000 miles from your account per calendar year. Why would you want to lose 16,000 Amex points’ transfer value, you might ask?
It’s true, you’re losing out on 16% of your points value just to exchange miles from one Star Alliance carrier to another, but there are a few reasons this might be a good idea. First, if you wanted American miles instead, you’d only be getting about 37,000 from the same 100,000 Aeroplan conversion:
So that’s definitely not the way to go. Second, Aeroplan just underwent a massive devaluation of their mileage awards, so US Airways is now a much more attractive option for redeeming Star Alliance awards – at least until the airline’s exit from Star Alliance on March 30, 2014. For instance, those 84,000 US Airways miles are almost enough (you need 90,000) to get a roundtrip business class airfare from North America to North Asia including China, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. By contrast, you’d need 150,000 Aeroplan miles – and you’d be out potentially hundreds of dollars in carrier-imposed surcharges by using Aeroplan miles instead of US Airways miles. While you’re losing about 16,000 Amex points’ worth of value, you’re actually making a much better redemption going through US Airways instead since the airline’s partner award chart require far fewer miles for the same awards at the moment.
Also keep in mind that US Airways and American are steadily marching toward their merger and have already introduced reciprocal mileage earning and redeeming on both airlines. While I don’t expect them to merge mileage programs until much later this year or early next, the fact of the matter is, those US Airways miles you swap for will eventually become American Airlines miles, so this could be a decent workaround not only to turn Amex points into US Airways miles – but if you’re not going to use your US Airways miles anytime soon, you are essentially converting Amex points into American Airlines miles.
And those same 90,000 miles would cover my recent award redemption that took advantage of American’s international gateway stopover rule to book a first class transcontinental ticket on American and tag on first class flights on American and Qatar Airways to Oman via London and Doha.
This workaround is potentially valuable because right now, American partners with neither Amex Membership Rewards (the points program for cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and Platinum Card from American Express) nor Chase Ultimate Rewards (you can transfer points to member travel programs if you have the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and/or Ink Plus). It is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest at a 1:1 ratio, and you get a 5,000-mile bonus on transfers of 20,000 points, but I find Starwood points are much more valuable for hotel redemptions than mileage transfers and only use them occasionally to top up a mileage account, so I’d much prefer using Amex Membership Rewards points, which are much easier to accrue and whose cards tend to offer bigger sign-up bonuses than the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express.
Now, remember, you can also transfer Amex and/or Chase points to British Airways, which is Oneworld partners with American, and it makes a lot of sense to do so if you’re going to take advantage of the program’s distance-based award formula to book expensive short-haul flights, or find some award chart sweet spots like Boston-Dublin in Aer Lingus business class for just 50,000 Avios roundtrip. But in general, American’s award chart is more generous than British Airways and requires fewer miles on most long-haul international awards – for instance, just 55,000 miles each way for Cathay Pacific business class or 67,500 in first class from LAX-Hong Kong versus 70,000 Avios in business and 110,000 Avios in first class!
While this points exchange opportunity isn’t for everyone, and it’s limited to just 100,000 Aeroplan miles per year, if you’ve got a ton of Amex points and are looking to diversify the transfer partners you’re able to use them with, this could be a really great workaround and a way to generate American miles, or even just US Airways miles if you want to make a last-minute redemption while the airline is still part of Star Alliance. I would just urge you to do so sooner rather than later because as I said, airline programs can stop allowing these exchanges in an instant and there’s not telling how long it will last. Unfortunately we haven’t seen an Amex transfer bonus to Aeroplan since 2012, so I wouldn’t wait on one of those happening out of the blue to make up for some of the exchange ratio loss.
As usual, these transactions are processed by Points.com, so you won’t earn airline purchase bonuses on cards like the Amex Premier Rewards Gold’s 3X per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s 2.14X points per $1 on travel.