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TPG Reader Asad sent me a message on Facebook to ask about an upcoming change from Amex:
“Is it worth transferring Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios now while the ratio is still 1:1, or should I wait until the next time Amex offers a transfer bonus?”
Earlier this year, American Express announced that it would reduce the transfer ratio to airline partner British Airways. Points currently transfer at 1:1, so 250 Membership Rewards points gets you 250 Avios. However, as of October 1st, the cost of Avios is going up by 25%, so those 250 points will only get you 200 Avios.
Asad wants to know whether he should transfer before the devaluation or wait for a more favorable ratio down the line. Although I wouldn’t rush to transfer just for the sake of beating the deadline, the answer depends on your travel patterns, how much you value Avios and how many points you have already.
I list Amex Membership Rewards at 2 cents apiece in my latest monthly valuations, while Avios are 1.6 cents apiece. That means I wouldn’t transfer speculatively, but it makes sense if you anticipate a need for Avios in the near future and you know how to get good value out of them. For example, if you often redeem for short-haul economy awards — which start at just 4,500 points each way for flights up to 650 miles (like New York to Detroit or Chicago to Atlanta) — then you don’t have to worry about those points going unused, so transferring now would be fine.
Amex has occasionally offered bonuses for transfers to British Airways — most recently, we saw a 40% bonus in December 2014, and we’ve seen bonuses as high as 50% in the past. However, even at this top level, you’d only end up with 1.2 Avios for each point you transfer after the new ratio goes into effect. If the bonus is 25% or lower, you’ll still end up getting 1:1 or worse. Furthermore, these bonuses seem to be drying up in general, so there’s less incentive to wait, but again, that’s assuming you’ll use them quickly.
I think the most important takeaway here is that if you’re a frequent user of the Avios program, it’s time to look at other partner options. Both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest transfer to British Airways at 1:1, and with SPG you get a 25% bonus when you transfer 20,000 points. You can also look for other ways to boost your balance, like banking miles from Oneworld flights or signing up for the British Airways Visa Signature Card.
Similarly, if you’re heavily invested in Membership Rewards, you might start looking at other redemption opportunities. Transferring to British Airways can still make sense, but plenty more Amex transfer partners offer great value. For ideas and inspiration, check out Eric Rosen’s recent post on the Top 5 Ways to Fly to Europe in First Class, as well as my review of Lufthansa First Class on the 747-8.
The change is disappointing, but c’est la vie. As award travelers, we just need to adapt and figure out new ways to maximize our rewards.
Know before you go.
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