How I Booked a Holiday Transcon Delta Flight for Under 10,000 Amex Points
Back in October, we told you about options for getting great value out of Amex Membership Rewards points through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club on Delta flights. It may sound convoluted, but the process really isn't hard. In fact, I just went through the process myself to book a holiday-time Delta transcontinental flight for under 10,000 Membership Rewards points using Flying Club. Here's a guide about how you can do the same.
Remember that there's only three weeks left to take advantage of the Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 30% transfer bonus that makes these Delta awards so cheap. (Also, don't forget about the 70,000 point ANA first class round-trip awards to Japan enabled by this transfer bonus.)
Link Your Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Account
Linking your American Express Membership Rewards account to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account should be your first step, as the terms and conditions warn that this process can take up to two weeks. In my experience, it took just two minutes. To get started, click here and log into your Amex account. In order to initiate the link, you're going to need to verify one of your Membership Rewards-earning American Express cards by entering the "4-digit Card ID and 3-digit security code" from that card.
Finding Award Availability
If you can, it always makes sense to find award availability — and place an award on hold — before transferring points. You want to avoid speculatively transferring points, as you're not able to reverse the transfer.
Searching on Virgin Atlantic’s website can be frustrating until you learn a couple of tricks. First, start here by entering your origin airport. Then, search for your destination. If you're searching for a Delta award, your destination is probably not going to show up. But, there’s a workaround — simply click the pin on the right side of the “To” box and select your state and airport that way to be able to search domestic routes:
Sometimes you'll get an error where you can't select "Pay with miles":
The work-around here is to select a previous mileage award search, as this will select the grayed-out option:
Alternatively, you can clear cookies or open a private browser window to search:
So, that's the tricky part. Once you get that part figured out, you can search exact dates or see a calendar view by selecting "Within 1 week" or "Within 5 weeks" to see a range of options. Once you find award availability, it's time to lock in the availability before transferring points.
Putting Awards on Hold
Unfortunately, you can't put an award on hold online. But, I found the phone process to be easy enough. I called Flying Club at 1-800-365-9500 and told the agent about what flights I found online. She confirmed that it would cost 25,000 Flying Club miles and $11.20 for the two passengers. I explained that I was transferring in miles and asked to put the award on hold. She was able to lock in a 72-hour hold for these award flights. The call took less than seven minutes.
As points must be transferred in 1,000-point increments, I had to transfer 20,000 Membership Rewards points to get 26,000 Flying Club miles:
Unfortunately, transfers are only one-way. So, I'll have another 1,000 Flying Club miles left in the my account for a future redemption. Flying Club miles expire if you don't have activity within 36 months — so you don't have to worry as much about losing your leftover miles quickly.
The transfer process can take "up to 48 hours for the transfer to be completed." In December 2015 testing, TPG found that Membership Rewards to Flying Club is an instant transfer. I checked 14 minutes after initiating the transfer and the miles were already in my Flying Club account.
Ticketing the Held Award
In order to ticket the award you have on hold, you're going to have to call Flying Club (again 1-800-365-9500). This time when I called it took a while longer to connect with an agent. After a 15+ minute hold, working with an agent to ticket the hold took only a few minutes.
Slightly Riskier, But Easier Alternative
Instead of going through the process of calling to hold and then calling back to ticket, there's a slightly riskier alternative. When finding award availability online, you can transfer the points at that time and hope that the points hit your Flying Club account while the award availability is still there. Considering how fast the points transfer, this should be rather low-risk. But there is a chance you'll end up with Flying Club miles you don't have an immediate use for.
Don't forget about foreign mileage accounts. You can often get great value out of your hard-earned points by transferring them to take advantage of sweet spots — especially when there's a transfer bonus.
In this case, we scored award flights that were running $341 each one-way for just 10,000 transferred Amex points plus $5.60 of taxes and fees each. Even if we write-off the leftover Flying Club miles from the transfer, we got 3.4 cents of value from these Membership Rewards points. Hopefully you can do even better!