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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Citi Prestige Card
We are in the midst of an excellent transfer bonus: Now through November 15, you’ll get a 40% bonus when transferring American Express Membership Rewards to Aer Lingus Avios, British Airways Avios or Iberia Avios. This transfer bonus amplifies all kinds of sweet spots in the Avios distance-based award chart, and we’ve been diving into the best of these sweet spots.
We started by showing you how to fly to Ireland for 10,000 Amex points one-way (or 19,000 round-trip), how you can fly to Europe in business class for 49,000 Amex points round-trip, how to fly lie-flat business class from 11,000 Amex points one-way and how you can fly to family-friendly US getaways for 11,000 Amex points round-trip.
Today, let’s focus on how you can fly intra-Asia for just a few thousand Amex Membership Rewards points.
The Sweet Spot
Here’s how this sweet spot breaks down: British Airways lets you book awards on its own flights and those operated by its partner airlines starting at just 4,500 Avios for nonstop fights under 651 miles in length (except domestic flights in the US, where the cheapest rate is 7,500 Avios). With the ongoing 40% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, this means a one-way flight would cost around 3,300 MR points.
And there are even more routes between 651 and 1,150 miles that you can book for just 7,500 Avios each way; with the transfer bonus, these one-way itineraries would set you back just 5,400 MR points.
While British Airways partners with airlines all around the world, three airlines are relevant for this intra-Asia sweet spot: Cathay Pacific (based in Hong Kong), Japan Airlines (based in Tokyo) and Malaysia Airlines (based in Kuala Lumpur). Let’s take a look at some of the route options for each of these airlines.
Departing from its hub in Hong Kong (HKG), I’m finding 15 Cathay Pacific routes options under 651 miles. While most of these are to/from mainland China, there are also three options to Taiwan and two to Vietnam.
My favorite of these routes is the world’s busiest international airline route: Hong Kong to Taipei. This route often costs $450+ one-way in economy on Cathay Pacific — which I prefer to utilize my Oneworld status for amazing lounges at HKG — leading to an excellent redemption value.
The brand new high-speed train that just opened between Hong Kong and mainland China makes some of these shorter routes to mainland China less appealing. That is, unless you have Oneworld status or The Platinum Card® from American Express and can enjoy a lounge before departure. However, the further you get from Hong Kong, flying becomes a much better option. Here are some of the route options that Cathay Pacific operates from HKG that you can book for 7,500 Avios each way:
Although Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen trains are an excellent way of getting around Japan efficiently, it’s not the cheapest option. Flying could save both time and money on longer routes, and AvGeeks might want to take to the air even for short flights. I’m finding 26 Japan Airlines flight options within 650 miles of the airline’s hub in Tokyo:
While most of those cities are accessible by train, none of the 7,500-Avios routes are. Here are some of those destinations where flying is the only option:
Last but not least, there are 13 routes that Malaysia Airlines operates to/from its hub in Kuala Lumpur (KUL) that are within 650 miles. This includes three routes on the outer reaches of the 650-mile band that make for a great value: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (SGN); Phnom Penh, Cambodia (PNH) and Kuching, Malaysia (KCH).
When you expand the route to airports under 1,151 miles, you pick up key destinations like Bangkok (BKK) and Jakarta (CGK):
Searching Award Availability
One of my favorite options for searching award availability on many airlines is ExpertFlyer, but the site unfortunately only shows this inventory for Malaysia Airlines. However, you can now search Malaysia Airlines award availability on AA.com. Since AA doesn’t operate these intra-Asia routes, you can utilize the award search calendar to find available dates if you have flexibility:
Unfortunately, neither Cathay Pacific nor Japan Airlines appear on ExpertFlyer, nor are they bookable on American’s website. As a result, you’re going to need to use either British Airways’ or Qantas’ website to search these awards.
As I’ve learned from experience, Cathay Pacific often has plenty of award space on these routes as long as you avoid major Chinese holidays and book at least seven days in advance. Meanwhile, I’ve been able to book Japan Airlines flights a couple of days before departure, while Malaysia Airlines seems to be just as wide open.
How to Book
Now that you know the routes, you might be wondering how to take advantage of this opportunity. Thankfully, we have step-by-step instructions on how to do so.
First, make sure that you find award availability before transferring points. Then, to transfer points, log in to your American Express account, navigate to the point transfer page and select “Transfer Points” under the British Airways Avios tile. In our experience, Amex Membership Rewards transfer to British Airways Executive Club instantaneously. Unfortunately, there’s a requirement to transfer in increments of 1,000 points, so you’ll likely have some extra Avios in your account after booking.
If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to transfer 4,000 MR points to get enough Avios for a one-way award for flights under 651 miles or 6,000 MR points for flights between 651 and 1,151 miles.
|Flight Miles (one-way)
||Avios Cost (one-way)
at 40% Bonus
|1 to 650||4,500||3,215||4,000|
|651 to 1,151||7,500||5,358||6,000|
For round-trips, you’ll need to transfer 7,000 MR points for flights under 651 miles or 11,000 MR points for flights between 651 and 1,151 miles (note that the flight miles below represent the distance in each direction):
||Avios Cost (round-trip)
at 40% Bonus
|1 to 650||9,000||6,429||7,000|
|651 to 1,151||15,000||10,715||11,000|
Once the Avios are in your account, search for the award flight you found, select your flight option from the search results and then click “Continue” at the bottom. Read and agree to the terms on the next page, clicking “Continue” again to progress. On the next page, your personal information should be populated from your account profile. Update as needed and click “Continue” again. On the final page, complete your payment information to finalize the booking.
You will need to pay the required taxes and fees on these tickets, which could be as low as $2.55 but could climb to $50 or more (depending on the airline and route). As always, double-check the paid rate on the flight(s) you want to make sure you shouldn’t pay for the itinerary outright.
If you do pull the trigger on the redemption, remember to use a credit card with trip delay and baggage insurance protection to pay the taxes and fees. Top choices include:
- Citi Prestige: $500 per passenger for 6+ hour delay
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: $500 per ticket for 6+ hour or overnight delay
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: $500 per ticket for 12+ hour or overnight delay
- Citi Premier Card: $500 per ticket for 12+ hour delay.
Since this transfer bonus only runs for two months, the promotion is going to be best for those who already have Membership Rewards points in the bank. But if you don’t have points in your Amex account — or want to resupply after taking advantage of this deal — here are three great credit card welcome bonuses that are currently available:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 60,000-point welcome bonus for spending $5,000 in the first three months of Card Membership (also check the CardMatch tool for a possible targeted 100,000-point bonus; targeted offer subject to change at anytime)
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express: Up to 75,000-point welcome bonus for spending $20,000 in the first three months of Card Membership
- American Express® Gold Card: 25,000-point welcome bonus for spending $2,000 in the first three months of Card Membership
Featured image courtesy of marco wong via Getty Images.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), up to a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees