Best ways to redeem Amex points on Oneworld airlines
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information. It was originally published on Oct. 17, 2018.
One of the biggest benefits of transferable point currencies is the flexibility you have to redeem them. Even if you know exactly what route you want to fly, you can potentially save thousands of points or hundreds of dollars in taxes and fuel surcharges by picking the right airline transfer partner. If you’re booking premium classes, transferring to partner programs is generally the best way to get maximum value from these redemptions.
American Express Membership Rewards points are some of the most versatile out there, with valuable transfer partners spanning all three major airline alliances (Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance). This is why TPG consistently values Amex points at 2 cents apiece, among the highest valuation of any rewards currency. Although Oneworld isn’t the biggest alliance, they have a large route network covering the U.S. and much of Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. Today we’ll take a look at the best ways to redeem Amex Membership Rewards for travel on Oneworld airlines.
For tips on redeeming Amex points with other alliances, check out the following guides:
- Best ways to redeem Amex points on SkyTeam airlines
- Best ways to redeem Amex points on Star Alliance airlines
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Earning Amex Membership Rewards points
The best way to quickly rack up a large number of Membership Rewards points is through welcome bonuses on the issuer’s top credit cards. Some of the best current offers include:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months, though note that some readers have been targeted for a 100,000-point bonus by using the CardMatch tool (offer subject to change at anytime). Terms apply.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 75,000 points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Terms apply.
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first three months. Terms apply.
These cards also offer lucrative bonuses on different categories of purchases, allowing you to boost your balances even further with your everyday spending. Or you could consider a card like The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, which earns 2x points per dollar on the first $50,000 in purchases each year (then 1x).
Redeeming Amex Membership Rewards points
With multiple transfer partners, it can be a bit challenging to figure out which ones offer the best bang for your buck when it comes to using your Membership Rewards points. You’ll also want to factor in the transfer times for these programs; even if a program is valuable, it doesn’t do you much good if it takes days for the points to actually arrive.
Here are some of the best options for redeeming your Amex points on Oneworld carriers.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways is a strong choice for Oneworld redemptions despite its clunky and oftentimes glitchy website and a recent (and thankfully minor) partner award chart devaluation. American Express also routinely runs Avios transfer bonuses, giving you as much as a 40% bonus when transferring your points. While I wouldn’t transfer speculatively if you don’t have any upcoming travel plans, these bonus can offer a great added value to an already lucrative rewards program.
TPG values Avios at 1.5 cents each, so with a 40% bonus you’ll end up getting a nice 2.1 cents for every Membership Rewards point you transfer. These transfers also tend to process instantly. Of course not every bonus offer goes quite that high, and sometimes they’re targeted with different accounts receiving different offers so make sure to check the details on your own before transferring.
There are two primary things to keep in mind if you’re looking to maximize redemptions with British Airways. First, the award chart is distance-based, meaning that you’re charged based on the number of legs and distance you’re traveling. As a result, shorter, nonstop flights will give you a better value. Second, you should avoid routing through London if at all possible, as the fuel surcharges will likely run you $400 or more. If one of your flights originates in London, you’ll also be subject to the high government taxes and fees imposed by the UK.
That being said, here are some of the better uses of Avios:
JAL flights from the West Coast
While you’ll generally want to avoid long-haul redemptions, flying from the coasts will make it cheaper. For example, you can book a one-way ticket from San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) on JAL for only 25,750 Avios and $120 in taxes.
Even Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, which gets a lot of praise for their premium-cabin award sweet spots, would charge you 10,000 more miles for this one-way economy award. If you are looking to fly up front and experience JAL’s world-class service, it would cost 72,250 Avios for a one-way business class ticket from San Francisco and 103,000 Avios for a one-way first class award.
Short-haul flights in the U.S.
If you’re looking to stay a little closer to home, short-haul domestic flights on American Airlines are another great use of Avios. Nonstop flights up to 1,151 miles in distance will only set you back 9,000 Avios. You can use websites like gcmap.com to check the distance between two airports, but this redemption band includes city pairs like New York-JFK to Miami (MIA) or Chicago (ORD) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW).
American Airlines also regularly uses long-haul aircraft with true lie-flat seats on shorter domestic flights. Even though these seats are a serious step above the tired old recliners you’ll find in most domestic first cabins, they cost the same amount of miles.
Flights to Hawaii
British Airways can also be a great option to get to Hawaii, especially for West Coast residents. If you can find economy award availability on American’s nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) or Phoenix (PHX) to the Aloha State, you can book those for just 26,000 Avios round-trip. That’s an absolute steal, especially when you consider that American would normally charge 40,000 to 45,000 miles for those exact same flights.
Note that this same redemption option applies to Alaska-operated flights, as you can use Avios on Alaska Airlines as well. However, you must call to book these awards, and the carrier is not yet a part of Oneworld (though will be some time in 2021), so it doesn’t technically fit into this guide. Still something to keep in mind, though!
Aer Lingus and Iberia
Although Avios are most frequently associated with British Airways, they’re also the mileage currency for Aer Lingus and Iberia. Both of these airlines are also Amex transfer partners. While the reward charts are nearly identical between the three airlines, the difference in fees and surcharges can be massive, especially for trips to Europe. Like British Airways, transfers to both Iberia Plus and Aer Lingus’ Aer Club tend to process instantly.
You’ll find the most significant savings for flights on Iberia or Aer Lingus metal, but there is a small discount for flights operated by British Airways as well. Take the below example of a round-trip business-class award from New York-JFK to Madrid (MAD). British Airways would charge you a reasonable 84,000 Avios but then add over $1,000 in taxes, fees and surcharges!
Iberia, by comparison, would charge you the same number of Avios and only $211.
While British Airways will likely be the easiest way for you to search for award space, it’s worth shopping around between the different Avios programs to see if you can save money on these surcharges. Membership Rewards transfer almost instantly to Avios, so there isn’t much risk to doing an extra 10 minutes of research.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific’s loyalty program typically flies under the radar for most U.S.-based travelers, though it’s worth paying serious attention to as it’s now one of the best ways to find premium-cabin Cathay Pacific award space, especially close to departure. Points transfer 1:1 from Amex, and like the various Avios programs, there are transfer bonuses from time to time. Unfortunately, it may take 48 hours for your Asia Miles transfer to be processed.
All awards are priced as one-way, meaning that a round-trip simply costs double the miles. Here are the prices for flights operated by Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon.
On the low end of the chart (short-haul economy), award tickets booked through Asia Miles will price out at higher levels than those booked through British Airways. I’ve redeemed Avios for flights between Shanghai (PVG) and Hong Kong (HKG) several times, paying 9,000 Avios for economy and 16,500 for business instead of 10,000 and 25,000 (respectively) with Asia Miles. Even if you were targeted for the maximum transfer bonus of 30% recently, these short hops around Asia would still cost the same amount of miles as BA would without any bonus.
For long-haul premium cabin travel, Asia Miles represents a better though still fairly mediocre value. If you only have Membership Rewards points to redeem, the rates aren’t atrocious, but there are ways to do better. For example, you could transfer 125,000 Amex points to Asia Miles to fly first class from Hong Kong to New York-JFK on Cathay Pacific, or you could redeem 70,000 Alaska miles for the same ticket. Or maybe you want to experience Cathay’s longest flight from Hong Kong to Washington-Dulles (IAD). Sitting in business class on that A350-1000 would only cost you 70,000 AAdvantage miles instead of 85,000 Asia Miles.
The best benefit to using Asia Miles and its more expensive pricing is that the program has access to more Cathay Pacific first- and business-class award space, especially close to departure. Asia Miles also offers generous mixed-cabin pricing, where the price of your ticket is averaged out based on the distance you fly in each cabin. This means, astonishingly enough, it can be cheaper to fly from New York-JFK to Hong Kong in first class and connect on to certain other destinations in economy than to just book the first-class leg by itself.
Asia Miles does not appear to publish an award chart for single-partner Oneworld itineraries, but you can use this calculator to check the costs. Also note that certain partners like Iberia and JAL only offer round-trip awards, not one-ways. Prices are somewhat reasonable, with transpacific partner awards appearing to cost 40,000 miles each way in economy, 75,000 in business and 120,000 in first.
Asia Miles also has a distance-based award chart for multi-partner Oneworld flights, though the pricing is pretty disappointing after the recent devaluation.
Take the example of a flight from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Beijing (PEK) on Malaysia, connecting on to Dallas (DFW) on AA. This trip would cover about 9,700 miles and thus fall into Award Zone 7. You’d need to redeem 110,000 Asia Miles to fly business class on this itinerary. That’s the same cost as flying Cathay Pacific first class from Hong Kong to the West Coast, and it’s a lot more miles than you should be paying for a one-way business-class ticket between Asia and the U.S. This option is worth considering if you only have Amex points to spend, but there are plenty of cheaper options for booking Oneworld awards.
You’ll also want to note that the actual booking process for Asia Miles is very convoluted. You can redeem your miles for select carriers online: Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Qantas and Qatar Airways. For all others, you need to fill out a flight award request form. A member services representative will then confirm the availability and contact you to pay the applicable taxes and fees. However, I have heard reports that the response time can be multiple weeks, at which point award availability may be gone.
As a result, if you do have to redeem Asia Miles on Oneworld carriers, your best bet is to stick with the ones that appear online.
Etihad Guest miles continue to be an under-appreciated currency. Perhaps this is because the carrier isn’t a member of a major alliance; as a result, much like Alaska Airlines or Virgin Atlantic, you can only redeem miles on individual partner airlines with which Etihad has struck an agreement.
While Etihad also partners with Malaysia Airlines, the Oneworld partner to get the most excited about is American Airlines. For flights solely on AA metal, Etihad’s prices are some of the cheapest out there, and closely mirrors what AA used to charge before their devaluation.
You can access the full award chart here (warning: PDF link) but here are a couple of highlights:
- U.S. to Europe in business class for 50,000 miles one-way (American would charge 57,500 miles)
- U.S. to Japan/South Korea in business class for 50,000 miles one-way (American would charge 60,000 miles)
- U.S. to the rest of Asia in business class for 55,000 miles one-way (American would charge 70,000 miles)
Finding saver-award space on American Airlines is much easier said than done, though the carrier does publish this inventory on ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company Red Ventures) allowing you to set alerts for inventory. While American’s onboard product may not live up to the standard of Oneworld partners like JAL or Cathay, it’s hard to complain when award rates are this low.
Transfers from American Express to Etihad typically process instantly.
Australia and New Zealand are two of the hardest destinations for North American travelers to get to using points and miles, thanks to a combination of high demand and limited flight options. Unfortunately, U.S.-based travelers will want to steer clear of using Qantas points to actually fly on Qantas. Even the shortest flights from the West Coast to Australia are priced pretty egregiously, and that’s if you actually manage to find an elusive Qantas award seat (note that if you do, you’d be better off booking through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.)
You might be able to carve out a small savings flying from New York-JFK to London (LHR), with one-way awards costing 28,000 miles in economy and 53,000 in business. This is slightly below the industry standard of about 30,000 and 60,000 miles respectively. However, one of the best values with Qantas points is a multi-partner itinerary (confusingly named “Oneworld flight reward”). The following chart applies when you fly on at least two Oneworld airlines other than Qantas, and no airlines that aren’t in Oneworld.
These tickets are more like a round-the-world itinerary, as you must return to your origin city and can only have five stopovers, but you can build some interesting itineraries this way. Flying from San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo-Haneda on JAL, then on to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, then connecting Hong Kong to Sydney (SYD) on Cathay Pacific and returning to San Francisco with Qantas would cover just under 19,000 flight miles. You could book this four-flight extravaganza, including stopovers in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney, for only 130,000 miles in economy or 260,000 in business class. If Qantas is flying its A380 between Hong Kong and Sydney during your trip, you could even do the whole thing in first class for 390,000 miles (though availability might be scarce).In addition to its Oneworld alliance partners, Qantas also partners with El Al, providing a great option to get to Israel from the U.S. A business-class award from Newak (EWR) to Tel Aviv (TLV) on one of El Al’s new 787 Dreamliners would only set you back 78,000 Qantas miles each way (104,000 Capital One miles). Given how few nonstop options there are from the U.S. to Israel, that’s a great option to keep in mind for your next trip.
Transferable points are an essential part of any rewards strategy because of the flexibility they offer. This can give you alternate routing options if award space isn’t available on the day you need, but it even can even help you keep cash in your wallet or points in your accounts once you pick which flights you want.
From the exceptional short-haul value of Avios to longer redemptions with Asia Miles or Etihad Guest, there are plenty of great ways to redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for travel on Oneworld airlines.
Featured photo by Anna Zvereva/Wikipedia.
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