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Even though American Express Membership Rewards has well over 15 hotel and airline transfer partners, many US-based travelers view Membership Rewards points as the SkyTeam currency. Like Chase’s close relationship with United (issuing the carrier’s cobranded credit cards and offering 1:1 transfers from Ultimate Rewards to MileagePlus), Amex does all things Delta. It issues the wide lineup of personal and business cobranded Delta credit cards, and Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta SkyMiles at a 1:1 ratio. While Delta’s (non-existent) award chart is a mixed bag at best, it might surprise you to know that there are other options for transferring your Membership Rewards points to redeem them on SkyTeam airlines. Today we’ll take a look at the best ways to redeem your Amex points in this way.
For tips on redeeming Amex points with other alliances, check out the following guides:
- Best Ways to Redeem Amex Points on Star Alliance
- Best Ways to Redeem Amex Points on Oneworld Airlines
Earning Membership Rewards Points
The best way to quickly rack up a large number of Membership Rewards points is through welcome bonuses. 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).
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases on the Business Platinum Card within your first three months of card membership.
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first three months.
These cards (and others like The Blue BusinessSM Plus Credit Card from American Express) also offer lucrative bonuses on different categories of purchases, allowing you to boost your balances even further with your everyday spending.
Redeeming Membership Rewards Points
Let’s now dive in and take a look at the best options for redeeming your American Express Membership Rewards points on SkyTeam airlines. These all involve transferring to the program’s various partners. However, you’ll want to make sure to take into account the transfer times of each. While most of the transfers will process instantly, some may take 24 hours. It’s also critical to compare award rates and availability through the various programs. With more carriers moving to a variable pricing model for award tickets and opening up different levels of award inventory to partners, you should look at all options before finalizing your (irreversible) transfer.
With that being said, what are the best options for redeeming your Amex points with SkyTeam? Let’s take a look.
Delta’s decision to remove the SkyMiles award chart a few years back angered many loyal customers. The program now essentially uses variable pricing on its flights; the price you see is the price you get, just like with cash tickets. While the logic of demand-based-pricing is sound, this was essentially just another in a long list of devaluations of the program. It also makes the task of analyzing Delta’s program much more challenging, as it’s tough to talk about “general strategies” for redeeming SkyMiles. All we can do is take them on a case-by-case basis.
Take, for example, this one week snapshot of award flights between Atlanta (ATL) and New Delhi (DEL).
These prices are for economy flights. One-way economy flights. At 130,000 miles, this is borderline offensive. If you’re looking to travel to India, there are much better and cheaper ways.
It’s not all bad though, as many domestic flights on Delta start at much lower rates than the “standard” 12,500-mile level. Here’s an example of a one-way flight from Atlanta to Chicago (ORD) for just 7,500 miles:
Delta has also upped the frequency of flash sales on award tickets. In 2018 alone we’ve seen flights to Europe for just 24,000 miles round trip, Australia for 48,000 miles round-trip, and Mexico for 12,000 miles round-trip. SkyMiles have earned a pretty bad reputation over the years, but there’s plenty of value to be had, especially if you’re flexible with your dates and destinations. The important takeaway is to always search the prices on your specific dates before you transfer your hard-earned Membership Rewards points (which should process instantly). You’ll also want to compare prices booking through Delta and the other programs below; there’s no sense in transferring 60,000 points to Delta when the same exact flight is 50,000 through another program.
The program also could be a good option for SkyTeam partner flights, though again, without an award chart, you’re left searching and relying on what the award pricing engine spits out.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue miles are some of the easiest to earn, as they are a direct partner of all three major transferable points currencies (Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards). Similar to Delta though, a lot of value has been stripped away from the program during the course of a recent “update” that replaced the old fashioned award chart with variable pricing.
You should read this guide to learn some of the idiosyncrasies of the new program (or at least get a good laugh), but for the sake of this analysis, I’ll focus on one of the best redemption options: the rotating list of promo awards that the Flying Blue program puts out, valid between specific city pairs for a limited window of time. These discounts used to be a set price, but the switch to dynamic award pricing means that they’re now marketed as a 25% or 50% discount.
As noted above, the exact routes and eligible flights will rotate every few months, and the final prices are based on availability. However, as an example, the following awards are available at a discount for bookings through October 30, 2018, and for travel between November 30, 2018 and January 30, 2019:
- 25% discount on business class award flights between Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Europe (valid on Air France and KLM)
- 25% discount on business class award flights between Toronto (YYZ) and Europe (Air France and KLM)
- 25% discount on economy class award flights between Montreal (YUL) and Europe (Air France and KLM)
- 25% discount on business class award flights between Calgary (YYC) and Europe (KLM)
- 25% discount on business class award flights between Edmonton (YEG) and Europe (KLM)
- 50% discount on business class award flights between Vancouver (YVR) and Europe (Air France and KLM)
- 50% discount on business class award flights between Seattle (SEA) and Europe (Air France)
How good a deal you get depends on the day you choose to fly, and these promo awards tend to book up pretty quickly. That being said, there are still some great deals to be had, including Amsterdam (AMS) to Vancouver (YVR) for only 30,250 miles in business class.
Since these awards are priced dynamically, you can use some of the same tricks as revenue tickets to bring the cost down. For example, departing from certain cities can save you a good amount of money or miles. In this case, adding a connecting flight before the above flight from Amsterdam to Vancouver would drop your cost to just 26,500 miles in business class, an absolute steal when you consider that a paid one-way ticket on this route would be over $4,000.
Another reason to keep your eye on the Flying Blue program is that American Express will occasionally run transfer bonuses, including a 25% one earlier this summer. You can stack these with the promo awards mentioned above for some truly fantastic steals, or you could utilize them on other routes where they might give Flying Blue a modest edge over the competition. Again, just like with Delta, you’ll want to search for award prices on your own before transferring, a process that should be instantaneous but can’t be reversed once submitted.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
In some cases, not belonging to a major alliance can be a strategic advantage. Airlines like Alaska and Virgin Atlantic have shown this very thing by building strong loyalty programs that derive most of their value from individual partner agreements. In fact, despite the many ways to earn and redeem them, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club might be the single most underrated loyalty program. In addition to being a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, you’ll also frequently see transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic, including a recently expired 30% bonus. While you can’t redeem these points across all of SkyTeam, they can offer a great value for awards on Delta metal.
For starters, you can book most Delta awards on the Virgin Atlantic website without having to call in, though the award search interface takes a little bit of practice (Tip: If your desired airport doesn’t populate, click the location pin icon and find it by country). In addition, Virgin Atlantic appears to have access to better award inventory than most Delta partners, and in many cases, awards will price at a lower level than booking through Delta. A much lower level.
Take the below example of a mid-November getaway from Atlanta to Paris (CDG). An award through Delta SkyMiles would set you back 105,000 miles and $5.60 in taxes:
That exact same flight would only cost you 30,000 miles and $5.60 if booked through Virgin Atlantic:
Virgin even has an edge on many domestic itineraries, such as this trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles (LAX) in Delta first class:
In this example, Flying Club is charging about half as many miles as Delta:
This type of deal gets even better if you’re able to stack an Amex transfer bonus. In fact, if you had booked this award during the recent 30% bonus, you could’ve done so by transferring just 18,000 Membership Rewards points. That’s an absolute steal for a 5+ hour flight across the country.
However, keep in mind that Virgin Atlantic charges by segment, per the program’s Spend miles section of it’s Delta partnership page:
“If a journey requires a connecting flight or stopover to reach the destination, miles are charged for each sector.”
As a result, these great award rates are generally only applicable to nonstop flights. That’s why this one-stop routing from Washington-Reagan (DCA) to Salt Lake City (SLC) via Atlanta costs a full 25,000 miles:
Booking those flights individually through Virgin Atlantic would be 12,500 miles apiece. In this case, you’re likely better off going through Delta, though be sure to check the price to verify. Like the others above, Amex transfers to Virgin Atlantic should process immediately.
There are plenty of things that should give you pause before transferring Membership Rewards points to the Italian flag carrier, be it the airline’s dire financial situation or its atrocious award prices. Unfortunately, even the expensive award chart Alitalia publishes doesn’t appear to be correct. Keep in mind too that only round-trip awards are allowed with SkyTeam partners, and for a single partner award, it should cost 80,000 miles each way (160,000 miles round-trip) for a business class award between the US and Europe.
However, when I went to make a dummy booking from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR) on a nonstop Delta flight in both directions, I was quoted 200,000 miles and over $250 in taxes:
Alitalia also couldn’t see either of the Delta awards (to Los Angeles or Paris) that Virgin Atlantic was able to see, and the carrier’s website was incredibly slow and glitchy.
At these rates, you’d be better off booking an “Around the World” ticket through the program. For just 140,000 miles in economy and 220,000 miles in business class, you can book flights around the world with up to six stopovers (and a maximum of three per continent). The itinerary must go in one directions, either eastbound or westbound, and you have to start and end in the same country. You also can’t overlap within that country; by starting in Los Angeles and flying eastbound, you can’t end your trip in New York (for example). Finally, you must call to book, so be prepared for a challenging ticketing process.
If you do decide to go this route, I’d strongly encourage you to verify availability through Alitalia before finalizing the transfer. I’d hate for you to get stuck with 140,000 or 220,000 Alitalia miles that you can’t actually use! Your Amex points should transfer instantly to the MilleMiglia program.
One of Mexico’s major carriers has not been in the news for good reasons this year, but there is one incredible reason to consider the airline’s Club Premier loyalty program. The published award chart is pretty average; it’s not too expensive but not too exciting either. However, Aeromexico is one of the last airlines to offer a competitively priced round-the-world ticket. Membership Rewards points transfer to Club Premier at a 1:1.6 ratio, so if you’re looking on their website, simply divide the cost of the award by 1.6 to figure out how many Amex points to transfer.
Round-the-world tickets cost 224,000 miles in economy (140,000 Membership Rewards points) and 352,000 in business (220,000 Membership Rewards). The rules are also incredibly lax:
- You must travel in the same direction, east or west.
- Travel must begin and end in the same country.
- It’s only valid on SkyTeam-operated flights.
- You must have a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 15 stopovers, with no more than 5 per continent.
- All flights must be booked in the same class of service.
This allows you to create some pretty funky itineraries, including the following with stops in Seoul (ICN), Shanghai (PVG), Guangzhou (CAN), Singapore (SIN), Amsterdam and Paris for only 220,000 Membership Rewards points in business class. If you tried to build that same itinerary out by combining individual segments, it could easily cost you five times as many miles.
It’s worth noting that these round-the-world tickets are priced identically through both Alitalia and Aeromexico (once you factor in the 1:1.6 transfer ratio to Aeromexico’s Club Premier program). While the routing rules are similar, you are allowed additional stopovers when booking through Aeromexico, and Alitalia may have trouble pulling flights that are actually available (especially now that it’s been kicked out of the transatlantic joint venture with Delta, Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM). However, it may take up to 24 hours for your Membership Rewards points to transfer to Club Premier, so keep that in mind if you’re afraid availability might disappear.
The value of transferable point programs such as American Express Membership Rewards comes from their flexibility. Even once you’ve settled in on a SkyTeam itinerary for your upcoming trip, picking the right transfer partner could cut your costs by a decent amount. Make sure to keep your eyes open for limited time transfer bonuses, and to be fully prepared to deal with variable pricing before you try to book with Delta or Flying Blue. Hopefully these strategies will help ensure your next SkyTeam redemption through Membership Rewards will be as cost-effective as possible!
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