Best ways to redeem Amex points on SkyTeam airlines
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information. It was originally published on Oct. 18, 2018.
Even though American Express Membership Rewards has well over 20 hotel and airline transfer partners, many U.S.-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 airlines
- Best ways to redeem Amex points on Oneworld 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. Some of the best current offers include:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 6 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 any time). 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 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 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 calendar year (then 1x).
Redeeming Amex 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 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, though dynamic pricing is unfortunately now the norm in the U.S., not the exception. The program now 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 a poor value, though unfortunately this barely scratches the surface. I’ve seen Delta charge over 300,000 miles for one-way economy tickets on this route, with prices breaking the 100k mark more often than not. 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 the last year alone we’ve seen discounted awards to Europe, Asia and Australia (as well as plenty of domestic/North American routes on sale), and even a number of Delta One sales. Being able to book a round-trip ticket to Australia for only 40,000 miles can help take the sting out of these otherwise high prices.
SkyMiles have earned a mixed 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 five major transferable points currencies (Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One miles and Marriott Bonvoy). Similar to Delta though, a lot of value has been stripped away from the program during the course of an “update” that replaced the old-fashioned award chart with variable pricing.
For the sake of this analysis, I’ll focus on one of the best redemption options: the rotating list of Promo Rewards 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 North American routes are available at a discount for bookings made through Feb. 29, 2020 and for travel from April 1, 2020 to May 31, 2020:
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 Boston (BOS) to Amsterdam (AMS) for only 11,500 miles in economy.
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. This is primarily true for business-class awards, as you’ll be hard pressed to find an economy award to Europe for under 12,000 miles each way.
Another reason to keep your eye on the Flying Blue program is that American Express will occasionally run transfer bonuses. You can stack these with the Promo Rewards 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. While you can’t redeem these points across all of SkyTeam, they can offer a great value for awards on Delta and Air France-KLM metal.
Let’s use Delta as an example. 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 an August flight from Atlanta to Shanghai (PVG) in Delta’s flagship Delta One Suites. Booking this award through Delta would cost you 120,000 Skymiles:
That exact same flight would only cost you 60,000 miles if booked through Virgin Atlantic instead:
Virgin Atlantic even has an edge on many domestic itineraries, such as this trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles (LAX) in Delta economy:
In this example, Flying Club is charging about 6,000 miles fewer than Delta:
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 U.S. 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.
You might not be familiar with Aeromexico’s loyalty program, but there is one incredible reason to consider the airline’s Club Premier 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 (and there are occasional transfer bonuses), 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 three and a maximum of 15 stopovers, with no more than five 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, 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 since 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!
Featured photo courtesy of SkyTeam.
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