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Thanks to the addition of a new Star Alliance transfer partner and a slew of regular transfer bonuses, American Express Membership Rewards points can be incredibly valuable. In fact, the currency is now tied with Chase Ultimate Rewards points as the most rewarding flexible points currency in TPG’s monthly valuation series at 2 cents apiece. However, it’s easy to get even more value out out of your points by leveraging the right transfer partners. Today we’ll take a look at some of the sweet spots for redeeming your Membership Rewards points.
Earning Membership Rewards Points
Of course, to utilize any of the below options, you need to actually earn Membership Rewards points. The best way to quickly do this is by utilizing 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).
- 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.
So once you’ve earned these points, what are some sweet spots in the Membership Rewards program? Let’s take a look:
Cheap American Awards Through Etihad Guest
Although Etihad isn’t a member of one of the three major alliances, it does have a slate of individual airline partnerships that can get you some great value. One of the best uses of Etihad Guest miles is to book awards on American Airlines-operated flights at prices similar to what AA used to charge before its 2016 devaluation. You can find the full Etihad award chart for AA flights here (warning: PDF link), though most people will be interested in the prices for flights to/from North America:
These rates are often much lower than you’d pay if you booked directly with American. For example, a round trip business class flight from the US to Europe will only cost you 100,000 Etihad miles instead of 115,000 AA miles.
You can also use Etihad Guest miles to book one of the best sweet spots in the AAdvantage award chart at even lower prices. American categorizes Japan and South Korea as a separate award region called “Asia 1” with lower award rates than the rest of the continent. Business class awards only cost 50,000 miles one-way when booked through Etihad Guest, the same amount as flights to Europe and significantly less than the 60,000 miles AA would charge you for the same flight.
American Airlines is the last US carrier to offer a true international first class product, available only on its flagship 777-300ER aircraft. When TPG flew it from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) last year, he found that the in-flight product itself wasn’t a major improvement over AA’s business class. That being said, you might want to consider booking it to access AA’s flagship first dining at major hub airports like LAX or New York-JFK. If you’re able to find that elusive award space, you could book a first class award on the following routes for only 62,500 miles:
- LAX or New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR)
- Miami (MIA) to Sao Paulo (GRU)
- LAX to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) beginning in June 2019
Iberia Flights to Madrid
While booking premium cabin award flights to Europe can be a complicated and expensive endeavor, Iberia’s distance-based award chart is one of the best options to consider. When dealing with a distance-based award chart on a carrier like Iberia (or British Airways), there are two things to keep in mind. First, sweet spots are likely to be between individual city pairs with nonstop flights. This is different than a zone-based award chart where the sweet spots cover flights between all cities that fall into the corresponding region(s) in which you’re traveling. Second, you’ll typically be punished for taking connecting routings, so you’ll want to stick to the shortest nonstop flight you can possibly manage. That might even mean taking a domestic positioning flight to kick off your award ticket.
With that in mind, Iberia’s award chart for transatlantic flights to and from Madrid (MAD) offers some incredible values. Here are the one-way award prices:
|Destination||Blue Class/ Economy Off-Peak||Blue Class/ Economy Peak||Premium Economy Off-Peak||Premium Economy Peak||Business Off-Peak||Business Peak|
|New York||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Chicago||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Boston||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Miami||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
|Los Angeles||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
|San Francisco||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
As you can see, the savings for traveling on off-peak dates are pretty impressive. You can find the full calendar of peak and off-peak dates on Iberia’s website, but here’s a snapshot of the beginning of 2019. Peak dates are marked in red, and all others are off-peak.
Off-peak travel from New York-JFK, Chicago (ORD) and Boston (BOS) to Madrid will only cost 34,000 Avios for economy, 50,000 for premium economy or 68,000 for business class. Those are round-trip prices. When you consider the fact that most airlines charge 50,000 to 60,000 miles for a one-way business class to Europe, this is an absolute steal. Even longer flights to Madrid from Miami (MIA), Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) are attractively priced, with off-peak, round-trip awards costing the following amount:
- Economy: 42,500 Avios
- Premium economy: 63,500 Avios
- Business: 84,000 Avios
Booking these awards through Iberia not only lets you save your hard earned miles; it also helps you minimize the taxes and fees that you’ll pay. If you book the exact same round-trip business class award from JFK to Madrid using British Airways, you’d pay the same 84,000 Avios but have to fork over $1,000+ in taxes and fees.
Booking through Iberia, on the other hand, will cost you a much more reasonable $211 on top of your Avios.
Alaska and American Flights to Hawaii with British Airways
While you’ll probably be better off booking flights to Europe with Iberia instead of British Airways, BA can be a great resource for booking awards from the West Coast to Hawaii. That’s because of the combination of two partner airlines (Alaska and American) and low award rates through the carrier’s distance-based award chart. Both partners offer an extensive Hawaiian route network from multiple gateways, including Seattle (SEA), Portland (PDX), San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC), Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN) and Phoenix (PHX). As long as the flight distance is under 3,000 miles, it will only cost you 25,000 Avios round-trip.
AA operated flights can be booked directly on the British Airways website, but you’ll need to call in to book Alaska flights. You can also stack this with one of Amex’s frequent Avios transfer bonuses such as the recently-expired 40% offer to drop your costs even lower.
Virgin Atlantic is another great example of an airline that has leveraged individual partnerships in lieu of an alliance membership to build a valuable loyalty program. Each Virgin Atlantic partner has a different award chart, but the two you’ll want to pay closest attention to are Delta and ANA.
Even though Delta is an Amex transfer partner itself, the variable award pricing system it employs is often outrageously expensive. It’s not unusual to see Virgin Atlantic selling Delta award flights for half or even 20% the number of miles times Delta wants! Take this example of a nonstop flight from New York to Paris (CDG) in Delta economy. Virgin Atlantic is selling award seats on Delta Flight 262 for only 30,000 miles each way.
Delta, meanwhile, wants 105,000 miles for the same flight.
You see the same outrageous discrepancy in Delta One, with Virgin Atlantic charging 72,500 miles for this award:
Delta is charging 280,00.
If you’re looking to transfer Membership Rewards points to book a Delta flight, you should always check Virgin Atlantic first to see if the rate is lower there.
While this is a much more narrow use, Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart has to be one of the single best sweet spot redemptions in the entire points and miles world. The chart below shows round-trip prices:
This means you can fly from West Coast airports like Los Angeles or San Francisco to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) or Tokyo-Haneda (HND) in ANA first class for only 110,000 miles round-trip. That’s less than some airlines charge for a one-way ticket, essentially giving you a 50% discount. With ANA first class tickets often selling for $16,000 or more, this is an easy way to get well over 10 cents of value from your Membership Rewards points.
You’ll still get a great deal flying from other US cities for 120,000 miles round-trip, while booking business class will only require 90,000 – 95,000 miles round-trip. Note that you have to book a round-trip award to score this redemption, and you need to book at least 48 hours before departure, but ANA is generally pretty good about releasing premium cabin award space.
Like most transferable currencies, Amex Membership Rewards points get their value from flexibility. You have great options for award travel on any of the three major alliances in any cabin you choose to just about any destination in the world. The sweet spots highlighted here are just the tip of the iceberg. While they represent your best odds of getting outsized value from your points, there are plenty of other transfer options to help jumpstart your next vacation.
For additional tips on redeeming Membership Rewards points, check out the following articles:
- Best Ways to Redeem Amex Points on Star Alliance Airlines
- Best Ways to Redeem Amex Points on SkyTeam Airlines
- Best Ways to Redeem Amex Points on Oneworld Airlines
Know before you go.
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NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards