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When Should You Convert Membership Rewards Points to Avios?

July 18, 2017
10 min read
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Last week, we wrote about the newly increased transfer ratio of American Express Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios, which now convert at a 1:1 ratio like the majority of other partner currencies. This was actually a reversal of a 2015 change that dropped the rate to 250:200, which is always nice to see in this day and age of near-constant program devaluations. And, now, Amex has sweetened the deal even further, offering a 40% bonus on transfers to BA through September 17, 2017.

I've lauded the merits of British Airways Executive Club program and its distance-based award chart in the past, so today I want to highlight some key instances where it makes sense to convert your hard-earned Membership Rewards points to Avios and remind you of some of my favorite redemptions in the program.

When You Want to Save Ultimate Rewards Points

Park Hyatt Mallorca featured
If you're eyeing an award stay at a luxurious Hyatt property like the Park Hyatt Mallorca, better save those Ultimate Rewards points!

The first situation where you'd want to consider transferring Membership Rewards points to British Airways is when you want to save your Ultimate Rewards. Before 2015's devaluation, you had the flexibility to choose which currency to use when boosting your Executive Club balance, as both offered the same 1:1 transfer ratio. However, Ultimate Rewards became the preferred program when Amex dropped the rate to 250:200 thanks to the superior value it offered.

Here's an example to show how the math works out. Let's say you needed exactly 20,000 Avios for a redemption. This would require 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points transferred at a 1:1 ratio. On the other hand, the devalued Membership Rewards transfer ratio would require 25,000 Membership Rewards points to get the same 20,000 Avios. Based on TPG's most recent valuations, that's $440 worth of Ultimate Rewards points but $475 worth of Membership Rewards points. Advantage: Chase.

Now, however, the pendulum has swung back to Amex. Both programs have the same 1:1 transfer ratio, so you'd need 20,000 points from each to get you 20,000 Avios. While that's still $440 worth of Ultimate Rewards points, it's just $380 worth of Membership Rewards points. Advantage: American Express.

In addition to the mathematical benefit of transferring points from Membership Rewards instead of Ultimate Rewards, there are the unique transfer partners of the program. At the time of writing, you can't transfer your Membership Rewards points to a handful of Ultimate Rewards partner programs, including:

The newly improved transfer ratio between Membership Rewards and British Airways ensures that you can keep your Ultimate Rewards points for these unique (and valuable) partners.

When You Want to Top Off Your Balance

Another key scenario where you'd want to consider transferring Membership Rewards points to the British Airways Executive Club program is when you need to top your account off. The vast majority of partners for the three major transferable point currencies (Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards) require transfers to be made in increments of 1,000 points. However, many of British Airways' best redemptions involve increments of 250 or 500 Avios, hence the reason why my Executive Club account has a random 500 Avios in it:

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Fortunately, when you transfer points from Membership Rewards to British Airways, you only need to do it in increments of 250:

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In the grand scheme of things, being forced to transfer an extra 250 - 750 points that you don't actually need isn't too terrible, but it's still wasting points that could be better spent elsewhere.

When You Decide to Downgrade or Cancel Your Amex Card(s)

A third (and final) time when you should consider transferring your Amex points to British Airways is when you're getting ready to close down your accounts that earn Membership Rewards points. Maybe you were targeted for an increased bonus on The Platinum Card from American Express or the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and just can't justify paying the annual fee in subsequent years. Rather than losing your points or redeeming them for gift cards or other less-than-exciting awards, consider transferring them to British Airways.

With this newly enhanced transfer ratio, I'd put British Airways back up near the top of the list of most valuable Membership Rewards partners. Based on TPG's most recent valuations, Avios fall just below ANA, are tied with Aeroplan, Singapore and Virgin Atlantic, and beat out Delta SkyMiles, Emirates, Flying Blue and Hawaiian. If you don't have a specific use in mind for the Membership Rewards points before canceling, I believe that British Airways would be a great destination for them thanks to the varied redemption options (keep reading for more details!).

So What Are The Best Redemptions?

If you find yourself in one of the above situations and are thinking about transferring your Membership Rewards points to British Airways, it's critical to know the redemptions you'll have at your disposal that will maximize the value of your Avios. While my post on maximizing distance-based awards from last year contains complete details, here are a few of my favorite options:

1. Short-Haul American Flights Within the US

Redeeming miles for domestic economy may not seem glamorous, but it can be a great deal through British Airways.

While British Airways removed the insanely lucrative 4,500-point redemptions for North America back in 2016, you can still get some outsized value by transferring your Membership Rewards points to the Executive Club program and redeeming for American flights within the US. One-way flights of up to 1,151 miles in distance are still just 7,500 Avios, while you can fly up to 2,000 miles one-way for just 10,000 Avios. This opens up redemptions like the following:

  • Miami (MIA) to New York-LaGuardia (LGA): 15,000 Avios round-trip
  • Washington-Reagan (DCA) to New Orleans (MSY): 15,000 Avios round-trip
  • Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to San Francisco (SFO): 20,000 Avios round-trip
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Atlanta (ATL): 20,000 Avios round-trip

With flights out of American hubs often pricing at several hundred dollars, redeeming Avios for these routes can be quite a deal.

Speaking of hubs...

2. Short-Haul Oneworld Flights From Hubs

Another great redemption option comes when you're traveling outside North America. While one-way flights of 1,151 miles or less in distance price at the same 7,500 Avios mark, if the distance of the flight drops to 650 miles or less, the price plummets to 4,500 Avios each way. This is a fantastic way to book inexpensive award tickets out of Oneworld hubs around the globe.

My wife and I recently took advantage of this very redemption. We needed a one-way flight from Lima (LIM) to Arequipa, Peru (AQP) to attend a friend's wedding. Fortunately, Lima is a hub for Oneworld member LATAM, and the carrier offers numerous daily flights on this route. We managed to spend just 4,500 Avios plus $10.92 per person for a one-way flight that was pricing at nearly $170, a redemption value of over 3.5 cents per point.

Here are the major hubs for some popular partner airlines:

  • Cathay Pacific: Hong Kong (HKG)
  • Iberia: Madrid (MAD)
  • Japan Airlines: Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
  • Qantas: Sydney (SYD)
  • Qatar: Doha (DOH)

3. West Coast Flights to Hawaii

Alaska operates exclusively Boeing aircraft, while Virgin America has a fleet or Airbus A320s.
Fancy a trip to the Aloha State? For West Coasters, using Avios is likely the best bet.

If you're based on the West Coast of the US, another terrific redemption using Avios is on flights to Hawaii. Round-trip flights from these cities will set you back just 25,000 Avios in coach, and you even have two different airlines and 10 gateways from which to choose:

  • Alaska: from Anchorage (ANC), Bellingham (BLI), Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX), Sacramento (SMF), San Diego (SAN), San Jose (SJC) and Seattle (SEA)
  • American: from Los Angeles (LAX) or Phoenix (PHX)

Booking these flights through Alaska would set you back at least 35,000 miles, while booking through American would require at least 40,000 miles. In either case, these flights are absolute steals when booked with Avios.

4. Off-Peak Awards on British Airways/Iberia/Aer Lingus

A final popular (and valuable) redemption using Avios involves off-peak awards. The Executive Club program uses lower pricing for award flights on British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus during certain time periods, allowing you to spend even fewer Avios for these tickets. You can even see these dates from the search results on the Executive Club website. Here's an example of the calendar for flying from London to Madrid:

BA peak and offpeak

Booking a flight on Tuesday September 5 would set you back 7,500 Avios, while that exact same flight on Wednesday September 6 would only be 6,500 Avios, a savings of $15 worth of points (note that either of these redemptions are great for Membership Rewards transfers, since they aren't a multiple of 1,000). If you have flexibility in your dates of travel and can possibly shift your plans a day or two, you could save some significant Avios.

Note too that this "off-peak" designation was recently expanded to include Aer Lingus flights. As a result, it's now possible to book round-trip flights from several US gateways to Ireland for just 26,000 Avios, including New York, Washington and Chicago, yet another way to extend the value of your Avios transferred from Membership Rewards.

Bottom Line

It's sometimes hard to not get discouraged in this hobby, as it seems like airlines and hotels regularly devalue their programs, in some cases with zero notice. However, the recent announcement from American Express that reset the transfer ratio of Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios at 1:1 is undoubtedly a positive development. You can now save those Ultimate Rewards points and look at transferring your Amex points to the Executive Club to take advantage of the program's distance-based award chart. Hopefully this post has given you some inspiration for when to do that and how to make the most of these redemptions!

Are you planning on transferring Membership Rewards points to British Airways with this new 1:1 ratio?

Featured image by PA Images via Getty Images