A walk down memory lane: How I redeemed 100,000 Amex points for an unforgettable trip with my mom
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“We’re going back to Los Angeles. Together.”
“Qué? Como?” A bewildered expression registered on my mother’s face since my statement lacked context.
Forty-two years ago, my parents left their professional careers in Bogota, Colombia, due to civil unrest in the country and decided to make the bold move toward the land of opportunity: the United States of America. With very little money in their pockets, they took off in search of a brighter future and landed in the City of Angels — Los Angeles.
Now, with travel roaring back and both my mom and I fully vaccinated, I wanted to create the trip of a lifetime for her that would take her down memory lane to her very first apartment in Los Angeles: a place she hadn’t returned to in more than 40 years. The journey would pull at her heartstrings and help her reflect on how far she’s come since she first moved to the U.S. and how much she’s persevered and accomplished over the years.
This lofty trip of ours would include first-class flights from Miami to Los Angeles, a night at a stylish Marriott property and a visit to her first apartment in the U.S., which was in Reseda — a suburban neighborhood just outside the city of Los Angeles. Anll this was made possible with the 100,000-point elevated welcome bonus from The Platinum Card® from American Express.
This impressive welcome offer is earned after making $6,000 in purchases on your new card in the first six months of card membership. According to TPG’s monthly valuations, Amex Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents each, making this 100,000-point bonus worth $2,000. That is nearly three times the card’s $695 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Cardholders can also earn a whopping 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when they Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during the first six months of card membership. Not to mention the Platinum Card is accompanied by a laundry list of robust travel perks and credits.
Here’s how I was able to turn these valuable points into an unforgettable trip for my mom (and me), along with a lifetime of memories.
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How to book travel with Membership Rewards points
First, let’s review the two ways you can book travel with your Membership Rewards points:
- Book travel through the American Express Travel portal: You can redeem your points for airfare at a rate of 1 cent per point in value through the Amex Travel portal. For example, you can book a $100 round-trip flight from Washington, D.C., to New York City for 10,000 Amex Membership Rewards points. The redemption value is reduced to 0.7 cents per point when booking other types of travel through the portal, like hotels and car rentals. However, with this straightforward option, you can book virtually any type of travel through the portal without worrying about award availability.
- Transfer your points to 18 airlines and three hotel loyalty programs: If you’re looking to gain even more value out of your American Express Membership Rewards points, transferring them to partner hotel and airline loyalty programs is your best bet. These partners include at least one useful option in each major alliance — SkyTeam, Star Alliance and Oneworld. Since Membership Rewards points are transferable points, this means that you can transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to popular options like ANA, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. In addition, you can transfer any amount of Membership Rewards points in 1,000-point increments, so 100,000 Membership Rewards points could turn into 100,000 British Airways Avios. Amex has also been known to offer various transfer bonuses throughout the year that elevate the value of transferring points even further.
As I began plotting and planning this unique trip, I delved into all the possible redemption options like I typically do. After extensive research, it was as clear as day, transferring points to Amex partners would be the superior use of my 100,000 Membership Rewards points — with one significant sweet spot redemption that would incorporate a “wow” factor into the trip. Here’s how I booked this memorable LA adventure with my mom.
Flight Booking: 69,000 points
I looked up nonstop flight options from Miami (MIA) to Los Angeles (LAX) and priced out (cash versus using points) flights on JetBlue and American Airlines.
While JetBlue is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner and has an award-winning product in business class, I knew American operated its Boeing 777-300ER, equipped with “Flagship First” (the carrier’s best product) from Miami (MIA to Los Angeles (LAX) and there was award space for two available, which was the clear winner in my eyes.
You’ll usually find American’s Flagship First product on several international routes during normal travel times, but as international demand has significantly slowed down due to the pandemic, AA has strategically moved these wide-body jets on some domestic routes.
Although American Airlines is not a transfer partner of American Express, Etihad Guest is and you can transfer Amex points to Etihad Guest at a 1:1 ratio and book American Airlines Flagship First at a more favorable rate than booking directly with AAdvantage miles.
After searching for award seats on my preferred date and confirming two seats available for American’s Flagship First from Miami (MIA) to Los Angeles (LAX) using ExpertFlyer, I called the dedicated Etihad Guest center. Within a few minutes of providing my desired itinerary to the agent, she had confirmed award space and I was all ready to book.
For that same award, American charges 50,000 AAdvantage miles (or more) per person — double the cost of Etihad’s pricing.
The cash rate for our one-way jaunt in style from Miami (MIA) to Los Angeles (LAX) in Flagship First priced out at $1,131.
According to TPG’s valuations, Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents each, so by transferring 25,000 Amex points to Etihad, in order to book American Airlines flagship first class, I was netting 4.5 cents per point — easily exceeding our valuation.
For our flight home the next day, the cheapest nonstop option was a Delta basic economy fare, which also happened to be a redeye flight. Mom was on board (no pun intended) and didn’t mind the short overnight flight. I could have paid $150 per person for a one-way ticket, which is about average for this coast-to-coast route.
But instead, I opted to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points directly to Delta at a 1:1 ratio and book each ticket for 9,500 miles. We value SkyMiles at just 1.1 cents each here at TPG — so my 9,500-mile redemption per ticket earned me a higher value of 1.5 cents per mile.
Best of all, I had our round-trip tickets booked and got the largest expense out the way, with points to spare.
Hotel Booking: 29,000 points
Marriott Bonvoy is a partner of American Express Membership Rewards. With 31,000 points to spare and still needing to book a hotel and rental car, I ran a search of Marriott properties in Los Angeles for one night. In our short time in town, I favored a hotel near the airport to minimize the drive time to get to our hotel.
At the time of booking, cash rates were high for hotels in Los Angeles, so I looked into using points. Coincidentally, Amex Membership Rewards was offering a 40% bonus on points transfers to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1,000:1,400 ratio.
I transferred 29,000 Membership Rewards points to my Marriott Bonvoy account, which resulted in 40,600 Bonvoy points and locked in the stylish and brand-new Residence Inn Marina Del Rey hotel for 40,000 points the night.
I booked a spacious Studio King room on a high floor — with a separate living area and fully equipped kitchen.
The cash price of my one-night stay would have been $405 (including taxes and fees). By transferring 29,000 points to Marriott Bonvoy (thanks to the 40% transfer bonus), I got a 1.39 cents per point redemption value — well above the 0.8 cents per point valuation we peg on Bonvoy points but less than the 2 cents apiece value we place on Membership Rewards.
Still, the hotel’s location was perfect for our itinerary and accommodations were very comfortable for mom and me.
Rental car: Cash
Rental cars aren’t cheap these days. The “rental car apocalypse” has caused a vehicle shortage and exorbitant price hikes on rental cars. And while I only had 2,000 points left from my earned 100,000-point Platinum Card welcome bonus, I knew I was better off paying cash rather than using points for a rental car.
Rental cars booked through the Amex Travel Portal result in a poor redemption value of 0.7 cents per point (TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each). That being said, if your goal, like mine, was to keep spending at a bare minimum, it may make sense for you to use points.
In this particular case, since Amex Platinum cardholders receive complimentary elite status for car rentals, including National’s free loyalty program, Emerald Club (enrollment required), I booked a midsize car and selected from the Executive area (choice of a full-size or higher category when paying a midsize rate), bypassed the counter and added my mom as a second driver for free.
My “all-in” rental car cost (including $15 in gas) came out to $160 — absorbing 2,000 Amex points left in my account and minimal out-of-pocket expenses. Mission accomplished!
With everything booked, now it was time to take to the skies with my new travel buddy and show her the ropes.
Day 1: American Airlines Flagship First flight and Los Angeles arrival
My mom had never stepped foot into a first-class cabin, let alone, in style, like flying American’s Flagship First (as perhaps the most comfortable way to fly coast to coast in North America) — so our first flight would kick things off with a bang.
We arrived at Miami International Airport (MIA) and utilized the Flagship First Check-In desk, which provides “expedited security access.” As a result, we bypassed the line at security and were escorted to the front of the line.
Once past security, we had access to American’s Admirals Club (free access for passengers flying Flagship First on their day of travel), but instead, we made our way to the Amex Centurion Lounge for lunch and a glass of wine before boarding our flight. One of the main reasons I’m a cardholder of The Platinum Card® from American Express is to gain airport lounge access and visit swanky Amex Centurion lounges. With a new Centurion Lounge guesting policy looming in February 2023, I had to let mom experience Amex’s posh lounge for herself.
Once we left the lounge and boarded our flight to Los Angeles, it was all smiles from ear to ear for mom.
The 777-300ER first-class cabin is small, with only two rows of 1-2-1 seating on Flagship First for a total of eight first-class seats.
I chose seats 1J and 2J (we had one side of the first-class cabin to ourselves), so we could nab daylight views from our three-window seat throughout the four+ hour flight.
I’m fairly certain it was my mom’s first time looking at an in-flight menu and selecting her lunch choice.
Given that airlines cut all or most in-flight service due to the pandemic, a normal inflight meal was a nice feature to mom’s flight experience.
Upon landing in Los Angeles, we scooped up our rental car and beelined straight to our hotel for the night.
We checked into the Residence Inn Marina del Rey, which shares amenities and marina location with the Courtyard Marriott Marina del Rey.
Our stylish king studio room had a separate living room space with a full kitchen and a full-size refrigerator.
The king bed was comfortable, the room was sparkling clean and plenty spacious for the two of us.
The sliding-glass door opens up with a protection panel that affords fresh air and sunset views in the evening from the room.
And the hotel’s location directly on the marina offers a stunning scene at any time of the day. As this was a newer property and the surrounding marina consists mostly of condominiums, the hotel restaurant had a buzzy scene with locals enjoying al fresco dining in the evening and after-work drinks.
A long day awaited us the following day, so after dinner, we called it a night and got some rest.
Day 2: Visit apartment, explore LA, fly home
The next morning we were up at 6 a.m (thanks to the time-zone change) and excited to get on the road and make the drive to San Fernando Valley. Because it was the weekend and we were up early, we made the 25-mile drive in only 35 minutes — arriving at mom’s first apartment in the U.S. before 8 a.m.
Once there, I noticed my mom pensive — as if overwhelmed by the history of this place and her journey to get there. I could only imagine the thoughts running through her mind, but I knew she was feeling something purposeful. She’d come a long way from her journey to the U.S. and this apartment symbolized the beginning of a path to reach the American dream.
We had flown more than 2,500 miles for this moment and I relished in the fact that mom was able to finally go back to LA and close a chapter. For me, what was meant to be a trip solely focused on mom, also turned into something surprisingly nostalgic too.
As a 1980s baby, I idolized the actor Ralph Macchio in the iconic “The Karate Kid” movie. In the movie, Daniel LaRusso (Macchio’s character name) embarks on a cross-country move with his mom from New Jersey to California. They settled into a modest apartment in a neighborhood called Reseda — which happened to be the same town where my mom’s first apartment was located.
Naturally, being so close to this iconic (in my mind) landmark, I had to drive by and pay this residential apartment building a visit.
Literally, with an entire day to spare and the mission accomplished on mom’s first apartment visit, I chauffeured her around Los Angeles, including a visit to her first workplace — the UCLA Health Medical Plaza.
Then we took a stroll along Santa Monica’s signature pier and relished in the broad expanse of pale yellow sand and Southern California’s ocean breeze.
Before making our way back to the airport, we hopped on over to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice (a mile-long road lined with shops, restaurants and galleries) and did a bit of shopping.
Before we knew it, this magical two-day, one-night adventure was all but over and we were on our way back home to Fort Lauderdale with hearts full and a mountain of memories.
This memorable trip was a remarkable experience for my mom (and I) and included lots of firsts. My mom went back to Los Angeles for the first time since she left the city 42 years ago. She flew first class for the first time in American Airlines’ swanky Flagship First and traveled alone with her son for her first time.
By unlocking one generous welcome offer from The Platinum Card from American Express, I was able to cover airfare and hotel for us and visit LA for the trip of a lifetime. American Express Membership Rewards delivers many sweet spot redemptions for your hard-earned points, but none sweeter than taking a loved one on an unforgettable adventure, if I don’t say so myself.
Official application link: The Platinum Card from American Express 100,000-points welcome bonus
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
Featured photo by Juan Ruiz/The Points Guy.
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