Why you should transfer Amex points to British Airways, not Iberia

Feb 10, 2020

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I’ve been involved in the world of points and miles for nearly two decades now, and my knowledge has expanded greatly over that time. While I consider myself to be an expert with most loyalty program and credit card currencies, every once in a while I stumble. Recently, I made a simple mistake when transferring my hard-earned points to an airline partner, and while everything worked out in the end, it could’ve been disastrous.

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Here’s why, if you’re looking to convert your American Express Membership Rewards points to Avios, you should always transfer them to British Airways — even if you ultimately want to use them in the Iberia Plus program.

Background

This story started a couple of weeks ago as my wife and I were planning our yearly international trip for Thanksgiving. We’ve started letting award availability dictate our ultimate destination, and this year, we noticed that there were two business-class award tickets on our preferred Iberia flight from Miami (MIA) to Madrid (MAD) on Friday Nov. 22.

We explored nearby destinations and ultimately decided on Lyon (LYS). Our first trip to experience France’s Christmas markets had been spectacular, so we were excited about the prospect of exploring another part of the country. With the connecting flight in economy, we’d need to redeem 94,000 Avios plus about $220 in taxes and fees — a fantastic rate for a pair of one-way, business-class award tickets from the U.S. to Europe.

(NOTE: I booked my premium-economy award ticket separately. When there are only two business-class seats, they go to my wife and daughter.)

Transferring my points

I had roughly 2,300 Iberia Plus Avios in my account, so I knew I needed to transfer 92,000 credit card points (in increments of 1,000) to make up the difference. Given my love for transferable point currencies, I also had a large stash of points with both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, and both currencies transfer to Iberia at a 1:1 ratio. Since I recently added the American Express® Gold Card to my wallet and will be earning a retention bonus on my Platinum Card® from American Express in a month or two, I know I’d be replenishing my Membership Rewards account in the near future. As a result, I decided to liquidate my Amex balance and transfer the remaining points from Chase.

Related: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase cards

In the end, I transferred 63,000 points from Amex and 29,000 points from Chase. I then logged in to my Iberia Plus account, ready to lock in my award tickets.

There was only one problem. Instead of seeing my expected balance of 94,314 Avios, I only had 31,314. Confused, I logged out and back in. Same story. I started to worry that something had gone wrong with my transfer, but I had double-checked everything, and I couldn’t imagine what happened.

Then, it hit me. I had completely forgotten about transfer times. While Chase points transfer to Iberia Plus instantly, our tests showed that Amex transfers could take up to 48 hours to process. And there was nothing I could do. I had initiated the transfer and simply had to wait.

How British Airways could’ve helped

To make matters worse, there was a way I could’ve avoided this entirely: by transferring my Amex points to British Airways and then to Iberia. This is because of a feature known as Combine My Avios. Normally this is a way to lower your fuel surcharges on Iberia-operated flights or book award tickets when Iberia would require fewer Avios than BA. However, in this case, I would’ve been taking advantage of the fact that Amex to British Airways transfers are instantaneous, as are transfers from BA to Iberia.

In order to do this, follow these steps:

  1. Transfer your Amex points to British Airways.
  2. Log in to your BA Executive Club account.
  3. Expand the Manage My account menu at the left, then click on Combine my Avios at the bottom.
  4. Click the Combine my Avios icon, then login to your Iberia Plus account.
  5. Follow the on-screen prompts to finalize your transfer.

Had I done this from the start, I could’ve had the 94,000 Avios in my Iberia Plus account within seconds of transferring them from Amex. Instead, I was left waiting and hoping that the two business-class award seats wouldn’t be taken by the time my points arrived.

Related: Review of Iberia business class

However, just note that your Iberia Plus account must be at least 90 days old, and all of your account information for both programs — including full name and email address — must match in order to use Combine my Avios. Even a middle name or middle initial on one account and not the other could result in a failed transfer.

All’s well that ends well

Fortunately, the Iberia Avios showed up roughly 36 hours after initiating the transfer from American Express, and the awards were still available. (Note that Amex doesn’t provide confirmation when a transfer is complete, unlike Chase, so I needed to manually check to discover that they had posted.) I quickly booked the tickets for my wife and daughter and let out a big sigh of relief when I received the final confirmation email.

I’ve utilized the Iberia Plus program several times over the last few years, especially for flights from the U.S. to Spain, but this was my first time transferring in Amex points. Chalk this up to a near miss and a learning experience. The next time I need to book an award ticket through Iberia — especially one with limited inventory — I’ll be transferring to British Airways first.

Featured photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy.

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Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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