Deciding Which Miles to Use — Reader Success Story

Nov 30, 2018

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Max, who transferred points into one airline program rather than use the miles he already had:

I’ve recently been able to get a good return from the 40% transfer bonus from American Express to Avios.

First, I had some time in September between leaving my old job and starting my new one, and decided to surprise my dad in Alaska for his birthday while he was in the midst of a six-week road trip from the lower 48. Last-minute tickets from Dallas to Anchorage were going for a little over $1,000 round-trip, but there was plenty of AAdvantage MileSAAver award space with nonstop availability. I transferred 29,000 Membership Rewards points and got 40,600 Avios in return, giving me enough to book the flights for 20,000 Avios and $5.60 each way. Including the $11.20 in fees, I was able to net a redemption of roughly 3.4 cents per Amex point.

I could have used 15,000 AAdvantage miles each way instead, but since I’m an AAdvantage elite based in Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), I tend to get the best value from those miles on flights to Europe and Asia on AA metal, as well as with Oneworld partners like Qantas and Qatar, so I opted to hold onto them. I also had a surplus of Membership Rewards points and the incredible transfer bonus was coming to an end, so I thought I should take advantage (pun intended).

With 600 Avios leftover, I transferred an additional 14,000 Amex points [for another 19,600 Avios with the transfer bonus] to score a 20,000-Avios redemption from Dallas to Guatemala City to visit a friend next year. These flights were about $780, so including the $54.92 in taxes and fees, I netted about 5.2 cents per Amex point. Using British Airways’ distance-based program was the cheaper option in this case, since American charges 15,000 miles each way on that route versus 10,000 Avios.

When booking award travel, the goal is generally to use the fewest points or miles needed for a given itinerary, but Max’s story illustrates a common exception. Awards don’t exist in a vacuum, and each redemption should be weighed in the context of your other travel plans. Sometimes it makes sense to use one loyalty currency sub-optimally in order to conserve another that you know will offer a better redemption value down the line.

Max could have redeemed 30,000 AAdvantage miles (instead of 40,000 Avios) for his flight to Anchorage — a move that would have saved him $180 worth of rewards based on my most recent valuations. However, those 30,000 miles are enough for a one-way economy award to Europe, or half of a business class award to Asia. By using AAdvantage miles to book long-haul international flights (which aren’t usually a great fit for redeeming Avios), Max should easily recoup the value he sacrificed on his trip to Alaska. I encourage you too to keep an eye on the big picture when planning your next award.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Max a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Travis Wise/Flickr 

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