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The Best Frequent-Flier Deals for American Express Points

Wendy Perrin | May 19, 2015

Question:

Wendy, I have accumulated 2 million American Express points. How do I get the best bang for my buck redeeming them for airline tickets? Should I dump them all into a frequent-flier program? I am open to any and all suggestions. Thank you!
—Dee

Answer:

For smart advice on using AmEx Membership Rewards points, I’ve called in my old buddy Brian Kelly, a.k.a. The Points Guy. Brian’s been so successful at collecting and leveraging his own miles that he was able to give up his Wall Street job (which is what he was doing when I met him) to travel around the world full-time. He shares his hard-won knowledge on his website ThePointsGuy.com, and he’s got three nifty suggestions for you, Dee:

“Having 2,000,000 Membership Rewards points at your disposal is definitely a great position to be in. I would keep the points in your American Express account until you’re ready to plan a trip, but you don’t need to blow all two million on a single high-end round-the-world adventure (though you certainly can, assuming you have a few weeks to travel).

Instead, I’d suggest transferring the points to Membership Rewards partners as you need to use them, or, if American Express is offering a temporary transfer bonus to a certain program, it may make sense to transfer speculatively. For example, earlier this year, you could convert Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios with a 40-percent bonus, so you’d earn 1.4 Avios for every point you transferred. If you had transferred all two million points, you would have ended up with 2,800,000 Avios, which is enough for a whopping 622 one-way short-haul flights on American or US Airways within the US (up to 650 miles), at 4,500 Avios a pop for coach.

Because airline-program devaluations can come at any time (and bonus opportunities can always pop up), it usually makes more sense to keep your points in a flexible currency, like Membership Rewards, until you’re ready to book.

If you’re looking to travel in style, another great airline transfer partner is Singapore Airlines. Singapore reserves the best awards in First and Suites Class on its 777-300ER and A380 aircraft for its own members, so you can’t book premium seats on long-haul flights using miles from a Star Alliance partner. This makes Singapore’s KrisFlyer miles exceptionally valuable. For every 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll receive 1,000 KrisFlyer miles. You can experience Suites Class on the A380 starting at just 31,875 miles (or 31,875 American Express Points) for a one-way flight between Singapore and Hong Kong. Or you can travel all the way from New York City in Suites Class for 93,750 miles, plus about $300 in taxes and fees. Your 2 million points will get you and a friend to and from New York to Singapore in Suites ten times.

Finally, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is another great transfer partner. As with British Airways and Singapore, you’ll receive 1,000 Aeroplan miles for every 1,000 points you transfer, and points typically transfer instantly (or within a day or two). Aeroplan is especially valuable for premium-cabin travel when compared to United Airlines, allowing you to fly between the US and Europe in Lufthansa First Class for 62,500 miles, rather than the 110,000 miles United requires. Note that Aeroplan does charge fuel surcharges on some carriers, including Lufthansa, so you may need to pay a few hundred dollars in fees in addition to the miles you’ll use for an award.

In total, American Express partners with 16 airline programs and four hotel chains, though you’ll generally get the most bang for your buck from the programs I’ve outlined above.”

Dee, I’m beyond jealous! Enjoy all those trips!

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