The Best Use for AMEX Membership Rewards

 

AMEX Membership Rewards (MR) is the rewards currency for many American Express cards such as the Platinum, Gold Rewards Plus, Every Day Preferred, and several others. Like Chase Ultimate Rewards, MRs can be transferred to a multitude of partners. In fact, most travel analysts concur that Chase debuted URs to compete with AMEX MRs as AMEX was a long-time forerunner in having many airline and hotel partners. However, as more airlines have consolidated, the partners and benefits of each program have changed over time.

I listed the transfer partners in my last post about the AMEX Platinum card. However, unlike Chase URs, AMEX MRs do not transfer at a 1:1 ratio. I created the following chart to explain each Frequent Flier/Hotel Program and the equivalent value of MRs:

Airline Frequent Flier Transfers

Airline Currency Equivalent Membership Rewards
AeroMexico 1,000 Club Premier® Miles 1,000
Air Canada 1,000 Aeroplan® Miles 1,000
Alitalia Airlines 1,000 MilleMiglia Miles 1,000
All Nippon Airways 1,000 ANA Mileage Club Miles 1,000
British Airways 1,000 Avios 1,000
Cathay Pacific Airways 1,000 Asia Miles 1,000
Delta Airlines 1,000 SkyMiles® 1,000
EL AL Israel Airlines 20 Matmid Points 1,000
Air France & KLM 1,000 Flying Blue® Award Miles 1,000
Emirates 1,000 Skywards Miles 1,000
Frontier Airlines 1,000 EarlyReturns® Miles 1,000
Hawaiian Airlines 1,000 HawaiianMiles® 1,000
Iberia Plus Airlines 1,000 Avios 1,000
JetBlue Airways 200 TrueBlue® Points 250
Singapore Airlines 1,000 KrisFlyer® Miles 1,000
Virgin Atlantic 1,000 Flying Club Miles 1,000
Virgin America 100 Elevate points 200

Hotel Loyalty Program Transfers

Hotel Currency Equivalent Membership Rewards
Best Western 1,000 Bestern Rewards 1,000
Choice Hotels 1,000 Choice Privileges 1,000
Hilton 1,500 HHonors Points 1,000
Starwood 333 Starpoints 1,000

Airline Partners

Now my guess is that some of you just skimmed the chart and though “wow, that’s a nice long list of airline and hotel partners but I only fly with American and United” To which I would say you probably do not need an AMEX card unless you’re willing to branch out. Here’s the great news, booking flights with the above airlines just means you’re using their mileage program to book flights, not booking flights with that airline itself. So let’s look at this chart another way according to alliances:

Airline Frequent Flier Transfers
Airline Currency Equivalent Membership Rewards
One World British Airways 1,000 Avios 1,000
Cathay Pacific Airways 1,000 Asia Miles 1,000
Iberia Plus Airlines 1,000 Avios 1,000
Skyteam AeroMexico 1,000 Club Premier® Miles 1,000
Alitalia Airlines 1,000 MilleMiglia Miles 1,000
Delta Airlines 1,000 SkyMiles® 1,000
Air France & KLM 1,000 Flying Blue® Award Miles 1,000
Star Alliance Air Canada 1,000 Aeroplan® Miles 1,000
All Nippon Airways 1,000 ANA Mileage Club Miles 1,000
Singapore Airlines 1,000 KrisFlyer® Miles 1,000
No Alliance EL AL Israel Airlines 20 Matmid Points 1,000
Emirates 1,000 Skywards Miles 1,000
Frontier Airlines 1,000 EarlyReturns® Miles 1,000
Hawaiian Airlines 1,000 HawaiianMiles® 1,000
JetBlue Airways 200 TrueBlue® Points 250
Virgin Atlantic 1,000 Flying Club Miles 1,000
Virgin America 100 Elevate points 200

I’ll explain alliances and partnerships at a later date, but for now I think most of you probably recognize some of the partners that I grouped together. If you are an American Airline flier you have probably seen British Airways advertised as a partner. That means you can use transfer MRs to British Airways Avios to fly American since they are both part of OneWorld Alliance. Similarly, Singapore Airlines and Air Canada are both partners with United so you can transfer MRs to those programs to redeem on United.

The key to knowing a good transfer partner is based on your home airport and the destination that you would like to travel to. So if you want to fly to Hawaii and you live near ANY West Coast Gateway, the best transfer partner for you hands down is British Airways Avios because they charge only 25,000 miles roundtrip since they are distance-based program (the miles you pay is based on the distance of each leg that you travel). If you live in Maine and want to go to Hawaii, then the transfer program for you is Singapore Airlines because they charge only 35,000 miles roundtrip. For reference, United charges 45,000 miles and American also charges 45,000 miles from anywhere in North America to Hawaii (note: American has off-peak availability to Hawaii for a few weeks throughout the year).

I could go on and on with different examples but these best way to figure out if a transfer partner is economical in terms of points is to look at that airline’s award chart to see what they charge between destinations (I will review more programs in the future). If the value is good, then you have to set up a frequent flier account with that program and transfer the appropriate number of MRs. Bear in mind that transfers are usually not instant and AMEX charges 0.06 cents per point (basically $6.00 per 1,000 points transferred) up to a maximum of $99.

Hotel Partners

I’ll be frank about these hotel partner transfer rates: they’re pretty terrible if you only like to travel in the US. In the US, Choice Hotels are nothing special and the transfer rates would be too high relative to what you get. However, Choice Hotels in Europe are much nicer and require the same number of points on average as they do in the US but the average nightly rate is much higher if you were to pay with cash. Thus, it may make sense to transfer to Choice while in Europe. I would make the same statement about Best Western: most of the properties are better overseas and offer a better value for the number of points that you have to transfer. Finally, SPG and Hilton have lots of great hotels (SPG tends to have more high end hotels) but the transfer rates are really poor all around for both brands. I will explain those programs in detail at a later date but I will say that if you are a SPG or Hilton loyalist, they have their own AMEX branded cards that offer much better earning rates.

The Bottom Line

If you’re interested in getting a card with Membership Rewards, the motivation for getting one is because you want to have a currency with diverse transfer options. I got my AMEX Platinum card because I wanted to stock up on MRs so that I can transfer to ANA and FlyingBlue. ANA has a fantastic program with great redemptions values in all classes of service (the program is changing in April 2015 and will get a lot better for certain ranges). FlyingBlue has AMAZING deals to Europe that show up on occasion through their FlyingBlue Promos such as Houston to anywhere in Europe for only 25,000 miles! That deal isn’t around anymore but you can check out the current deals here. Finally, AMEX periodically offers transfer bonuses to certain partners that are FANTASTIC. The current promotion is a 40% transfer bonus to British Airways until Jan 31, 2015. So referencing my British Airways example from earlier in the post, you can get from the West Coast to Hawaii for only 18,000 points!!! There isn’t a better deal around than that.

If you have any questions about Membership Rewards and how they might work for you, leave me a comment.