American Express credit cards earn points under the membership rewards program. American Express allows cardholders to redeem their membership rewards points for a variety of uses including for gift cards, shopping, travel through American Express’ travel agency, and by transferring points to other airline and hotel programs. I’ve accumulated a large amount of Membership Rewards points and wanted to better understand the available transfer partners in the program to make the best use of the points I’ve earned.
In general, the best values from point redemptions tend to be from transferring credit card points to one of the major airlines points programs. However, it gets much trickier figuring out which airline to transfer your points to and then how to redeem your points from that airline after you complete the transfer. To make things more challenging, once you transfer your points to that airline, your points are stuck with that airline until you make a redemption.
2017 Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
The Membership Rewards program currently allows points transfers to 17 airlines, 3 hotels, and 1 retail store program (plenti). So that gives you a total of 21 different options. To make things more complicated, the transfer ratio is not as simple as 1 membership reward equals 1 point in whichever program you choose.
The current transfer ratios for each partner program are highlighted below:
- Aero Mexico: 1,000 Membership rewards = 1,600 Premier Points
- Air Canada: 1,000 Membership rewards = 1,000 Aeroplan miles
- Air France: 1,000 Membership rewards = 1,000 Flying Blue miles
- Alitalia: 1,000 Membership rewards = 1,000 Alitalia miles
- ANA: 1,000 Membership rewards = 1,000 ANA mileage club miles
- Asia Miles: 1,000 Membership rewards = 1,000 Asia miles
- British Airways: 250 Membership rewards = 200 Avios
- Delta: 1,000 Membership rewards = 1,000 Sky Miles
- El Al: 1,000 Membership rewards = 20 Matmid points
- Emirates: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,000 Emirates miles
- Etihad: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,000 Etihad miles
- Hawaiian Airlines: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,0000 Hawaiian Airlines miles
- Iberia: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 200 Avios
- Jet Blue: 250 Membership Rewards = 200 Trublue points
- Singapore Airlines: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,000 Kris Flyer Miles
- Virgin America: 200 Membership Rewards = 100 Elevate points
- Virgin Atlantic: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,300 Flying Club miles
- Choice Privileges: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,000 Choice Privilege points
- Hilton: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,500 Hilton points
- Starwood: 1,000 Membership Rewards points = 333 Starwood points
- Plenti: 500 Membership Rewards = 500 Plenti points
American Express also periodically offers transfer bonuses. The transfer bonuses typically offer a slight increase in the amount of transferrable points earned from specific transfer partners. Currently American Express is offering a transfer bonus with Jet Blue and Virgin Atlantic Airway at the following rates:
Current Transfer Partner Bonus Offers (Expire 5/31/17)
- Jet Blue: 250 Membership Rewards = 250 True Blue points (normal rate is 200 True Blue points)
- Virgin Atlantic: 1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,300 Flying Club miles (normal rate is 1,000 Flying Club miles)
Choosing the Best Transfer Partner
As you can see from the list above, its not an easy decision to choose which transfer partner to use. You can’t even compare them on simple terms since some programs transfer at a 1 x 1 ratio while others transfer at less favorable or more favorable rates.
The best way to make a decision is to start with your travel plans and work backwards. Lets take a hypothetical trip from New York to Hong Kong. If you wanted to pay for that trip with Membership Rewards points and fly on a business class ticket, lets see what it would cost under each Transfer Partner that flies on that route.
Of the initial list of airlines, the following partners have a flight that leaves from New York JFK to Hong Kong on a Friday night flight, returning one week later, on a round trip in business class:
- ANA: $4,784
- Asiana Airlines: $4,217
- British Airways: $7,197
- Emirates: 4,332
- Etihad: $4,217
- Singapore Airlines: $9,199
So lets figure out what the Membership Rewards price would be in points for each of those trips. Note: fuel surcharges and taxes are not included in the cost.
ANA’s reward chart can be found here. For ANA’s award chart, New York is considered zone 6 and Hong Kong is considered zone 3. Business Class is considered C class. ANA does not allow one way flight redemptions. So everything listed is considered a round trip flight.
- ANA round trip business class requires 95,000 ANA points / which requires 95,000 Membership Rewards
Asiana Airlines award chart can be found here. Hong Kong is considered Southeast Asia on the Asiana award chart. The miles listed represent a round trip flight.
- Asiana round trip business class requires 135,000 Asiana miles / which requires 135,000 Membership Rewards points.
Emirates does not publish a full award chart. Instead they provide a miles calculator to estimate the cost of your trip in miles which can be found here. Emirates charges two prices for miles redemptions: saver and flex plus. Saver fares are cheaper in miles but are not offered as frequently as flex plus.
- Saver Fare: Emirates round trip business class requires 190,000 Emirates miles / which requires 190,000 Membership Rewards points.
- Flex Plus: Emirates round trip business class requires 262,500 Emirates miles / which requires 262,500 Membership Rewards.
Etihad also does not publish a full award chart. They provide a miles calculator just like Emirates.
- Etihad round trip business class requires 321,714 Etihad miles / which requires 321,714 American Express Membership Rewards.
Singapore Airlines does not publish a full award chart. They also require you to log in to your account before you access the mileage calculator. Similar to Emirates, Singapore Airlines offers two options: a Saver and a Standard fare.
- Saver fare: Singapore Airlines round trip business class requires 200,000 miles / which requires 200,000 American Express Membership Rewards.
- Standard fare: Singapore Airlines round trip business class requires 300,000 miles / which requires 300,000 American Express Membership Rewards.
Singapore Airlines also offers an 85% discount when redeeming points online. This reduces the points cost on a standard fare to 170,000 and 255,000 for a Standard fare.
British Airways does not publish an awards chart. They also require a login to access their miles calculator.
- British Airways round trip business class requires 275,000 Avios / which requires 343,750 British Airways Avios because it requires 1.25 Membership Rewards for 1 British Airways Avios.
*Also British Airways is notorious for charging very high fuel surcharges for flights. This trip requires $1,745 of fuel surcharges in addition to the already high cost in Avios.
So What is the Best Option?
As you can see from this example, the airline transfer partners are not equal. A round trip business class flight could cost you anywhere from 95,000 Membership Rewards to over 300,000 Membership Rewards. In this one specific example, your best options for a round trip business class ticket from New York to Hong Kong would be:
- ANA: 95,000 Membership Rewards
- Asiana Airlines: 135,000 Membership Rewards
- Singapore Airlines: 170,000 to 255,000 Membership Rewards
- Emirates: 190,000 or 262,500 Membership Rewards
- Etihad: 321,714 Membership Rewards
- British Airways: 343,750 Membership Rewards