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American Express Membership Rewards is offering a 40% transfer bonus to their partner British Airways.
I woke up to a note in my inbox on this, but I believe Miles4More was first to post about it.
American Express transfer bonuses used to be common, they’ve become rarer and focused on their lower value partners this year, so it’s fantastic to see this.
Personally I wouldn’t proactively transfer points to British Airways for the bonus without a clear plan for their use. I value the flexibility to transfer points to any of American Express’ partners enough (option value) to hold onto the points for a future use. And I wouldn’t transfer points out just because I was cancelling a card either, now that there’s a no fee American Express Membership Rewards card whose points transfer to miles.
But British Airways is one of the more useful American Express partners, and a 40% bonus presents the opportunity for real value.
The Short-Distance Non-Stop Solution
I consider short-distance domestic flights to be the best use of Avios. 50,000 points is literally 11 flights between Washington DC and New York LaGuardia on the US Airways shuttle, or any number of other flights on American, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines that are under 650 miles.
These short flights are often expensive – my one-way shuttle flights or DC-Chicago flights can run up near $400. I never expect to get more than 2 cents a point domestically, and I frequently get 7 cents per point when redeeming Avios. And there are no last minute booking fees.
Here’s the award chart showing price per flight based on its distance:
Note that business class is double the price of economy, and first class is triple.
The Elephant in the Room: Fuel Surcharges
There aren’t any fuel surcharges if you redeem your points for US domestic flights, or between the US and South America.
But like most frequent flyer programs based outside North America, British Airways adds fuel surcharges onto the cost of an award ticket — whatever that charge would have been on a similar purchased ticket.
Here’s how to keep the cost down (or even eliminate fuel surcharges entirely) when redeeming awards through British Airways:
- Fly US domestic economy. It’s what I do most with my Avios, just 4500 points each way on flights 650 miles or less.
- US – South America flights have no fuel surcharges. Australia domestic is a great deal here, too. Japanese domestic flights can literally have $0 in taxes and fees.
- The fees are cheap for many destinations in Asia. And remember that business class (not US domestic first class) is just double the cost of economy. On short routes that can be a really good value, especially when it comes with free baggage and lounge access.
- Open an Iberia Avios account as well. Transfer your British Airways points over to Iberia (one-to-one into an account that’s been open three months and has had some points activity). The fees are de minimis when using Iberia points to fly Iberia. Here’s how. And note that Iberia business class award availability is generally excellent.
- British Airways partner Aer Lingus (Bsoton and New York to Dublin and Shannon — and beyond) has really low charges.
- airberlin, a oneworld partner, does not add fuel surcharges onto their fares.
- Remember to check whether two one-way awards are cheaper than a roundtrip.
- You can fuel dump an award ticket, adding a segment to make the itinerary extend to a destination beyond where you are going that charges lower fees. But with the British Airways program it will cost you additional miles to do it (since BA charges separately for each flight segment except for UK domestic flights).
Finding Award Space and Booking Your Award
The easiest place to search for availability of all (3) partner airlines for those short haul domestic non-stop flights is the American Airlines (AA.com) website. That site isn’t great for most of its partners, but it does cover American, US Airways, and Alaska.
Of course you have to make your booking directly with British Airways. You can search American and US Airways inventory directly on the BA site, but their site won’t search for or book Alaska Airlines flights, you’ll have to call to book Alaska Airlines flights.
For most other awards in the oneworld alliance the British Airways website is quite good for searching space and making initial bookings.
Making changes to awards though has to be done over the phone, by a special department, and then tickets get queued for re-issue and if travel is in the future it can take a week or more for the re-issue to happen. Book one-way awards, cancel them online (it’s cheaper, forfeit the taxes on a domestic award instead of paying a fee), and rebook instead of changing.
Other Ways to Get British Airways Avios
The signup offer for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is 50,000 bonus points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, and the annual fee is now $0 the first year, $95 thereafter (instead of the $95 applying in year one). That’s a lot of points with a low spending requirement to get them Which can be put to great use. And Chase has gotten a lot more generous welcoming back past cardmembers to their card products (and giving out bonuses again).
You can transfer points at ‘full value’ from three programs: Chase, American Express, and Starwood.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: The Chase Ink Plus Business Credit Card offers 50,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months. The Sapphire Preferred Card is offering 40,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months plus 5000 points for adding a (no fee) authorized user to the account and making a purchase. These points .
- American Express Membership Rewards: The Amex Everyday Preferred is probably the strongest Membership Rewards points-earning card, with a minimum earning of 1.5 points per dollar if you use the card 30 times in a month. In the past Membership Rewards has offered transfer bonuses to BA, and the points transfer instantly.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints: Points don’t transfer instantly, but there’s the built-in bonus of 5000 points when you transfer 20,000. The The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has been in my wallet since 2001.
Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.