The U.S. American Express Membership Rewards program is offering a 50% bonus on transfers to British Airways Executive Club through July 31.
Points from Amex transfers post to BA instantly in real-time, and the bonus posts right away as well.  (The fine print says ‘one bonus per cardmember’ so you may only get to do this once during the promotion period, though time will tell whether or not that’s enforced.)

In February and March there was a 40% transfer bonus offer and that was a huge deal, of course this is even better.

While I wouldn’t make transfers without a specific award in mind, because I do hugely value the flexibility of Amex points more than I do most bonuses, and it’s important to understand what BA miles are good for and what they aren’t, this one is uber-tempting and is worth thinking through for the particular circumstances of anyone with Amex points.

The Good

British Airways has some great value awards. Cathay Pacific business class from the US to much of Asia is 100,000 miles roundtrip (150k for first class). LAN business class from the US to Easter Island is just 80,000 miles in business class.

BA allows one-way awards and unlimited stopovers. But you have to travel a most direct routing, I’ve seen awards with several stopovers in the US on American Airlines, in most cases you’ll only manage one stopover in a given direction because to do more would require either adding airlines to the itinerary (see below for why you don’t wan tto do that) or flying circuitously. But that LAN business class award to Easter Island can have a South America stopover in each direction, such as Buenos Aires one-way and Santiago the other.

British Airways has great award availability from the US to London, especially in first class. BA is the only airline where you’ll regularly find four or more first class award seats on a single flight, for amazing availability check out the Houston and Philadelphia flights.

The Bad

British Airways adds fuel surcharges to awards. You’ll pay the fuel surcharges that would have applied on a paid ticket. And that makes it rarely worthwhile to redeem a coach award on high fuel surcharge routes like Europe, you may wind up laying out half the cash you would have when buying a ticket outright. Fuel surcharges on a business class Europe roundtrip will be over $500 on BA, over $400 flying BA partners, and that’s in addition to taxes. Moreover, do two long-haul flights on BA like US to London and connecting to Africa and you can pay $1000 in fuel charges! However, fuel surcharges are lower to Asia (my recent Asia redemption with BA miles cost about $325 all-in per person including all taxes and fees) and lower to South America than to Asia.

British Airways has some crazy-expensive awards. While BA is great from the US to Asia and South America, it’s not good to Africa (180,000 miles in business class, 270,000 miles in first) or Asia via Europe on BA or to Australia. Of course the 50% transfer bonus takes out some of the sting, but the award chart is not cheap much fo the time. The structure is that business class awards are double the price of coach, and first class awards are triple.

You don’t want to mix partners on a BA award. You can fly on a partner or on British Airways plus one partner (combining American and British Airways I’ve almost never failed to find premium cabin award seats to Europe) but once you put two different partners on an award ticket you’re looking at their distance-based chart which is much more expensive.

The bottom-line

If your plans take you to Asia or South America and you can fly one airline only for the trip — be it American, Cathay Pacific, or Japan Airlines — then British Airways is an outstanding partner to work with and this bonus makes it a phenomenal deal. 67,500 Amex points would be enough for New York JFK – Hong Kong – Bali and back in business class. 54,000 Amex points would be enough for New York JFK – Buenos Aires and back in business class on American or even all the way to Easter Island via South America on LAN.

If you need really good availability to Europe, or need lots of seats to Europe, and are willing to pay BA’s fuel surcharges to get those premium cabin seats, then this is worthwhile especially with the bonus.

But if you want to grab a couple of seats to Europe, and the fuel surcharges are a deal-breaker, then this bonus may not be for you.

While I almost never transfer points ahead of making an award reservation (I even tend to make the transfer while I’m on the phone with an airline, award reservation already set up for those programs where Amex transfers are instant like BA, Delta, Aeroplan, etc), I did get in on the February/March 40% bonus. I transferred enough points to top off my BA account for 2 first class awards on Cathay Pacific. I don’t like in a Cathay Pacific city, which means I’m booking my flights to and from the international gateway city. But it was worth tt to me to get the points into my BA account, but I certainly didn’t clear out my Membership Rewards account in doing so.

I admit I’m surprised to see this bonus, again so quickly and bigger than the February/March offering. While I don’t see the US-based offers like Amex transfer bonuses and Chase 100,000-mile credit card signup bonuses as a huge driver of program decisions, I do worry a little bit that the BA award chart may be changing soon. They’re now offering full mileage earning on discounted fares, so printing a lot more miles than before, these bonuses are just consistent with that theme. And printing more miles puts pressure on the redemption side and raises costs, it’s not unreasonable to expect that BA will raise the price of those redemptions. Still, there are some routes where it would be hard or crazy to raise them very much, they’re still so expensive, but I worry that the really great value awards will go up in price. That’s why I wouldn’t stockpile BA miles for future use by cleaning out an account with this really good bonus, rather I’d transfer either for immediate award booking needs or at least for near-term redemptions, just not for the long-term.

(HT: The Points Guy)

  1. Mark said,

    Wow, this is annoying. Yesterday I moved 17K to top up BA for immediate ticketing of F award to Asia. If I had waited a day, I could have just moved 12K.

  2. 50% Membership Rewards transfer bonus to British Airways Executive Club - One Mile at a Time said,

    [...] (Tip of the hat to Gary) [...]

  3. Elvin said,

    Can you redeem one-way partner awards on BA?

  4. Gary said,

    @Elvin yes

  5. BostonFlyer said,

    This is nice as I am looking to go to Bali and with three flights leaving from JFK I have a good chance to find availability. Does anyone know how many days out I can book Cathy Pacific reward flights with British Airways?

  6. A Kimyai said,

    Are there any redemptions for which BA does not charge a fuel surcharge? AA domestic?

  7. C&C said,

    @Gary what is ur take on using this 50% BA offer for biz/first to Tahiti in near future?

  8. Gary said,

    @A Kimyai if the carrier itself doesn’t add fuel surcharges on paid tickets, then BA doesn’t add them to awards, so AA domestic doesn’t have any and the charges are quite low for SOuth America and IMHO reasonable for Asia, but exorbitant to Europe and via Europe to anywhere.

  9. Gary said,

    @BostonFlyer it’s either 355 or 360, would have to look…

  10. Gary said,

    @C&C the only way BA miles can get you to Tahiti is via South America and Easter Island on LAN, and it’s going to be an expensive award, that wouldn’t be how I’d do it…

  11. PedroNY said,

    Gary, I heard that fuel charges are less if redeeming BA miles on Aer Lingus to get to Europe. Any experience with what kind of fuel charges you’d have to pay from North America (through Dublin) to Europe? Would a person be able to spend some time in Dublin on a stop-over? Any good availability on Aer Lingus upper class for BA miles?

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  12. Ravi Rao said,

    Thanks for the blog post, Gary! I have barely 3000 Amex MR points right now, but am still interested in borrowing some to purchase SEA -> Easter Island on LAN Business via Buenos Aires and Santiago, exactly like you suggested. Is there a guide on how to redeem BA points on LAN? Can someone help ticket this, even for a fee? I am already on Milepoint :) thanks much!

  13. Joe said,

    Regarding the stopover rules, does BA allow date change after the initial flight is taken?

  14. Gary said,

    @Joe no, which is one reason I always book BA awards as two one-ways instead of a roundtrip (you have to make changes at least 24 hours prior to first flight).

  15. Garipi said,

    Anybody knows of a good AMEX membership Rewards offer running currently? I have never tried them (have used AMEX-Delta before) so it might a good time now to get one. Thanks for any input.

  16. stan ath said,

    If u book now A.A. and base on amex BA 50% bonus transfer- A.A. flights are a true bargain the 17,500 mile r/t fare will cost less than 12,000 miles when netted down

    SEE :
    “30 deals in 30 days.” . For all Economy Class Mile SAAver award tickets, save 30% on the amount of miles that need to be redeemed. This is for award tickets booked within the Continental U.S. and Canada. Tickets need to be booked by June 10, 2011 and it is for travel between September 7-November 8, 2011.
    Great for tickets cross-country or to Canada.
    No registration is required The number of miles needed for each leg will already be discounted, so you will see quickly which seats have the 30% discount applied.

  17. Gary said,

    @stan ath you pay BA Executive Club prices not AA prices, so roundtrip American domestic coach is still based on 25k BA miles, not 17.5k AA miles.

  18. tivoboy said,

    I’m starting to think that BA miles and spending isn’t as bad as initially thought.

    If I consider not only the freebies, and figure the earning is at a bonus of at LEAST 1.25Miles/$ sometimes 2 miles per $$, THEN add the fact that one can use a 241 certificate (sure with 30K annual spend) THEN add the fact that with my other spend on AMEX, I can get a 50% bonus for a flight on BA with transfer (I haven’t found anything better for the AMEX MR points just yet) it actually comes out pretty cheap.

    For say C to LHR from SFO for 100K miles, using a 241 this can be thought of as only 50K miles, if one thinks of the bonus when transferring from MR to BA, the 100K needed would be only 65K or so (yes, plus about 400$ a ticket for taxes) but still, for that sort of miles to get TWO BUSINESS tickets to LHR or Europe from San Francisco ain’t too bad.

  19. Donh said,

    I’m just hoping for all that do transfer
    BA doesn’t come back with some new massive devaluation
    That is the only thing keeping me from making the plunge
    Especially as I heard from industry folks that this could be a possibility
    Hope they are wrong!
    Cheers many miles all

  20. TR said,

    The link isn’t working — how do you actually do this?! Thanks.

  21. beachfan said,

    I’m not sure if this is well known, but BA charges US issued tickets significantly more than UK issued tickets.

    The YQ for LAX-JNB issued for F in the UK is 145 pounds per segment, or 580 pounds. It is $1170 for tickets issued for F in the US. At current exchange rates, 580 pounds is $933 today using today’s rate (a hair under $1.61 per pound).

    Now to figure out how to get my two fer one award LAX-JNB issued in pounds and I’ll save almost $500. (Total taxes and fees for two F LAX-JNB with a layover on the way out in LHR is a hair under $3200).

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