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.
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.
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.
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)