Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards on Star Alliance Airlines Without Fuel Surcharges

This little trick was shared with me some months ago in confidence (thanks S.S.!) so I never blogged it, but now it’s out in the frequent flyer forums and on blogs (e.g. today at The Points Guy).

So now that it’s out, it’s no longer a secret, I can pass this along.

American Express Membership Rewards is a great currency. I love flexible currencies because you can choose where to move points to when you know what award you want and further when you know who has award availability for that itinerary. It increases your ability to get the award redemption you want when you want it.

But American Express has its drawbacks. Last year their partner Aeroplan started adding fuel surcharges onto most of their award tickets, you now often come out of pocket an extra $700 or so per person. And they lost transfer partner Continental when that airline merged with United. Together that meant that — though Aeroplan, All Nippon, and Singapore Airlines remain transfer partners — the ability to book Star Alliance awards at both a reasonable mileage cost and without paying fuel surcharges (on itineraries where such surcharges are included in paid fares) was for the most part gone. (Aeroplan doesn’t add surcharges to all partners, but they do now to most.)

As such, it’s useful to know that you can move Aeroplan points over to US Airways via Points.com. You lose about 15% of your points in the process.

But US Airways has some awards where their pricing is favorable (especially after Aeroplan increased the cost of many awards last year as well), you can even come out ahead, like business class from the US to North Asia (eg Hong Kong) for 90,000 miles.

And it may be worth the reduction in points to save on fuel surcharges, which US Airways doesn’t add onto awards.

Now that this is ‘out’ it’s possible that the transfer ratio over at Points.com changes. So it’s a good idea to verify that Aeroplan is still transfering to US Airways at about 1 to 0.85 before you do this.

But for now you can move points one-to-one from American Express to Air Canada Aeroplan instantly, and then move the Aeroplan points via Points.com over to US Airways.

Points.com usually offers terrible ratios on converting points. (Note this is not where you trade points in their marketplace with another member for large fees, this is where you exchange points between your own accounts for no fee but usually while losing most of the points in the process.) I almost never use Points.com, although it can be useful to keep an account active by moving a single mile into a program where your points would otherwise expire, and it can be useful to move a few points when that counts as partner activity for a bonus promotion (such as the US Airways Grand Slam we’re all hoping comes back). This just happens to be another exception to the rule that transferring points via Points.com is never worth it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. This might not be the place to ask, sorry in advance. I have 155k united, 50k+ ultimate rewards, 23k delta, 51k british airways and 30k virgin atlantic. If I want to go DCA-MCO November 9th to November 12 roundtrip on miles, what am I missing as I can’t find anything available?! Please help!

  2. Hmmm well i had said this before in another vfw posting and ill say it again: i dont agree that you should have spilled the beans on this gig just because someone else/everyone else did. So your comment intro, “little trick was shared with me some months ago in confidence (thanks S.S.!) so I never blogged it, but now it’s out in the frequent flyer forums and on blogs (e.g. today at The Points Guy).

    So now that it’s out, it’s no longer a secret, I can pass this along.” is in my opinion not a great move at all.

    If you feel you must do something, just tell everyone to check whatever blog or forum posted something instead of feeling compelled to burst from some cage to spill it here.

    The trick is decent but now will be seen BY ghe airlines because they definitely read this blog

  3. @Marathon Man: Who cares if the airlines see it? There’s nothing sneaky going on here, it’s not a website glitch or a fare mistake, or anything else that will be “shut down”. You’re using all completely approved methods to move miles around, using partners that are approved by both membership rewards and the airlines.

    I’m really getting sick of people who just come on to these blogs to complain about how all their secrets are being given away. If it was a secret, it wouldn’t be blasted all over the most read airline forum in the world.

  4. This Ian on flyertalk and the points guy blog. Sorry if this is no longer the little secret of folks who knew before. But it was public now. So seems reasonable for everyone to see and know and take advantage if they wish. If it Ian going away anyway then I hope to let folks know before it is too late. And if it is going away it is because of exposure in places which are more heavily trafficked and monitored by programs than my blog.

  5. Just to point out, points.com is indeed usually really crappy but US Airways often has decent rates.

    For instance, the 20,000 Virgin America Elevate points the credit card signup gives you only translates into like 7500 Skymiles/Aadvantage miles, but would be a decent 15000+ Dividend Miles

  6. FWIW, I think MM makes a good point.

    While I agree with Gary that the entire flyertalk.com domain gets much more hits or traffic than Gary’s blog per day, that does NOT mean that an individual thread or specific subforum at Flyertalk gets more traffic than your blog. There is a very big difference between a deal being buried in a FT thread in a specific subforum (where only people who are actively looking for it will find it, know how to use it, and keep it under the radar, and may not be closely monitored by airlines, etc.) and a deal being posted in blatant spoonfeeding fashion on one of the most heavily trafficked travel blogs on the web. As MM mentioned, a good middleground might be to just redirect readers to FT or via email to the deal. I could give examples of multiple high value deals all day long that were killed after being posted in dedicated posts on multiple blogs, that had been previously stayed under the radar due to being buried in a specific thread for literally years on end….

    FWIW, I don’t think this deal is quite as sensitive as the ST debit and MO deal that MMS single handedly killed. However, the risk is now that since airlines monitor this blog, that someone at points.com will notice increased transfers and decide that the transfer rate is too generous. Aeroplan may also decide that they don’t like being used as a transfer hub and force points.com to lower the transfer ratio. Another possibility is that US Airways may come to realize that they could charge points.com more for the transfers which will in turn cause points.com to kill the favorable rate. In any event, am hopeful that the deal will stick around for at least a little while longer…

  7. This isn’t a glitch or even a secret. Fundamentally this is about people who understand something not wanting others to understand that thing because of a fear their tricks will go away faster than otherwise.

    But the information doesn’t belong to anyone and is already out publicly on the interwebs.

    Hang around awhile ans you will see all good deals eventually go away. And are replaced by other good deals.

    What I used to love about forums when I first joined was the spirit of sharing and helping others get the moat of their miles and improve their travels.

    Which is all this post does.

  8. Thanks Gary, completely agreed that this one isn’t a glitch (unlike the ST/MO deal that MMS posted). Only risk is one of the parties involved deciding that it is too generous, hopefully it will stick around for a while though as you mentioned since it isn’t the same as a glitch or a mistake and the favorable ratio seems to be due to US (since they have favorable ratios with other points.com partners) and not points.com or aeroplan…

    FWIW, I am a regular reader of the blog and agree with 99%+ of what you post…

  9. wrt yoru post #9 Gary – then why not share it from the get-go? Seems like you’re arguing both sides of it.

    I think blogs tend to spoil too many things nowadays, with visibility that wasn’t once there when it was in other forums.

    But this was never a secret for anyone who bothered to look at points.com for more than 5 minutes. So I don’t see the big deal in this instance. OBviously Points.com figured out a transfer ratio that worked for its business needs, or presumably they would’ve set the ration differently.

  10. @Eric I didn’t post it initially because it was shared with me in confidence and as I’ve written in the past I don’t break my commitments.

  11. @John, regarding; “I could give examples of multiple high value deals all day long that were killed after being posted in dedicated posts on multiple blogs,”. In the spirit of ” redirect readers to FT or via email to the deal” please let me know about those deals.
    Thanks
    4ever grateful

  12. Because United has, imho, better redemption options than US Airways, I still think that, for many redemption options (especially since I like one-way or itins not possible on US Airways) that posting a trade on points.com to trade AC miles for UA miles is a better option in many cases. There’s a 1 cent per mile trade fee.

    I get my MR points for between 1/3 and 1/2 cent (since it’s almost always double or triple points for what I use the card for), so adding 1 cent for the trade fee still is better than buying the miles through any other means available — especially if you’re just looking to add miles to get an award you almost have enough for.

    Only catch is that AC only lets you do 8 trades per year that way.

    Of course, sometimes just xferring the MR points into SQ is a better deal entirely, so don’t rule that out, either.

  13. @Deirdre – if you’re going to pay 1 cent per mile to transfer then you might as well pay Aeroplan’s fuel surcharges, and then it’s not clearly better to use United (eg Aeroplan will allow 2 stopovers on an award, some routes are priced for fewer miles). United miles are more flexible than US Airways miles, to be sure, United offers one-way awards and they offer a stopover and an open jaw (not just one or the other) on a roundtrip. But US AIrways has access to most of the same partners and most of the same inventory, seems like in most cases you wouldn’t want to pay for a transfer.

  14. Not sure how a link to the FT thread is somehow more acceptable than blogging about a deal, if you are fundamentally opposed to the public sharing of such tips? Unfortunately, IMO there are way too many self-interested whiners in our community who post only to criticize Gary or TPG and others, but offer nothing else. Obviously, “sharing” is a concept that is alien to them.

  15. I am not seeing this 0.85 ratio anymore. I am seeing 13000 Dividend Miles from 17753 Aeroplan Points. Is anybody seeing a different amount of Aeroplan points needed than from what was mentioned in the post?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *