Update: Offer Expired
American Express launched two transfer bonuses last week that are far from earth-shattering, but still valuable under the proper circumstances. Through December 31, 2013, AMEX was offering a 20% bonus on points transfers to partner British Airways and through November 30, 2013, AMEX is offering a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic.
Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have obscene fuel surcharges on their own flights, with a round-trip from the USA to London exceeding $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses once the scam charges and UK departure tax are added in. But there are better uses of points.
British Airways are great for shorthaul travel on American Airlines, where flights can be booked last-minute for as little as 4,500 miles and $2.50 in taxes. For trips to South America, LAN offers attractive service with no fuel surcharge. To Asia, Cathay Pacific award inventory is generous and fuel surcharge moderate. Perhaps the best deal of all, fly to Ireland for as little as 25K Avios r/t in economy or 50K in business (from Boston) with no fuel surcharge. Air Berlin award space also has a very low fuel surcharge.
Most carriers are bookable online at ba.com, obviating the hassle of calling their inept call center. BA does have some annoying restrictions like no cancellations or bookings within 24 hours, but the program remains a valuable tool, particularly for short-haul flying.
Virgin Atlantic is well-respected and offers a superb “Upper Class” product on its longhaul aircraft, but you do not have to use your miles for VS or its partners that also have high fuel surcharges. Delta Air Lines is now a partner and domestic award space, if you can find it, is bookable by calling the Virgin Atlantic call center. Use delta.com to search for “low level” space–medium and high awards cannot be booked with Virgin miles. Delta domestic flights have no fuel surcharges.
Sadly, the days of 40% transfer bonuses for British Airways and Delta appear over, but this . To augment your account balance, consider signing up for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card which currently has a 25,000 sign-up bonus and no annual fee for the first year.