Reader Sam e-mailed me for advice on what to do with 224K American Express Membership Rewards points.
I have decided to cancel my American Express Platinum Card as $550 is too steep for me. The only thing I liked about the card was the Priority Pass (which I have never used) since we have Priority Pass with my wife’s Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
That said, where do you think I should transfer my 224,000 miles? Looks like I can transfer to Aeroplan, Air France, KLM, Delta, or Virgin Atlantic? Depending on our health, we are thinking about going to Scotland/Ireland in December in business class.
Two pieces of information in his question inform my answer — 1.) his aversion to the high annual fee and 2.) his desire to travel to Scotland/Ireland.
Option One – British Airways
British Airways is running a tremendous 40% transfer bonus at the moment and British Airways offers easy access to both Scotland and Ireland via its London Heathrow hub. Splurge for the A380 in first class and you have an exceptional product as well.
But I don’t recommend an Executive Club transfer. Taxes/fees will total over $1100 for a round-trip to the UK (~$200 less if returning from Ireland). If the $550 annual fee is a problem, the out-of-pocket expenses to fly British Airways don’t make sense.
There is the possibility of using the British Airways points to book AerLingus on a non-stop flight between Washington Dulles and Dublin, but two things worry me. First, with the trip up in the air I don’t like make any prospective transfers to British Airways Executive Club. Second, with AerLingus joining IAG it is only a matter of time (I suspect) before fuel surcharges appear.
Thus, I don’t recommend British Airways unless you are ready to book now and AerLingus has space.
Option Two – Air France/KLM
Air France/KLM is a great source of business class award space, particularly from Washington Dulles. That said, taxes/fees will total about $750 on the round-trip ticket and a connection in Paris or Amsterdam will be required to get to Scotland or Ireland.
While Air France/KLM Flying Blue is not a terrible option, there are better ones if the destination is the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Option Three – ANA
ANA is a member of Star Alliance and charges only 88K r/t for business class to Europe, the best value of the bunch. The problem? Fuel surcharges + round-trip only bookings. Furthermore, miles expire 36 months after transferring, regardless of account activity. Like British Airways, I don’t like transferring miles to ANA without award space already found.
My own travel patterns tend to involve last-minute ticket purchases on a one-way basis. That simply isn’t possible with ANA. Say you go to Europe for two weeks: the best space often opens just a few days prior to departure. It would mean you’d have to book a poor inbound routing (if you could find one) then wait to pay (3,000 miles per ticket) and change it. That’s a hassle.
Option Four – Singapore
Singapore Airlines flies from New York JFK to Frankfurt on an A380, offering an excellent experience in business and first class. But getting from Washington to New York JFK is a hassle as is getting from Frankfurt to Ireland or Scotland.
Sinapore also has access to the same Star Alliance space that ANA has, but ANA charges 88K and Singapore charges 130K miles for the same thing.
Option Five – Delta
Delta does not operate international flights out of any of the Washington DC airports, but its partner Virgin Atlantic operates nonstop flights from Dulles to Heathrow. At 85K miles + $5.60 one-way, the price is not horrible for an “Upper Class” seat, but both British Airways and United offer non-stop service with seating that is much better for couples who wish to converse during the flight.
Since Delta has shown a penchant to devalue without notice, I would stay clear of Delta unless there is a specific flight you wish to book with availability.
Option Six – Virgin Atlantic
While Delta changes 85K+ miles for a one-way between London and Washington, Virgin Atlantic charges only 47,500 miles. But look at the fee below. Instead of $5.60 it is $501. So you have to do the math yourself – is 37,500 points worth ~$500? I value most points at 1.5 cents each, so 37.5K comes to $562. That makes Virgin a slightly better deal, but not by much if you are looking to avoid out-of-pocket expenses.
Option Seven – Aeroplan
Last and certainly not least is Aeroplan. Aeroplan charges 55K miles each way to Western Europe for business class and 70K for first class. There are no fuel surcharges on United, Brussels, SAS, SWISS, and Turkish flights.
Aeroplan tickets have no close-in booking fees and the ease of booking online makes it possible to transfer and book in mere minutes. Furthermore, Aeroplan allows two stopovers or one stopover plus one-open jaw. While intra-Europe flights tend to be cheap, it is nice to secure those in business class and have everything on a single ticket.
My pick – None of the Above
Aeroplan is the program I feel most comfortable transferring in points to without a specific booking in mind. With so many Star Alliance choices to Europe and great last-minute availably, something is sure to open.
For Sam’s trip, with a little flexibility he can find United space directly to London or Dublin or connecting space on Brussels, SAS, or Turkish from Washington Dulles to the UK or Ireland. His 224K points will cover two round-trip business class tickets.
With reasonable prices and little money out of pocket, Aeroplan is your best option for Europe when you aren’t sure if/when you can travel and need to transfer your AMEX points immediately.
But I would not transfer the points at all — you never know which airline or loyalty program will make the most sense when it finally comes time to book. By signing up for the American Express EveryDay or Blue Business Plus card, the points can sit safely in Membership Rewards, providing much more flexibility. Neither card has an annual fee.
Have a question of your own? Feel free to reach leave a comment below and you may find your question the subject a future post.