|by Jason Steele|
I am now or have been in the past a member of many of the top credit card affiliated loyalty programs. Oddly, I have never been a part of the Membership Rewards program from American Express. It is a great program, but I have been putting my spending into the Starwood Program through their American Express card. Although I find it more flexible, there is still a lot of great rewards to be had in the Membership Rewards program.
The Best Uses For Your Membership Rewards Points
There many different award redemption options with the Membership Rewards program. Most of them merely return a value of one cent per point towards various merchandise and gift card options. One percent is the bare minimum that any rewards card holder should expect. Even then, you are better off getting it as cash back rather than having to redeem it through American Expresses program. Like most loyalty point programs, the real value is in travel awards, specifically premium class international travel. American Express allows you to redeem points for airline miles, but not with nearly as many carriers as the Starwood Preferred Guest program.
Here are your options for direct point transfers along with a brief summary:
- Delta Skymiles These have earned the name SkyPesos as they are very devalued. If you can find a “Low” award, they can be a good value, but that can be very difficult, especially if you do not have status. They often have promotions with bonus miles and sometimes even EQMs (elite qualifying miles) but they do not currently.
- British Airways Executive Club They are known for having decent award availability and tacking on outrageous fuel surcharges. Many find their points best used for partner awards with other OneWorld carriers such as American, LAN, or Cathay Pacific.There is currently a 40% mileage transfer bonus.
- Virgin Atlantic They are currently offering a 25% mileage bonus on transfers.
- Frontier Airline Early Returns This discount carrier with hubs in Denver and Milwaukee offers very few award seats. One neat feature is that they now treat bicycles as standard checked bags. They are not subject to overage fees like the $150 each way charge that Delta insults cyclists with. Come out to Denver with your bike and we can go riding!
- JetBlue They are known to have decent award availability and fairly good service.
- Singapore They have a reputation for releasing very few award seats to partners, but members of their program do better.
- Hawaiian Their awards are valid on both Delta and Alaskan.
- AirTran They will soon have their program merged with Southwest. There will probably be some overlap
- El Al Although they are known for stingy award availability, they still retain a loyal following.
- AeroMexico I don’t have much experience with them, but after the collapse of Mexican, they are the lead carrier in Mexico.
- ANA They are a great airline and their program is a fantastic way to redeem awards on Star Alliance carriers.
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue It is definitely easier to get a SkyTeam award from them than through Delta.
- Continental With their impending merger with United, you can now transfer points at will between their program and Mileage Plus, either of which can be used to book Star Alliance awards.
- Alitalia I have read some very negative things about this airline.
- Air Canada They have great rules for partner awards, but very limited award availability.
Other Airline Awards
Beyond transfers, there are many specific awards that you can redeem your points for. Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Swiss, and South African all offer economy class awards. Some have a co-pay and others are companion tickets. They are not clear as to whether or not these tickets must come from their award inventory, so you should certainly do your homework on each of these offers. Either way, economy seats really don’t have that much value since you can purchase them with cash for about the same price as your points are worth. In addition, cash purchases are flexible, upgradable, and they earn miles.
How To Get Value
These mileage transfers are great, especially if you are just topping off an existing account. Although they do not have anything close to a comprehensive list of airline partners, all of the major alliances are represented by at least one program. If you understand how the alliances work, then you can redeem your Membership Rewards points for travel on most airlines around the world. The trick is find the award first, and then transfer the miles, preferably after you were able to place the booking on hold. Membership Rewards is kn0wn for very fast points to miles transfers, although you should do your research in advance to ensure that this is the case with transfers to a particular partner.
If you want to get more than the standard 1 cent in value from your Membership Rewards points, you will have to play the airline mileage game. By examining your points transfer options, and the award possibilities of each carrier, you can find yourself using your Membership Rewards points to sit in a business class seat worth thousands rather than redeeming them for a few hundred dollars in gift cards.