People come to blogs, like this one, searching for an all encompassing answer. The truth is there isn't one, but there are ways to use points that are far more beneficial than others. I always advocate earning points over miles and American Express Membership Rewards Points can be among the most valuable in the Points & Miles game. As with anything, sometimes the best way to know how to use something, is to know how not to.
(If you already know the basics, skip to the bottom for case in point examples)
You always want to strive for better than one cent per point. So if you have 100,000 points, you want to get more than $1,000 value out of them. Before you ask, this automatically rules out "Use Points for Charges", or "Use Points Toward Travel" or "Use Points on Amex Travel". These options are American Express's best bait, and they hook a lot of unknowing fish. All of these options to use your points will land you a value of one cent per point at best and on Amex Travel related bookings, it may earn you much worse.
Transferring your points is the way forward. By transferring points to an airline or hotel program you unlock the beauty (or beast) of airline mileage charts. Mileage charts are not dependent on ticket price. They are dependent on distance or region and therefore have a somewhat fixed "cost in miles", regardless of the going rate for a ticket. If I am interested in booking a ticket from New York to Seattle, or any other destinations for that matter, I may find that it would cost $750 out of pocket. If I transferred my American Express Membership Rewards Points to an airline who only required 25,000 miles for this ticket, I would be getting three cents per point $750/25,000. To take things a step further, using points towards premium cabin travel can often unlock even more value, and in my case, allow for trips that I couldn't otherwise afford. For a business class flight to Asia, I may find that a ticket would cost $10,000, yet only 100,000 miles. In this instance, I am getting more like ten cents per point, a tremendous value while simultaneously affording me a luxury cabin class. When compared to using those 100,000 points for $1,000 towards my charges or travel, its a pretty fantastic deal! Here are a few great, more specific ways to use points.....
Short Haul (Intra US, Europe, Pacific, South America)
British Airways Points (which you can use to fly on other airlines) are the best to transfer to. Any flights under 650 miles (one way) will be only 4,500 Amex Points per person each way! Any flights more than 650, but less than 1,152, will still only be 7,500 each way. This is a huge savings compared to domestic carriers, and round trip would simply be double. If you want to know how many miles your desired flight is, look no further than the air miles calculator...
9,000 Point Round Trips from New York include: Charleston, SC, Washington D.C., Montreal QC.
9,000 Point Round Trips from London include: Prague CZ, Nice FR, Munich DE, Amsterdam NL.
15,000 Point Round Trips From New York include: Miami FL, Atlanta GA, Nashville TN.
15,000 Point Round Trips From London include: Barcelona ES, Rome IT, Budapest, HU. Vienna, AT.
Long Haul (To Europe, South America, Asia or US)
For flights of this magnitude, you always want to search within each different transfer program before transferring your miles, once they are out of Amex they can't come back in. The Flying Blue program offers award sales. Do your research and find a program with an award at "Saver Level". Here are a few to consider....
US to Europe: Air France/KLM Flying Blue program regularly offers award sales which can mean huge savings. It's not impossible to find round trip awards on sale for 25,000 points. Definitely worth a search.
New York To London: Delta Skymiles can actually be very useful here. 125,000 miles gets you Virgin Upper Class round trip and saves you a fortune on taxes compared to Virgin Atlantic's own program.
US to Europe: AeroPlan offers the ability to redeem on Lufthansa and a lot of other great Star Alliance carriers and occasionally has excellent rates.
US to South America: British Airways will get you to Rio De Janeiro and most of South America for 50,000 miles round trip in coach or 100,000 round trip in business.
US to Asia: Aeroplan offers incredible flexibility with carriers ANA, Asiana and more to Asia.
As I've said before, and will say many times more, if this stuff was easy everyone would be doing it. There are enough miles floating around to sink airlines and it is for this exact reason that they make things hard. Do your research, check flexible dates and follow my essential tips for booking awards. Use this knowledge to get the most value for your American Express points and go somewhere you won't forget.
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