I get questions all the time like this:
Hi, I have a million American Express Membership Rewards/Chase Ultimate Rewards/Citi ThankYou Points, what is the best transfer partner to go from [here] to [there.]
There are basically two ways to answer the question:
- Look at award charts of all the points’ transfer partners and then look for award space using the cheapest miles. I used this method to suggest to my friend that he transfer his Membership Rewards to Flying Blue miles to get from Denver to Tel Aviv. I covered this method extensively in Best Way to Get to Israel with Miles, which is a much broader post than the title suggests.
- Look for award space on all airlines that fly from [here] to [there], then figure out the cheapest way to fly the itinerary you most like. I’ll cover this second method in this post.
My friend messaged me last week saying that she had access to a few hundred thousand American Express Membership Rewards and wanted to fly from Buenos Aires to New York on June 3 or June 6.
Since she had such specific dates and not that many airlines fly from Buenos Aires to New York, I thought the best strategy was to search award space, then figure out which transfer partner to use to book what I found.
The airlines to search were:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air Canada
The cool thing is that all these airlines can be searched on three sites:
- United.com shows United, Copa, Air Canada, and Avianca award space
- Delta.com shows Delta, AeroMexico, and Aerolineas Argentinas award space
- BA.com shows American Airlines and LATAM award space
If you search those three sites (without signing into united.com) and find Saver award space on any of the airlines, it should be bookable with any type of miles that can book that airlines’ award space. That’s just another way of saying that airlines usually release all their Saver award space equally to all partners.
So I went to search (except I cheated and subbed aa.com for ba.com because I didn’t expect to find good LATAM award space, so going to ba.com would just be slower.)
On aa.com, I hit the jackpot–direct Business Class award space in a flat bed from Buenos Aires to New York on American Airlines at the Saver level.
American charges 57,500 miles one way for that space, but that is irrelevant because American Airlines is not a partner of Amex. We’d have to transfer to a partner of American’s to book the space, and different programs charge different prices for the same awards.
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- British Airways Avios
- Iberia Avios
- Etihad Guest Miles (added April 2016)
The oneworld partners are distance-based programs, and unfortunately this is quite a long flight at over 5,200 miles flown. British Airways and Iberia charge an insane 150,000 Avios one way for the flight in Business Class. Cathay Pacific Asia miles charges 70,000 miles one way.
Etihad is a region-based program that is not a member of any alliance but has American Airlines as a partner. Amazingly Etihad uses American Airlines’ pre-devAAluation award chart for American Airlines flights, so this flight would be only 50,000 Etihad miles.
Unfortunately, my friend was looking to fly within the week, and Etihad Guest’s terms say:
9.3.5. Redemption travel on Partner airline flights must be booked no less than 14 working days prior to the date of travel via the Etihad Guest Service Centre only.
The results on delta.com were not very good. She could book an economy award on Delta for 47,500 Delta miles or Business Class for 147,500 miles. (These would not be bookable with Delta partners’ miles because this is not Saver award space.)
Delta.com pulled up no Aerolineas Argentinas or AeroMexico award space.
This Star Alliance award space is bookable with the following Membership Rewards partners:
- ANA Mileage Club
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Singapore KrisFlyer
ANA requires roundtrip tickets, and she was only booking one way. For one way awards, Singapore charges 50,000 miles in Business Class from Argentina to the USA; Aeroplan charges 55,000.
The clear best option in her opinion was to book Business Class on Copa on June 3 with 50,000 Singapore miles. (By the way, here’s a Copa Business Class trip report from when I flew the airline in January to Chile.)
What She Needs to Do
The Amex points she’ll use are not in her account. That adds an extra step, the redemption nominee form step.
- Open a Singapore KrisFlyer account in name of the person who has the Amex points. This is important because the owner of the Amex points cannot transfer them to an airline account in my friend’s name.
- Fill out a “redemption nominee form” in that KrisFyler account with my friend’s information. This is important because while all American airline programs allow an account owner to redeem awards for anyone, Singapore only allows you to redeem for people who you have listed as nominees first. This process is really simple and I detailed my experience with it here.
- Transfer 50,000 points from her friend’s Amex account to her friend’s new Singapore account.
- Wait. It will take 12-36 hours for points to arrive as Singapore miles. In this time, the award space could disappear. (It probably won’t, but it could.) In that case, my friend would be stuck with one of the other options from united.com.
- When the miles arrive, call Singapore Airlines at 800-742-3333 and tell the agent the dates, cabins, and flight numbers of those Copa flights. Here’s my experience booking awards with Singapore miles. She should do this immediately when the miles post because you must book Singapore partner awards at least three days before departure.
There is usually no way to answer the best transfer partner from [here] to [there] without researching. The two main research ways are to check charts first and then find award space or check award space first and then figure out the best way to book it.
In general, I’d use the charts first method from my other friend’s Israel trip if you have more date flexibility and if more airlines fly the route. I’d use this award space first method if you have less date flexibility and there are are fewer award search engines you’d need to search.
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