How to Maximize Domestic Award Redemptions: Membership Rewards

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Let’s talk about transferring Membership Rewards to airline partners for redeeming on domestic awards. This is part three in a series that will allow you to master redeeming awards within the United States, no matter what kind of points or miles you might have.

For those of you that have already read the first and second post in this series, you will notice repeat information at points in this post (as well as the rest of them to follow) because some of the airline partners overlap between transferrable points programs. 

“How to Maximize Domestic Award Redemptions” Series Index

American Express Membership Rewards can transfer to 17 types of airline miles.

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They also transfer to three types of hotel points at varying rates.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-11-at-12.49.18-PMMost have a transfer rate of 1:1. The following regarding non 1:1 transfer rates is from Membership Rewards terms & conditions (click to enlarge):

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You’ll get more value using these transfer partners’ miles when Membership Rewards offers a transfer bonus, like this 50% transfer bonus to Virgin America that happened last February for example.

Now let’s get into some of the higher value redemption options on awards within the United States when transferring your Membership Rewards to one of their 17 partner airline programs.

Flying Blue

Both Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) and Delta are part of the Skyteam Alliance. It costs 30,000 Flying Blue miles + standard taxes/fees (no fuel surcharges) to fly roundtrip in Delta economy between the mainland United States and Hawaii. You can also book one way Flying Blue Awards for half the price of a roundtrip (in this case, 15,000 Flying Blue miles).

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Delta charges 45,000 miles roundtrip between the mainland United States and Hawaii.

Stopovers are not allowed on one way Classic Flying Blue Awards. It is not clear how may stopovers you can have on a roundtrip, but definitely at least one. Travel is Free also reported that you have to call Flying Blue (1 800 375 8723) if you’d like to include stopovers as a part of your roundtrip award.

**BONUS** 

There is currently a glitch with Flying Blue’s award prices between the mainland United States and Kauai (LIH) specifically. While it should be priced at 15,000 Flying Blue miles, it’s actually priced at 12,500.

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Read Flying Blue Glitch: 12,500 Miles to Kauai to learn more.

British Airways Avios

I love that British Airways Avios has a distance-based award chart. They also do not charge fuel surcharges on American Airlines nor Alaska Flights within the western hemisphere. But 250 Membership Rewards transfer to only 200 Avios, so you lose significant value. There are still instances however when transferring to Avios could be a good deal. I will calculate the loss in below to show you what I mean.

Here is the chart for award bookings of flights that touch the United States (all values represent thousands of Avios):Screen-Shot-2015-10-28-at-2.50.49-PM

To see how many Membership Rewards you would need, multiply each amount above by 1.25, and then 1,000.

For a flight between 0-1,151 miles, you would need 9,375 Membership Rewards (7.5 x 1.25 x 1,000). You can only transfer in increments of 250, so you’d have to transfer 9,500 Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios in order to have enough for the redemption.

For perspective, American Airlines charges 7,500 American Airlines miles for direct economy flights of 500 miles or less, and United charges 10,000 United miles for economy flights of 700 miles or less. Any domestic flights longer than that are 12,500 American/United miles each way. So the sweetspot for using Avios (at least in direct comparison to American and United economy redemptions) would be for flight distances between 501 and 1,151 miles.

And for only 25,000 Avios and $11, you can fly roundtrip on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines planes from the West Coast to Hawaii in economy. Here are the possible routes.

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To adjust for the transfer ratio, you would need 31,250 Avios. That is still a very good deal when you consider that it costs 40 to 45k American Airlines miles.

The strength in British Airways chart lies in short haul, direct redemptions. You will pay the Avios prices above for every segment, not the total distance flown.

Watch out for Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios transfer bonuses as they are frequent and will greatly increase the value of your redemptions. In fact, there is a 50% transfer bonus happening right now through October 10, 2016.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta is one of the three American legacy carriers, so obviously their miles are useful in the sense that they grant access to a good deal of domestic award space. Delta doesn’t publish their award charts online anymore, so the only way to really know the price of a Delta award is to look it up on delta.com.

Here are some examples I just searched for varying distances:

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Note that the above prices may be influenced by the domestic “award sale” Delta is running right now through September 30. It seems they run these sales quite often, like this one last month. I say “award sale” with quotation marks as I don’t see how you can have a sale when you don’t have published prices; not to mention when your sale appears to be a state of being rather than an actual discount.

Either way, Delta has some very cheap domestic award prices comparatively, so search delta.com when comparing your options. If you want to fly Delta One, look to book it with Virgin Atlantic miles instead. More on that in the Virgin Atlantic section below.

Etihad Guest

Etihad is a non-allied airline but it has a ton of partners– one of which is American Airlines.

Etihad Guest’s award chart for redeeming Etihad miles on American Airlines makes it appear that you cannot redeem Etihad miles on American Airlines flights within North America. However The Points Guy claims that you can book First Class on American Airlines A321T for transcontinental service (three cabin First Class), and that an agent quoted him only 25,000 miles and $92.45 to book the ticket, which is just half of what American Airlines’ charges for it (50,000 AA miles).

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I haven’t tested this myself, but if any of you have done it, let us know in the comments.

Iberia Avios

Just like British Airways Avios, 250 Membership Rewards transfer to 200 Iberia Avios. You don’t see transfer bonuses as often to Iberia Avios, however you can freely transfer the two types of Avios between accounts if both accounts have been open for a few months. So if there’s a Membership Rewards to BA Avios transfer bonus happening (like there is right now), you can take advantage of it and then move those BA Avios right on over to Iberia Avios.

And why would you want to do that? Iberia and British Airways Avios are very similar but have slightly different award prices. Iberia Avios are slightly more valuable because they can book Iberia flights with lower fuel surcharges and because they offer a lower miles price on Business Class from the United States to Europe.  But more on topic, the reason why they might be more valuable to you for domestic redemptions is because of two reasons:

1. The price of an Iberia Avios award depends on the total distance flown– they are not priced per segment like British Airways Avios awards are. So if you’re taking a short trip but it requires a connection, an Iberia award will be cheaper.

2. Some of the prices are cheaper, especially on short flights. Below is the redemption chart for American Airlines. The distances are for the total roundtrip distance flown as you cannot redeem Iberia Avios on one way awards flying American.

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Don’t plan on redeeming Iberia Avios on Alaska flights though. British Airways is partners with Alaska, but Iberia is not.

JetBlue TrueBlue

As the fifth largest airline in the United States, low-cost carrier JetBlue’s network is growing rapidly.  It won’t take you as many places as the legacy carriers, but where they can take you they will take you in a nicer product. Mint Class is the nicest Business Class experience on a transcontinental flight in the United States–by far, and if you book it in time you can get one of the enclosed suites (there are four in each Mint Class and they are first come first serve).

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The cost of a TrueBlue award is tied to the cash price of the ticket, so this means there aren’t technically “sweetspots” since the revenue cost of a ticket fluctuates. Like British Airways Avios, 250 Membership Rewards transfer to 200 JetBlue points, so again you are losing significant value with the transfer. There might be instances (like on cheap, short flights or spur of the moment award sales) that a transfer is worth it.

Singapore Krisflyer

Singapore Airlines and United are fellow members of Star Alliance. You can redeem Singapore Krisflyer miles between the continental United States and Hawaii on United flights for 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles in First with no fuel surcharges. United charges 22,500 and 40,000 miles respectively for the same flights! (Get the flat bed in first!)

You can also fly within the United States on United Business Class for 20,000 Krisflyer miles each way (10,000 miles cheaper than redeeming United miles on their own Business Class).
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Virgin America

As it takes 200 Membership Rewards to equal 100 Virgin America Elevate points, you probably don’t want to transfer your Membership Rewards this way unless there is transfer bonus, in which it might behove you to take advantage.

Elevate Points are redeemed differently depending on whether you use them to book a flight on Virgin America Flights or one of its five partners.

  • If redeeming on a Virgin America flight, the required amount of points is tied to the revenue cost of the ticket (like JetBlue, mentioned above). This means that you don’t have to search for specific award space, as any flight that is available on virginamerica.com can also be booked with Elevate points (ie no blackout dates.) Elevate points are on average worth about two cents a piece, but that’s not accounting for the loss when you transfer from Membership Rewards without a bonus). Cheap, short domestic flights or airfare sales would be the best case scenarios in which to use Elevate Points.
  • For flying partners, the award pricing is fixed. There is no traditional chart like other loyalty programs often use, but you can price out awards (including taxes, fees and fuel surcharges) with the award calculator tool on Virgin America’s website.
    • Potential sweetspots on partner charts, especially if there is a transfer bonus:
      • 20,000 Virgin America Elevate Points is a roundtrip in Economy between the western United States and Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines
      • 3,000 Virgin America Elevate Points is a one way Economy interisland flight on Hawaiian Airlines

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have flights within the United States, but they are partners with Delta.

For 45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles you can fly Delta One roundtrip within the United States, which is 5,000 miles less than what Delta normally charges for it. It must be booked as a roundtrip however, as Virgin Atlantic partner redemptions will cost the roundtrip price even if you book a one way.

You can redeem Virgin Atlantic miles on Hawaiian or Delta flights to Hawaii from the mainland as well, but there are better deals redeeming British Airways Avios, Singapore Krisflyer, or Flying Blue miles (which are all Membership Rewards transfer partners).

Virgin Atlantic won’t collect fuel surcharges if the partner airline that you fly doesn’t.

Bottom Line

There are a ton of Membership Reward transfer partners you can leverage on awards within the United States.

  • British Airways Avios and Iberia Avios are some of the most useful for short haul flights as well as to Hawaii, however they do not transfer 1:1 so you should watch out for transfer bonuses. Virgin America has the worst transfer ratio out of any of the airline partners (200 Membership Rewards = 100 Elevate points), so I’d definitely only transfer with a bonus.
  • Apparently you can book three cabin First Class on American Airlines A321T for transcontinental service with half the amount of Etihad miles as it would cost using American’s own miles.
  • Redeem Singapore miles on United Business Class, as well as to Hawaii. Flying Blue miles are also a great deal to Hawaii.
  • Delta often has cheap domestic awards whose prices aren’t published, so you’ll have to check those on delta.com.
  • JetBlue is also one you’ll need to check by hand as the prices of their awards are tied to the revenue cost of the ticket– and they also don’t transfer 1:1.
  • Use Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta One.

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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