Membership Rewards could be used like cash, with a value close to a penny per point if you use them to buy merchandise or pay at certain merchants. But I view this as one of the worst ways to redeem them. Instead, transferring points to another program can greatly increase their value. Because American Express has regular promotions, it’s wise to wait until one appears. You can currently transfer points from Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios with a 40% bonus, getting 1,400 Avios for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points.
Avios are a great deal for non-stop flights due to an unusual award chart that calculates the cost of awards based on distance, not the region of your destination. But be aware that the program collects fuel surcharges, which can be hundreds of dollars on international flights.
Fortunately British Airways is a member of the oneworld Alliance, which includes American Airlines, as well as an non-alliance partner with Alaska Airlines. Domestic flights don’t have fuel surcharges, and being based in the U.S. I’m more likely to find non-stop flights with a shorter distance to my destination. American Airlines awards can be booked online, but Alaska Airlines awards will need to be booked by calling BA directly. Find the award space you need for either carrier before you call by searching on AA.com.
To find great value for Avios points, first consider what you would pay if you redeemed miles in a domestic loyalty program. Most carriers charge 25,000 miles for a round-trip ticket within the continental U.S., and from the U.S. to Hawaii you could pay 40,000 miles or more. That’s a fine deal if you have a long way to travel, but it’s kind of a scam if you aren’t going far. Other times you just shouldn’t have to pay more than necessary if you have lots of different rewards programs you can rely on.
For example, flying from the West Coast to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines, which operates the most daily flights to the islands, will cost only 25,000 Avios round-trip. That’s about 18,000 Membership Rewards points per person thanks to the 40% bonus.
If you aren’t flying over water, the savings are even greater. Seattle to Los Angeles would be 25,000 miles with Alaska or American but is only 15,000 Avios round-trip. That’s under 11,000 Membership Rewards points.
And not all international flights have expensive fuel surcharges. Dallas to Cancun is also only 15,000 Avios or 11,000 Membership Rewards points round-trip. However, you’ll pay a few extra taxes for tourism and border control.
Just remember to calculate the cost of each segment individually; a tool like The Great Circle Mapper can help. If you make connections you will need to redeem more points. On the flip side, you can take as many stopovers as you want along the way. British Airways isn’t basing the price on a complete itinerary, so it makes no difference to them. To learn more about using Avios, take a look at my walkthrough on finding and booking award space to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines. Many of the same tips can be applied to travel on other carriers.