Amex Membership Rewards sweet spots

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Membership Rewards sweet spots are plentiful and strong. Indeed, Amex Membership Rewards is the strongest transferable points program in terms of the sheer number of Amex transfer partners. I’ve written about the Strengths of Membership Rewards over Ultimate Rewards and despite the fact that Amex lacks a clear value in terms of hotel transfer partners, it more than makes up for it with great premium cabin award options. Thus, without further ado, here are the top sweet spots from Membership Rewards.

ANA business class, from just 75K round trip.
ANA business class, from just 75K round trip.

Table of Contents

Recent updates to this guide

We recently updated a number of the sweet spots below and cleaned up the organization of this post in order to make the table of contents more user-friendly. We also added economy class sweet spots from our Best Ways To Get To series. This guide to sweet spots still focuses mainly on premium cabin flights because those are the sweet spots that provide the greatest value in comparison to ticket cost, but we will continue to add economy class sweet spots for those who prefer to use fewer points and/or travel with more than two passengers (it can often be very challenging or impossible to find more than two award seats in a premium cabin).

Note that this guide is best viewed in a web browser rather than in email form in order to take advantage of the full organization.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Transfer bonuses

Any conversation about Amex sweet spots ought to at least start with the fact that Amex frequently offers bonuses when you transfer to select partners. You can always find current point transfer bonus information here. We often see bonuses of 25%, sometimes 30%, and occasionally as high as 40-50% with select partners. That same resource page with current point transfer bonuses also lists expired bonuses, so one can easily track past promotions to make an educated guess as to which bonuses we may see in the future.

These bonuses can make a sizable difference in sweet spots. For example, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club charges 120,000 miles round trip to fly first class on ANA between New York and Tokyo. However, when Amex is offering a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic (such as the current bonus), that means one could transfer just 93,000 Membership Rewards points and have enough points for a round trip first class award, a savings of 27,000 points thanks to the bonus. If your needs line up with transfer bonuses, some of the sweet spots below can become even sweeter.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Domestic US Flights

American Express Membership Rewards has by far the best range of partners for domestic US flights. Avianca has become a personal favorite for United flights within region (or even sometimes between regions since pricing can sometimes be better than the award chart suggests). Virgin Atlantic and Air France often offer much better deals on Delta and you have a total of three options for booking AA flights for a better deal than with AA miles.

Alaska Airlines domestic US flights

British Airways Executive Club (for American Airlines or Alaska Airlines)
  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart, so short direct flights on partners American Airlines or Alaska Airlines can sometimes be a great value. Also note that British Airways allows cancellation up to 24 hours in advance for no fee but forfeiting the taxes ($5.60 each way within the US), though they've been known to refund those with some cancellations.
  • Miles required: Varies based on distance. From 9K one-way in economy class / 16.5K in business class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com for AA or aa.com for Alaska flights. Note that British Airways inexplicably periodically stops displaying AA availability. It's always best to search before transferring.
  • How to book awards: Book American flights online at britishaiways.com or Alaska flights over the phone at 1 800 452 1201.
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Aiways Executive Club for American flights.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Marriott

Singapore KrisFlyer (for Alaska)
  • The short story: Singapore KrisFlyer has a zone-based chart with some great values for travel on Alaska Airlines, particularly within the Western US and to/from Canada.
  • Miles required: Varies form 7.5K-12.5K each way based on zone combination. See the zone-based chart and region definitions here. Note that Zone 2 includes all of Alaska's Canadian destinations (noted just as "Canada").
  • How to find awards: Search for available Alaska Airlines award space at AA.com (note that Singapore can not book any legs on AA, but AA will show Alaska flights available to partners).
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer. Alaska awards must be booked over the phone.
  • Key warnings: Singapore allows a maximum connection time of 4 hours on a domestic itinerary and will not allow a stopover on a one-way domestic award. Be aware that AA.com will show availability for flights with longer/overnight connections that are not available with Singapore KrisFlyer miles, so be sure to double check with a phone agent before booking. Also note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets.
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseCapital OneMarriott

American Airlines domestic US flights

British Airways Executive Club (for American Airlines or Alaska Airlines)
  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart, so short direct flights on partners American Airlines or Alaska Airlines can sometimes be a great value. Also note that British Airways allows cancellation up to 24 hours in advance for no fee but forfeiting the taxes ($5.60 each way within the US), though they've been known to refund those with some cancellations.
  • Miles required: Varies based on distance. From 9K one-way in economy class / 16.5K in business class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com for AA or aa.com for Alaska flights. Note that British Airways inexplicably periodically stops displaying AA availability. It's always best to search before transferring.
  • How to book awards: Book American flights online at britishaiways.com or Alaska flights over the phone at 1 800 452 1201.
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Aiways Executive Club for American flights.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Marriott

Iberia Plus (for American Airlines)
  • The short story: Iberia Plus offers a distance-based award chart that can be useful for short itineraries on American Airlines (even those with connections) with no close-in booking fee. See: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions.
  • Miles required: From 11K miles round trip plus $11.20 for economy-class itineraries. The best deals are itineraries of 2,000 miles flown or fewer since they cost 17,000 miles round trip at most when American has availability.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at iberia.com. Use the Advanced Avios Search tool.
  • How to book awards: Book online at iberia.com. Use the Advanced Avios Search tool.
  • Key warnings: Most Iberia partner bookings, including those on American Airlines, are completely nonrefundable and can not be changed. Only book AA flights with Iberia if plans are certain. Iberia requires round trip booking for American Airlines flights (you will get no results if searching one-way).
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase

Qantas Frequent Flyer (for American Airlines)
  • The short story: Qantas offers better pricing than traditional American Airlines award prices on itineraries with a distance of 1200 miles or fewer each way and has no close-in booking fee. This could be especially good for those who need to connect on short itineraries as Qantas measures cumulative distance rather than pricing segments separately.
  • Miles required: 8,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 600 miles or 12,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 1200 miles. (See: Strengths of Qantas for AA redemptions).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Avios, either through British Airways or Iberia, might be a better value if you have direct flights if you have access to points which transfer to Avios. However, for flights with connections, Qantas can be a better deal.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Delta Airlines domestic US flights

Air France / KLM Flying Blue (for Delta)
  • The short story: Air France sometimes charges far fewer miles than Delta flights than Delta charges its own members.
  • Miles required: Variable, but starting around 11.5K one-way in economy, or 28K one-way in business class.
  • How to find awards: Use the Virgin Atlantic 5 week award search to find availability (see this post for details). Next, confirm your findings at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone when the website returns errors.
  • Key warnings: Air France's website is buggy and will often return errors when trying to complete a booking. If that happens, try calling.

Delta SkyMiles
  • The short story: Delta has weekly flash sales where it is sometimes possible to get solid value.
  • Miles required: Varies, but enter your starting airport at the Travel is Free Delta mileage calculator to find the cheapest destinations from your home airport.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Delta.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at Delta.com.
  • Key warnings: Delta pricing can be very unpredictable and vary wildly. Transfers from Membership Rewards incur a small excise tax that is not charged when transferring to foreign partners.
  • Transfer from: Amex

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (for Delta)
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers direct Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries.
  • Miles required: 12,500 miles each way in economy class or 22,500 miles each way in business class (for nonstop flights) within the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries.
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseMarriott

JetBlue domestic US flights

Emirates Skywards (for JetBlue)
  • The short story: Emirates Skywards offers cheap short-haul one-ways on JetBlue.
  • Miles required: From 7,500 miles each way in economy class (varies by route).
  • How to find awards: Search for available "U" space via ExpertFlyer or call Emirates at 1-800-777-3999.
  • How to book awards: Over the phone with Emirates at 1-800-777-3999.
  • Key warnings: It will likely only be the cheapest revenue fares that are available as awards. JetBlue may therefore be charging even fewer TrueBlue points for the same awards. Further, Emirates charges for each segment separately. See this chart for direct/nonstop pricing by route.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Chase, Capital One, Marriott

JetBlue TrueBlue
  • The short story: JetBlue TrueBlue points are typically only worth about 1.43c towards the cost of a flight (See: What are JetBlue TrueBlue points worth?), but in some instances it may be possible to do a bit better.
  • Miles required: Varies by route but can be less than other options when cash prices are low.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at JetBlue.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at JetBlue.com.
  • Key warnings: JetBlue award cancellation fees vary from $75-$200 per passenger. While that's on par with legacy carriers, this is a key point of differentiation with Southwest (which charges no change/cancellation fees). Note that transfers from Membership Rewards cost a small excise fee. Transfers are free from other transferable currencies.
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseCapital OneMarriott

United domestic US flights

Air Canada Aeroplan (for United)
  • The short story: Aeroplan offers decent pricing for awards within the US and between the US and Canada, though they add fuel surcharges to awards on their own flights. Choose United flights to avoid surcharges.
  • Miles required: 12.5K miles each way in economy class or 25K each way in business class. Short-haul flights on some Air Canada/domestic Canada partners can be as low as 7.5K miles in economy / 15K miles in business class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Aeroplan.com (you’ll need to create a free Aeroplan frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Aeroplan.com. Can also book via phone. Lap infants must be added to your reservation over the phone.
  • Key warnings: Flights on Air Canada incur fuel surcharges, so choose United flights to avoid those fees.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Marriott

Avianca LifeMiles (for United)
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers one-ways on United within a single "zone" at excellent prices. Some flights price even less than the "official" rates.
  • Miles required: As per the old award chart, the US is split into 3 zones. Within a single zone is officially 7.5K one-way in economy class or 10K one-way in business class. Between Zone 1 (most of the East Coast) and Zone 2 (most of the states apart from the far west) is 10K one-way in economy or 15K in business class. Note that some routes price below the chart for no clear reason. Note also that mixed-cabin itineraries can price favorably in some instances. See: Avianca LifeMiles' awesome mixed-cabin award pricing. First class for less.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Singapore KrisFlyer (for United)
  • The short story: Singapore KrisFlyer charges the same 12.5K miles each way in economy class both within the US and between the US and Canada. While not the best deal in all situations, Singapore miles are easy to accumulate since they are partners with all of the major transferable points.
  • Miles required: 12.5K miles each way in economy class (business class at 34.5K each way is not competitive with the best rates from other programs)
  • How to find awards: Search for available United Airlines space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or SingaporeAir.com (See: Book United flights online with Singapore miles– but note that business class prices have increased since that post was written).
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer.
  • Key warnings: Singapore allows a maximum connection time of 4 hours on a domestic itinerary and will not allow a stopover on a one-way domestic award. Be aware that United.com will show availability for flights with longer/overnight connections that are not available with Singapore KrisFlyer miles, so be sure to double check availability at SingaporeAir.com or with a phone agent before booking. Also note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets.
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseCapital OneMarriott

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Hawaii

While saver business class awards to Hawaii can be difficult to find (and even rarer in lie-flat seats), Amex has the good transfer partners to get the best values when available. Note that Singapore KrisFlyer can be a great deal for booking on Alaska Airlines.

United or Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii

Singapore Krisflyer
  • The short story: Singapore KrisFlyer charges fewer miles for domestic flights to Hawaii than United does for the same flights. Additionally, they have a great chart for Alaska Airlines for those originating in parts of the US other than the East Coast.
  • Miles required: For United flights: 17,500 miles each way in economy or 34,500 in business (as compared to 22.5K / 40K through United). For Alaska Airlines flights: award prices range from 11.5K to 12.5K one-way in economy class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available United Airlines space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or SingaporeAir.com (See: Book United flights online with Singapore miles– but note that business class prices have increased since that post was written). For Alaska Airlines award space, search at AA.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer. Alaska awards must be booked over the phone.
  • Key warnings: Singapore allows a maximum connection time of 4 hours on a domestic itinerary and will not allow a stopover on a one-way domestic award. Be aware that United.com and AA.com will show availability for flights with longer/overnight connections that are not available with Singapore KrisFlyer miles, so be sure to double check availability at SingaporeAir.com or with a phone agent before booking. Also note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets.

American Airlines or Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii

British Airways Avios
  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart, so flights from the West Coast of the USA on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines can be a great value with Avios.
  • Miles required: 13K miles each way plus $5.60 for economy-class segments between west coast cities and Hawaii.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com for AA or aa.com for Alaska flights.
  • How to book awards: Book American flights online at britishaiways.com or Alaska flights over the phone at 1 800 452 1201.
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Aiways Executive Club for American flights.

Delta Airlines flights to Hawaii

Air France KLM Flying Blue
  • The short story: Air France charges far fewer miles than Delta for Delta flights to Hawaii, but finding award availability can be a huge challenge.
  • Miles required: 17.5K one-way in economy, or 30K one-way in business class for Delta flights from the US mainland to Hawaii.
  • How to find awards: Use the Virgin Atlantic 5 week award search to find availability (see this post for details). Next, confirm your findings at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone when the website returns errors.
  • Key warnings: Air France's website is buggy and will often return errors when trying to complete a booking. If that happens, try calling.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights to Hawaii for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries. This can be a particularly good value for Delta’s life-flat routes to Hawaii.
  • Miles required: 20,000 miles each way in economy class or 37,500 miles each way in business class (for non-stop flights)
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Europe

The absolute standout values here are Etihad Guest for booking Royal Air Maroc (44K each way in business class) or ANA Mileage Club for Star Alliance awards at 88K round trip. However, with a good transfer bonus, Virgin Atlantic can offer amazing value for booking Delta One and Air France’s monthly promo awards can also offer nice values particularly if they line up with a transfer bonus.

Economy class

ANA (for Star Alliance)
  • The short story: ANA charges 55K round trip for economy class Star Alliance awards from the US to Europe.
  • Miles required: 55K round trip in economy class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but are avoidable with the right carriers. See: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points for info on the business class sweet spot that is applicable to economy class as well.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features. Note that transfers to ANA are not instant. Transfers typically take 2-3 days from Amex Membership Rewards or a week or more from Marriott, so there is risk of award space disappearing while you wait for a transfer.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: AmexMarriott

Air France / KLM Flying Blue (for Air France / KLM or other SkyTeam airlines)
  • The short story: Monthly Flying Blue Promo Awards can sometimes offer excellent value between the US and Europe.
  • Miles required: Varies. Air France no longer has an award chart, but promo awards often offer good value, with economy class awards often available from as low as 10K-15K one way during some sales from select airports. They sometimes present good value for travel on other SkyTeam partners like Delta or Alitalia, but YMMV.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Air France / KLM do add fuel surcharges, though they are often reasonable.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Avios (for British Airways, Aer Lingus, or Iberia)
  • The short story: You can use British Airways, Iberia or Aer Lingus Avios to fly on those airlines for low mileage prices on nonstop routes.
  • Miles required (Note that this gets confusing, particularly for Iberia. For more on the Iberia charts, I recommend reading this post at Travel is Free):
    • For flights on British Airways or Aer Lingus via British Airways, Aer Lingus, or Iberia (prices shown off-peak/peak):
      • 13K / 20K for flights 3,000-4,000 miles flown
      • 16,250 / 25K for flights 4,001 to 5,500 miles flown
    • For flights on Iberia via Iberia Avios only (prices shown off-peak/peak):
      • 17K / 20K for flights 3,001-4,000 miles one way
      • 21,250 / 25K for flights 4,001-5,000 miles one way
  • How to find awards: Search for British Airways available space at britishairways.com for Aer Lingus at United.com or Avios.com. For Iberia, use the Advanced Avios tool. It's always best to search before transferring.
  • How to book awards: Book British Airways flights online at britishaiways.com or over the phone at 1 800 452 1201. You can book Aer Lingus over the phone with British Airways or use Avios.com
  • Key warnings: Note that the above pricing is for flights on Aer Lingus (which can be booked via Avios.com) or British Airways (book at BritishAirways.com). Both airlines charge for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Marriott

Avianca LifeMiles (for Star Alliance)
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive pricing for Star Alliance awards, with some routes to Europe inexplicably pricing lower than the award chart.
  • Miles required: Officially, the LifeMiles award chart offers economy class at 20K one-way from the Northeastern US to the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Russia or 30K one-way on all other routes between the US and Europe. However, there is some inexplicable variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart), with some routes pricing well under the expected 30K economy class price (such as JFK to Zurich for 16,500 miles or Denver to Brussels for 23K). Also see: Trying to crack  the LifeMiles secret code to Europe.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com, though note that you may be able to make a manual booking if individual segments are available separately. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save. Also note that as of May 2020, Avianca has filed for bankruptcy protection. LifeMiles is not yet affected by this process and may not be, but given the uncertain state of global economics it may be wise to hold off on bookings that aren't time-sensitive.
  • Transfer fromAmex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (for flying a single Oneworld partner airline)
  • The short story: Cathay Pacific has reasonable pricing for single-partner oneworld redemptions, particularly those requiring connections since they charge based on cumulative distance.
  • Miles required: 27K miles one-way for a cumulative distance of 2,751 to 5,000 miles, which covers much of the US to Europe. The next distance band, which covers up to 7,500 miles, would be less interesting at 35K.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AsiaMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Asia Miles frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AsiaMiles.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Fuel surcharges are moderate depending on route and origin.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott

Etihad Guest (for American Airlines or Brussels Airlines)
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on American Airlines between the US and Europe during off-peak dates (October 15 - May 15).
  • Miles required: 20K each way in economy class on American Airlines during off-peak dates (October 15 - May 15). Peak pricing is 30K each way. Note that in either instance, you will need to see saver space available via American Airlines in order to book with Etihad. If your travel is during peak dates, also consider Brussels Airlines from New York JFK or Washington IAD, which would be 27K each way in economy class (search for space on Brussels via United.com).
  • How to find awards: Search for American Airlines award space at Qantas.com. Note that you could also use the British Airways site, but it is known to sometimes show phantom AA availability.
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again).
  • Transfer from: Capital OneCiti, Marriott

Virgin Atlantic (for Air France / KLM or Virgin Atlantic)

Note that Virgin Atlantic also charges the more standard 30K miles each way for nonstop Delta flights, which is notable since Delta frequently charges many more miles for the same flights. See How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles for more.

  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic offers excellent economy class pricing on Air France / KLM, particularly from the Eastern US to Europe but also for its own flights to the UK (albeit with somewhat expensive surcharges).
  • Miles required:
    • For flying Air France / KLM During "standard season" (not peak) dates, 12,000 miles each way in economy class between the East Coast of the US and Western Europe or 20,000 miles each way to Central Europe (and North Africa). From the Western or Central US to Western Europe is 15,000 miles or Eastern Europe is 23,000 miles. Standard price travel dates dates include:
      • 6 January 2020 – 2 April 2020
      • 22 April 2020 - 19 June 2020
      • 7 September 2020 - 11 December 2020
      • 6 January 2021 - 31 March 2021
    • For flying on Virgin Atlantic to/from the UK (Prices shown off-peak / peak; see: Virgin Atlantic award chart (U.S.-centric)
      • From the Northeast US: 10K / 20K
      • From the Midwest & South: 12.5K / 22.5K
      • From the Western US: 15K / 25K
      • Note that fees are about $149 one-way to London or $263 one-way from London
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: Book Air France & KLM with Virgin Atlantic Miles.
  • Key warnings: The zone-based award chart for Air France / KLM flights can be a bit confusing at first, but the nice thing about booking Air France / KLM flights with Virgin Atlantic miles is that Virgin Atlantic does not charge each segment separately as they do with other partners or their own flights. In this case, you'll pay the region prices even if connecting. Keep in mind that Virgin Atlantic is currently facing uncertain financial times, so it may be best to hold off a while on booking any travel that isn't imminent.
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseMarriott

Business and First Class

Air France KLM Flying Blue
  • The short story: Monthly Flying Blue Promo Awards can sometimes offer excellent value between the US and Europe
  • Miles required: Varies. Air France no longer has an award chart, but promo awards often offer good value, with business class awards often available in the 40K’s and sometimes as low as the 20K’s depending on destination.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Air France / KLM do add fuel surcharges, though they are often reasonable (about $150-$250 in taxes and fees each way)
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy

Air Canada Aeroplan (for Star Alliance flights)
  • The short story: Aeroplan offers competitive pricing on Star Alliance business class awards and the best deal on first class awards to and from Europe at 70K each way. They also offer stopovers on round trip awards, which can present particular value. Lap infants are charged incredibly reasonable fees in either cash or miles and the price is the same whether booking one way or round trip.
  • Miles required: 55K each way in business class or 70K each way in first class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, so choose carriers with low / no fuel surcharges.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Aeroplan.com (you’ll need to create a free Aeroplan frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Aeroplan.com. Can also book via phone. Lap infants must be added to your reservation over the phone.
  • Key warnings: There are high fuel surcharges on Lufthansa, but the relative savings in terms of miles used for first class might mitigate the fees.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, Etihad, EVA Airlines, GOL, Juneao Airlines, SAS, SWISS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines
  • Low fuel surcharges on: Cathay Pacific / Cathay Dragon, LOT Polish, Thai Airways
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Marriott

ANA Mileage Club (for Star Alliance round trip bookings)
  • The short story: ANA charges just 88K round trip for business class Star Alliance awards from the US to Europe.
  • Miles required: 88K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but are avoidable with the right carriers. See: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy

Avianca LifeMiles (for Star Alliance flights)
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive pricing for Star Alliance awards, especially in first class, with no fuel surcharges.
  • Miles required: 63K each way in business or 87K each way in first class, no fuel surcharges. Note that there is some variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart). Also see: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less for ways to fly first class for even fewer miles). In economy class, some routes price from 16.5K one-way and some mixed-cabin business class itineraries can price from as low as 49K. See: Trying to crack  the LifeMiles secret code to Europe.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy

Etihad Guest (for Royal Air Maroc, American Airlines, or Brussels Airlines)
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on American Airlines, Brussels Airlines, or Royal Air Maroc between the US and Europe.
  • Miles required: 44K each way in business class on Brussels Airlines or 44K to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc (connections to Europe will add additional miles now) or 50K each way in business class on American Airlines
  • How to find awards: Search for Brussels award space on United.com or American award space on AA.com (you may want to double-check availability at Qantas.com)
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again).
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy

Virgin Atlantic (for Delta flights)
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries.This can be a particularly good value for Delta’s life-flat routes to Europe and availability is often surprisingly good.
  • Miles required: 50K miles each way in business class (for direct flights)
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com. See: Book Delta with Virgin Atlantic miles online! (again).
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries. Note that taxes on flights originating in Europe can be high, but are only $5.60 when originating in the US. Some major European airports are not loaded into Virgin Atlantic’s website, so you may have to call to check availability / book.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Asia

While Virgin Atlantic stands out as the hands-down best value here for its amazing first class pricing on ANA, you can get even better value for ANA business class itineraries (and Star Alliance itineraries) by booking through ANA Mileage Club. Avianca LifeMiles may also be a good choice for routes to Asia, especially if you’re able to take advantage of mixed-cabin pricing referenced in the Avianca sections above.

Business and First Class

Qantas (for El Al to Israel)
  • The short story: Qantas offers good partner pricing for El Al flights to Israel.
  • Miles required: 78K points in business between Tel Aviv and Boston, Newark, and New York JFK. 92K points in business between Tel Aviv and Chicago, Miami. 104K points in business between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles or San Francisco. With a transfer bonus, these rates can get better.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott

Avianca LifeMiles (for Star Alliance)
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers decent pricing to Asia with no fuel surcharges. Business class awards may be semi-hackable by finding the right partners and/or adding a long economy class leg.
  • Miles required: From 62.5K each way in business or 75K each way in first class, no fuel surcharges. Note that there is some variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart). Also see: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less for ways to fly first class for even fewer miles).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott

ANA Mileage Club (for Star Alliance round trip bookings)
  • The short story: ANA charges 75K round trip between North America and Japan for business class flights on ANA metal during low season, 85K RT during regular season, or 90K RT during high season. Star Alliance awards are charged at high season rates. A stopover is allowed.
  • Miles required: From 75K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be quite reasonable to/from Japan and some other destinations.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA's website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA's website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features. Low and regular season pricing only applies to itineraries entirely on ANA. Star Alliance awards or those mixing ANA and Star Alliance carriers price at high season rates.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)

Singapore KrisFlyer
  • The short story: While award prices are high, Singapore KrisFlyer has much better availability in premium cabins for their own members. They also offer a stopover on a one-way award.
  • Miles required: 95K / 99K from the West Coast / East Coast to Singapore in business class or 130K / 132K in first class (see the full award chart here).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or SingaporeAir.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer. Can waitlist as many options as you’d like as long as you have enough miles to book the award being waitlisted.
  • Key warnings: Note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets. Waitlisted itineraries that do not clear by 14 days prior to departure will get canceled.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Marriott

Virgin Atlantic (for ANA)
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic offers incredible value for ANA first class between the US and Japan (and decent value for business class).
  • Miles required: 110K / 120K round trip for first class between the US West Coast / US East Coast and Japan or 90K / 95K miles in business class
  • How to find awards: Search United.com to find ANA partner award space.
  • How to book awards: Call Virgin Atlantic Flying Club at 1 800 365 9500.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so this award is best for direct flights. They also add fuel surcharges for ANA flights, though total taxes and fees are still quite reasonable (about $270 round trip at the time of writing).
  • Transfer fromAmex, Chase, Citi, Marriott

Virgin Atlantic (for Delta)
  • The short story: While not as good a value as the ANA first class sweet spot, Virgin Atlantic also offers very competitive pricing for Delta business class between the US and Asia. Availability ebbs and flows, but it is sometimes possible to find as many as six or eight award seats in business class. Furthermore, taxes leaving the US are just $5.60 one way.
  • Miles required: 60K miles each way in business class from the mainland US. 35K each way in business class from Hawaii to Northern Asia (Honolulu to Tokyo, Nagoya, or Osaka)
  • How to find awards: Search VirginAtlantic.com to find Delta award space.
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com or call Virgin Atlantic Flying Club at 1 800 365 9500.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so this award is best for direct flights.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Caribbean / Latin America

Similar to domestic US flights, Avianca LifeMiles and Qantas can offer better value than United and American for the same flights. Avios can also offer good value for American Airlines flights — British Airways is better for direct flights and when you need flexibility; Iberia is better for connecting itineraries and when plans are locked in (since you can not change or cancel).

All Classes

Avianca LifeMiles (for United / Copa)
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers one-ways on United to the “rest of North America” (i.e. not the US) for 12,500 miles each way in economy class.
  • Miles required: 12,500 miles each way in economy class
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

British Airways Avios (for American Airlines)
  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart, so flights from the southern part of the US to the Caribbean and Latin America can be a solid value.
  • Miles required: Varies based on distance. From 7.5K one-way in economy class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com for AA or aa.com for Alaska flights.
  • How to book awards: Book American flights online at britishaiways.com or Alaska flights over the phone at 1 800 452 1201.
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Aiways Executive Club for American flights.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Marriott

Delta SkyMiles (for Delta)
  • The short story: Delta has weekly flash sales where it is sometimes possible to get solid value. Some itineraries to the Caribbean offer surprising value.
  • Miles required: Varies, but enter your starting airport at the Travel is Free Delta mileage calculator and just check the "international" box to find destinations that may present a good deal.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Delta.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at Delta.com.
  • Key warnings: Delta pricing can be very unpredictable and vary wildly.
  • Transfer from: Amex

Iberia Avios (for American Airlines)
  • The short story: Iberia Plus offers a distance-based award chart that can be useful for short itineraries on American Airlines (even those with connections) with no close-in booking fee. See: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions.
  • Miles required: From 11K miles round trip plus $11.20 for economy-class itineraries. The best deals are itineraries of 2,000 miles flown or fewer since they cost 17,000 miles round trip at most when American has availability.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at iberia.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at iberia.com.
  • Key warnings: Most Iberia partner bookings, including those on American Airlines, are completely nonrefundable and can not be changed. Only book AA flights with Iberia if plans are certain.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase

Qantas (for American Airlines)
  • The short story: Qantas offers better pricing than traditional American Airlines award prices on itineraries with a distance of 1200 miles or fewer each way and has no close-in booking fee. This could be especially good for short international flights like Miami to Grand Cayman or other points in the Southern US to the Caribbean.
  • Miles required: 8,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 600 miles or 12,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 1200 miles. (See: Strengths of Qantas for AA redemptions).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Avios, either through British Airways or Iberia, might be a better value if you have direct flights if you have access to points which transfer to Avios. However, for flights with connections, Qantas can be a better deal.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Africa

It’s hard to beat the value of using Etihad Guest for Royal Air Maroc to get to Africa, especially considering the fact that Royal Air Maroc serves many destinations that may be otherwise more difficult to reach on an award ticket. However, if you don’t live near an airport served by Royal Air Maroc, using ANA Mileage Club to book a Star Alliance award for 105K round trip in business class is also a fantastic deal that opens a lot more options.

Economy Class

Air France / KLM Flying Blue
  • The short story: Monthly Flying Blue Promo Awards can sometimes offer excellent value between the US and Europe and Flying Blue considers several countries located in North Africa to be part of its "Europe" pricing model (including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and the Canary Islands). Once in Africa, keep Flying Blue in mind for intra-Africa awards on Kenya Airways.
  • Miles required: Varies. Air France no longer has an award chart, but promo awards often offer good value, with economy class awards often available from as low as 10K-15K one way during some sales from select airports. They sometimes present good value for travel on other SkyTeam partners like Delta or Alitalia, but YMMV.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Air France / KLM do add fuel surcharges, though they are often reasonable.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

ANA Mileage Club
  • The short story: ANA has the hands-down cheapest award pricing between North America and Africa/Middle East on Star Alliance airlines (note that they include almost all of Africa in their definition).
  • Miles required: 65K round trip in economy class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be avoided with the right partners. Find partners that do not add fuel surcharges in this post: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges (avoid Lufthansa-group airlines to avoid high fuel surcharges). The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: AmexMarriott

Avianca LifeMiles
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive pricing for Star Alliance awards with no fuel surcharges.
  • Miles required: Officially, 40K each way in economy class to South Africa (which includes most of Africa) or 42.5K each way to North Africa (and the Middle East). Note that there is sometimes variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart), though we are not aware of any such pricing anomalies to Africa.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi, Capital One, Marriott

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • The short story: Cathay Pacific has reasonable pricing for single-partner oneworld redemptions, particularly those requiring connections since they charge based on cumulative distance. Keep in mind that Royal Air Maroc is now a oneworld carrier and American intends to begin service from Philadelphia to Casablanca in 2021 (delayed from June 2020).
  • Miles required: 27K miles one-way for a cumulative distance of 2,751 to 5,000 miles, or 40K one-way for up to 7,500 miles.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AsiaMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Asia Miles frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AsiaMiles.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Fuel surcharges are moderate depending on route and origin.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott

Etihad Guest (for Royal Air Maroc)
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on Royal Air Maroc between the US and Casablanca.
  • Miles required: 22K miles each way in economy class between North America and Casablanca.
  • How to find awards: Search for award space at RoyalAirMaroc.com or AA.com. (You’ll need to create a free Royal Air Maroc Safar Flyer account to search at the Royal Air Maroc website).
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Note that Etihad Guest adds fuel surcharges. The best way to find the total in taxes & fuel surcharges is to check ITA Matrix.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Citi

Singapore Krisflyer
  • The short story: Singapore offers good Star Alliance award pricing to the Middle East and North Africa (including Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt).
  • Miles required: 37.5K miles each way in economy class to/from the Middle East and North Africa. Central and Southern Africa are less competitive at 45K each way. See the full award chart here.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or SingaporeAir.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer.
  • Key warnings: Note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets.
  • Transfer from: Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Marriott

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic offers excellent economy class pricing on Air France / KLM, particularly from the Eastern US, but since the US is split into two different zones and you'll find African countries in four different zones, it can be very confusing.
  • Miles required:
    • East Coast North America & Caribbean (Zone 6) to:
      • Zone 2 (Eastern Europe and North Africa, which includes Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia): 20K miles each way off-peak / 30K peak
      • Zone 3 (Middle East and Russia, which includes Egypt): 25K off-peak / 35K peak
      • Zone 4 (Central Africa): 24.5K off-peak / 34.5K peak
      • Zone 5 (Southern Africa, Indian Ocean & Indian Subcontinent): 28K off-peak / 38K peak
    • West & Central North America & Central America (Zone 7) to:
      • Zone 2 (Eastern Europe and North Africa, which includes Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia): 23K miles each way off-peak / 33K peak
      • Zone 3 (Middle East and Russia, which includes Egypt): 28K off-peak / 38K peak
      • Zone 4 (Central Africa): 28K off-peak / 38K peak
      • Zone 5 (Southern Africa, Indian Ocean & Indian Subcontinent): 31K off-peak / 41K peak
    • Standard price travel dates dates include:
      • 6 January 2020 – 2 April 2020
      • 22 April 2020 - 19 June 2020
      • 7 September 2020 - 11 December 2020
      • 6 January 2021 - 31 March 2021
    • Peak season travel dates include:
      • 3 April 2020 - 21 April 2020
      • 20 June 2020 - 6 September 2020
      • 12 December 2020 - 5 January 2021
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: Book Air France & KLM with Virgin Atlantic Miles.
  • Key warnings: The zone-based award chart for Air France / KLM flights can be a bit confusing at first, but the nice thing about booking Air France / KLM flights with Virgin Atlantic miles is that Virgin Atlantic does not charge each segment separately as they do with other partners or their own flights. In this case, you'll pay the region prices even if connecting. Keep in mind that Virgin Atlantic is currently facing uncertain financial times, so it may be best to hold off a while on booking any travel that isn't imminent.
  • Transfer from: AmexCitiChaseMarriott

Business and First Class

Air Canada Aeroplan (for Star Alliance)
  • The short story: Aeroplan offers better pricing on Star Alliance business class awards to Africa than United does, though they definitely aren’t the cheapest way to fly business class to Africa. They also offer stopovers on round trip awards, which can present particular value. Lap infants are charged incredibly reasonable fees in either cash or miles and the price is the same whether booking one way or round trip.
  • Miles required: 75K miles each way in business class or 105K in first class to East, West, and South Africa or 82.5K each way in business class / 115K in first class to North Africa (and the Middle East). Fuel surcharges are passed on, so choose carriers with low / no fuel surcharges.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Aeroplan.com (you’ll need to create a free Aeroplan frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Aeroplan.com. Can also book via phone. Lap infants must be added to your reservation over the phone.
  • Key warnings: There are high fuel surcharges on Lufthansa, but the relative savings in terms of miles used for first class might mitigate the fees.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, Etihad, EVA Airlines, GOL, Juneao Airlines, SAS, SWISS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines
  • Low fuel surcharges on: Cathay Pacific / Cathay Dragon, LOT Polish, Thai Airways
  • Transfer from: Amex, Marriott

ANA Mileage Club (for round trip Star Alliance)
  • The short story: ANA charges 104K between North America and Africa for Star Alliance business class itineraries.
  • Miles required: 104K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be avoided with the right partners. Find partners that do not add fuel surcharges in this post: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy

Avianca LifeMiles (for Star Alliance)
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive pricing for Star Alliance awards with no fuel surcharges.
  • Miles required: Officially, 78K each way in business or 105K each way in first class with no fuel surcharges. Note that there is some variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart). Also see: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less for ways to fly first class for even fewer miles). In short, it is possible to pair the long-haul flights in business with connecting segments in economy class to pay fewer total miles.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy

Etihad Guest
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on Royal Air Maroc between the US and Casablanca.
  • Miles required: 44K miles each way in business class between North America and Casablanca. Additional segments are priced individually.
  • How to find awards: Search for award space at RoyalAirMaroc.com. You’ll need to create a free Royal Air Maroc Safar Flyer account to search.
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again). Note also that Etihad Guest does add fuel surcharges. The best way to find the total in taxes & fuel surcharges is to check ITA Matrix.
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Australia / New Zealand / Oceania

Business and First Class

ANA Mileage Club (for Star Alliance)
  • The short story: ANA offers the best deal out of Membership Rewards partners for business class between North America and Oceania and also offers a wide range of partner options. You can route via Canada or most of east / Southeast Asia or fly Air New Zealand.
  • Miles required: From 105K round trip in business class on ANA metal during low season up to 120K round trip in business class on Star Alliance partners or during high season. ANA has eliminated fuel surcharges on many/most of its flights, making routing on ANA an even better deal.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: ANA (many/most routes, though a few still have surcharges) United (no surcharges to Europe; unfortunately, they do have charges to Asia), Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa, Ethiopian, TAP Air Portugal, or Singapore
  • Low fuel surcharges on: LOT Polish
  • Moderate surcharges on: Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
  • Transfer from: Amex, Marriott

Air Canada Aeroplan
  • The short story: While priced a bit higher than ANA, Aeroplan offers three advantages: They allow one-way redemptions; they offer stopovers on round trip awards (which has “temporarily” changed as of 9/1/19, but a single stopover or open jaw is still allowed); Lap infants are charged incredibly reasonable fees in either cash or miles and the price is the same whether booking one way or round trip.
  • Miles required: 80K each way in business class / 110K each way in first class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, so choose carriers with low / no fuel surcharges.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Aeroplan.com (you’ll need to create a free Aeroplan frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Aeroplan.com. Can also book via phone. Lap infants must be added to your reservation over the phone.
  • Key warnings: Fuel surcharges would ordinarily be the warning with Aeroplan, but I think that any carrier you might fly to this region has no / low fuel surcharges. The other key warning is to be sure to search for availability at Aeroplan.com and/or call before transferring miles. Aeroplan has an unpublished maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between any city pair, so be sure your routing is valid for Aeroplan (United shows some itineraries that are not possible with Aeroplan).
  • No fuel surcharges on: Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, Etihad, EVA Airlines, GOL, Juneao Airlines, SAS, SWISS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines
  • Low fuel surcharges on: Cathay Pacific / Cathay Dragon, LOT Polish, Thai Airways

Avianca LifeMiles
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles might have somewhat hackable awards if you could find premium cabin space on the long-haul.
  • Miles required: 80K miles in business class from the US to Australia / New Zealand / Oceania, but see Avianca LifeMiles' awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less for info on how this might be hackable if premium space exists. Note also that Air New Zealand economy class flights price lower than the chart shows for flights to/from Los Angeles. Business class may also price lower if you can find availability.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you'll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points.

Etihad Guest
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers flights on American Airlines based on the old American Airlines chart (which itself devalued several years ago).
  • Miles required: 62.5K each way in business class, 72.5K each way in first class
  • How to find awards: Search for American saver award space on AA.com (you may want to double-check availability at Qantas.com)
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again). Note that finding saver premium cabin availability on American Airlines is only slightly more likely than getting struck by lightning.

Hawaiian Miles
  • The short story: Hawaiian may be a good option for those who can position to Hawaii cheaply, particularly for Pago Pago or Papeete.
  • Miles required: 65K miles one-way in business class to Australia or New Zealand; 47.5K miles one-way in business class to Pago Pago or Papeete.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Hawaiian Airlines’s Hawaiian Miles site(you’ll need to create a free Hawaiian Miles account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Hawaiian Airlines’s Hawaiian Miles site.
  • Key warnings: Availability can be hard to come by, but if you find it it may be worth it.

Qantas: for Jetstar
  • The short story: Qantas's low-cost-carrier Jetstar flies between Hawaii and several Australian cities and can be booked with Qantas points.
  • Miles required: 57,600 miles one-way in business class from Honolulu to Sydney on Jetstar before September 18, 2019, 61,500 miles thereafter.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Jetstar flights can be quite cheap. While their business class is much more expensive than their economy class fares, it's worth comparing to cash fares to be sure you're getting a decent value.

Qantas: for Emirates
  • The short story: While the award cost here is substantially higher than others included in this sweet-spot posts, it may be worth it to those who really want an indulgently long experience in Emirates business class. It is possible to spend upwards of ~30 hours in A380 business class by routing via Dubai (note that some US cities have 777 service, which is likely angled in business class).
  • Miles required: 128,000 miles one-way in business class between North American cities and those cities served by Emirates in Australia and New Zealand.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Fuel surcharges are around $300 each way — not cheap, but not prohibitively expensive, either. Choose A380 routes to get a fully-flat aisle access business class seat with a bar at the rear of the plane.

Virgin Atlantic: for Delta
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries.
  • Miles required: 75K miles each way in business class
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries.

Virgin Atlantic: for Air New Zealand
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic also offers good deals for Air New Zealand premium cabin flights if you can actually find availability.
  • Miles required: 45K each way for business class to/from Hawaii, 45K each way in business class from the "South Pacific" to :ps Angeles, 62.5K each way in business class from New Zealand to North or South America
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (I believe that Air New Zealand space does not show up at VirginAtlantic.com)
  • How to book awards: Book over the phone with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately (i.e. an itinerary with a single connection will cost 25K miles), so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries. Furthermore, Air New Zealand business class award space is extremely rare.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Round the world ticket

In addition to the sweet spots mentioned above, it is worth noting that ANA’s round the world award chart can present phenomenal value for RTW Star Alliance awards. Here is the chart:

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots Round the world ticket

And here is an example itinerary that clocks in at just under 20K miles, meaning it could (theoretically) be booked entirely in business class with Star Alliance carriers for 115K miles.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Round The World Trip

ANA round the world awards can only be booked over the phone with ANA Mileage Club. See this post from Travel is Free for more.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Hotel Partners

Hilton often sells points for half a cent each. This means that transfers to Hilton don’t many sense even with a transfer bonus unless you need a larger quantity of Hilton points than you can purchase and/or there is no current sale.

Marriott is a 1:1 transfer partner, though we have seen transfer bonuses as high as 50%. Marriott transfers might make sense if you have a valuable redemption in mind. As a reminder, here is the Marriott Bonvoy award chart (see our Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide for more detail):

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Free Night Award Chart

Choice Privileges can be a notably good partner for Nordic Choice hotels, where it is possible to get both free breakfast and free dinner in some instances.

Choice Privileges
  • The short story: Clarion Collection hotels, of the Nordic Choice hotels group that can be booked with Choice Privileges points, offer free breakfast and dinner and offer a great value for points. See: Free hotel breakfast & dinner at Nordic Choice Clarion Collection [Sweet-spot spotlight].
  • Points required: Varies, but many options between 10,000 and 20,000 points per night
  • How to find and book awards: Search online at ChoiceHotels.com, but be aware that you can only search and book award stays a maximum of 100 days in advance.
  • Key point: Rather than transferring the full amount needed for an award night, it is possible to transfer as few as 6,000 points to Choice Privileges and then use cash & points bookings to buy the rest of the points necessary for well under 1c per point. See this post for details.

Amex Membership Rewards Sweet Spots: Bottom line

American Express Membership Rewards is an incredibly powerful currency with some great sweet spots. In comparison to the posts on Citi ThankYou points sweet spots and Chase Ultimate Rewards sweet spots, you can see that Amex just has a wider range of possibilities to get great value to many parts of the world, making it a favored (and in my opinion underrated) award currency.

Have we missed your favorite sweet spot? Let us know in the comments below.

Other program sweet spots

Capital One Miles sweet spots
Citi ThankYou points sweet spots
Chase Ultimate Rewards sweet spots
Marriott Bonvoy airline partner sweet spots
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