I have often said that Amex Membership Rewards points are my favorite award currency because of the strength of those points for flight awards. On this week’s Frequent Miler on the Air, Greg and I point to specific examples of routes and prices that demonstrate how to get incredible value out of your Amex points. If you like to travel and were ever tempted to redeem your Amex points for a gift card, you won’t be again.
Elsewhere on the blog this week, learn how to find the Qatar Qsuites space you’ve been craving, high-value Hilton redemptions for your free night certificates, the pet policies and pro tips you need to travel with Truffles (or your own furry friends), and a lot more. Watch, listen, or read on for more from this week at Frequent Miler.
01:14 Giant Mailbag
10:34 Mattress running the numbers: Numerous transfer bonuses
10:53 50% transfer bonus to Marriott from Chase
11:27 25% transfer bonus from Chase to Flying Blue
14:50 25% transfer bonus from Amex to Flying Blue
16:57 15% transfer bonus from Amex to Avianca LifeMiles
19:19 30% transfer bonus from Chase to Virgin Atlantic
22:00 Award Talk
29:22 Seats.aero adds Qsuites finder
30:52 Nick’s quick hit JetBlue Mint review
34:33 Challenge Update
37:37 Card Talk: Amex Gold Card
48:28 Main Event: How to get insane value from your Amex points
50:10 Paying with points can offer acceptable value only when paying for flights with the Business Gold, Business Platinum, or Business Centurion card
54:18 Domestic US: 7,500 BA Avios to fly on AA or Alaska on short nonstop flights
56:38 Domestic US: Delta via Virgin Atlantic for 7,500 miles on short flights
58:15 Domestic US: Avianca LifeMiles to fly United for 7,500 miles on short and medium-distance flights
1:02:03 Star Alliance economy class to Europe: Avianca LifeMiles for 20K one-way to Northern Europe
1:03:06 SkyTeam economy and premium economy class to Europe via Virgin Atlantic 1:04:46 oneworld premium economy to Japan with British Airways Avios
1:06:43 Business class to Europe on Delta using Virgin Atlantic miles
1:07: 18 Business class to Europe using Iberia Avios
1:08:32 Business class JFK to Lisbon for 35K LifeMiles
1:11:13 Anywhere in the US on Qatar Airways to Doha in business class for 70K
1:12:51 Air Canada Aeroplan examples
1:15:00 ANA Round the world business class award
1:17:51 Lufthansa first class to Europe with Avianca LifeMiles (including how to hack it) 1:20:02 Hacking Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for first class (if it comes back)
1:21:50 First class on ANA via Virgin Atlantic miles
1:34:39 Question of the Week: Did Nick get elite credit for booking The Signature at MGM via Airbnb?
Subscribe to our podcast
We publish Frequent Miler on the Air each week in both video form (above) and as an audio podcast. People love listening to the podcast while driving, working-out, etc. Please check it out and subscribe. Our podcast is available on all popular podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many more.
Alternatively, you can listen to the podcast online here.
This week on the Frequent Miler blog…
Air France / KLM Flying Blue sweet spots for award travel
Whether you took advantage of the one-day 100% transfer bonus from Bilt Rewards or you’re using one of this month’s 25% transfer bonuses to Flying Blue (from Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards), Flying Blue has some respectable values that get much more interesting with a transfer bonus. Whether you’re looking to travel to Tahiti or South America (don’t forget that they partner with Copa!), Flying Blue miles aren’t only for trips to Europe.
How to find Qatar QSuites award space
Seats.aero: a wonderfully nerdy tool for finding Unicorn flight awards [New: QSuites Finder]
I only got the chance to fly Qatar Qsuites for an hour between Doha and Dubai and it wasn’t nearly enough. I would love to get back in Qsuites again. Luckily, if you read the two posts linked above, you’ll be able to do it without a lot of effort provided that you can provide the flexibility necessary to find what you need. Greg has been knocking it out of the park with these posts about how to use Seats.aero to find great awards.
How to get free cruises by gaming casino status matches
I updated this post earlier this week and then again last night as the situation on the ground in Philadelphia has muted a couple of the possibilities (though maybe not as badly as feared for those who struck while the iron was hot?). The short story: if you haven’t yet matched to Philadelphia Live and Rivers Platinum, you can skip Philadelphia as you’ll no longer get anything useful out of those matches. If you had already done the Philly matches and booked your 10-night MSC cruise, the good news is that early reports about those cruises getting cancelled seemed to be getting reversed. The Atlantic City matching, including to Ocean Prime for a 7-night Caribbean cruise, and the Carnival and Holland America offers are still alive and kicking.
50+ best places to use a Hilton Free Night Certificate worldwide
Looking for some inspiration for the best places to use your Hilton Free Night Certificates, whether at home or abroad? Tim’s post has a very comprehensive list of many of the best places to use them around the world. I’m going to add two more that may be worth your list: the Conrad Las Vegas or Crockfords Las Vegas, though in many cases it will only be worth considering a certificate use when Las Vegas is at “weekend” pricing.
“Must have” Chase cards
Chase has some of the most popular cards in the award travel community, but which of the multitude of Chase cards do you absolutely need to have? This post will help you navigate what you should want and need and how to make sure you get it all before you can’t.
MGM Las Vegas properties: combined bottom line review
got stuck in had the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time in Las Vegas. One of the benefits of that situation was the chance to check out a bunch of MGM properties, which of course was of interest because of the fact that MGM and Hyatt have a partnership whereby I could earn Hyatt elite credit and bonus points in the current Bonus Journeys promotion. Given how cheaply rooms can be booked during the week, it seemed like an opportunity to check out several hotels (I won’t call it the perfect opportunity since it came at the cost of cancelling my Fiji trip, but nonetheless Las Vegas has a lot of appeal given Bilt x Hyatt fast track that many of us are working towards.
Hyatt goes next level with Mr & Mrs Smith [I’m excited!]
My excitement here is perhaps more tempered than Greg’s mostly because I’ve never found the name “Mr & Mrs Smith” to exude excitement (no offense intended to any Mr & Mrs Smiths out there — I’m sure you’re a lot of fun at parties!). And as I note on the podcast this weekend, the relatively few of these that I’ve ever seen available with IHG points have cost 120K points per night or fewer — typically more than most IHGs, but not so many that I’ll be overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of paying 40K or 45K Hyatt points. Still, the SLH partnership made a believer of me, so I’m less enthusiastic now but reserve the right to be proved completely wrong in my lack of enthusiasm.
Traveling with pets: Hotel pet policies, tips & more
Stephen has been traveling with his dog Truffles on a 5-year 50-state road trip that has been expanded a couple of years more thanks to the pandemic, so he is an absolutely authority on how to travel with your four legged friends. This post pulls together all sorts of very helpful info for those who want to hit the road without breaking the bank.
FM to Go. Coming soon to a town near you.
We want to see you! The Frequent Miler team loves what we do in bringing you plenty of posts, podcast episodes, Ask Us Anythings, and our Facebook group (among other stuff), but what we sometimes miss is the chance to connect face-to-face. We’d love to meet you and forty or sixty or eighty of your friends and talk miles and points, but we’re looking for people who want to take the lead on a meetup in their city so that you can handle the logistics and we can come and talk points. To be clear, we’re not looking for you to cover our expenses but just to organize because you know your town better than we do. See the post for more details on how to submit a proposal.
That’s it for this week at Frequent Miler. Keep an eye on this week’s last chance deals.
I have never found United Business on Avianca lifemiles website
United releases very little domestic business class to partners. You can find what there is through SeatSpy and then you should be able to find that via Avianca (you may have to change from “Smart Search” to either “Star Alliance” or “United” as we’ve shown in previous posts).
I’ve found (and booked) business between the US and Europe without difficulty via Avianca (they still don’t release tons of space though).
As always it depends on your personal travel situation (individual, couple, or family), specific airport routing, timing of booking (300+ out, close-in, or upon request) + time of year, and consideration of fees/taxes + change/cancelation policies.
The key to maximizing points is schedule flexibility and understanding the systems to proactively lock in flights.
I struggle to see the value of amex points in my situation with the primary target of an annual summer Europe trip routing direct from DC for a family of 4 in econ (assuming I have 250,000pts / year to allocate for this endeavor). You are at the mercy of partner availability, shifting to 1 stop itineraries, locking in tickets with steep change policies, as well as potential fuel surcharge fees pending carrier.
Without doubt you can definitely get some insane $/point on Amex pending the ticket redemption but on my given target chase points transfered to united are significantly better (assuming grabbing 4 tickets on XN fare).
Conservatively with a target of $0.023/point ($1500/ticket – ~$125/taxes etc)/60,000 miles r/t. I know $.023/point isn’t extreme but that utilization value gets you most likely a direct flight, free cancellation/change options, 4 seats together, and direct booking with the carrier (a little easier to troubleshoot in the future if there are issues with travel, direct access to premier phone line).
If any one has any advice to meet or exceed the chase 0.023 value on Amex with a target flight of (4x econ, direct from DC to Europe in the summer, seats together, and has minimal change/cancellation policies) I’d love to hear it as I continually chose chase over amex for our situation.
Flying blue has several flights WAS to either CDG or AMS for 12,750 pp or 102,000 flying blue points for 4 people round trip. Fewer American Express points during a transfer bonus.
You can go to Madrid from WAS for 20,000 pp one way or 160,000 pts fewer American Express points during a transfer bonus. Or to Dublin for 20,000 pp one way.
Having choice is good. If you can get a better deal either way on United get it. Your best bet might be one way on either AF/KLM, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and the other way on United.
Great feedback. Yeah a balance of timing redemption sales and partners bonus transfers is a good point but still like to be aware of $ out of pocket required for those airlines on mileage redemptions.
Where are you booking for 60K miles round trip? In all of my searches, UA is charging 40K each way in economy class these days (80K round trip).
By contrast, ANA would charge 55K round trip. No fee to change dates. 3K miles per passenger to cancel.
How often do you change or cancel? Avianca charges 20K each way to Northern Europe or 20-25K each way to a number of cities or 30K each way to others. If you frequently change/cancel, this is obviously a bad program for you. If you change or cancel once every three years, then the 40K-80K miles you’ll save round trip each year over what United will charge you should probably make up more benefit than the cost of the cancellation fee that one time.
As others have said, Flying Blue would be a far better choice any time they are running promo rewards. You could probably fly Premium Econ for what you’re paying with United (yes, the fees will be higher, but even figuring those in and cashing out Chase points to pay the fees probably works out better than the 40K each way United is charging).
Also as pointed out by Jim, Iberia Madrid (do they fly to Barcelona from IAD? I don’t know) could be a good value (again, in econ or premium econ).
You might even consider Virgin Atlantic for economy redemptions to/from Europe.
Of those, the only programs to which you can’t get through Chase are ANA and Avianca — but in my mind, since Amex points are so easy to get, I would much rather be transferring Amex points to any of those programs and saving Chase points for the hotels (via Hyatt or the portal if you prefer).
If you frequently want to make changes or cancellations, I could see the appeal of United to you. I definitely do value flexibility, so I understand that. And I just had to cancel a family trip because the kids got sick. Maybe I’ll run into that a lot more often moving forward, but at this point the rate with which I cancel trips that I didn’t book on a purely speculative basis is relatively low.
Wow United, is 40k the new low end of their dynamic pricing to Europe? This is very sad as year over year the award availability was great for directs on XN fares and the pricing was middle of the road. We locked in a r/t to Munich in July for 60k/ticket this year as of ~2months ago.
Similar boat to you we’ve got young kids and I got burned on Aeroplan points as a function of trying to squeeze summer travel due to limited X fares on united. (And yes it was full court press on expertflyer and seats.aero, slim availability 7 months out on peak summer travel). Then had to shift dates for reasons not covered by any travel insurance.
Maybe moving forward ANA is an option to consider but it would have to be way in advance as United has been stingy on releasing X fares. Whereas XN traditionally has been significantly easier. Avianca is obviously the cheapest but confidence has to be high on 100% locked in (again in the world of kids I do value the ease of flexibility with united as well as the ability to do most things via website worst case utilizing premier access call lines.)
In regards to flying blue or Iberia these would only work if we were specifically interested in the IAD direct flight cities (CDG/AMS or MAD/LHR).
With United flying on ~15/18 of the star alliance direct flights from IAD it has been the goto for consitent award availability at reasonable rates.
I’ve learned a lot over the years from your group and this situation is one of the general themes on always having to adapt and refine.
I appreciate the feedback and will consider other booking options moving forward with hopes we don’t have to stretch too thin beyond direct flights (at least in the age of younger kids).
Thanks again Nick to you and the FM team as our family has personally benefited as a result of years of relatively cheap domestic/international travel.
Also, is the Point.me tool available at all on the website? I’ve tried the app version and it is nearly unusable, due to lack of screen real estate
Yep, see this post: https://frequentmiler.com/point-me-now-on-bilt-rewards-website-not-just-their-app/
You mentioned another tool that was similar to seats.aero—I think you called it “roam.travel”????
I can’t find it…can you repeat the name here in writing?
This might be old news and not directly points related but today I added a $200 virtual credit card to my account on Amazon and when I checked later I had $220 in credit. Apparently you get a $10 bonus for $100 or $20 for $200, limit one time.
In regards to your discussion on how one should NOT redeem Amex MR: I once clicked through a Grubhub order too fast and paid with points but didn’t notice till a couple days later. An Amex chat rep was able to reverse the charge (and pay via credit card). I was pleasantly surprised they let me fix that with no fuss.
Exactly how many dollars was the charge?
I’m saving my Amex miles to fly to Mars on Virgin Intergalactic; which I’m sure is coming in 30 to 40 years.
It wont cost that many miles but the fuel charges will be “out of this world”
Do the free cruise. Not worth the oppty cost to wait that long for Mars.
As you mentioned in the Main Event, partner award availability is hit or miss. It undermines one of the key premises of the airline alliances and one-to-one partnerships.