Reader David asks the following question in the Ask Lucky section of the blog:
With the recent AX MR promos and sign-up bonuses, I have a good amount of MR points. Sept 30 is coming soon, I’m not sure how much I should transfer to CO, or if I should stay put for an actual redemption. I prefer CO/UA b/c I have 1K status, and like being able to change award itineraries without fees. Also, their taxes & fees seem to be very reasonable. What do you think? Is there value in make SQ or NH transfers and redemptions?
For those of you that have no clue what David is talking about, the relationship between American Express Membership Rewards and Continental OnePass is ending on September 30. Not only will American Express Platinum members no longer get access to Presidents Clubs, but Membership Rewards points will no longer be transferable to Continental OnePass.
To answer the question, if you had asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have said no way, keep them in Membership Rewards. If you ask me now, the answer is maybe.
A lot has changed with Membership Rewards points since earlier this year.
Previously I transferred 90% of Membership Rewards points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan frequent flyer program. Unfortunately back in July they adjusted their award chart, which hit me especially hard since my favorite award redemptions went up in cost by about 50%. For example, travel from the US to Asia via Europe in first class cost only 120,000 miles through Aeroplan — now it costs 175,000 miles. So a lot of the amazing values through Aeroplan are gone, though they still have some good redemption opportunities.
Another one of Membership Rewards’ transfer partners is All Nippon Airways. My favorite redemption on them used to be Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for only 63,000 miles from New York or Boston to London, or 85,000 miles from the west coast to London. That was an amazing value, especially since they didn’t impose fuel surcharges on those redemptions. Well, unfortunately as of a couple of months ago they’re imposing fuel surcharges on those redemptions, adding about $600 to the cost of those tickets. Not looking so attractive to me anymore.
Then there’s Delta. Delta transfers at a 1:1 ratio are never a good deal, though they constantly have transfer bonuses, ranging anywhere from a 50% bonus to a 67% bonus just recently. Those can be good deals, though there are very few aspirational awards to be had through Delta, since they don’t allow you to redeem miles for international first class. That being said, their miles are plenty valuable with lots of flexibility and if you’re willing to settle for a mediocre business class product on one of their partners.
Then there’s British Airways. They recently had a 50% transfer bonus. There are some great redemptions through them on partner airlines (business class to South America on LAN for 80,000 miles, first class to Asia on Cathay Pacific for 150,000 miles, etc.), but I’m not all that confident that they won’t devalue their award chart sometime in the near future. So it’s not a program that inherently makes me want to keep Membership Rewards points.
The rest of Membership Rewards’ partners (Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, etc.) aren’t especially interesting to me, as they don’t offer any spectacular redemption opportunities.
So as you can see, I’m a bit torn. In the past I would have said “leave them in Membership Rewards,” though I’m not feeling especially strong about that at this point.
So I would actually say transfer them to Continental, due largely to the fact that you’re a 1K. This gives you huge flexibility with the miles since you can make changes for free, more than you’d get anywhere else. Through Continental, business class from the US to Europe is 100,000 miles (and you can even fly Virgin Atlantic without fuel surcharges through them as of now), first class to Asia is 140,000 miles (and you can even connect in Europe), and their routing rules are generally favorable.
So if you’re into “aspirational” award redemptions in international first class, I’d say go for it, regardless of your status. The fact that you’re a 1K is the icing on the cake.