Best Uses of American Express Membership Rewards Points by Region: Domestic (Including Hawaii)

Introduction
Domestic (Including Hawaii)
Europe
Asia
Australia
Middle East/Africa
South America


When it comes to redeeming Membership Rewards points for domestic flights, there are five programs to consider:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (Star Alliance)
  • British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)
  • Air France Flying Blue (SkyTeam)
  • Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

 Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)

Aeroplan is probably the best all around program for getting access to domestic Star Alliance award space easily. Points transfer instantly from Membership Rewards to Aeroplan, and bookings can be made through their website. The domestic award chart looks as follows:

The short-haul awards only apply for Air Canada flights in select markets, so we’ll focus on the “long-haul” and Hawaii awards for the purposes of this analysis.

So for an award within the lower 48/Alaska/Canada, Aeroplan charges the following amounts:

  • Economy class: 25,000 miles roundtrip/17,000 miles one way
  • United two cabin first class and United business class: 50,000 miles roundtrip/34,000 miles one way
  • United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 70,000 miles roundtrip/47,000 miles one way

And for an award to Hawaii, Aeroplan charges the following:

  • Economy class: 45,000 miles roundtrip/30,000 miles one way
  • United two cabin first class and United business class: 80,000 miles roundtrip/54,000 miles one way
  • United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 110,000 miles roundtrip/74,000 miles one way

I realize it’s stupid and frustrating, but the reason that US Airways domestic first class is more expensive than United first class is because of the way they code their products. United codes their domestic two cabin first class award space as “I” class, which is the equivalent of business class, while US Airways codes their domestic first class award space as “O” class, which is the equivalent of international first class. As you can see on the ANA tool below, all US Airways space between Charlotte and Chicago is coded as first class, while United space is coded as business class.

It’s also worth noting that while Aeroplan allows one-way awards, they’re not a very good deal since they charge more than half of the roundtrip cost.

That being said, there are no close-in ticketing fees and no fuel surcharges for travel on United and US Airways, plus you can book online, so it’s definitely an easy way to book. And since Continental/United are no longer Membership Rewards transfer partners, this is the only way to easily book a domestic roundtrip on Star Alliance using Membership Rewards points.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (Star Alliance)

While KrisFlyer miles are extremely valuable for travel on Singapore Airlines, they’re also pretty useful for travel domestically on United and US Airways. Their award chart looks like this, in part:

That means they charge the following amounts for awards within the lower 48:

  • Economy class: 25,000 miles roundtrip/12,500 miles one-way
  • United two cabin first class and United business class: 40,000 miles roundtrip/20,000 miles one-way
  • United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 60,000 miles roundtrip/30,000 miles one-way

And for an award to Hawaii, KrisFlyer charges the following:

  • Economy class: 35,000 miles roundtrip/17,500 miles one-way
  • United two cabin first class and United business class: 60,000 miles roundtrip/30,000 miles one-way
  • United three cabin first class and US Airways first class: 80,000 miles roundtrip/40,000 miles one-way

With the exception of a domestic coach award, Singapore is cheaper across the board than Aeroplan. But here’s the issue — Singapore partner awards have to be booked over the phone, and transfers from Membership Rewards to KrisFlyer take about a day, so they’re not instant like Aeroplan.

That being said, if you’re patient, you can’t beat 40,000 miles for a domestic business class award, 60,000 miles for a domestic three cabin first class award, and their Hawaii rates are the best for Star Alliance across the board.

British Airways Executive Club (OneWorld)

British Airways’ award pricing is distance based. While they don’t publish an award chart, Iberia does publish one, and it’s pretty close to what British Airways charges:

So basically a one-way coach ticket of up to 650 flown miles costs 4,500 Avios, a one way of 651 to 1,151 miles costs 7,500 Avios, a one way of 1,152-2,000 miles costs 10,000 Avios, and a one-way of 2,001-3,000 miles costs 12,500 Avios.

Airline pricing is irrational and doesn’t typically correlate much to the distance traveled, which is what makes this award chart so awesome. Often a 300 mile flight will be more expensive than a 2,500 mile flight when paying cash, yet it’s substantially cheaper using British Airways Avios. It’s also worth keeping in mind that their pricing is on a per-segment basis, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it basically allows you unlimited stopovers, but it’s a bad thing because the cost of an award can add up when you have several segments.

But hands down the best values for any domestic coach awards can be found with British Airways. For example, a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Monterey on American is just 4,500 Avios.

Or a one way award from Los Angeles to Honolulu is just 12,500 miles.

And for those that live on the west coast, that’s really quite an amazing value — just 25,000 Avios for roundtrip economy for any nonstop between the west coast and Hawaii — no other program offers that kind of value. Keep in mind they also partner with Alaska, which opens up tons of award options to Hawaii.

Even Chicago to Los Angeles costs you 10,000 Avios one-way, compared to 12,500 miles in virtually any other program.

Executive Club charges 2x miles for business class and 3x miles for first class. So you do end up paying 3x miles for first class, which is quite a poor value, so I’ve always used Avios for coach domestically. That being said if you can get a route with a business class cabin (like New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancouver), that would be 2x miles.

One other great thing about British Airways is that they constantly have transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards, typically in the range of 30-50%. So if you think you would find Avios useful, I’d suggest transferring some points as a “reserve” the next time they have a promotion.

Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

Look, let’s not beat around the bush. I’m mentioning Delta just in the interest of being thorough. Here’s their award chart:

Chances of finding “low” space are about the same as Gary Johnson winning the presidential election. But in some markets Delta is the best option, and it’s worth noting that they’re one of the few airlines that allows a stopover on a domestic award.

Air France Flying Blue (SkyTeam)

Air France’s only partner in North America is Delta, and the one useful thing about Flying Blue miles is that they allow one-way awards on Delta at half the cost of a roundtrip, while Delta doesn’t allow that for their own members. You can read more on that here.

Conclusion

British Airways offers the best value on short distance awards, and also on awards from the west coast to Hawaii. Aeroplan is the easiest for domestic roundtrip flights, and has access to Star Alliance award availability, which is usually the most readily available. Singapore Airlines offers savings over Aeroplan on awards to Hawaii and for premium cabin award space, though comes with booking challenges.

Any questions?

Comments

  1. Is it possible to transfer from my MR to my friends British Airways or Aeroplan account?
    Do they actually check the name on the account?

  2. @ Rodeojones — Thanks!

    @ Blackbox — You can transfer to an account in anyone’s name.

    @ Tao — Agreed, wish they’d charge double for first class.

  3. Hello! Awesome article! I’m interested in flying from the East Coast of the US to New Zealand. Any tips on the most economical way to do that using points and the best type of points to be amassing? Thanks so much!

  4. I should add that SQ doesn’t charge YQ for domestic US flights, incl Hawaii.

    Pretty ironic as they charge it for award tickets on their own metal!

  5. @ Kai — Good point, and it’s because United doesn’t even impose fuel surcharges on domestic awards, so Singapore would be hard pressed to “invent” some.

  6. Is transfer to Krisflyer available only for US AMEX cardholders, or can those of us north of the border do it to?

    A combination of a move to PER and the introduction of non-upgradable / 50% earning international fares is causing my to shift my accural from Aeroplan to Krisflyer for 2013.

  7. how far in advance does BA open up inventory from the west coast to hawaii?

    I can’t find anything from LAX to HNL or OGG in April ’13?

  8. @ The Blue-Eyed Sheikh — Unfortunately KrisFlyer isn’t part of the Canadian Membership Rewards program.

    @ systemr — The website only displays American award space, so I suggest searching Alaska award space on alaskaair.com or expertflyer.com (and then you’d have to book by phone), as they open space 11 months out.

  9. Are the Green card’s MR points transferable to airline programs (i.e, could you downgrade a platinum to green and still transfer?)

  10. @ Joe — Yes, the standard green card still allows Membership Rewards transfers. Just make sure to stay away from the “Membership Rewards Express” program, which some other cards have.

  11. Liking the write-up, look forward to the rest in the series.

    About booking via Singapore Airlines Krisflyer over the telephone: how’s the experience with their agents?

  12. @ Carl — You do have to call to book.

    @ Euro — On the plus side the call center is 24 hours, though unfortunately it’s outsourced, so it’s a bit of a pain.

  13. Doesn’t BA charge more than the $2.50 when booking domestic awards on AA? I was going to be charged over $100 in taxes & fees (over a month in advance) when attempting to make a <500 mile distance award booking recently…

  14. @The Blue-Eyed Sheikh
    The Canadian program has Aeroplan, Alitalia, Delta, British Airways, and Asia as partners. Only Aeroplan and BA transfer 1:1. The rest are 1:.75

  15. Probably the most useful FF blog post of the week outside of bluebird info. Thanks lucky. Look forward to the rest of the ‘series’.

  16. I like this post… Easy to understand.

    i have the us Barclays card and it seems that economy to Hawaii is 35k of which 5k is gifted by us air. If one has those, wouldn’t they be better than transferring MR to kris flyer? Thanks

    I have a free companion pass as well but that would be with a paid ticket so I may just give that away.

  17. @ Pam — Yes, if you have US Airways miles that’s a great deal. They’re not a Membership Rewards transfer partner which is why I didn’t mention them. Just keep in mind that the 5,000 mile discount only applies if you fly US Airways metal.

  18. “That being said, there are no close-in ticketing fees and no fuel surcharges for travel on United and US Airways”
    To clarify do mean when booking through Aeroplan.

  19. Hi, thanks, this is very very helpful.

    Is there a way to avoid the close-in fee on US Airways, other than the Krisflyer route (one day to transfer points) or Aeroplan (tons of miles)? I have a one-way business itinerary I’d like to book that is in 2 weeks. I’m wondering if any Chase partners would help me get there?

  20. @ Rinfo — ANA and Aeroplan don’t impose close-in ticketing fees, but United and US Airways do, so I’m afraid with Membership Rewards points or Ultimate Rewards points there aren’t any other options.

  21. Another program to consider domestically is Cathay Pacific. Besides Delta, they also allow 2 free stop overs or openjaws. I recently booked BLI (in WA state or about half an hour from Vancouver, Canada) using CX miles to fly to LAX with a stop over in San Jose (all for 15,000 CX miles) with no fuel surcharge

  22. How do Avios work out for Hawaii from the East coast. Living in a vacation destination like FL and trying to get to Hawaii is not often easy.

  23. @ Jisaac — Well the award chart is distance based, so you’re getting screwed if you’re on the east coast. You’d be much better using another mileage currency. For coach you’re looking at a minimum of roughly 50,000 Avios for a roundtrip.

  24. @ leslie — While United isn’t a transfer partner, Membership Rewards does have transfer partners (like Aeroplan and Singapore) which partner for United, allowing you to redeem points for travel on United.

  25. Fantastic posts. Thanks for the info.

    I’m curious – with 100,000 MR points & 55,000 United points, what’s the best way to do 2 things:
    SIN-HNL-SIN June 17-24 &
    DFW-HNL-DFW same dates?

    I can’t get the BA site to recognize my login information right now (must be down), but from the post it seems that’s my best bet?

    Thanks!

  26. @ Ethan — In terms of value I’d say you’re best off trying to use your United miles for travel between Singapore and Honolulu given that they won’t impose fuel surcharges, and then you can redeem British Airways Avios for travel on American between Dallas and Honolulu.

  27. @Lucky
    Thanks for the info – United was, indeed the best bet from SIN-HNL.
    Looks like my only option for now is a whopping 77,500 miles on Delta economy for DFW-HNL. Neither Singapore, nor BA has reward availability for my required dates. In fact, BA NEVER has reward availability on that journey ever (according to their calendar), does that make sense?
    THANKS!
    Ethan

  28. @ Ethan — I’d suggest using the American website to search for space. If they show Milesaver availability then it should be bookable via BA as well, though you may have to book segment by segment.

  29. @Lucky I’d leave you alone, but your advice is great & feel like I’m getting so close.

    Unfortunately, it’s not working. There is a Business MileSAAver available on American for one of the directions, but I can’t book it via BA, they say it’s unavailable for some reason.

    Then, I looked at doing everything piecemeal, and there’s a US Airways 1st class seat available on my return trip, but it’s 74k with Air Canada & 40k with KrisPoints, but I’m worried if I have to wait 3 days for the transfer, that it will be sold out (travel in 2 weeks).

    Any final thoughts?

    p.s. I’ve been pretty impressed with Amex Platinum Travel’s ability and willingness to try to handle this for me. One woman called 3 or 4 airlines trying to figure out ways to get me there cheaper than Delta, but at this point, I’m just trying to fly Delta economy there & something else back in Business for the same points, since it hurts me to spend so many points on an economy ticket. I’m even considering buying my RT on Priceline & saving my points, now that I’ve found your recommendations.

  30. @ Ethan — For what it’s worth KrisFlyer miles seem to post same day, typically around midnight. So I’d probably go with that option in your shoes. Otherwise if you have a bit of flexibility maybe wait till closer to departure, as more award space does tend to open up.

  31. @Lucky
    OK, cool. I think I might do that & wait for the BA route. I’m not having any luck on priceline & I imagine it won’t get much worse than $1200 if I wait a couple more days.
    I really do appreciate your help. You’ve been a life saver!

  32. @ Ethan — Happy to help! You mentioned there was a routing that had award space on aa.com but you couldn’t book it on ba.com. Mind telling me which one so I can help you figure out why it wasn’t showing?

  33. @ Ethan — On the 25th American shows award space via Los Angeles in first class, which also shows up on ba.com if you search for first class segment-by-segment.

  34. @Lucky
    Thanks again, man. Unfortunately, I can’t swing the 1st class.
    My outbound is the 17th – is it reasonable to expect more awards seats to open up?
    Think I’m just better off saving them for the next trip when I can plan it out farther.

  35. @ Ethan — It is summer so it’s no guarantee space will open up, but I do think there’s a good chance.

  36. @Lucky
    So, now AA has a business saaver outgoing & an economy saaver incoming – but BA won’t let me book with Avios on their site (says nothing is available). Do you know a trick?!

    Thanks!
    Ethan

  37. @LUCKY
    June 17th: AA5
    June 25: HA22 & AS660

    I think what’s happening is that it’s being coded as 1st on BA, because I can do 1st on BA & on Iberia. Iberia says that I can do 1st hnl-lax & then economy lax-dfw, which would be useful, too, but Iberia is 125k miles.

  38. @ Ethan — Right, the premium cabin is coded as first class, so that’s the issue. Hawaiian isn’t bookable with BA miles, though Alaska is, except you have to call to book.

  39. @Lucky
    Ah, OK. I guess that makes sense.
    Dang these rules!
    Well, thank you again, it’s nice to know there are knowledgeable & helpful people out there on the internet!

  40. I am trying to fly from Atlanta to Fargo, ND. I have always used United in the past with my AMEX points but now cannot do so. I need to be there by July 7th but other than that, dates are flexible. Is Aeroplan my only option to use my membership awards? There are limited airlines that fly into Fargo and Delta charges too many points. Any advice?

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