Should you transfer miles from American Express to Continental before September 30?

Reader David asks the following question in the Ask Lucky section of the blog:

Hi Lucky,

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.


  1. So I have about 1000 MR points. I’m going to cancel my card soon. My FF program is UA/CO. Should I transfer the points to CO, or to NH, in case NH starts limiting the use of their award search engine only to people with miles in their account?

  2. Let me ask you this, what would you recommend to someone that has the Chase Sapphire preferred Card? Specifically, how do you use your ultimate reward points?

  3. @ Just Me — I’d say you can’t go wrong with transferring the 1,000 points to ANA. At most that’s worth $20, and it’ll save you a lot of time of not clicking through the “workaround,” and potentially give you access if they close the loophole.

  4. @ Mike — I don’t believe they’ve announced the relationship will end, right? I doubt it will, given that it’s a Chase card, though who knows. I’d say transferring to Continental is the best deal there, unless there’s some kind of a transfer bonus. The Hyatt transfer option isn’t bad either if you’re looking at redeeming for a high end property.

  5. Hi Lucky!

    I’m on the same boat as the reader (as I’m sure many CO flyers are). I am not 1K status, but do fly to S.Asia and Europe a few times a year.

    You mentioned Delta’s partners as possible transfers to fly on a business class product. Do you know how I can search for Delta’s partner flights? isn’t very helpful and Air France only shows AF/KLM. Thanks a bunch for all of your posts!

  6. @ Kai — That’s the thing, unfortunately you can’t search online. The only way to search Korean Air space is to call Delta. Most of the time I’d rather lock myself in a prison cell than do that, though. They also have blackout dates. But when you factor in a 50%-67% bonus, there *are* opportunities out there…

  7. In the end, the evidence is there: All of the reward programs are tightening their belts a bit – some more than others, and, while award flights (almost typed ‘fights’) still occur, they ‘cost’ more miles and the true benefits are being diluted. With the pending introduction of serious cash revenue requirements on some plans for 2012-2013, the opportunist mileage runs may become less productive. Good deals and good benefits are – and will remain available, but you’ll have to work harder and spend more to get them. Truth be told folks, the major lines Have great big computers and excellent programmers. They KNOW who you are and they know more about how you schedule and route than you do. The do not like giving away F class seats to folks who really do not produce a lot of fresh revenue. Of course, it is still a viable hobby for those with the time and the skill, but chasing the hobby is going to become increasingly expensive. Hike up your shorts and get your credit cards ready… -C.

  8. Lucky: What are your thoughts of the value of Continental’s award chart vs. ANA’s award chart? If you want to fly USA to Asia in business class, wouldn’t ANA be just as good of a value or possibly better? Then you could make more stops (longer than 24 hours), but could you do it for fewer miles? Thoughts???

  9. @ Carberrie — While ANA’s award chart isn’t half bad, the thing to keep in mind is that they impose fuel surcharges on award tickets, and those get VERY hefty when dealing with tickets to Asia with multiple stops. So if you want a lot of stops it might be worth the cost, but I’d rather book through Continental and pay $50 in taxes, vs. $500+++ with ANA.

  10. Another factor is the lower number of elite bonus RDMs in 2012, although only a rumor at this point. I think that since MP is giving out less in 2012, then each mile is worth a little more than its current value.

  11. @ David — Good point!

    @ Jim — For me the earn ratio on the Premier Rewards Gold card is still unrivaled. The other day I was on the phone with Delta ticketing something, and at the end of the call the agent wanted to sell me on the Delta credit card, saying I’d be earning two miles per dollar for the purchase. I said “only 2 miles? With the card I’m using I’m earning 4.5 Delta miles per dollar!”

    For me the fact remains that I spend a ton on air travel, and three points per dollar on that is amazing. With a 50% bonus that’s 4.5 Delta or British Airways miles per dollar. I can’t get anywhere close to that kind of an earn ratio with another card.

    But for “normal” purchases where I earn one Membership Reward point per dollar spent, I’m once again much more inclined to use my SPG card.

  12. I believe the Chase SP card comes pretty close if you book through travelocity. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m sure you get 2 points by booking through the rewards mall and an extra 2 points for travel expenses. Half a point off isn’t too bad.

  13. @Brian, you can also get 2% cashback on top of the the 4.5 Delta Miles through various cash back sites

  14. @Lucky what would you recommend for someone who travels economy class but with plenty of stopovers and transfers?

  15. Lucky: Does ANA charge fuel surcharges on all partners? So for USA-Asia with a few stops would cost roughly $500? If so, it’s not as bad as BA but still more than I’d like to pay… How much would USA-TLV be in fuel surcharges on Star Alliance partners?

  16. how can u recommend getting any deeper with CO/UA given that so many issues are in flux, I really think that the best bet, unless you are forced to fly UA all the time is to start moving away from UA. I am sure that the chart will change again at UA and very soon!

  17. @ Brian — The issue is that a lot of my travel can’t be booked through Travelocity, as it’s taxes on award tickets, etc.

  18. @ ASen — Well if you need a lot of stopovers then Continental isn’t for you. Then ANA might be better, though you will pay fuel surcharges. Depending on where you’re going I think it might be the best bet to book through Continental, have one stopover, and then book regional flights separately.

  19. @ Carberrie — They charge fuel surcharges equal to what the partner airline you’re flying would charge on a revenue ticket. US Airways, for example, doesn’t charge fuel surcharges. Most other partners do. If you do a revenue “dummy” booking on ITA you can tell how much taxes and fuel surcharges come out to. I just searched for Continental through Newark, and it looks like taxes and fuel surcharges total about $600.

  20. @ elite flyer — Well if anything, the proposed changes might actually increase the value of United miles. There will be fewer opportunities to earn United miles thanks to the reduced elite bonuses and increased thresholds to achieve status, and fewer ways to transfer miles to United. So while I don’t like the direction they’re heading overall, I think the move increases the value of United miles.

  21. Lucky-
    I have a question. Lets say example I want to fly from IAD to BOM or somewhere in India – which is about 16-17K round trip in base miles. ANA charges 105K miles whereas Continental charges 120K miles. Also I read on ANA’s website that – For Continental Airlines First class, required mileage will be for business class. Would it not be more useful to book through ANA?

  22. I had been debating this very same thing and I decided to transfer my miles several weeks ago when FAA taxes were suspended. Usually when you transfer AMEX Rewards points to miles you are required to pay taxes on the points and they can be substantial on anything over 50,000 miles. When I transferred about 20,000 miles no taxes were imposed. That’s a fairly good reason to transfer them now, IMO.

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