American Express Devalues Transfers to British Airways

With British Airways’ huge devaluation six weeks ago, British Airways is no longer a good place to credit flight activity. And it’s no longer a good program for premium cabin long haul redemptions.

Short Distance Rewards are Great With the British Airways Program

The miles are worth much less than before, except for one thing — short distance non-stop awards.

Flights of 650 miles or less remain just 4500 points each way in economy. Flights up to 1150 miles are just 7500 points each way in economy. And business class is double that.

For instance:

    DC-Chicago on American and DC-New York LaGuardia on the US Airways Shuttle represent great deals at 9000 miles roundtrip. New York – Toronto at 9000 points each way for business class (free checked bags) is a great deal, too.

British Airways points have been exceptionally easy to get because they transfer from both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. American Express has even offered frequent transfer bonuses for moving points to BA.

American Express is Devaluing British Airways Transfers

Unfortunately, via Travel with Grant, starting October 1 the transfer ratio for American Express to both British Airways and Iberia (whose points transfer to British Airways) will drop to 5-to-4. It will take 250 Membership Rewards points to get 200 British Airways or Iberia points.

American Express has several other airline transfer partners that aren’t 1-to-1, but they’re more oddball types of currencies — JetBlue, El Al, and Virgin America.

It will be interesting to see as well whether American Express is able to offer transfer bonuses to British Airways in the future, which could effectively bring them back to full value transfers (or better) for limited periods of time.

My Guess is Chase Transfers Will Remain One-to-One

Last month Chase announced an extension of its British Airways relationship, and confirmed that also meant a continuation of transfers of Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways.

I presume the re-upped British Airways relationship came along with higher cost of points for Chase, which is why they reduced earnings from 1.25 points per dollar to 1 point per dollar.

I’d imagine that American Express will see a higher cost of points as well starting in October. It’s also possible that the new Chase contract requires that other card issuer products not be able to earn 1 British Airways point per dollar. It will be interesting to see whether Starwood is forced to devalue British Airways transfers as well.

Given Chase’s larger relationship with BA they may be buying the miles more cheaply than American Express is. And their co-brand British Airways card still earns 1 mile per dollar. All Chase transfer partners currently transfer 1-to-1 so it would be a huge departure if they devalued Ultimate Rewards transfers to BA. Thus my guess is that Chase transfers remain at ‘full value’ while American Express transfers devalue.

American Express Announces a New Poor Transfer Value

Travel With Grant also points out that you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Plenti at a ratio of 500 Membership Rewards to 400 Plenti. Plenti points are worth a penny apiece. So that’s a valuation of 0.8 cents per Membership Rewards points. Pathetic.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,
    I might add one “value” that is often overlooked on these travel boards, particularly if you plan on flying in winter months, is when you book a flight on a European carrier like BA, you have extra benefits you don’t get from American carriers. We recently used AA miles to fly to Ireland, flew over on AA, return on BA. There were weather delays in Dublin which forced us to be late for our flight out of London back to the U.S. and BA changed our flights, gave us transport to a motel, the room, food and got us on the next flight out the following day. American carriers will sometimes do this, but my understanding is that if it is a weather delay, they have no requirement to do so. In fact, one of the other passengers in the business class line with us was AA Exec Platinum and he didn’t know he was entitled to any compensation at all, he told us we wouldn’t get anything but we asked. We were also given a pamphlet on passenger rights and it was very enlightening.
    I was actually glad I had paid the extra taxes and fees for the BA flight.

  2. @Penny – I think you are referring to EUR 261/2004 Compensation. The compensation is up to 600 Euros if you are delayed at your final destination by over 4 hours for transatlantic long-haul flights. Hotels and meals are also required beyond a certain point.

    European airlines have to do this for you both directions while non-European airlines only have to provide it when flying OUT of Europe, not to Europe.

    So ideally, you could fly BA to Europe and AA back if you wanted this comp. Most people have no clue about it and they make it a pain to get the monetary compensation.

  3. @Penny: Wouldn’t it have been better to bank the fees imposed by BA and just booked the hotel and purchased the food instead? For every 10 times you fly BA and only get 1 weather delay where you need to pay for accommodations out of pocket, you could be saving incredible amounts of money.

  4. Glad to see that YYZ-NYC in business class is 9,000 Avios each way. For a while on the <650 mile trips, and perhaps this was destination specific, they were pricing out as First Class, rather than Business Class. I would often mix Business/Economy between YYZ and LGA when I needed specific dates and economy wasn't available. Spending an extra 4,500 Avios to fly business was worth it to me. If they price at 1st Class pricing then that value proposition changes dramatically. Peak pricing on the new chart is something like 18,000 Avios o/w. That hurts.

  5. @Cory not sure what routes you specifically were referring to but any AA/US domestic 2-class F will price as 3-class F in avios. Take the same plane and fly it across the border and it prices as J. So yes it is destination specific in that AA changes its inventory classes, to which the BA redemption pricing matches, for int’l vs. domestic.

  6. Thanks @CW. Yeah, must be that I was looking at a domestic flight such as O’Hare to Nashville. My normal redemption is YYZ-LGA, so I guess I didn’t put that together. I guess I understand the reason why, but it still seems incredibly stupid to me. A short-haul flight on a domestically configured first class seat should never be 4x the cost of economy on an award redemption.

  7. Make no mistake — this is a devaluation of British Airways as well. If you can’t earn miles easily with them, then it’s hard to justify crediting flights to them.

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