Don’t Take Advantage of American Express Transfer Bonuses!

Yesterday American Express came out with a 35% bonus on transfers to Virgin Atlantic. But Virgin Atlantic has the worst miles and hits you with fuel surcharges.

Today they came out with a 50% bonus on transfers to Starwood Preferred Guest. Starwood points are awesome, but you’re still only getting 1 Starwood point for every 2 Amex Membership Rewards points. There’s the occasional person that’ll find some value in this offer. But most should hold onto their Amex points.

There’s now also a 33% bonus on transfers to Hilton through November 30.

Oddly, I don’t see the bonus when using Google Chrome.

But it does come up for me using Internet Explorer.

In any case, especially after Hilton’s massive devaluation last year (and that was after program changes during the Great Recession that was ‘the worst devaluation in 17 years’), transfers to Hilton aren’t going to be great value.

That doesn’t mean you never transfer Amex points. The only way you’ll get meaningful value out of your points is to transfer them. There’s no value in collecting them for their own sake (the simple aesthetic of seeing a big balance).

But it’s worth remembering basic principles.

The most valuable transfers of American Express points are to airline frequent flyer programs.

  • Amex’s hotel program partners, other than Starwood, tend to have inflated currencies. So when they transfer 1:1 or even 1:2 you’re not getting as much as you think. Since a Hilton HHonors hotel might cost 80,000 points a night, that’s still 40,000 Amex points a night with this bonus. You’ll do far more with 40,000 Amex points used towards airfare.
  • You aren’t going to get more than about a penny a point using Membership Rewards to buy airfare or merchandise. You’d be hard pressed to get less value out of airline transfer partners.

The current transfer promotions are weak. Virgin Atlantic miles are among the least valuable. Most people shouldn’t want those. Hilton’s currency is way too inflated. And you simply don’t get enough Starwood points transferring there.

I’ve gotten value from Delta transfer bonuses in the past, we haven’t seen those for quite some time largely as Delta was working through their new revenue-based program (and indeed planning to cap transfers in from partners like American Express).

Membership Rewards once offered an 80% bonus on transfers to Delta for those that had never done so before. That’s because, by mistake, two different promotions were stackable. That was worth it for some.

So was earning up to 25,000 elite qualifying miles for transferring Amex points to Delta back in late 2010 and again in early 2011 (the latter only for first time transfers).

(The best Delta partner bonus ever, a 150% bonus on partner activity, excluded Membership Rewards.)

Don’t be temped by transfer promotions unless they’re extraordinary.

The greatest value in American Express Membership Rewards points is optionality. The same lesson applies to Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and to a lesser extent Starwood points (lesser because of the time it takes to transfer from Starwood to airline partners, you don’t have true optionality because you can’t generally wait to find award space and then make a transfer when your plans are firm).

You earn points and you get to decide later where to put them, based on the trip you want to redeem for. You get to figure out what frequent flyer program is best, or what account you need to top off to have enough miles for the trip, who has award space you need. And with many Amex partners (like Delta, Aeroplan, British Airways, Air France Flying Blue) the transfers are instantaneous.

The moment you transfer, though, you lose options. That’s why I don’t like to transfer until I have a real specific use for the points. It’s why it takes a really big transfer bonus, like 80%, to get me to give up my Membership Rewards balance.

These bonuses aren’t big enough, and they aren’t for transfers to the best partners. here are the best partners for transferring American Express points to. You won’t see Virgin Atlantic, Starwood, or Hilton on the list.

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. Hi Gary, personally I agree with the premise of all the aspects in this post. With a slight sideline in that while most people now detest the Hhonors program and see no value whatsoever, I thought as you said the Park Hyatt Maldives is your favorite hotel on the planet, you might be interested in my take!

    And that is… while I havent been to the PH there yet (have a booking in March though) I have been to the Conrad 3 times, which in my opinion is just spectacular and at 75,000 points per night for an Axon it actually does rival the Hyatt redemption if you get an upgrade due to status which they do it seems regularly.

    A King Deluxe villa is like having a $5million house on the beach with front and back gardens, private pool etc. The resort has incredible dining options including the underwater restaurant, believe me that is not a gimmick, its simply amazing and the food does match the experience. The reef steps from the water’s edge beats most scuba spots in the world and you just need a mask and snorkel. Mind blowing. I currently need a few more HH points to reach the 4 night threshold discount and will gladly transfer Amex MR for that at 2:1. All day long in fact!

    But yeah, aside from that still bright spot in aspirational redemptions, Hilton’s spark is of course diminished.

    Happy travels.

  2. TrueBlue are one of the underrated options.

    for 12000 TrueBlue ( 15000 Amex ) you can obtain tickets to some expensive destinations, that would cost you $500-700 dollars.

    I just purchased a ticket to Cartagena, Colombia using TrueBlue. ~15k Amex. Ticket was selling for $480+ ( Thanksgiving.)

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