Should I Transfer My American Express Points to Continental Before Their Partnership Ends?

One of the questions I’ve been frequently asked lately is whether or not someone with American Express Membership Rewards points should transfer their points to Continental before the partnership ends September 30. I’ve been averaging at least 2-3 emails a week asking what to do. And it’s actually a riff on a larger question which is, “what should I do with my American Express points?” because folks seem to have a natural urge to transfer them somewhere.

I’ve just answered a similar question on Milepoint, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

Here’s my reply:

Definitely not ‘now’ — you have through September 30 to transfer to Continetnal. So might as well wait at least that long to see what needs you have in the meantime, or what other bonuses come up.

For instance, in February and March Amex was giving a 40% bonus on transfers to BA. I topped off my BA account to make sure I had enough miles in it for 2 first class awards between the US and much of Asia on Cathay Pacific.

But I didn’t go ‘all in’ on that bonus, either. See, I really value the flexibility and that with many of their partners points post instantly. That’s certainly the case with Continental (though I’ve had 10-15 minute lags for the points to show as available) as well as Aeroplan and Delta. ANA transfers take a few days, so do Singapore transfers.

But even after Continental drops out of the program, there will stil be Aeroplan and ANA for Star Alliance awards. And remember that Amex points can be really useful for topping off accounts or just keeping accounts active. After all, with most partners you can transfer miles to whomever you wish and not just to other cardholders on your account. If you ask Amex they’ll tell you differently, but all you have to do is link anyone’s frequent flyer account on the Membership Rewards website and then once linked make the transfer. You can even have more than one person’s Delta or more than one person’s Continental account saved to your Membership Rewards account at one time. Very cool benefit.

That ANA transfer option can be quite useful for Virgin Atlantic redemptions (no fuel surcharges and often fewer miles than Virgin charges, JFK-LHR is only 63k roundtrip for Upper Class).

Aeroplan gets you North America to South Asia (as far South as Singapore) for 120k in first class or 100k in business. Or US West Coast to much of Europe for 80k in business.

Personally I wouldn’t transfer to Continental unless there was a specific need to top off a Continental account. Plenty of other good transfer partners, and I value my optionality too much!

Bottom-line to me is that Amex points remain incredibly valuable even after they lose Continental as a partner, and one of the most useful things is flexible miles — and in particular flexible miles that transfer quickly. There’s few better places to store miles than with American Express, it takes a pretty big bonus to ever get me to move points out of a Membership Rewards account without a specific award booking I need to make with the points.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Great advice Gary. People always ask me if I think there will be a Continental transfer bonus before the relationship ends and while I’ve been wrong before, I highly, highly doubt there will be one. Your thoughts?

  2. Looking to go N America to Israel in Business. Alitalia appears to be the least miles (80K). Mem rewards is a partner, so is there any other way to accum miles in Alitalia? Also, I hear that there are fuel surcharges–are they as excessive as BA???

  3. Completely agree on all these points Gary, the flexibility of MR and SPG is huge for me (although the longer transfer times with SPG sure do make things interesting)

  4. @The Points Guy can’t imagine a points bonus with a partner that’s leaving the program! And it’s been awhile since I had seen bonuses for Continental transfers anyway, they used to be quite common back 2002 and 2004. But more recently not so much and certainly not since Continental joined Star Alliance and saw their award redemption costs skyrocket (more than they had expected). Been wrong before but highly doubt it.

  5. I don’t know if you are aware but I saw something on TMtravelworld that talks about a Delta bonus transfer from Amex. 40% for transfers 100K and over and 25% bonus for under 100K. I topped off my son’s Delta account yesterday and received the bonus instantly for a trip to London in July.
    Just thought your readers might want to know.

  6. Some one just told me about this website, so you have probably dealt with this many times but I was wondering if Continental and United miles and be combined now that the airlines have merged?

  7. I have about 30,000 rewards points in my account but I will probably close my Membership Rewards card in June when they assess the annual fee. Do you know if I have to transfer my points before I close the card, or whether I can keep them for future use even if I close the card?

  8. @Cathy. I did the same thing this morning with Delta. I transferred 175,000 AMEX points to Delta, and picked up 70,000 bonus points, which combined with my existing SkyMiles to give me a total of 300,000. I then used those to book 2 Business/First round trip tickets from LA to Sydney on Virgin Australia. Delta flies the same route but wanted 240,000 SkyMiles per ticket, instead of the 150,000 on V Australia! Just a note to all of you people out their with SkyMiles – you’re much better off using them on a partner than with Delta!

  9. Gary, are you sure about your answer to Kevin W? An Amex rep told me that I would lose my MR points *only if* I was closing my only Membership Rewards-earning card; conversely, she claimed that so long as I had another active MR-earning card, I would not forfeit my MR points.

    As it happens, I had only the one account (and thus did the transfer before canceling), so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of her claims.

  10. Beltway is correct, if you have another Amex MR card you won’t lose the pts if you cancel the other.. There are diff levels of amex MR cards though, gold – platinum offer transfers to airlines, Blue does not. However, I was told by Amex if I closed my gold card, but kept a blue card (no annual fee) it would preserve my MR pts, but just not give me the ability to transfer to airlines. When I want to though, I can always reopen a new MR earning card (gold through platinum) and then have the airline transfer access. So as long as you keep SOMETHING open with them, you’re fine.

  11. Thank you all for your comments! I have another Amex but it is the Starwood Preferred Guest card which does not earn membership rewards, so I will follow the advice and transfer my membership points before closing that account. Thanks again!

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