Points and Miles Game

I've been the points and miles game since 2018 when, out of the blue,  American Express sent me an offer to sign up for its Hilton Surpass card --- 130K points if i spend $2,000 in 3 months.  I always thought American Express was for rich people (still is!).  So I thought if I signed up, the card company would realize its mistake and reject me.  It didn't!  I was approved immediately with a credit limit of $8,000.  Prior to this, I always paid for things with cash or debit card, not wanting to fall into that well of debt.  After the Amex offer, I thought, "One card is manageable".  When it arrived, I switched all my spending to it and paid off the balance religiously each month.  That's key -- DO NOT GO INTO LONG-TERM DEBT TRYING TO PLAY THIS GAME.  It diminishes the rewards you're seeking and is just not worth it.

Once the 130k points populated into my account, I noticed another offer from Amex -- spend $15k on the card in a calendar year and get a free weekend night at (almost) any of its hotels.  That was dangerous.  I would never think to spend that much money on one card in one year.  But that free night certificate (also called a "cert") was tempting. So I paid my rent with the card (a big no-no due to processing fees!) then paid it off with the rent money from my checking account.  I got the certificate and hoarded it for a year until I could find the best use for it.  Then Amex put out another offer -- spend X amount of money in X time frame and get another free night cert.  I was already deep in the game, so I went for it -- once again not going into debt and paying off my balance each month.  So now I had two free certs -- how can I get more of these?  

I upgraded my Hilton card to Aspire where -- for a $450 annual fee -- I would automatically get a free night cert every year, PLUS $250 airline fee credit (this is a credit where you can offset costs with certain US carriers each year, like baggage fees, etc), a $250 Hilton resort credit (only to be used at a Hilton RESORT, not just any Hilton hotel) and complimentary Diamond status -- the highest elite hotel status in the Hilton brand, which "should" put you front-of-the-line for room upgrades, late check-outs, etc.  Now here's the kick -- Amex, at the time, ran a special where the annual fee would be waived the first and in the second year, it was only $95.  So for all the credit and the elite status, it was a bargain. Amex tried to weasel its way out of this offer -- and I had to file BBB and Dept of Consumer Affairs complaints --- and I won! I was getting really good at this game.  

Now what?

I want to go for the brass ring -- the American Express Platinum card.  The perks on this one was too sweet to pass up -- Centurion lounge access, Priority Pass membership (this is an international network of  airport lounges and restaurants that you would have access to -- it works better internationally than nationally because Amex's deal is a "Select membership" -- if you want to get more access in the US, I'd go with a Chase Sapphire Reserve card), the $200 a year hotel credit if you book via Fine Hotels and Resorts or the Hotel Collection (the first year of this -- when I enrolled -- it was a $400 credit!) , the $200 a year airline fee credit, an 80,000-Membership Rewards points welcome offer (pitiful compared to now), Elite Statuses with Hertz, Avis and National Car Rentals, Uber cash totaling $200 a year in $15 a month increments and a $35 bonus in December, and Amex offers from various merchants on purchases.  This opened up a new world for me and my passport.  I had a great track record with my Hilton card, so I thought being approved would be a cinch.  It was!  However, I couldn't get around the $695 annual fee -- but all of the perks and the 80,000-point welcome offer made up for it.

So now I was earning massive hotel points and transferable miles -- I'll explain those in a moment.  I no longer had to pay cash out-right for a ticket or a stay if I continued to play.  So I threw all my spending on the Platinum card until I exhausted all the benefits in the first year.  I still keep it because I value the Centurion lounge access (free food and booze mostly covers the annual fee for me) as well as the $200 airline fee credit, the $200 Uber credit and the elite statuses.  

As you can tell, I'm well-versed in the Amex universe.  I refuse to dive into the Chase world because of personal issues with Chase in the past.  It was my go-to bank for decades until they wronged me years ago. The wounds are old but still hurt, so I will never play in their playground -- but I can still show you how.

So now with a decent stash of Membership Reward miles and Hilton Honors points, it's 'time to start booking!  The cool thing about Membership Rewards is you have the flexibility to transfer them to several international airline carriers to book award tickets.  Award tickets are tickets you can book using Membership Reward points (instead of paying full or discounted fares), plus carrier charges and (yuck!) fuel surcharges.  

Here's a list of Amex airline transfer partners:

Aer Lingus AerClub

Aeromexico Club Premier

Air Canada Aeroplan

Air France/KLM Flying Blue

Ana Mileage Club

Avianca LifeMiles

British Airways Executive Club

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Delta SkyMiles

Emirates Skywards

Etihad Airways Guest Program

Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles


JetBlue TrueBlue

Qantas Frequent Flyer

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

I think these points are a waste on domestic carriers.  Besides, you can only book Membership Reward points on Delta, JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines, not American, United, Southwest, Spirit or Frontier airlines.  However, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United or JetBlue and Bilt Rewards (from Wells Fargo) points to American if you sign up for those cards. There is another back-door way to achieve this -- using international frequent flyer programs to book domestic travel on American, Delta and United.  I will get into that in a separate post.

The three best programs to transfer Membership Reward points, in my opinion, are:

Air Canada Aeroplan

Air France/KLM Flying Blue

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Some bloggers would add Avianca LifeMiles or Turkish Miles & Smiles, but I've never had success finding good business/first class award space on these websites.  If there is space, the redemption rates are incredible -- especially on United flights domestically.  ANA Mileage Club is another one I'm on the fence about -- especially because I want to take advantage of its Round the World Award program. If you're ambitious, this is a great program to see several countries in one sitting for under 300,000 points in business class if you do it correctly.  I plan to do this sometime in the spring of 2024, so when I book it, I'll write a post outlining my strategy.

Now back to transferring points and miles..

Most of the airline transfer are 1:1 -- meaning for every point you transfer, you get one award point at the airline.  Let's go with Aeroplan as an example.  I found a one-way business class award ticket from SNA-to-YUL for 69,700 miles plus $68 CAD ($51 USD):

Since this is a one-way fare, I would want to transfer MORE THAN the 69,700 points from Amex because I would want to book a return flight.  YOU DON'T HAVE to do this.  But for this example, I'm going to transfer 101,000 points.

So I log in to Amex, then find the Benefits and Rewards tab on the home page: 

After clicking on "Rewards and Benefits, find the "Earn and Redeem" tab in the bar just below "Rewards and Benefits" tab:

Click the "Earn and Redeem" tab, bring the drop-down menu and click on the "Transfer Points" tab at the bottom: 

This will bring up Amex's list of transferable partners:

For this example, we're using Air Canada's Aeroplan:

Amex will walk you through how to link your Aeroplan account to its transfer page.   Make sure you sign up for the Aeroplan program to get an account number for Amex and PROOFREAD THE ACCOUNT NUMBER you type in so that the points are transferred correctly.  On the subsequent Amex page,  move the slider to the number of points you want to transfer:

A reminder:  you can only transfer in increments of 1,000 points.  Since the award ticket costs 69,700, you would have to transfer over at least 70,000.  When you're ready, hit the "Review Transfer" button on the bottom right-hand side:

You will get this screen:   your last chance to review everything before you make the transfer:

Quick note:  you may have noticed on the last 2 screens that the transfer may take up to 48 hours to complete. Most of the time, the transfers are instantaneous, which helps when you want to book that award ticket right away.  If you notice that doesn't happen, call Aeroplan (800-361-5373) ask a rep to hold that ticket in your account,  If, for some reason, they can't hold it, don't transfer because you can't re-populate those points back to Amex.  They will be stuck in the Aeroplan program until you find another use for them.

And that's pretty much how you do it.  Chase, Citibank, Capital One and Bilt all do it the same way with little variances, but the methodology is pretty much uniform.  You can also do this for hotel transfers but I generally wouldn't recommend doing that with Amex points because the redemption values are not good -- plus you can buy hotel points on sale from the chain much more cheaply than transferring points .

I know this is a lot to take in.  Any questions, hit me up on my social media accounts and I can answer any questions you may have.

More tips and tricks on the way!

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Happy travels!