Earlier this year, my wife asked me to keep an eye out for any opportunities for us to visit Europe in May 2020 to celebrate her milestone birthday. Accordingly, I tracked trends, and continued to save our points while I waited for a deal.
Our primary cards are the American Express Platinum, Gold and Blue Business Plus which means when we earn 4-10% back on our purchases, we earn those rewards in the form of American Express points (valued by TPG at $0.02/each). One of the things I like about these points, is the Point Transfer travel partners that allow you to convert your American Express points into various brands such as hotel points with Hilton or Marriott; or to airline miles with over a dozen airlines including Delta, Flying Blue (Air France, KLM), Hawaiian, Emirates and more.
Flexibility: The Key to Success
Flexibility is key when planning a big points redemption. Having an idea of where you’d like to travel (somewhere in Europe) rather than a specific destination, will allow you to best take advantage of sale opportunities. In a perfect world, your dates would be flexible too (sometime this Spring), but in our case, we had a very specific range of dates to work with as we balanced operational demands and advanced PTO approval with our respective employers.
Game Plan: Hotel or Airfare
With the versatility of our points, I began to develop a game plan for what we’d best pay with points. I may oversimplify this here, but I simply priced out airfare like I had to use cash to purchase it; I then mapped out lodging. In this case, the airfare was much more expensive while the lodging was quite reasonable when paying cash, so this helped shape my search.
I reminded you above that the valuation on our American Express points is $0.02/point. For that reason, this remains my goal when going into any redemption of points: Stay at or above the valuation for those specific points.
For example, let’s pretend we have 50,000 American Express points (valued at $0.02 x 50,000 = $1,000). I should be looking to receive $1,000 in value for anything I spend my points on.
You may also decide to do a dynamic review of your options: When trying to compare apples to apples, take the cost in cash for a hotel or airfare expense, and divide it by the number of points that you can redeem to pay for it instead. In the above example, let’s say we found a great flight that we could redeem 50,000 points for. When we go to book the flight on its own, we find that it would cost $500 in cash. $500 / 50,000 points = a $0.01 point valuation. In this quick fact check, we see we’re not maximizing the value of our points and should continue looking for better options since the proven valuation is at least $0.02/point.
Finding a Deal
I have a regular habit of checking for promotions on my American Express account. In early August, I logged in to find an offer for a 40% bonus on British Airways Executive Club Avios. At this time, I had just over 80,000 points saved up which means I could receive up to 112,000 Avios when transferring.
In order to see if this deal would work for us, I began shopping Avios redemptions online. I had never shopped with British Airways before, so I quickly created my free Executive Club account and obtained my membership ID number. Armed with my new credentials, I clicked “Shop with Avios.”
When redeeming your miles, many airlines will allow you to use stopovers at no additional charge. That means you can delay your connecting flight in order to enjoy some time in the connecting city before continuing on.
Originally eyeing Paris, I had searched for direct flights between San Francisco and Paris only to be disappointed that there were no direct flights available for reward travel; I had to connect through London.
I’ve booked stopover award flights before, but never with British Airways which proved to be one of the simplest user-interfaces to complete this complicated booking. As you can see in the screen below, the booking website even prompted me to book a stopover as part of my mile redemption!
With the stopover benefit in mind, I restarted my search. Rather than four days in Paris, what if we spent two days in London first since we would need to stop there anyway? Sure enough, the stopover itinerary was the same price! A total of 100,500 Avios for two round-trip tickets!
Now that I had confirmed that I A) had enough American Express Points to transfer to Avios; and B) British Airways had an itinerary meeting our needs for that value, I began the process of moving my points!
This process of 1:1 Transfer advertises that it could take up to 48 hours to complete, but I’ve never had that experience. Though this transfer made me wait an excruciating four minutes, it ultimately was an instant transfer as my previous experiences had been.
Using the 40% bonus promotion, I transferred 72,000 American Express membership rewards points in exchange for 100,800 Avios (you are required to transfer in multiples of 1,000).
After deciding to book this redemption, I took my own advice and priced out the same exact itinerary using cash instead:
The cost for two round-trip tickets was $4,550.96. When we used 72,000 American Express membership reward points, we only paid $613.98 in surcharges! That means that the 72,000 points paid for $3,936.98 of the trip; a valuation of $0.05468/point or 2.7X the usual valuation of those points. That made this a great redemption for us.
Note: The fuel surcharges we incurred are typical for British Airways which charges large fees compared to its competitors. For this reason, when booking your redemption you may try to avoid using British Airways if possible.