Rewards points/frequent flier miles choice - any advice?

Calling the great minds of the Dope with insight into frequent flier miles redemption!

So the situation is that I have a relative who is very generously giving me her American Express rewards points (about 150K). We’re trying to strategize the best use of these points.

One choice is to transfer the points to a frequent flier program. Amex is allowing the transfer of points to any of the following rewards programs:

Aero Mex
Air Canada
Air France
All Nippon
British Airways
Virgin Atlantic

I don’t currently have accounts with any of those programs, but I do have about 80K miles with my United account.

My long time goal has been to use the miles for a large ticket. In particular I was trying to get to Nepal with a friend. But, perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve found it very hard to redeem the miles - blackout dates and devaluation of miles have made it a frustrating game. So frustrating in fact that I’ve pretty much stopped using my mileage credit card and seeking out points opportunities.

So, great minds of the dope, how would you proceed from here? Do you think there’s any difference among the listed rewards programs in terms of how easy it is to redeem the miles? How about in terms of overall value? I’d like to get the most out these miles, i.e., not use them for routes that are sometimes very affordable. (I’m in Chicago). What would you do in my situation?

I’d appreciate any thoughts or tips to help make this decision. Many thanks!

First and foremost, make sure that AMEX allows the transfer of points from one person to another. Some will not allow this at all; some charge a fee. Make sure you are clear on AMEX’s rules before beginning this process because companies can and will forfeit all the points if you break their rules.

Your relative will definitely be allowed to convert his/her AMEX MR points to the participating airline partner of his/her choice IN HIS/HER NAME. And most airlines allow a member to book a reward trip in someone else’s name. That is an acceptable work-around.

If you already have 80k United miles, I’d start there. First, check to make sure that they convert on a 1 MR to 1 UA mile ratio. If they don’t, then go with another airline.

As to the best airline for reward redemption, I’d go to FlyerTalk and pose the question to the experts there.

I second the suggestion to go to flyertalk: The people there are true experts on frequent flyer programs.


You will be amazed at how creative and knowledgeable the posters there are.

As a couple quick thoughts:

(a) since you might be headed to Asia, I have found ANA has lowish reward mile levels for N. Am.-Asia.

(b) Through the end of March, you can get a 40% bonus on AMEX miles transferred to BA, which is pretty huge (then you can use the BA miles on any OneWorld carrier).

Thank you Lisa, suranyi, and Huerta for your responses!

OK, I’ve signed up at FlyerTalk and will be posting there shortly. I’ll definitely keep checking here, though. This has already been helpful.

Lisa, we’ve checked with Amex and there is a fee, but it definitely seems worth it for the miles.

We did look at transferring to United, but it wouldn’t be one-to-one which is why we were then looking at these other programs.

Huerta, thanks for those tips. That British Airways special may be a great fit.

I have to make this transaction happen soon, middle of next week by the latest, so I’ll keep checking back here and I’ll also report what the FlyerTalk people suggest.

If your relative is friendly enough to give you these miles, she’s likely friendly enough to let you create an account using her name/details and transfer it to that account with no fee and book a ticket in your name (most programs let you redeem for tickets for anyone you want).

Make sure that the airlines you pick has a good number of flights out of your location, to places you want to go.
I picked up an American Airlines miles-perk credit card 15 years ago, and I’ve used the miles to cover a number of flights.
Then we moved to a different city. While AA flies into/out of the new city, there are many less flights, and through AA hubs. So now, instead of “let’s book a flight to Dallas” it "let’s book a flight to Dallas that requires a plane change in either Atlanta or Denver.

Check on which of the airlines are looking at share an alliance.

Star alliance includes from your list:
Air Canada
as well as United and Lufthansa not on the list

Sky Team includes:
Air France
as well as KLM not on the list

One World:
British Airways
and American Airlines - not on the list

Many airlines allow use of their points on other airlines in the same alliance.

Agreed. This is the method I use when I gift flights/hotels.

Thank you Lisa, Tastes and Huerta! I’m going out for the night, but will be back to this tomorrow.

In the meantime, there’s more food for thought at FlyerTalk. Just as you thought, there are some very informed posters there, too.

I’m very sorry I didn’t mention the sneaky sneaky BA “fuel surcharge” – I’d heard about it but didn’t realize it was that big. But as I think I mentioned, once you’ve got miles in BA, you’ve got OneWorld options which to Asia include JAL and Cathay Pacific and maybe Royal Jordanian could do something for you?

Looks like they’re taking good care of you over there. They are pretty friendly and open to pretty much any question as long as (a) you provide them with as much detail as possible re what you’re trying to do; (b) don’t ask a question that a super-easy websearch or visit to the airline website could have answered; © at least skim/search their many existing threads so someone doesn’t have to answer a question that there’s five 30 page threads on already.