A lot of people with an American Express charge card got an email yesterday offering them a conversion bonus if they moved their Membership Rewards points into airline miles.
There seem to be two versions of the email. The one I got offered a 25% bonus for conversions into British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Etihad and Finnair. Reports on Flyertalk mention a 30% version as well.
This is far cry from the 40% and even 100% bonuses seen in the past. I am in two minds as to whether I should bite.
The first thing to remember is that the bonus miles generally post in arrears. If you are thinking of doing a transfer and then using the Avios points next week, don’t. Whilst your base Avios will go across quickly, the small print says that the 25% bonus for Avios will be credited by 15th April. That is a whole two months after the promotion finishes on 15th February!
Secondly, do not rush to open an account with an airline you don’t normally collect with. We have family in the Middle East and travel down there quite a bit, so an Etihad account MAY be of interest to me. However, before I opened an account and made a transfer to them, I would want to know:
- how many miles are needed (vs BA and Virgin) for business class to Abu Dhabi
- how their fuel surcharges compare
- how difficult it is to get 4 business class seats on the same flight
- what their policy is on change fees, cancellation penalties etc
Remember, for example, that Virgin only returns 75% of your miles if you cancel a redemption – and you get nothing back if you cancel within 7 days of departure!
Thirdly, remember that you can get a 60% Avios bonus by opening an International Dollar Card (IDC) with Amex.
An IDC card is a normal Amex card but operating in US$. They are available to UK residents, but Amex is quite strict on who gets one. It takes a couple of months to be approved and if you haven’t been a long-term Amex customer (10 years plus) they usually want a written bank reference.
IDC has its own Membership Rewards programme – the catalogue is here. The work of genius here is that you can ring Amex and transfer your points from the UK MR programme to the IDC programme. Your balance is automatically increased by the £/$ exchange rate – so at $1.60 to the £, your 100,000 UK MR points will become 160,000.
Now, most redemption partners have worse exchange rates to compensate for this (BA and Virgin are 3:2 compared to 1:1 in the UK scheme, for example). Iberia, however, is still 1:1. This means that 100,000 UK MR points (= 100,000 BA or Iberia Avios) becomes 160,000 IDC MR points (= 160,000 Iberia Avios, but only 107,000 BA Avios).
Obviously this anomaly will not last for ever, but it is there today. A few other airlines are also 1:1 in the IDC MR catalogue, such as Finnair. Etihad is 3:2, however, so there is no arbitrage there.
Fourthly, remember that you can buy up to 10,000 Membership Rewards points per year for 1.5p each.
This might be worth it, depending on how you value an Avios. With the 30% bonus, you’d be getting 13,000 Avios for £150, or 1.15p each. I am not a buyer at that price, but you might be. It depends on how you plan to redeem them. Full details here.
Finally, remember that you can transfer Membership Rewards points to another person for a flat fee of £15.
Again, details here. If your partner was targetted but you were not, you can transfer your points to him/her and get the bonus that way!
This might be a good deal for you. And it might not. Think it through first. You have a few weeks to decide.