How to get a 30% bonus on your Membership Rewards balance – but why it isn’t always a great idea

One of the downsides of the fall of Sterling against the Dollar and the Euro has been to destroy, pretty much, the generous arbitrage that used to be available if you held the American Express International Dollar Card.

In the past with Sterling at $1.60, you could use this to get a 60% bonus on your existing UK Membership Rewards balance.  This is especially interesting if you have thought about booking a Singapore Airlines redemption because it reduces the cost substantially as you will discover below.

The fall in the US$ to 1.30 to the £1 means that this option is less exciting than it was as you are now only getting a 30% bonus.  There are still reasons for doing it however which I will discuss below.

Please note this is ‘PhD level’ points collecting. It is unsuitable for anyone with an Amex Membership Rewards balance of under 50,000 points and/or no experience of airline programmes apart from Avios.

Let me explain in simple terms how you can benefit from this:

Amex Green

Amex issues (from the UK) an International Dollar Card. They come in Green, Gold and Platinum.   For the purposes of this discussion we are only interested in the Green card which has an annual fee of $100 and an additional $36 annual fee to access Membership Rewards.

This card bills in US$ and you must pay the bill in US$ by bank transfer.  Most UK online banking systems can handle this – I do it via HSBC with no problems.  

As a US$ card, any Sterling transactions you make on it are hit with a 3% FX fee plus you have to pay whatever charges your bank makes for transferring money to Amex in $ to pay your bill.  This means there is no point getting this card for general day to day spending due to the FX fees unless you have a US$ bank account and spend a lot of money in the US

However, once you have the card, you can transfer your UK Membership Rewards balance to your IDC card Membership Rewards account. Your balance is grossed up by the £/$ exchange rate, so currently you get 1.3x your UK balance.  100,000 UK MR points will turn into 130,000 points in your IDC MR account.

You are only allowed one transfer from the UK to IDC scheme every 12 months (rolling 12 months)

However, most Membership Rewards products for IDC cardholders are more expensive (see here). Avios transfers are 3:2 instead of 1:1 from the UK scheme.  This makes it pointless as you would actually end up worse off.

However, a number of airlines – including Singapore Airlines – allow 1:1 transfers, so you are effectively getting a 30% bonus on transferring to them.

There are also partners in the IDC Membership Rewards programme who are not in the UK programme.  These include Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Jumeirah Hotels.

Getting an IDC card used to be very complex, including bank references.  Amex appears to be taking it easier these day if you are an existing cardholder, which you would be.

How can I benefit from this?

The following airline partners let you transfer 1:1 from the IDC Membership Rewards programme into your airline account. This means (because of the 30% uplift when you move your points from the UK to IDC MR programmes) you effectively get a 30% transfer bonus.

  • Alitalia (SkyTeam)
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (oneworld)
  • Finnair (oneworld)
  • Malaysia Airlines (oneworld) (not in the UK MR scheme)
  • Singapore Airlines (Star Alliance)

The following airlines and hotels are also IDC Membership Rewards partners but are NOT worth transferring to because they have adjusted their transfer rate compared to the UK scheme:

  • Avios (BA and Iberia) 3:2 (UK 1:1)
  • Club Carlson 2:3 (UK 1:3)
  • Delta Skymiles 3:2 (UK 1:1)
  • Emirates Skywards 3:2 (UK 1:1)
  • Etihad Guest 3:2 (UK 1:1)
  • Flying Blue 3:2 (UK 1:1)
  • Hilton HHonors – 4:5 (UK 1:2)
  • SAS EuroBonus 3:2 (UK 1:1)
  • Starwood 3:1 (UK 2:1)
  • Virgin Flying Club 3:2 (UK 1:1)

The following are not in the UK scheme but are in the IDC scheme:

  • Jumeirah Sirius – 4:1
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club – 3:2
  • Malaysia Airlines – 1:1

I have used transfers to the Jumeirah Sirius scheme to pay for our regular Dubai holidays for the last couple of years.

Conclusion

You should only consider an IDC American Express card if you are interested in moving your Membership Rewards points to Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Singapore Airlines, Malaysian, Qatar Airways or Jumeirah Hotels.  The first four have attractive 1:1 rates whilst the last three are not UK Amex partners.

Singapore Airlines is likely to be the most popular option because Singapore is SUBSTANTIALLY more generous with award seats for its own members than it is for other Star Alliance partners.  I booked my Singapore flights via this route when we went there on holiday last year.

The good news is that all three major alliances are covered here, so you can access the bulk of the major global airlines.

You would, of course, have to look carefully at each programme before transferring. You could book a BA flight via Finnair, Cathay or Malaysian, for example, but you would need to pick a route for redemption and then see which carrier needs fewest miles. You also need to consider cancellation and change fees and whether one-way awards are possible.

As I said, this is definitely not something for beginners. If you know what you’re doing, however, there could be real value to be had.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Another benefit for Marriott members joining Starwood - dining discounts
250 free Avios still available if you pre-register for Aer Lingus AerClub
About Head for Points

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Comments

  1. OT Have a voucher code for 25% off National Express coachcard if anyone wants it (think it’s targetted so might only work once) – can get 1 adult 1 child for £6, or 2+2 for £12
    Voucher ID FC1610-4778-01
    Security Code 8161D53A4B

    redeem at nationalexpress.com/familyrenewal

    Anyone got a code for discount on family railcard?

  2. Are there any sign up bonuses on the IDC?

  3. I moved to Canada just before Brexit and literally doubled my MR points and still got a 50k signup bonus. Not bad going. The only sad thing is that there are less partners but Aeroplan is proving to be very useful.

  4. Raffles, hi. Do you know if there’s a way to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card for UK residents? I’m dying to get one -it’s soooo good.
    Thank you

    • There’s lots of nice deals in the US card arena, sadly not an option unless you’ve got a US Social Security Number (plus some sort of credit file there!)

  5. The right redemption can really work well via this method with CX too.
    2 pax LHR-HKG-LHR in BA Club (peak) would require 180k + a 241 voucher. At 1.33 exchange rate, convert the 180k MR to Cathay = 240k, with which you can book exactly the same 2 seats on BA yet no need to burn the 241 voucher. If you choose to fly Cathay instead benefit from lower taxes/fees and a better experience. I’m doing exactly this for a Vietnam trip next year, and the connecting flights from HKG-DAD//HAN-HKG were included free on the same booking thanks to the CX distance based (rather than segments) reward chart.

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