Topping up your 35,000 American Airlines miles from MBNA

Back in April, MBNA launched the most generous credit card offer I have ever seen on a free airline credit card. If you took out their American Airlines card and spent £5,000 within six months, you would receive a whopping 35,000 American Airlines miles.

Most people who applied should have got their 35,000 bonus miles by now – although, as the last date to apply was 31st May, in theory some of you will still be working towards the £5,000 target.

Depending on how much of the £5,000 you put on the Amex card and how much went on the Visa, you will have between 38,750 and 42,500 American Airlines miles upon hitting £5,000.

American Airlines

You can do a lot with this. 30,000 AA miles is a one-way ticket on BA to India or the Middle East in Club World, or 40,000 miles gets you First Class. You can also fly on Etihad to Abu Dhabi for the same miles.

However, many people will want to fly to the US on their miles – especially as there are NO FUEL SURCHARGES if you redeem them on an American flight as opposed to a BA one.

Topping up your balance

At 50,000 AA miles for a one-way in Business Class to the US, you could be 11,250 – 7,500 miles short of your target. What is the easiest way to get these?

It obviously depends on what currencies you have to play with. (You could also buy the missing miles for cash but that should be a last resort.)

Here are six possible options, apart from the obvious one of continuing to put your day to day spend onto the AA credit card (!):

Credit upcoming British Airways and oneworld partner flights to American. If you are not bothered about earning tier points from any upcoming flights, then crediting the miles to AA instead of Avios is an easy way to boost your balance. If you have BA status, then wait until you arrive at the airport to change the number to AA or you may lose your seat selection.

(If you are flying to North America soon, there is also this promotion to earn 15,000 – 30,000 AA miles as a bonus for a round-trip. Even flying in World Traveller Plus on BA, credited to an AA account, gets you a 15,000 mile bonus.)

Transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points to AA. If you took out the SPG Amex card in the recent promotion, you will have 20,000 Starwood points – some of which could be moved across. Alternatively, you can still take out the SPG Amex and get 10,000 points (11,000 if I refer you). The good thing about the SPG card is that you can get it whatever other Amex cards you have – there are NO restrictions. Here is my full review of the SPG Amex.

Transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Starwood and then to American. American is not a direct Amex partner. However, you can transfer Amex points to Starwood at 2:1 and then on to AA at 1:1 for small quantities. It would therefore require 20,000 Amex points to get 10,000 AA miles. If you don’t yet have the Amex Gold card then you would get 20,000 Amex points for signing up (22,000 if I refer you). Here is my full review of the Amex Gold.

Transfer other hotel points to American Airlines, or credit upcoming stays. Apart from Starwood, other hotel groups are less generous in their exchange rates to airline miles. However, if you have some small quantities of unused hotel points – not enough for a redemption – then you have nothing to lose by moving them across. The same goes for upcoming car rentals.

Think about bills you could pay on your AA Visa card that you currently pay by direct debit or debit card. This post discusses paying council tax and other utility bills with plastic. There are also the other old favourites – pay for big ticket items for friends or family, buy 3V Virtual Visa cards to generate card spend or buy a slug of gift cards for your usual supermarket that you can work through over the next few months.

I am not an expert on the AA programme, so please do post below if there are other interesting options available for earnings a four-figure chunk of miles relatively quickly.

No sign-up bonus now offered on the Lloyds Duo Avios credit cards
Virgin Atlantic transfers to IHG Rewards Club DO count towards status
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  1. If you want to sit in the back, during off peak times (Oct 15-May 15th), you can use 40k AA points and do a decent amount of travel. You can say fly direct to lax (if avail) and stay there for a week or two or longer. Then, take a direct flight to Hawaii. Stay on the islands for a week or two or longer. Then go from Hawaii to say Miami or New York and stay there for a week or ……you get the idea, and then take a direct back to LHR. I think its a great value of AA miles, esp only 40k, but you have to sit in the back. If you have any kind of status, you can get Main Cabin Extra, so might ease the pain a bit. Taxes will be around 110-120 quid for the entire itin. So get your balance to 80k, with some of the suggested ideas by Raffles and take your partner or friend 🙂

  2. I’d place” Transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Starwood and then to American” as an absolute last resort (unless you are MR rich and common sense poor, or have a blog to generate referrals 😉 ). Those 20k MRs become 10k AA miles that could be bought outright for $275 (~£177), 20k Avios or 60k Club Carlson are easily worth more than that.

    Don’t forget Hilton lets you double dip, that’s an easy 500 miles per stay. For stays where the bill will be more than $500 use the points and variable miles options.

    • On a more general note, you can maximise Amex referrals with spouse/partner/other by referring each other every 6+ months. In theory you could do this for the Gold/Plat, BAPP and SPG cards with three cards active at any one time.

    • This is an article about topping off an AA account, and if that is your goal then saving £177 by getting an SPG is worth it (and based on my 0.75p valuation, I value 20,000 Avios at less than £177 too). The point of this discussion is not about how best to use 11,000 Starwood points.

      I transferred a chunk of Amex points to Starwood to Miles & More earlier in the year, as I was about 10,000 Miles & More miles short of booking the Lufthansa First flight to New York that I took in February. So I do practice what I preach.

      (And do remember that I pushed the AA card massively in Spring to ensure that everyone signed up for it, via multiple posts. This cost me a lot, personally, as obviously anyone signing up for the AA card would not be signing up for Amex Gold etc. I would do the same tomorrow if it came back.)

    • But you need to consider that most people will probably use avios on BA medium or longhaul so relative value is diminished by BA surcharges. That is why I think SPG to AA is still a better value than the SPG to BA even with current 20% bonus.

  3. Colin MacKinnon says:

    This card made me a big fan of AA – along with BA’s crazy fuel penalties!

    Was collecting like fury on the AA card and then realised that I could get more AA miles for my £s by using the SPG card and converting over. (20k SPG = 25k AA)

    Big target is an AA Explorer award at the high points level: ie 330k for 16 flights in F over 12 months.

    (although 220 in a good Business is very tempting)

    Should be good for a trip UK to Australia, UK to South Africa and a US trip.

    Just got to spend about 500k for points for two!

    ps In the meantime, IB is a good deal for Avios.

    • I might be missing something but as the MBNA card gives 1.5 AAdvantage miles for every £1 spent aren’t you better using that card? 20k spent on it = 30k AA

    • Yep the OW Explorer award looks very nice – any plans for a post on it, Raffles? 😉

      • Honestly know absolutely nothing about these, except that they exist! The AA ones are well regarded though. Will add it to the list!

        • Some of the US blogs have done some good coverage on them, but obviously from a ‘leaving from the USA’ perspective – would be good to get a UK take on things 🙂

    • Hmmm long time since I lookud at explorer awards but IIRC you cannot just use them fo X number of flights. They have to be used in an itinerary like RTW or around a region?

  4. Does AA ever run bonus hotel transfer conversions similar to the current 25% bonus BA is offering at the moment?

  5. Thanks for this article Raffles. I did this for my wife and I with the object of doing Abu Dhabi to LHR (one way) and we have 42,000 and 41,000 on our accounts. I have 41,500 in SPG and my wife has 27,000 in her SPG. We have lots of BA Avios so I was thinking of transferring all to AA to give us more options. I was thinking of transferring 20,000 SPG on each account to AA with the balance to BA Avios.

    Also, if I cancel both cards can we apply again in 6 months time like we can on Amex Cards?

    • You might want to consider looking at booking using your AA miles oneway, and using your BA miles for the return.

      I’m all for using odds’n’ends to round up miles accounts, but 68.5K SPG is a valuable asset. For Abu Dhabi, there are some decent looking SPG properties on the SPG website. St Regis is the SPG top tier, and there are two there for 16K points per night. SPG gives 5 nights for the price of 4 nights on awards so 64K would get you a 5 night stay which for a random set of nights in november, is over £2000 worth of value, that 3.1p per SPG point.

      Are you going to get better value for that by converting those 64K SPG to 80K AA miles ?

      • Ironically, since 80k AA gets you 2 x one-way First Class tickets on Etihad to or from Abu Dhabi, with no fuel surcharges, then you are probably are getting £2,000 of value!

        Not sure if any of the Abu Dhabi Starwood’s are on the beach, but one of the Meridien options in Dubai is on the beach and does allow SPG redemptions. (Weirdly, the bulk of the good SPG properties in Dubai do not actually allow the collection or spending of SPG points!) Only 90 minutes drive and Etihad will transfer you for free if you fly Business or First, even on a redemption.

    • As you have exactly what you need for a one-way First Class to Abu Dhabi (go Etihad rather than BA if you can!) then I wouldn’t transfer SPG over now, especially as there is no special bonus. It is always best keep Amex or SPG points in their original form for as long as possible, to retain maximum flexibility.

  6. Another very useful post. Regarding the current AA 15,000 points promotion, would you know if a flight from London to St Lucia qualifies? I cannot find the info on what flights qualify. Thanks

    • Its in the small print, last paragraph – only flights to the US.

      • That said, if you booked a flight to St Lucia which went London – USA – St Lucia in a qualifying booking class then I assume you’d be OK. Assuming St Lucia is somewhere near Barbados!

        • Sadly not for UK members, who are excluded from this promo. 🙁

          For a moment I was tempted to move to Switzerland but that could get complicated.

  7. For those just tempted to buy AA miles, do so only whrn you need them. Don’t be overly tempted by the 30% bonus promotions as these are sometimes, but not always, followed by a 50% bonus 1 or 2 weeks later.

  8. Took advantage of the offer and received signup bonus, is now a good time to cancel the card? I no longer really have much use for it so would not miss it. I guess the early I cancel the earlier I can apply for another MBNA card with a signup bonus?

    • Well, I’ve already cancelled mine!

    • It may depend on when you plan to use the points… if its not soon, then spending just £1 on the card every 6 months is an easy way to keep your AA miles “alive” for longer 🙂

    • After acquiring 40K+ for the intro promo, I continued spending enough to get up to 50K, but made sure all that spend was from or as that is interest free till next April (dates may differ for other people), so I’m in no hurry to close the card until then. In the meantime, the cash to pay it off is busy earning interest for me (not very much admittedly!).

  9. Thanks for response.

    Is the 6 month rule (like Amex) the same with this card?

    • MBNA does not have a formal system. There are numerous cases in the past, though, where they have stopped people getting a bonus if they have already had the card. Do not think that everyone is like Amex, Amex is very much the exception.

      Lloyds has a ‘once for life’ approach, for example.

  10. I have never done IHG this way, although Alan above says it works fine and he is a fine upstanding bloke!

  11. Can someone please confirm – the American Airlines card expenditure of £5,000 within 6-months of the account being opened, is NOT restricted to Amex expenditure only right, it can be on Visa too? I have spent £6.1k so far and have not received the final 20,000 mile bonus, although this was completed in August and looking at the T&C of the offer it did say wait up to 6 weeks. But from my experience MBNA always credits any earlier bonus expenditure at the same time as the regular statement cycle, indeed it is even printed on the online/paper statements.