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How to get a 35% bonus on your Membership Rewards balance – but why it isn’t always a great idea

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One of the downsides of the fall of Sterling against the Dollar and the Euro since the Brexit vote has been to destroy much – but not all – of 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 (either on Singapore Airlines or a Star Alliance partner such as Lufthansa or SWISS) because it reduces the cost substantially.

The fall in the US$ to 1.35 to the £1 means that this option is less exciting than it was as you are now only getting a 35% bonus.  There are still reasons for doing it 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 (free in year one).

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 1.35x your UK balance.  100,000 UK MR points will turn into 135,000 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 35% 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.

In order to apply for an IDC card, you must have been an existing American Express cardholder for at least six months.

How can I benefit from this?

Here is the Membership Rewards online catalogue for the IDC Amex cards.

The following airline partners let you transfer 1:1 from the IDC Membership Rewards programme into your airline account. This means (because of the 35% uplift – based on £1=$1.35 – when you move your points from the UK to IDC MR programmes) you effectively get a 35% transfer bonus.

  • Alitalia (SkyTeam)
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (oneworld)
  • Finnair Plus (oneworld)
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich (oneworld) (Malaysia is not in the UK scheme at all)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (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 scheme 1:1)
  • Delta Skymiles 3:2 (UK scheme 1:1)
  • Emirates Skywards 3:2 (UK scheme 1:1)
  • Etihad Guest 3:2 (UK scheme 1:1)
  • Flying Blue 3:2 (UK scheme 1:1)
  • Hilton Honors – 4:5 (UK scheme 1:2)
  • Radisson Rewards 2:3 (UK scheme 1:3)
  • SAS EuroBonus 3:2 (UK scheme 1:1)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest 3:1 (UK scheme 2:1)
  • Virgin Flying Club 3:2 (UK scheme 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

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, Malaysia Airlines, 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.

There is also a generous ‘sweet spot’ using Singapore Airlines miles to fly from the UK to the Middle East as I discussed here.  I booked our holiday flights to Dubai this year with Singapore Airlines miles, flying on SWISS via Zurich.  London to Dubai is only 50,000 KrisFlyer miles return in Business Class – compared to 120,000 Avios on a peak date – and because of the uplift I got moving my Amex points from the UK to IDC scheme, the net cost was even less.

I know one of our regular comment contributors recently used this method to fly to Australia in Business Class via a Singapore Airlines redemption.

The good news is that all three major airline alliances are covered, 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 can 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.)

My review of MBNA's Horizon Visa credit card - possibly the UK's best credit card to use when travelling
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Comments

  1. James says:

    Can Membership Rewards points be transferred from a UK Amex to a HK issued Amex (or an Amex in another region for example) where the cardholder is the same person?

  2. Good thing you’re not wasting your time with it then. Wouldn’t want it to get in the way of your precious trolling time.

  3. Memesweeper says:

    Can you get a pro-rata refund on the card fee after a few months of membership? Can you transfer IDC -> UK? For instance if you’ve been spending time in the US or Eurozone but now want to go back to a Sterling based MR card? I realise that the points might loose some value in this case.

    • You can move points back (1 move every 12 months in each direction allowed) but you’d lose the uplift.

  4. Genghis says:

    “I know one of our regular comment contributors recently used this method to fly to Australia in Business Class via a Singapore Airlines redemption.”
    If we’re thinking of the same person, I thought the majority of the sectors were in Suites? I’m sure he’ll be along soon…

    • Lol hello 😛

      • the real harry1 says:

        @Alan O/T decent BT broadband offer gone live yesterday, headline £22/ month (see mserrrr link) then you drop your application at a late stage on a site we know & love into their BT link to get £90 on top for new customer (if you’re currently on BT anyway, switch the contract to your wife to get new customer status). Works out £17/ month, not as good as my £12.82 but best out there and I did get £60 service recovery so am really paying £16.15/ month, not so different).

        • What website is that Real Harry1?

        • Haha nice, although no wife to swap it to 😉 On a decent deal just now which they’ve continued to honour at least.

    • Matthew says:

      Similar to Alan, I did a pretty big transfer of 280,000 Amex MR to SQ via uplift of 1.6 using IDC card to go business to NZ and back for family of four. Was fab 🙂

  5. Shame the exchange rate has worsened but this was how I have flown two return trips in SQ Suites to NZ for a fraction of the cost using Avios! (and in a much better product)

  6. Can you churn the Platinum MR charge card if you keep the IDC card, or would you need to close both and open both again 6 months later? That is assuming that the churn rule changes that were threatened a while ago don’t happen…

    • I seems like a good place to keep the MR points and churn the Plat MR card if keeping the IDC card is not affecting the sign up bonus.

    • Different MR account so shouldn’t be an issue.

  7. Does it make sense / work to time this when BA/Amex in the US offer 50% bonus transfers from MR?

  8. xcalx says:

    “I booked our holiday flights to Dubai this year with Singapore Airlines miles, flying on SWISS via Zurich. London to Dubai is only 50,000 KrisFlyer miles return in Business Class ”

    Rob is the redemption FROM ZRH with a separate flight from LON or are connections allowed with SQ redemptions. I thought SQ redemptions were point to point the same as Avios

  9. Mackle says:

    I am interested in the Euro green ICC.

    I moved to the Eurozone, but have kept my UK BAPP Amex and platinum charge card, as my girlfriend is still UK based so is a supplemental on the BAPP card and my Dad is a supplemental on the Platinum card.

    When I use the either card though, I am hit with a 3% non-sterling transaction fee.

    So the idea of a Euro green card so that I still have the benefits of my UK issued plat, and still get Avios from my girlfriend using my BAPP, whilst avoiding the 3% charge on everything that I spend here, is quite appealing.

  10. Henry says:

    Didn’t you post this article a month or so ago? Currently in the process of transferring point (2 weeks waiting, which apparently is the time it takes)

    • We used bits of it in an article about Singapore Airlines redemptions, yes. We do that sometimes 🙂

  11. Why don’t you have a credit card from a local bank? The 3% fee for spending in GBP is neither here nor there unless your income/savings are entirely in GBP

  12. can my spouse transfer her amex points into my SQ account?
    the reason I ask is if we do the IDC thing and get an uplift, then we should have a lot of krisflyer points to pull off a trip to Oz, but if the tickets need to be booked with miles from one account only, I don’t want to have a shortfall of miles in one account and extra miles sitting in the other krisflyer account thereby rendering the whole thing useless. I need 3 tickets and I can see 2F and 2J availability on many dates that we wish to fly. With the uplift, I will have all the miles I need for F and J combi return, but only if we can use points from both accounts together.

    • I saved enough KF miles in each of our accounts for a one way redemption from Sin-BNE. I made 2 individual bookings and picked the seats next to each other then phoned and got the 2 bookings linked together no problem.

      • Andrew S says:

        I’ve had no issues transferring my partner’s Amex MR points to my Krisflyer account in addition to moving my own Amex MR points (twice done this) for redemptions for both of us.

        We are both supplementaries on each other’s Amex’s though.

  13. Redemptions on SQ from LGW/LHR to DBX on Egypt Air or Turkish 50k miles plus £300-£500 taxes per person….is this normal??

    • Yes, that is the standard business class redemption rate if you book via SQ. We are going on SWISS though, didn’t think forcing the kids to transit in Cairo was fair!

      Because I transferred my UK Amex points to IDC when the FX rate was $1.59, my net cost per person is actually just 16,000 UK Amex MR points per person one-way.

  14. Hi,

    When transferring UK MR > IDC is the transfer instant? And is the $100 fee pro-rata ?

    • No, it takes a few days. I thought all Amex fees globally were pro-rata but have no experience with IDC.

  15. What if you get the IDC card just for spending in US on holiday or for regular USD transactions, does it accumulate its own separate rewards points?
    Are there any other benefits of having the IDC Gold or Platinum as opposed to the UK Gold and platinum?

    • Yes it does. Remember you need to then pay the bill in USD – I used Caxton FX for that. ICC card has higher age limit for travel insurance too.

    • Yes, they go into a separate MR account. You can use it for that but, of course, it only makes sense if you have a way of settling the bill without incurring any FX charges or being ripped off on the FX rate. Revolut might be able to do it.

      • Mikee says:

        Have tried Revolut and Transferwise and both don’t provide a reference field which is required by Amex as this is where you insert your card number. Resorted to using CaxtonFX – converted £100 into $129 vs Revolut where i would have got a rate of $1.33/£….so the transfer cost approx $4 per £100.

        Hopefully Revolut and Transferwise will include a reference field in future.

        Mikee

        • Yep that’s my experience too. Worth looking at Starling, etc. too I guess to see if any offer the ability. Caxton still beat RBS by a long shot!

        • Mikee says:

          Just tried sending a small amount via Starling – used the ABA code and selected wire transfer (as opposed to ACH as Amex don’t supply an ACH number). Entered my card number in the reference field. For £100, charge is 30p….will see if it works!

        • KBuffett says:

          Revolut have a reference field. It’s a little difficult to spot, but it’s there, towards the bottom of the screen.

  16. do SQ allow dipping into spouse’s points as long as both parties are flying on the same flight? you know, like how Virgin does.
    and does Amex allow transfers into spouse’s freq flyer account? I know you cant transfer MR to spouse anymore, but can you transfer to your spouse’s FF programme?

  17. Hsergio10 says:

    Good article Rob (as usual). Thanks for this material info.

    I have a quick question. I just realized there are gold and Plat International Cards

    Gold: https://www.americanexpress.com/icc/cards/the-gold-international-currency-card.html

    Plat: https://www.americanexpress.com/icc/cards/the-platinum-international-currency-card.html

    Is possible to make arbitrage as well with Gold/Plat ICs with higher fees? Thanks in advance

  18. Would taking out the IDC and leaving it open stop you churning the Gold/Plat UK cards?

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