Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Why the only thing better than transferable points is INSTANTLY transferable points

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Over the past few days I’ve been updating a few introductory articles to miles and points, in recognition of the fact that we get a lot of new readers in January as people start to look at planning their Summer travel.

Today I want to look at the idea of transferable vs non-transferable points.

One of the key ideas I push on Head for Points is that transferable, or convertible, points are better than non-transferable points.

The best way to explain this is via American Express Membership Rewards points, earned from Amex Gold, Amex Platinum and the Amex Rewards Credit Card.

You can transfer 1 American Express Membership Rewards point into 1 Avios.  You might think, therefore, that 1 Amex point is worth the same as 1 Avios.  IT ISN’T.

1 American Express Membership Rewards points is worth MORE than 1 Avios.  This is because, as well as converting to 1 Avios, it will also convert into 1 Virgin mile, 1 Etihad mile, 1 Flying Blue mile, 2 Hilton points, 1.5 Marriott points, 3 Radisson points, 0.5p of shopping vouchers, 0.45p of statement credit etc etc.

As well as giving you more choice, transferable points are also defensive.  Even if you intend to convert your Amex points to Avios, it makes sense to keep them with Amex until the last minute.  If you move them to Avios and BA moves the goal posts in terms of points needed or availability then you’re stuffed.

Other convertible points currencies include:

  • HSBC Premier credit card points (four airline partners plus shopping vouchers)
  • Tesco Clubcard points (Avios and Virgin plus many non-travel partners)
  • Heathrow Rewards (various airline partners as well as shopping discounts)

You could, arguably, include Marriott Bonvoy points in this list too.  It is the only hotel scheme where you get genuine good value if you convert your points to airline miles.

So …. convertible points are worth more than non-convertible points.

That is stage one.  There is a second stage however ….. INSTANTLY convertible points are worth more than all other convertible points.

One – sensible – argument against not converting your points until you need them is that the transfer takes time.  Even transfers which are quick, such as American Express transfers to Avios, still require you to wait overnight.  It is possible that the redemption seat you wanted may have gone when they arrive.

Some American Express Membership Rewards partners have INSTANT transfers, however.  The only caveat is that you need to have already linked your accounts.

This is your dream result.  You can look for the seat you want and, when you find it, move the points and immediately book without any risk of losing the seat.

There are no HSBC Premier, Tesco Clubcard or Heathrow Rewards miles partners which allow instant transfers.  This is a unique Amex feature.

(There is one other Avios partner which allows instant transfers – Capital On Tap, via their Business Rewards Visa card for SMEs.  You can learn more about that here.)

Instant transfers from Membership Rewards to Delta SkyMiles

Which American Express partners offer INSTANT transfers?

As far as I know, the list of Membership Rewards partners which transfer instantly is:

  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

The most common reason for me to take advantage of instant transfers is when some new VIP packages for Arsenal appear for redemption on the Emirates website.  I accept that this is not for everyone, however!


Transferable points, such as American Express Membership Rewards and HSBC Premier points, are more valuable than non-transferable points such as Avios.

The most valuable transferable points of all are those that transfer instantly.

Want to earn more points from credit cards? – November 2020 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are my November 2020 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus

You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here.

British Airways American Express card

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

BA Premium Plus American Express card BAPP

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Virgin Rewards Plus credit card

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending Read our full review

Earning miles and points from small business cards

If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these:

American Express Business Gold card

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Amex Platinum Business American Express

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express card

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

Earn both Avios and BA On Business points with your business spending Read our full review

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

Comments (17)

  • Dev says:

    Rob – interested to know why you don’t list Marriott Bonvoy points as transferable? They transfer to a variety of airlines in addition to hotel nights. I do appreciate that you don’t have the option to transfer them to other hotel schemes and Eurostar etc.

    But due to the fact that you about 30 airline options and in my opinion, they are as valuable as Amex MR points or other transferable points.

    • Guesswho2000 says:

      Marriott to whatever isn’t an instant transfer though, which is the point of this article. In fact the transfer times can take weeks from Marriott in some instances (my most recent experience is Marriott to AA, which took around 9 days).

      • Dev says:

        Neither is HSBC, Tesco or Heathrow Rewards!

      • RussellH says:

        Marriott => United only takes around 15 – 30 mins IIRC. Not intant, but may be close enough. And you get 10% more miles than other airl;ines.

    • Charlieface says:

      More the point, Marriott actually negates the whole premise of the article, namely that the ONLY thing better than transferable points are instant ones. It’s not true because some non-instant points may be worth more because they transfer to more partners.

    • Rob says:

      Fair point to some extent – will add a line.

  • Jonathan says:

    My recent experience of Amex to a Emirates last week was more like 24-48 hours. Maybe overnight but definitely not instant.

  • Lumma says:

    This worked out great for me when booking ANA via Virgin Atlantic. Already had 60k in my Virgin account and just over 30k in AMEX. Found availability on ANA via United website. Called Virgin to confirm they could see the flights I wanted. Sent the remaining 30k across via AMEX website. Booked.

  • Neil Donoghue says:

    Has anyone had any issues adding Emirates to their Amex rewards account? Like many here, I previously had an amex that was linked to emirates and successfully transferred over 100,000 points for Arsenal football tickets.

    This year, I’ve tried the same thing but with a new Amex and for some reason Brighton have been unable to link my accounts! They have said call Emirates and emirates have said call Amex. Several members have also gone through all of my Amex cards but have been unable to find any previous cards linked to Emirates! I’ve basically just given up at this point. Any help would be much appreciated please.

    • Amit says:

      Had the same problem, it took multiple calls to Emirates and Amex to get it sorted. Not sure what they did, certainly looked for any previous cards linked to my Emirates account, but took around a month 🙁

      • Rob says:

        Long established issue – cannot link multiple Amex to one Emirates account.

      • The Streets says:

        +1 took me a while to transfer to Emirates despite having already linked accounts. But have booked the Arsenal box for the last game of the season! Virgin though is more reliable and I find always transfers immediately

    • LondonMiss says:

      I had exactly this issue too in December. Couldn’t link Emirates as had transferred on a previous card. Took a lengthy call to AMEX where the guy did lots of searching to find the previous card (even when I gave the exact prior transfer date and last 5 digits of the card). They managed to unlink the old card and link the new card and submit the transfer. 48 hrs waiting and the points never went to Emirates. Checked my AMEX account and see the transfer cancelled/refunded, with no notification from AMEX. Took another long call to AMEX and speaking to a different person to get relinked to Emirates. This time the transfer happened instantly while still on the phone to them. All good. Emirates redemption made.
      Then a few weeks later, AMEX transferred the points to Emirates again (which I didn’t need or want) without me requesting it. Took yet another lengthy call to AMEX, and thankfully they recredited my account as it was an error on their side.

    • Neil Donoghue says:

      Wow, really appreciate all the comments guys! I’m glad I’m not the only one but it looks like I might have to give Amex another call and cross my fingers!

  • Erik says:

    Another partner, in North America at least, that will transfer instantly is Aeroplan.