One of the lesser known features of the American Express Membership Rewards programme is the ability to buy up to 10,000 Membership Rewards points per year for 1.5p each.
This facility is mentioned on the Amex website here – scroll down to Clause 3 – although it does not mention the price.
Note that a lot of Amex call centre agents will never have done this and may deny it can be done. You may need to hang up and call again.
Why buy miles indirectly via Amex when I can buy them directly?
Over the last few years, pretty much every airline and hotel programme has brought in a ‘buy points’ option. This is not surprising – it is easy money for the programme, and they are still charging you more than the marginal cost to them of redeeming the points.
Since American Express is willing to sell Platinum and Preferred Rewards Gold cardholders additional Membership Rewards points, you can use this method to buy yourself airline points for a discount on the price charged by the programme itself.
This method has got more attractive over the last couple of years for those airlines who sell miles priced in US$ or Euro, since the fall in Sterling has made them noticeably more expensive if bought direct.
American Express sells you Membership Rewards points priced in £ so that cost has remained constant.
Don’t do this during a mileage sale though
Of course, many airlines have occasional mileage sales which bring down the price below what you will pay using this route. Don’t use this method to buy miles speculatively which you don’t plan to use immediately.
This method does not work for hotel programmes, based on my maths.
Let’s take a look at a few examples, based on the points you get from converting 10,000 Membership Rewards points which you have bought from Amex for £150:
Avios – 10,000 Avios costs £175 directly (see here), you save £25
Virgin Flying Club – 10,000 miles costs £165 directly (see here), you save £15
*Alitalia – 10,000 miles costs £216 directly (€250, see here), you save £66
Asia Miles – 10,000 miles costs £234 directly ($300, see here), you save £84
Delta SkyMiles – 10,000 miles costs £273 directly ($350, see here), you save £123
Emirates Skywards – 10,000 miles costs £234 directly ($300, see here), you save £84
Etihad Guest – 10,000 miles costs £156 directly ($200, see here), only a marginal £6 saving at the current exchange rate
*Finnair Plus – 10,000 miles costs £112 directly (€129, see here), no saving at current exchange rate
*Flying Blue – 10,000 miles costs £238 directly (€275, see here), you save £88
Qantas Points – 10,000 points costs £214 directly (A$388, see here), you save £64
SAS EuroBonus – SAS appears to have suspended points purchases at present according to their website here
Singapore Airlines – 10,000 miles costs £312 directly ($400, see note below), you save £162
*Hilton Honors – 20,000 points costs £156 directly ($200, see here), only a marginal £6 saving at current exchange rate
Marriott Bonvoy – 15,000 points costs £146 directly ($187.50, see here), no saving at current exchange rate
Radisson Rewards – 30,000 points cost £164 directly ($210, see here), you save £14
Note that the programmes marked with a * are currently selling points at discount, so there is no advantage to going via American Express. Click on the ‘see here’ link for details.
This method also gets around arcane rules in some programmes. Singapore Airlines, for example, only lets you buy miles directly if you are are about to redeem and already have 50% of the miles you need. The Amex points purchase route avoids that. This method also gets around any annual caps on the amount of miles you can buy directly.