Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

How American Express Membership Rewards members can buy frequent flyer miles at a discount

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Can you buy American Express Membership Rewards points? Interestingly, yes.

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 in the Terms & Conditions for the Membership Rewards scheme although it does not mention the price.

How to buy Membership Rewards points

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. I know someone who made a purchase this week – which is what prompted me to update this article – so it is definitely still possible.

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.

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.

How much can you save by buying 10,000 Membership Rewards points?

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.

This is the full list of airlines and hotel companies offering transfers from Membership Rewards in the UK:

UK airlines:

Avios – 10,000 Avios cost £175 directly (see here), you save £25however, until 10th July 2022 there is a 50% bonus running when you buy Avios directly which clearly beats the Amex route

Virgin Flying Club – 10,000 points cost £165 directly (see here), you save £15

Other airlines:

Asia Miles – 10,000 miles cost £245 directly ($300, see here), you save £95

Delta SkyMiles – 10,000 miles cost £286 directly ($350, see here), you save £136

Emirates Skywards – 10,000 miles cost £245 directly ($300, see here), you save £95however, until 27th June 2022 there is a 50% bonus running when you buy miles directly

Etihad Guest – 10,000 miles cost £163 directly ($200, see here), you save £13however, until 30th June 2022 there is a 50% bonus running when you buy miles directly which clearly beats the Amex route

Finnair Plus – 10,000 miles cost £110 directly (€129, see here), no saving via Amex at the current exchange rate

Flying Blue – 10,000 miles cost £236 directly (€275, see here), you save £86however, until 30th June 2022 there is a 120% bonus running when you buy miles directly which clearly beats the Amex route

Qantas Points – 10,000 points cost £214 directly (A$388, see here), you save £64

SAS EuroBonus – 10,000 points cost £171 directly (€200, see here), you save £22

Singapore Airlines – 6,667 miles cost £218 directly ($267, you cannot buy online and can only buy 50% of whatever redemption you are planning), you save £68

Hotels:

Hilton Honors – 20,000 points cost £163 directly ($200, see here), you save £13however, until 19th July 2022 there is a 80%-100% bonus running when you buy points directly which clearly beats the Amex route

Marriott Bonvoy – 15,000 points costs £153 directly ($187.50, see here), no noticeable saving at current exchange ratein any event, until 15th July 2022 there is a 40%-50% bonus running when you buy points directly which clearly beats the Amex route

Radisson Rewards – 30,000 points cost £171 directly ($210, see here), you save £21

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. Asia Miles has a similar rule. The Amex points purchase route lets you get around this.  The method also, of course, gets around any annual caps on the amount of miles you can buy directly.

Conclusion

As you can see from the numbers above, there is a big difference between the airline and hotel schemes.

There is often a good saving to be made by NOT buying airline miles directly and, instead, buying up to 10,000 Membership Rewards points per year from American Express at 1.5p each and converting them.

This is not the case with hotel schemes, where buying Membership Rewards points to convert to hotel points rarely offers great value.

Comments (13)

  • mattnav_travel says:

    So is this a UK only thing cos I was just reading the T&Cs on the French MR program and there’s no language for purchasing AMEX MR points?

  • Jonathan says:

    Rob you maybe forgot to mention the cost of buying points directly if you hold an Amex ICC Green card, since you’ve said before you’ve used that route in order to gain a higher number of MR points when transferring to Singapore KrisFlyer

    • Rob says:

      I don’t actually know what the cost is for an ICC cardholder, or even if it is possible.

      • Jonathan says:

        I meant if someone where to buy 10K MR points, then transfer them over to the US Dollar ICC Green card, then transfer over to the likes of Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, since this route alone (even without buying MR points) gives more KrisFlyer points than transfers from the UK Sterling Amex cards, it also depends on the exchange rate as well of course, since that’s what Amex will use to determine how many points you’ll get transferring from say MR points earned on Gold / Platinum then moving them over to say the US Dollar ICC Green card for instance

        • Rob says:

          Yes, that’s true but it is a bit too niche for this article, especially as you are restricted to one transfer into IDC per year.

          • Jonathan says:

            Yes, that restriction might not even be an issue for some who don’t make transfers very often at all

            Either way though, something to consider if you were a little short on points, and you could top up with what was needed via this method

        • JFSV says:

          Sounds like a lot of work for “just” 10k miles.

          • Jonathan says:

            It isn’t though, since not all Airline programs have an option of 1:1 transfers on UK Amex Sterling MR points, but the same scheme(s) have a transfer of 1:1 when transferring from the Amex IDC Green card

  • Tavelwell says:

    I tried to do this the other day. After speaking to two different agents they had no idea what I was talking about so I gave up and just bought some avios directly!

    • qrfan says:

      I think i would do the same. 10k is just to-up territory anyway. I wouldn’t buy at 1.5p for any significant amount as the new 2022-level surcharges make that uneconomical.

  • Maples says:

    I’m assuming the £150 would get charged to one of the Amex cards or do they want a separate payment option like a debit card?

  • Mark says:

    I’d missed the current 50% Avios purchase bonus. Is there any way, however circuitous, to use a future travel voucher to buy Avios?

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