Amex Membership Rewards sweet spots

Update 7/22/19: Added the many sweet spot options for travel to Australia / New Zealand / Oceania and a table of contents for easy reference.

We recently published guides to both Chase Ultimate Rewards sweet spots and Citi ThankYou points sweet spots. Somehow, despite having previously published my arguments about the Strengths of Membership Rewards over Ultimate Rewards (and much to Stephen’s chagrin thanks to our current challenge), I realized that we hadn’t yet published a guide to American Express Membership Rewards sweet spots. I was half-tempted to write this post and schedule it the day after our #40Kfaraway challenge begins, but then I realized that the sweetest sweet spots typically focus on premium-cabin travel, and we probably won’t be doing much of that in the challenge. Thus, without further ado, here are the top sweet spots from Membership Rewards.

ANA business class, from just 75K round trip.

Transfer bonuses

Any conversation about Amex sweet spots ought to at least start with the fact that Amex frequently offers bonuses when you transfer to select partners. You can always find current point transfer bonus information here. We often see bonuses of 25%, sometimes 30%, and occasionally as high as 40-50% with select partners. That same resource page with current point transfer bonuses also lists expired bonuses, so one can easily track past promotions to make an educated guess as to which bonuses we may see in the future.

These bonuses can make a sizable difference in sweet spots. For example, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club charges 120,000 miles round trip to fly first class on ANA between New York and Tokyo. However, when Amex is offering a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic (such as the current bonus), that means one could transfer just 93,000 Membership Rewards points and have enough points for a round trip first class award, a savings of 27,000 points thanks to the bonus. If your needs line up with transfer bonuses, some of the sweet spots below can become even sweeter.

Domestic US Flights

American Express Membership Rewards has by far the best range of partners for domestic US flights. Avianca has become a personal favorite for United flights within region (or even sometimes between regions since pricing can sometimes be better than the award chart suggests). Virgin Atlantic and Air France often offer much better deals on Delta and you have a total of three options for booking AA flights for a better deal than with AA miles.

Air France KLM Flying Blue
  • The short story: Flying Blue often offers Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries.
  • Miles required: Varies, but as low as 12,500 miles each way plus $5.60 for direct domestic US flights on Delta (which can be an even better deal when there is a transfer bonus)
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at airfrance.us.
  • How to book awards: Book online at airfrance.us.
  • Key warnings: Delta usually blocks award space from partners within 21 days of departure. If you see award space on the Air France site for close-in departures, it would be wise to call Flying Blue to verify that you can put the award on hold before transferring points.
Avianca LifeMiles
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers domestic one-ways on United (with connections) from 7500 miles each way. Mixed-cabin redemptions can also be a way to fly up front for less.
  • Miles required: From 7500 miles each way within one of the three US regions in economy class (See: My first LifeMiles redemption: Easy as . . .  and Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less)
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
British Airways Avios
  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart that can be useful for short direct flights on American Airlines with no close-in booking fee and great flexibility due to an easy cancellation policy.
  • Miles required: 7.5K miles each way plus $5.60 for economy-class segments covering up to 650 miles flown or 9K for economy class segments between 651-1151 miles. We normally see a transfer bonus between 25-50% at least once a year for Avios.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at britishaiways.com
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Airways Executive Club.
Delta SkyMiles
  • The short story: Delta has weekly flash sales where it is sometimes possible to get excellent value. Awards to Canada can also present good value.
  • Miles required: Varies, but enter your starting airport at the Travel is Free Delta mileage calculator to find domestic destinations that may present a good deal.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Delta.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at Delta.com.
  • Key warnings: Delta pricing can be very unpredictable and vary wildly.
Iberia Avios
  • The short story: Iberia Plus offers a distance-based award chart that can be useful for short itineraries on American Airlines (even those with connections) with no close-in booking fee. See: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions.
  • Miles required: From 11K miles round trip plus $11.20 for economy-class itineraries. The best deals are itineraries of 2,000 miles flown or fewer since they cost 17,000 miles round trip at most when American has availability. We normally see a transfer bonus between 25-50% at least once a year for Avios.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at iberia.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at iberia.com.
  • Key warnings: Most Iberia partner bookings, including those on American Airlines, are completely nonrefundable and can not be changed. Only book AA flights with Iberia if plans are certain.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • The short story: Qantas offers a distance-based award chart that can be useful for short itineraries on American Airlines (even those with connections) with no close-in booking fee. Qantas often shows many more available AA itinerary options than British Airways or Iberia. See: Strenghts of Qantas for AA redemptions.
  • Miles required: From 8K miles each way plus $5.60 for economy-class routes covering up to 600 miles flown or 12K miles for routes between 601-1200 miles flown. Qantas is a new Amex transfer partner in 2019, but they are already offering a transfer bonus and it may stack with Qantas’s own bonus.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at qantas.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: The change fee is 5K miles or cancellation fee is 6K miles, which means you’ll lose most of the miles used on these short flights if you need to change or cancel.
Virgin Atlantic
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries..
  • Miles required: 12,500 miles each way plus $5.60 for direct domestic US flights on Delta
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately (i.e. an itinerary with a single connection will cost 25K miles), so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries.

Hawaii

While saver business class awards to Hawaii can be difficult to find (and even rarer in lie-flat seats), Amex has the good transfer partners to get the best values when available. Note that Singapore KrisFlyer can be a great deal for booking on Alaska Airlines.

British Airways Avios
  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart, so flights from the West Coast of the USA on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines can be a great value with Avios.
  • Miles required: 13K miles each way plus $5.60 for economy-class segments between west coast cities and Hawaii.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com for AA or aa.com for Alaska flights.
  • How to book awards: Book American flights online at britishaiways.com or Alaska flights over the phone at 1 800 452 1201.
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Aiways Executive Club for American flights.
Singapore KrisFlyer
  • The short story: Singapore KrisFlyer charges fewer miles for domestic flights to Hawaii than United does for the same flights. Additionally, they have a great chart for Alaska Airlines for those originating in parts of the US other than the East Coast.
  • Miles required: For United flights: 17,500 miles each way in economy or 34,500 in business (as compared to 22.5K / 40K through United). On Alaska Airlines, from 11.5K one-way in economy class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available United Airlines space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or SingaporeAir.com (See: Book United flights online with Singapore miles– but note that business class prices have increased since that post was written). For Alaska Airlines award space, search at AA.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer. Alaska awards must be booked over the phone.
  • Key warnings: Singapore allows a maximum connection time of 4 hours on a domestic itinerary and will not allow a stopover on a one-way domestic award. Be aware that United.com and AA.com will show availability for flights with longer/overnight connections that are not available with Singapore KrisFlyer miles, so be sure to double check availability at SingaporeAir.com or with a phone agent before booking. Also note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets.
Virgin Atlantic
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights to Hawaii for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries..This can be a particularly good value for Delta’s life-flat routes to Hawaii.
  • Miles required: 20,000 miles each way in economy class or 37,500 miles each way in business class (for direct flights)
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries.

Europe

The absolute standout values here are Etihad Guest for booking Royal Air Maroc (44K each way in business class) or ANA Mileage Club for Star Alliance awards at 88K round trip. However, with a good transfer bonus, Virgin Atlantic can offer amazing value for booking Delta One and Air France’s monthly promo awards can also offer nice values particularly if they line up with a transfer bonus.

Air France / KLM Flying Blue
  • The short story: Monthly Flying Blue Promo Awards can sometimes offer excellent value between the US and Europe
  • Miles required: Varies. Air France no longer has an award chart, but promo awards often offer good value, with business class awards often available in the 40K’s and sometimes as low as the 20K’s depending on destination.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at AirFrance.us (you’ll need to create a free Flying Blue frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at AirFrance.com. Can also book via phone.
  • Key warnings: Air France / KLM do add fuel surcharges, though they are often reasonable (about $150-$250 in taxes and fees each way)
Air Canada Aeroplan
  • The short story: Aeroplan offers competitive pricing on Star Alliance business class awards and the best deal on first class awards to and from Europe at 70K each way. They also offer stopovers on round trip awards, which can present particular value. Lap infants are charged incredibly reasonable fees in either cash or miles and the price is the same whether booking one way or round trip.
  • Miles required: 55K each way in business class or 70K each way in first class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, so choose carriers with low / no fuel surcharges.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Aeroplan.com (you’ll need to create a free Aeroplan frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Aeroplan.com. Can also book via phone. Lap infants must be added to your reservation over the phone.
  • Key warnings: There are high fuel surcharges on Lufthansa, but the relative savings in terms of miles used for first class might mitigate the fees.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, EVA Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, GOL, Juneao Airlines, SAS, SWISS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines
  • Low fuel surcharges on: Cathay Pacific / Cathay Dragon, LOT Polish, Thai Airways
ANA Mileage Club
  • The short story: ANA charges just 88K round trip for business class Star Alliance awards from the US to Europe.
  • Miles required: 88K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but are avoidable with the right carriers. See: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
Avianca LifeMiles
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers competitive pricing for Star Alliance awards, especially in first class, with no fuel surcharges.
  • Miles required: 63K each way in business or 87K each way in first class, no fuel surcharges. Note that there is some variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart). Also see: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less for ways to fly first class for even fewer miles). In economy class, some routes price from 16.5K one-way and some mixed-cabin business class itineraries can price from as low as 49K. See: Trying to crack  the LifeMiles secret code to Europe.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
Etihad Guest
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on American Airlines, Brussels Airlines, or Royal Air Maroc between the US and Europe.
  • Miles required: 44K each way in business class on Brussels Airlines or Royal Air Maroc or 50K each way in business class on American Airlines
  • How to find awards: Search for Brussels award space on United.com or American award space on AA.com (you may want to double-check availability at Qantas.com)
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again).
Virgin Atlantic
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries.This can be a particularly good value for Delta’s life-flat routes to Europe and availability is often surprisingly good.
  • Miles required: 50K miles each way in business class (for direct flights)
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com. See: Book Delta with Virgin Atlantic miles online! (again).
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries. Note that taxes on flights originating in Europe can be high, but are only $5.60 when originating in the US. Some major European airports are not loaded into Virgin Atlantic’s website, so you may have to call to check availability / book.

Asia

While Virgin Atlantic stands out as the hands-down best value here for its amazing first class pricing on ANA, you can get even better value for ANA business class itineraries (and Star Alliance itineraries) by booking through ANA Mileage Club. Avianca LifeMiles may also be a good choice for routes to Asia, especially if you’re able to take advantage of mixed-cabin pricing referenced in the Avianca sections above.

Qantas
  • The short story: Qantas offers good partner pricing for El Al flights to Israel.
  • Miles required: 78K points in business between Tel Aviv and Boston, Newark, and New York JFK. 92K points in business between Tel Aviv and Chicago, Miami. 104K points in business between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles or San Francisco. With a transfer bonus, these rates can get better.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
Avianca LifeMiles
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers decent pricing to Asia with no fuel surcharges. Business class awards may be semi-hackable by finding the right partners and/or adding a long economy class leg.
  • Miles required: From 62.5K each way in business or 75K each way in first class, no fuel surcharges. Note that there is some variance (See: The secret LifeMiles award chart). Also see: Avianca LifeMiles’ awesome mixed-cabin award pricing: First class for less for ways to fly first class for even fewer miles).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
ANA Mileage Club
  • The short story: ANA charges 75K round trip between North America and Japan for business class flights on ANA metal during low season, 85K RT during regular season, or 90K RT during high season. Star Alliance awards are charged at high season rates. A stopover is allowed.
  • Miles required: From 75K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be quite reasonable to/from Japan and some other destinations.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features. Low and regular season pricing only applies to itineraries entirely on ANA. Star Alliance awards or those mixing ANA and Star Alliance carriers price at high season rates.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
Singapore KrisFlyer
  • The short story: While award prices are high, Singapore KrisFlyer has much better availability in premium cabins for their own members. They also offer a stopover on a one-way award.
  • Miles required: 95K / 99K from the West Coast / East Coast to Singapore in business class or 130K / 132K in first class (see the full award chart here).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (Note: Do not log in — logging in may show you expanded availability based on your credit card or elite status that is not available for partner bookings) or SingaporeAir.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at SingaporeAir.com or over the phone with Singapore KrisFlyer. Can waitlist as many options as you’d like as long as you have enough miles to book the award being waitlisted.
  • Key warnings: Note that transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer are not instant. Transfers typically take 12-24 hours (from all major transferable currencies) and Singapore does not hold award tickets. Waitlisted itineraries that do not clear by 14 days prior to departure will get canceled.
Virgin Atlantic
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic offers incredible value for ANA first class between the US and Japan (and decent value for business class)..
  • Miles required: 110K / 120K round trip for first class between the US West Coast / US East Coast and Japan or 90K / 95K miles in business class
  • How to find awards: Search United.com to find ANA partner award space.
  • How to book awards: Call Virgin Atlantic Flying Club at 1 800 365 9500.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so this award is best for direct flights. They also add fuel surcharges for ANA flights, though total taxes and fees are still quite reasonable (about $270 round trip at the time of writing).

Caribbean / Latin America

Similar to domestic US flights, Avianca LifeMiles and Qantas can offer better value than United and American for the same flights. Avios can also offer good value for American Airlines flights — British Airways is better for direct flights and when you need flexibility; Iberia is better for connecting itineraries and when plans are locked in (since you can not change or cancel).

Avianca LifeMiles
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles offers one-ways on United to the “rest of North America” (i.e. not the US) for 12,500 miles each way in economy class.
  • Miles required: 12,500 miles each way in economy class
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com. Always check the LifeMiles site before transferring points. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
British Airways Avios
  • The short story: British Airways offers a distance-based award chart, so flights from the southern part of the US to the Caribbean and Latin America can be a solid value.
  • Miles required: Varies based on distance. From 7.5K one-way in economy class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at britishairways.com for AA or aa.com for Alaska flights.
  • How to book awards: Book American flights online at britishaiways.com or Alaska flights over the phone at 1 800 452 1201.
  • Key warnings: British Airways charges for each segment separately, so multi-segment trips can get expensive quickly. Furthermore, the British Airways site sometimes shows phantom award space for AA (see: Phantom menace: an award search time suck). You may want to double-check Qantas.com for availability before transferring to British Aiways Executive Club for American flights.
Delta SkyMiles
  • The short story: Delta has weekly flash sales where it is sometimes possible to get solid value. Some itineraries to the Caribbean offer surprising value.
  • Miles required: Varies, but enter your starting airport at the Travel is Free Delta mileage calculator and just check the “international” box to find destinations that may present a good deal.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Delta.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at Delta.com.
  • Key warnings: Delta pricing can be very unpredictable and vary wildly.
Iberia Avios
  • The short story: Iberia Plus offers a distance-based award chart that can be useful for short itineraries on American Airlines (even those with connections) with no close-in booking fee. See: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions.
  • Miles required: From 11K miles round trip plus $11.20 for economy-class itineraries. The best deals are itineraries of 2,000 miles flown or fewer since they cost 17,000 miles round trip at most when American has availability.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at iberia.com.
  • How to book awards: Book online at iberia.com.
  • Key warnings: Most Iberia partner bookings, including those on American Airlines, are completely nonrefundable and can not be changed. Only book AA flights with Iberia if plans are certain.
Qantas
  • The short story: Qantas offers better pricing than American Airlines on itineraries with a distance of 1200 miles or fewer each way and has no close-in booking fee. This could be especially good for short international flights like Miami to Grand Cayman or other points in the Southern US to the Caribbean.
  • Miles required: 8,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 600 miles or 12,000 miles each way for itineraries covering a distance up to 1200 miles. (See: Strengths of Qantas for AA redemptions).
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Avios, either through British Airways or Iberia, might be a better value if you have direct flights if you have access to points which transfer to Avios. However, for flights with connections, Qantas can be a better deal.

Africa

It’s hard to beat the value of using Etihad Guest for Royal Air Maroc to get to Africa, especially considering the fact that Royal Air Maroc serves many destinations that may be otherwise more difficult to reach on an award ticket. However, if you don’t live near an airport served by Royal Air Maroc, using ANA Mileage Club to book a Star Alliance award for 105K round trip in business class is also a fantastic deal that opens a lot more options.

ANA Mileage Club
  • The short story: ANA charges 105K between North America and Africa for Star Alliance business class itineraries. No fuel surcharges with Etihad makes them a particularly good value for business class to Africa.
  • Miles required: 105K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be avoided with the right partners. Find partners that do not add fuel surcharges in this post: How To Find Business Class Awards To Europe For 88,000 Miles Or Points.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Scandinavian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Copa Airlines, Etihad, United
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA, Asiana, LOT Polish, Turkish (higher than the others but low by comparison to some)
Etihad Guest
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers a good value for flying on Royal Air Maroc between the US and any of Royal Air Maroc’s destinations.
  • Miles required: 44K each way in business class for itineraries of 2,001 miles or more
  • How to find awards: Search for award space at RoyalAirMaroc.com. You’ll need to create a free Royal Air Maroc Safar Flyer account to search.
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again). A stopover in Casablanca be possible, but note that it will increase taxes. Note also that Etihad Guest does add fuel surcharges. The best way to find the total in taxes & fuel surcharges is to check ITA Matrix.

Australia / New Zealand / Oceania

ANA Mileage Club
  • The short story: ANA offers the best deal out of Membership Rewards partners for business class between North America and Oceania and also offers a wide range of partner options. You can route via Canada or most of east / Southeast Asia or fly Air New Zealand.
  • Miles required: 120K round trip in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, but can be avoided with the right partners.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at ANA’s website. (you’ll need to create a free ANA Mileage Club account and log in to search for space)
  • How to book awards: Book online at ANA’s website.
  • Key warnings: You must book round trip. High fuel surcharges are assessed by some carriers, others have none or low fuel surcharges. The ANA website interface is not particularly user-friendly or modern-looking, so it may take some time to get used to the search features.
  • No fuel surcharges on: Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, or United.
  • Low fuel surcharges on: ANA or Asiana.
Air Canada Aeroplan
  • The short story: While priced a bit higher than ANA, Aeroplan offers three advantages: They allow one-way redemptions; they offer stopovers on round trip awards (which is “temporarily” changing on 9/1/19, so book now); Lap infants are charged incredibly reasonable fees in either cash or miles and the price is the same whether booking one way or round trip.
  • Miles required: 80K each way in business class. Fuel surcharges are passed on, so choose carriers with low / no fuel surcharges.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Aeroplan.com (you’ll need to create a free Aeroplan frequent flyer account to search)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Aeroplan.com. Can also book via phone. Lap infants must be added to your reservation over the phone.
  • Key warnings: Fuel surcharges would ordinarily be the warning with Aeroplan, but I think that any carrier you might fly to this region has no / low fuel surcharges. The other key warning is to be sure to search for availability at Aeroplan.com and/or call before transferring miles. Aeroplan has an unpublished maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between any city pair, so be sure your routing is valid for Aeroplan (United shows some itineraries that are not possible with Aeroplan).
  • No fuel surcharges on: Aegean, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, COPA, Croatia Airlines, EVA Airlines, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, GOL, Juneao Airlines, SAS, SWISS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines
  • Low fuel surcharges on: Cathay Pacific / Cathay Dragon, LOT Polish, Thai Airways
Avianca LifeMiles
  • The short story: Avianca LifeMiles shares the same pricing as Aeroplan for business class awards, but LifeMiles awards may be more “hackable”.
  • Miles required: 80K miles each way in business class.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at LifeMiles.com (you’ll need to create a free Avianca LifeMiles frequent flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at LifeMiles.com. Can also book via email. Phone bookings are known to be a hassle but also possible.
  • Key warnings: Availability at LifeMiles.com does not always match what you’ll find at United.com. Phone agents generally do not see better availability than what is shown at LifeMiles.com (though it may be possible to book itineraries via email that are not shown on LifeMiles.com). Note that lap infant tickets appear to be either very difficult to book or perhaps impossible – use Aeroplan if you have a lap infant. Keep in mind that the mandatory $25 booking fee (added to all bookings) is the same whether one-way or round trip, so book round trip to save.
Etihad Guest
  • The short story: Etihad Guest offers flights on American Airlines based on the old American Airlines chart (which itself devalued several years ago).
  • Miles required: 62.5K each way in business class, 72.5K each way in first class
  • How to find awards: Search for Brussels award space on United.com or American award space on AA.com (you may want to double-check availability at Qantas.com)
  • How to book awards: Call Etihad Guest at 1-877-690-0767.
  • Key warnings: Etihad phone agents have historically had trouble booking partner awards, though the new call center in Serbia appears to be quite competent. If your agent appears to be having trouble, you might want to HUCA (hang up, call again). Note that finding saver premium cabin availability on American Airlines is only slightly more likely than getting struck by lightning.
Hawaiian Miles
  • The short story: Hawaiian may be a good option for those who can position to Hawaii cheaply (i.e. anyone who reads that post), particularly for Pago Pago or Papeete.
  • Miles required: 65K miles one-way in business class to Australia or New Zealand; 47.5K miles one-way in business class to Pago Pago or Papeete.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Hawaiian Airlines’s Hawaiian Miles site (you’ll need to create a free Hawaiian Miles account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Hawaiian Airlines’s Hawaiian Miles site.
  • Key warnings: Availability can be hard to come by, but if you find it it may be worth it.
Qantas: for Jetstar
  • The short story: Qantas’s low-cost-carrier Jetstar flies between Hawaii and several Australian cities and can be booked with Qantas points.
  • Miles required: 57,600 miles one-way in business class from Honolulu to Sydney on Jetstar before September 18, 2019, 61,500 miles thereafter.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Jetstar flights can be quite cheap. While their business class is much more expensive than their economy class fares, it’s worth comparing to cash fares to be sure you’re getting a decent value.
Qantas: for Emirates
  • The short story: While the award cost here is substantially higher than others included in this sweet-spot posts, it may be worth it to those who really want an indulgently long experience in Emirates business class. It is possible to spend upwards of ~30 hours in A380 business class by routing via Dubai (note that some US cities have 777 service, which is likely angled in business class).
  • Miles required: 128,000 miles one-way in business class between North American cities and those cities served by Emirates in Australia and New Zealand.
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at Qantas.com (you’ll need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account)
  • How to book awards: Book online at Qantas.com.
  • Key warnings: Fuel surcharges are around $300 each way — not cheap, but not prohibitively expensive, either. Choose A380 routes to get a fully-flat aisle access business class seat with a bar at the rear of the plane.
Virgin Atlantic: for Delta
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic often offers Delta flights for many fewer miles than Delta would charge for the same itineraries..
  • Miles required: 75K miles each way in business class
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at VirginAtlantic.com
  • How to book awards: Book online at VirginAtlantic.com.  See: How to book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic miles.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately, so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries.
Virgin Atlantic: for Air New Zealand
  • The short story: Virgin Atlantic also offers good deals for Air New Zealand premium cabin flights if you can actually find availability.
  • Miles required: 45K each way for business class to/from Hawaii, 45K each way in business class from the “South Pacific” to :ps Angeles, 62.5K each way in business class from New Zealand to North or South America
  • How to find awards: Search for available space at United.com (I believe that Air New Zealand space does not show up at VirginAtlantic.com)
  • How to book awards: Book over the phone with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
  • Key warnings: Virgin Atlantic charges each segment separately (i.e. an itinerary with a single connection will cost 25K miles), so they are not a good choice for connecting itineraries. Furthermore, Air New Zealand business class award space is extremely rare.

Round the world ticket

In addition to the sweet spots mentioned above, it is worth noting that ANA’s round the world award chart can present phenomenal value for RTW Star Alliance awards. Here is the chart:

And here is an example itinerary that clocks in at just under 20K miles, meaning it could (theoretically) be booked entirely in business class with Star Alliance carriers for 115K miles.

ANA round the world awards can only be booked over the phone with ANA Mileage Club. See this post from Travel is Free for more.

Hotel Partners

Hilton often sells points for half a cent each. This means that transfers to Hilton don’t many sense even with a transfer bonus unless you need a larger quantity of Hilton points than you can purchase and/or there is no current sale.

Marriott is a 1:1 transfer partner, though we have seen transfer bonuses as high as 50%. Marriott transfers might make sense if you have a valuable redemption in mind. As a reminder, here is the Marriott Bonvoy award chart (see our Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide for more detail):

Choice Privileges can be a notably good partner for Nordic Choice hotels, where it is possible to get both free breakfast and free dinner in some instances.

Choice Privileges
  • The short story: Clarion Collection hotels, of the Nordic Choice hotels group that can be booked with Choice Privileges points, offer free breakfast and dinner and offer a great value for points. See: Free hotel breakfast & dinner at Nordic Choice Clarion Collection [Sweet-spot spotlight].
  • Points required: Varies, but many options between 10,000 and 20,000 points per night
  • How to find and book awards: Search online at ChoiceHotels.com, but be aware that you can only search and book award stays a maximum of 100 days in advance.

Bottom line

American Express Membership Rewards is an incredibly powerful currency with some great sweet spots. In comparison to the posts on Citi ThankYou points sweet spots and Chase Ultimate Rewards sweet spots, you can see that Amex just has a wider range of possibilities to get great value to many parts of the world, making it a favored (and in my opinion underrated) award currency.

Have we missed your favorite sweet spot? Let us know in the comments below.

For sweet spots in other programs, see:

Capital One Miles sweet spots

Citi ThankYou points sweet spots

Chase Ultimate Rewards sweet spots

Marriott Bonvoy airline partner sweet spots

Last updated on August 15th, 2019

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

More articles by Nick Reyes »

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tom
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tom

Great Post

Kathy
Guest
Kathy

This is a great article and I’ve been looking for something like this. I have lots of Chase Ultimate Reward points and American Express Points but have been “afraid” to try to transfer to partners because i wasn’t sure how that worked. Thanks for the great info!

Jim
Guest
Jim

Great post thanks… very complete. ( except Marriott)

THEsocalledfan
Guest
THEsocalledfan

Nick,

For Avianca, suggest adding note about the $25 partner fee they charge is the same for both one-way and round trip, so booking round trip is preferable when possible.

HChris
Guest
HChris

Love the overview. You should update the British Airways numbers though to the new award chart, i.e. 9k instead of 7.5k and so on.

Rossco
Guest
Rossco

NIck, I like that now that you have a kid you make sure to post about the infant fees. Our daughter is now almost 2 (sad times, i know) and she’s been Thailand via first/biz about 4 or 5 times already due to a $100 flat fee for adding the infant. It’s a perk for Aeroplan that really goes unmentioned a lot of the time due to most bloggers, well, not having a reason to even think about it.

Pam
Guest
Pam

Comprehensive, thoughtful, & immensely useful, thanks Nick!

Doug
Guest
Doug

I’ve been looking for a comprehensive list like this for some time. Thank you!

I would really appreciate any additional info regarding the best transfer options for New Zealand (and Australia) as it seems to fall outside of many groups.

Josh
Guest
Josh

For Europe, I’d also mention Aer Lingus’ cheap awards to the east coast or using BA avios to book Aer lingus flights on the phone for less taxes and fees

Former Chase Banker
Guest
Former Chase Banker

Great job on the post. You may want to add that when AMEX has transfer bonuses to Iberia or BA, you can easily transfer MR to the program with the bonus, then transfer between Avios accounts. Love those off-peak Iberia JFK-MAD awards.

Viet
Guest
Viet

Wow. This is an awesome post!!! I just saved it for future reference. I travel to SGN about once every two years, do you have any insight on flying from the West Coast (LAX)? Your article ended in Japan. My cheap ass typically fly in economy, but now that the little one is old enough, I’d like to give business class a try. Awashed in Chase UR and Amex points.

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Justin Ross Lee
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Justin Ross Lee

@Nick — This series is great. I also think an 80k $800 premium cabin mileage challenge should be next on the docket.
—JRL

Jig
Guest
Jig

Is using ANA to fly on Etihad still a viable option? Starting about 1.5 years ago, a note about being limited to codeshare routes was put up on the ANA website, and most reports for 6 months after that indicated no Etihad availability using ANA miles.