With a 2.2 cent per point valuation, American Express Membership Rewards points are the most powerful transferable points out there. But with so many transfer partners (and other ways to use points) there’s no doubt that redeeming Membership Rewards points can be a challenge to master.
For example, say you want to travel domestically within the United States. You can do this by transferring your points to Avianca LifeMiles, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, or a handful of other Amex transfer partners. Each of these transfer partners will let you book domestic flights on their respective set of partners, but for varying prices.
The same goes for international award tickets. You can choose from any one of Amex’s transfer partners, but you’ll get a different set of flights, prices, and airlines for each partner you search for. Even worse, some of these partners may have restrictions in place that make it hard to redeem for the flight you want on the date you want.
In this article, we’ll take you through the easiest ways to redeem Membership Rewards points for different types of award tickets. In short, we’ll help you find a great deal while not spending a ton of time booking the ticket.
Just note that these may not be the best deals for all of your bookings. Many of the best Membership Rewards redemptions require a bit more research, time on the phone with airlines, and otherwise digging deeper. You can see these redemptions in our full guide to using Membership Rewards points for max value.
But if you want to skip these annoyances, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started!
Table of contents
- How to Transfer Membership Rewards Points
- Booking Domestic Tickets With Membership Rewards
- Booking International Award Tickets
- A Word on the Amex Travel Portal
- Final Thoughts
Table of Contents
- How to Transfer Membership Rewards Points
- Booking Domestic Tickets With Membership Rewards
- Booking International Award Tickets
- A Word on the Amex Travel Portal
- Final Thoughts
How to Transfer Membership Rewards Points
Before we discuss how to transfer your Membership Rewards points, we need to discuss when to transfer your Membership Rewards points.
We don’t recommend transferring your points until you have a redemption in mind and have found award space. This means going onto the airline’s website, searching for your award ticket, and verifying that there are flights available. Some airlines will let you put award tickets on hold, but that’s becoming increasingly less popular.
Why do this? Simple: you want to keep your Membership Rewards points as flexible as possible right up until the point of redemption. This gives you the highest chance of being able to redeem for the award you want and prevents you from locking up your points in an airline program before you’re ready to book.
Thankfully, almost all of Amex’s transfer partners accept transfers instantly. So once you find a ticket you’d like to book, you can hop on the Amex website, initiate the transfer, and book a ticket. Do this as quickly as possible so that you don’t lose the award space to another traveler.
So, now that we have all that out of the way: here’s how to transfer your Membership Rewards points to transfer partners.
- Log into the Amex website and click the Rewards button at the top of the screen.
- Click the Transfer Points button at the center of the screen.
- Click the View All button at the center of the screen.
- Look through the list of transfer partners and click on the transfer partner whose account you’d like to link to your Membership Rewards account for transfers.
- Now, head over to the partner’s website and create an account. Make sure the name on the account is an exact match to what’s on your American Express account — otherwise, you can run into issues with your transfer being delayed or denied.
- Enter the requested verification info on the screen. This usually includes your card’s CVV (the 3 numbers on the back of the card). Then, enter your account number for the account you’re linking in the box at the bottom of the screen — you can usually find this in the My Account (or similar) screen on the transfer partner’s website.
- Once you’ve linked your loyalty account to your Amex account, you’ll be taken back to the transfer partner home screen. You will see your newly linked account at the top of the screen underneath the Your Loyalty Programs header. Now, click on the Transfer Points button underneath the name of the newly linked transfer partner. In this example, we’re transferring points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
- Enter the number of points you’d like to transfer to your transfer partner of choice in the Membership Rewards Points box at the center of the screen. Then, read and accept the terms and conditions and click the blue Confirm & Transfer Points button at the bottom of the window.
And that’s all there is to it! As discussed earlier, most transfers will appear in your transfer partner’s account almost instantly. Select partners — like Singapore Airlines — take a bit longer.
Booking Domestic Tickets With Membership Rewards
Booking domestic award tickets with Membership Rewards points can be a little more convoluted than you think. This is in large part because so many airlines operate domestic routes within the U.S. out of various hubs, making it hard for us to recommend just one airline program to book domestic tickets with.
So with that in mind, we’ll take a look at 3 different ways to book domestic U.S. tickets with your Membership Rewards points. The method you choose should depend on 2 factors: the cost of your ticket and the availability of your airport.
Take a look at what airlines fly out of your home airport before you start to book tickets.
An easy way to do this is by finding your airport’s Wikipedia page and going to the Airlines and Destinations tab. Here, you can view all airlines that service your home airport and see where exactly they fly to. As you’d expect, those in larger hub airports (think Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles International, and New York-JFK) will have more options than those in smaller airports.
Take note of which airlines serve your home airport and serve the places you want to fly.
Book American Airlines and Alaska Airlines Tickets With British Airways Avios
One of the most well-known ways of booking domestic U.S. award tickets with Membership Rewards points is by transferring points to British Airways Avios. The airline is in the Oneworld alliance and thus has a partnership with American Airlines. This partnership lets British Airways members book flights on American Airlines for a pretty reasonable price.
The British Airways award chart is distance-based. This means that the longer your flight is, the more points it will cost.
American Airlines bookings start at 9,000 miles for flights up to 1,151 flown miles in economy class. Further, flights between 1,151 and 2,000 flown miles cost 11,000 miles, and flights between 2,001 and 3,000 flown miles cost 13,000 miles in economy class. Thankfully, all domestic U.S. flights booked with Avios are subject to just $5.60 in taxes and fees.
One thing to note about this award chart is that it does price flights per leg. So if your domestic flight has a connection, it will cost more. For example, Chicago (ORD) to New York (LGA) to Washington, D.C. (DCA) would cost 18,000 Avios as both flights are under 1,151 miles. On the other hand, a direct flight from Chicago (ORD) to Washington, D.C. (DCA) would cost just 9,000 Avios.
Because of this, only book nonstop tickets with British Airways Avios, otherwise, it can be too expensive to be deemed a good deal.
How to Book Tickets With British Airways Avios
- Head over to the British Airways website and create an account by clicking on the Register Now button at the top of the screen. Once your account is created, sign in with your new account details using the Login ID and PIN/Password buttons at the upper right-hand side of the screen.
- Hover over the Book button on the left-hand side of the screen and click the Book With Avios button in the drop-down menu. This will take you to the screen where you can search for award flights.
- Now, enter your flight details at the center of the screen – this includes things like flight origin, destination, number of passengers, and the class of service. Then, click the blue Get flights button at the bottom of the page to start your search and see all available flights.
- All available flights will be presented at the center of the screen. Click on the flight you’d like to book and its pricing will appear at the bottom of the screen. If all looks good, click the blue Continue button at the bottom of the screen to move throughout the rest of the booking process.
- You’ll now be taken through the Avios booking process — just follow the on-screen guide. You’ll be asked for standard passenger information like name, birth date, and gender. Additionally, you’ll be prompted to pay any applicable taxes and fees with a credit card.
Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to British Airways Avios and all transfers are completed instantly. But like we mentioned earlier, only transfer your miles after you’ve found a ticket you’d like to book.
Book United Airlines Tickets With Avianca LifeMiles
If you live in a United hub, your best bet for booking domestic award tickets with Membership Rewards points is Avianca LifeMiles. Avianca is a South America-based Star Alliance airline that offers excellent values on domestic award tickets operated by United Airlines.
Its award chart is similar to British Airways in that it charges based on distance. However, the distance is defined by zone, not by actual miles flown. This also means that you won’t be penalized for booking a stop with a layover — something that can be useful for those living near smaller airports with limited connections.
There are 3 published U.S. regions on the Avianca LifeMiles award chart: 1, 2, and 3. U.S. 1 is the East Coast, U.S. 2 is the Midwest, and U.S. 3 is the West Coast. You can see which states are included in each of these categories in the image above.
A flight within a single region is 7,500 miles in economy class. Likewise, going 1 region over is 10,000 miles and going 2 regions (for example, U.S. 1 to U.S. 3) is 12,500 miles, both in economy class. This is a pretty solid deal as it stands, but sometimes we see LifeMiles deviate from this award chart and offer lower cost awards than quotes on its award chart.
For example, we searched for a ticket from Pittsburgh (PIT) to Newark (EWR) and found flights for 6,500 LifeMiles one-way in economy class. This is 1,000 miles less than quoted on the LifeMiles website, making it an excellent deal — especially when booking at the last minute or during peak travel times.
This isn’t the only time that we’ve seen LifeMiles pricing deviate from the published award chart. For example, we looked for flights from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Chicago (ORD) and found that flights were priced at 7,500 one-way in economy class. Since this is a Zone 1 to Zone 2 ticket, it should’ve cost 10,000 miles per the award chart, but we won’t complain!
These special deals aren’t published publicly, but there are plenty to be found, so make sure to check the LifeMiles website before you book an award ticket in the United States. This could save you miles versus booking American Airlines flights with British Airways (if the airlines both fly the same route).
How to Book Tickets With Avianca LifeMiles
- First, head over to the Avianca LifeMiles website and create an account with the same name as your American Express account name and sign in. Do note that the website is in the Spanish language by default, but you can change to English using the menu at the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
- Now, look towards the top of the LifeMiles website and click the Fly button that’s located towards the left-hand corner of the page.
- You’ll now be redirected to the award search page. Enter your flight info (like origin, destination, and the number of passengers traveling) at the center of the screen and click the blue arrow button to start your search.
- Select the date you’d like to fly using the calendar at the center of the screen. We generally find that domestic flights have better award availability when booking far out, so consider planning your trip early in order to get the best flights.
- You’ll be presented with all available flights at the center of the screen. Flight details are shown on the right-hand side of the screen while pricing for all classes of services is on the left-hand side of the screen. Simply click on the price of the flight you want to book to begin the booking process.
- On-screen prompts will walk you through the booking process. You’ll be asked for passenger info like name, date of birth and gender during this process, so make sure to have your travel companion’s info handy if you’re traveling with another person. Further, you will also be prompted to pay any applicable taxes and fees with a credit card.
Like British Airways, Avianca LifeMiles is a 1:1 transfer partner and all transfers process instantly. So once you find a ticket you want to book, you can do so immediately.
Check Delta Air Lines for Flash Sales
Unlike American, Alaska, and United, you should book Delta Air Lines domestic award tickets with the airlines’ own miles: Delta SkyMiles.
The airline employs a dynamic award chart, which means that award tickets are priced on various factors like cash cost, passenger load, and more. And while this has caused the cost of some international award tickets to sky-rocket, it has made some domestic award tickets super cheap.
For example – when booking 3 months out — one-way basic economy flights from New York (LGA) to Chicago (ORD) were priced at only 6,000 miles, which is pretty incredible.
Likewise, basic economy seats from Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK) were priced at just 9,500 miles one-way when booking 3 months out, making it by far the cheapest way to fly transcontinental using miles and points.
Just note that — due to Delta’s dynamic award pricing — these prices aren’t guaranteed. However, you can increase your shot at a cheap ticket by booking far in advance and scheduling flights during off-peak times and dates.
How to Book Tickets With Delta SkyMiles
- Head over to the Delta website and click the white Sign Up button at the upper right-hand side of the screen. Create an account and then head back to the homepage and sign in to your new account using the red Log In button at the upper right-hand side of the screen.
- You’ll be redirected to the site’s homepage after signing in. Look towards the top of the screen and you’ll see flight search options — enter the flight information for the flight you’d like to book. Make sure to check the checkbox next to the Shop With Miles option too.Once your search is set up, click the red Arrow button to the right of the search fields to initiate your search.
- If you kept the My Dates Are Flexible box on the homepage checked, you’ll be greeted with a week’s worth of pricing for flights on your selected route. Click on a date that works for you and then click the red Continue button to view all search results.
- You can now sift through all flights available on your day of travel. All classes of service will be shown alongside their respective pricing, so you can find a flight that best fits your travel needs.
- Click on a flight’s price to select it and you’ll be taken to the booking screen. Here, you’ll be walked through the checkout process which includes things like entering passenger info and paying applicable taxes and fees.
Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Delta SkyMiles, and all transfers are instant. Just note that you’ll be liable for paying a $0.0006 per point “tax reclamation fee” that is assessed to all Membership Rewards transfers to domestic U.S. airlines, with a maximum fee of $99.
Booking International Award Tickets
Things get tricky when booking international award tickets.
This is because you can book international tickets with a wide-variety of Amex’s transfer partners. Each of these has its own set of airline partners that you can redeem on, and different award charts to boot. Since many of these partners lists overlap, some transfer partners will offer the same flights for different prices.
Likewise, some airlines have better deals on specific tickets. For example, you can transfer Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles and fly round-trip in business class to Tokyo on ANA for just 90,000 points. However, the Virgin Atlantic award chart isn’t so great for redemptions to other parts of Asia.
Since the point of this article is simplicity, we’re not going to dive deep into these specific redemptions. Instead, we’ll show you the easiest ways to book international tickets on airlines on the 3 major airline alliances: Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance.
Most major airlines belong to 1 of these alliances, so click on the links above to learn more about which airlines are included in each alliance.
Note that all 3 of the major domestic airlines belong to an alliance, too, so you can connect to a flight on an international partner, too. Generally, this doesn’t cost any extra points and will make it easier for you to get to your destination — especially if you live near a smaller airport with few international connections.
Book Oneworld International Tickets With Asia Miles
Asia Miles is Cathay Pacific’s loyalty program. The Hong Kong-based airline is a founding member of the Oneworld alliance, which includes airlines like American Airlines, British Airways, and Qantas. Because of this, you can use Asia Miles to book tickets on all Oneworld partner airlines.
Even better, you can find that Asia Miles award tickets have lower taxes and fees than booking with select partners. This is especially true when booking award tickets on British Airways — instead of paying $500+ per ticket in business class, you’ll often only pay only $200-300 when heading to Europe.
As you’d expect, Membership Rewards points transfer to Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio. Transfers are usually instant, so you can book your ticket of choice right after finding award space. But remember — as discussed at the beginning of the article — don’t transfer your points until you’ve found award space.
There’s only 1 thing to note about Asia Miles redemptions, though: American Airlines flights don’t show on the Asia Miles website, even if they have available award space. Unfortunately, this means that you’ll need to either search for an American award with MileSAAver space on AA.com and call Asia Miles to book on 1 (866) 892-2598, or you can book using another transfer partner like Qantas or British Airways.
How to Book Tickets With Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Create an Asia Miles account with the same name as your American Express account name on the Asia Miles website. As discussed earlier, if you have a middle name on your account, make sure that you add it to your Asia Miles account as well to ensure that all points transfers are seamless.
- Head to the Redeem Miles page and enter the route you’d like to fly, dates, passengers, and class at the center of the screen.
- Scroll through the flight options and click on the option you’d like to book. If there’s nothing available for the day you entered, you can use the mini-date selector at the top to look for flights on similar dates with availability. Once you’ve selected a flight, click the yellow Next button at the bottom of the screen.
- Now, you’ll be prompted to enter your passenger information and pay the ticket’s taxes and fees. Simply follow the on-screen prompts and you’ll have your ticket booked in no time!
That’s all there is to it. While you may get a better deal on some tickets by transferring to other Oneworld partners, Asia Miles is the all-around best transfer partner for booking international airfare on Oneworld partners — especially in business class.
As you’d expect, Asia Miles is a 1:1 Membership Rewards transfer partner and all transfers process instantly.
Book Star Alliance International Tickets With Avianca LifeMiles
Avianca LifeMiles frequently has the best deals on Star Alliance international award tickets. This includes airlines like Air Canada, United Airlines, and Lufthansa. And like with Asia Miles, we’ve found that Avianca has lower taxes and fees than other Star Alliance booking partners.
For example, booking a Lufthansa business class ticket through Air Canada Aeroplan — another Star Alliance Amex transfer partner — and you’re subject to $500+ in taxes and fees. On the other hand, you’ll owe less than $75 when booking the same ticket through Avianca.
Hot Tip: Booking a connecting business or first-class ticket with LifeMiles? Change the shorter flight to economy class (or business if flying first class) and you’ll save a few thousand points on your booking.
Another nice thing about booking with Avianca LifeMiles is that virtually all Star Alliance award space shows online, too, so you’ll never need to call to book an award ticket.
How to Book Tickets With Avianca LifeMiles
The process for booking international Avianca LifeMiles tickets is the same as booking domestic tickets as noted above. Please refer to this section for a tutorial on booking international tickets with your Avianca LifeMiles.
As discussed earlier, Membership Rewards points transfer to Avianca LifeMiles at a 1:1 transfer ratio and all points transfer instantly.
Book SkyTeam International Tickets With Flying Blue
Last up, we have SkyTeam!
SkyTeam is the smallest of the 3 airline alliances, but it’s not one you should overlook. Member airlines include Air France, Delta Air Lines, KLM Royal Dutch, and Vietnam Airways, amongst others. This means that SkyTeam has a huge global footprint, and might be the best option to whisk you away on your next adventure.
Like Delta SkyMiles, all Flying Blue award tickets are subject to dynamic pricing, meaning that award tickets are priced based on passenger load, cash price of the ticket, and other factors.
However, there are some excellent deals to be had with Flying Blue. For example, we often see business class award tickets to Europe price at just 53,000 miles one-way — this is much cheaper than most other European award tickets. So with that in mind, it’s always worth checking Flying Blue if you’re planning an international trip.
Another nice thing about Flying Blue is that it’s remarkably easy to use. All major SkyTeam airlines show on the Flying Blue website, so you won’t have to call in to book a ticket.
Here’s a look at how to use Flying Blue to book international award tickets:
How to Book Tickets With Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- Head over to the Flying Blue website and create an account with the same first, middle, and last name as on your American Express account. Then, navigate to the Air France website, click the My Account button, and sign in with your newly minted Flying Blue credentials.
- Now, go back to the Air France homepage and click the Use Your Miles button at the center of the screen to start a new booking. Then, enter your flight origin, destination, date of travel, number of passengers, and class of service and click the blue Search button at the bottom of the menu.
- You will see all the available flights on-screen. You can click the points cost of a flight to view detailed information like layovers, plane type, and more. Select the flight you want to take and click the Next button at the bottom of the screen to continue through the booking process.
- You can now continue through the on-screen prompts to finish booking your ticket. As you’d expect, you’ll be asked for passenger information and be prompted to pay any taxes and fees with your credit card.
That’s a wrap for Flying Blue! There are some great deals to be had with this loyalty program, so don’t overlook it when planning your next trip. All Membership Rewards transfers to Flying Blue process instantly at a 1:1 ratio.
A Word on the Amex Travel Portal
Perhaps the easiest way to redeem your Membership Rewards points is through the Amex Travel portal, but we don’t usually recommend it.
This portal lets you book paid flights and — if you so choose — cover the cost with your Membership Rewards points. The only issue with doing this is that, more often than not, it’s a pretty terrible deal.
All points have a set 1 cent per point redemption ratio. This means that a $1,000 flight would cost a whopping 100,000 Membership Rewards points, regardless of class of service. On the other hand, you could use 100,000 points to fly ANA business class, take a trip to Europe, or make several other awesome (and more valuable) redemptions.
Hot Tip: Amex Platinum cardholders are eligible for special pricing on international airfare in premium cabins through the International Airlines Program. This can save you hundreds of dollars!
The Amex Business Platinum card will give you a 35% refund when booking first and business class tickets through the Amex Travel portal. Likewise, you can get 35% back on economy tickets from 1 airline of your choice. You can change this airline 1 time per year.
Likewise, the Amex Business Gold card has the same benefit, but it’s limited to 25% back. Note that for both cards you must have the entire redemption’s worth of points in your account (at 1 cent per point). The 35% or 25% refund will post to your account within a few weeks of booking.
Regardless, Amex Travel is still the simplest way to use your Membership Rewards points on flights. You can pick from any flight on any airline at any time, and there are no blackout dates. Plus, you’ll earn airline miles on tickets booked through Amex Travel as they process as paid tickets. Just make sure to add your frequent flyer number during the booking process.
How to Use Amex Travel to Book Airfare
If you’re still interested in using Amex Travel to book tickets, here’s a quick overview of how to do it.
- Head over to the Amex Travel website and click the blue Log In button at the upper right-hand corner of the page. Then, sign in with your Amex account.
- Now click the Flights button on the left-hand side of the screen. Then, enter your flight details — you’ll need to enter things like flight origin, destination, class, number of travelers, and the date of travel. Then, click the blue magnifying glass button to start your search.
- You can view all available flights at the center of the screen and use the filtering controls on the left-hand side of the screen to filter out specific flights. Next to each flight listing, you’ll see both cash and points pricing. Note that this does not include the 25% or 35% discount included with the Amex Business Gold card or Amex Business Platinum cards.
- Select the flight you’d like to book by clicking the blue Select button to the right of the flight’s price. If you’re booking a round-trip ticket, you’ll be prompted to choose a return flight, too.
- You’ll now be taken to a page where you can review your flight choices and see pricing. If all looks OK, click the Continue Booking button at the bottom of the screen.
- Now, continue through the on-screen steps to book your flight. On the last screen, you’ll be asked how you’d like to pay for your flight. If you want to use your points to cover the whole ticket, click the Use Only Points button. Then, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click the blue Book Flight button.
And that’s how you book flights through the Amex Travel portal with your Membership Rewards points! Again, this isn’t the best use of your points, but it can be an okay option if you need to book a flight on a specific flight and don’t want to pay cash. Plus, those with the Amex Business Gold card and Amex Business Platinum card can take advantage of a better redemption rate.
In this article, we showed you the easiest way to redeem your Membership Rewards points for domestic and international travel. We started by discussing how to use transfer partners to book domestic and international flights and then moved onto redemptions with Amex Travel.
As discussed earlier, we highly recommend that you use transfer partners when booking flights with points. You’ll get more value from your points and have the chance to book high-end redemptions like international first and business class. Oftentimes, this will be much cheaper than booking a paid ticket through Amex Travel with your points.
Remember, the redemptions we outlined here aren’t necessarily the best value — they’re simply the easiest ways to redeem your points. For more information on the best value Membership Rewards redemptions, check out our list of the top Membership Rewards redemptions.
But now we want to hear from you. What’s your favorite way to redeem Membership Rewards points? Let us know in the comments.