Make the 35% Transfer Bonus to British Airways Work For You (Without Flying BA)

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I’m very happy to share the news that a transfer bonus from the Amex Membership Rewards program to the British Airways program has returned from now through June 7th. You will get a 35% bonus on Membership Rewards points transferred to British Airways during that time. That means that if you wanted to transfer 10,000 MR points, they would become 13,500 Avios points. This is big news not just for those who use the points to fly on British Airways, but also for those of you who use Avios to fly on BA partners, like American Airlines. In fact, that is one of the very best uses. I know some of you are BA pros and don’t need to read another word other than that the transfer bonus has returned, but I also know that many of you aren’t as familiar with how to leverage this for great deals on American Airlines and other partner flights, so here are some FAQs I wrote that may help those who aren’t as familiar with this method of using points.

I’m not flying to Europe or on British Airways anytime soon, so why should I care about a 35% transfer bonus to British Airways?

One of the best ways to use British Airways Avios is on short flights within the US, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean that are operated by Alaska or American Airlines. Those are both partners of British Airways. Avios uses a distance-based chart, so short and direct flights between AA/Alaska served cities can be a great deal. For example, it costs me just 15,000 Avios round trip to fly from Houston to Chicago and back on American Airlines. That would cost me 25,000 AA miles if I booked directly with American. To make the math even sweeter, with the current 35% transfer bonus that comes out to just over 11,000 Membership Rewards points for a roundtrip that could otherwise cost 25,000 miles. Deals like this are what makes traveling on points possible for the average family that doesn’t have access to an unlimited stream of points.

So do I book with American or Alaska and tell them I want to use British Airways points?

No, you have to book via British Airways. First try their website, but sometimes it is buggy and you need to call in. Give the website a few shots before giving up on it though – it is just a little temperamental at times. You can also search for availability on the American Airlines website at the “Milesaver Level”, but you will actually book with British Airways using British Airways Avios on their partners American, Alaska, etc. It’s basically the same as if you booked a US Airways operated flight on United.com using United miles. It’s just taking advantages of alliances and partners. Sometimes certain flights are more favorably priced in miles/points using one award chart as opposed to another. In this case, short and nonstop flights are priced more favorably on the BA chart vs the AA chart.

How do I find out how many points it will cost me?

You can price out a mock trip on the British Airways site to find out for sure. I personally like to use The Wandering Aramean’s Avios calculator to get an idea of how many points will be required. Do keep in mind that Avios price by segment, so if I flew from Houston – Dallas – Chicago on American it will cost more points than if I fly nonstop from Houston – Chicago. This means you need to do a little homework to be familiar of the routes offered by partners AA and Alaska and choose the nonstop option whenever possible. Short one-way flights such as New York to Montreal start at 4,500 Avios each way.

Are there fees?

For these type of domestic and North American flights I am talking about, the fees are very minimal – they are just the taxes that are normally charged. My Houston to Chicago round trip on American would ring in at 15,000 Avios and $5.00 in taxes. If you use your Avios to actually fly on British Airways you will be paying hundreds in fees. In most cases it does not make sense to do that.

How do I get Membership Reward points?

You can get Membership Reward points via personal or business Amex Membership Rewards earning cards. Right now the best public business card offer that earns MR points is for the The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN, and the best personal card offers are either the Mercedes Benz Platinum card or the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card (depending on your tolerance for an annual fee). If you applied right now and could meet the minimum spending requirements very quickly, you would probably have your points deposited in time to take advantage of this offer, but there are no guarantees.

What are some other good uses of Avios?

I have a post here that outlines some of my favorite uses of Avios including 25,000 RT from the West Coast to Hawaii, 25,000 RT from the Boston to Ireland, and more. There are some tremendous deals lurking in the Avios award chart.

Is 35% a good transfer bonus amount?

About a year ago there was a 50% transfer bonus to British Airways, so obviously that one was higher, but 35% is still pretty good. The last transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to BA ended in January 2013, and it was for 30%. It wouldn’t shock me if we saw another transfer bonus later this year (if the pattern holds), but your guess is as good as mine as to whether it would be a little lower or a little higher.

Let me know if you have any additional questions. Don’t let the name “British Airways” scare you off from this – this process is actually pretty simple and is very useful for those of us in the US who can fly Alaska and American flights.

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Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links. Any opinions provided are mine alone and are not necessarily representative of American Express or any other company. As always, thanks for your support.

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  1. Hi MP! I’ve searched the avios booking tool for AA flights over the last year and the availability doesn’t seem very good. I usually see 1 or NO flights available for the days/trips I want. I’m talking ATL-MDW, ATL-ORD, ATL-DSM, etc. Not insane routes by any means. Are ALL AA saver flights available with Avios, but they just require a call in to BA to book, or what am I missing?

  2. Jake, well the only one of those that has a nonstop flight on AA I am aware of is ATL-ORD. For DSM you are looking at two segments – which are best searched for independently. If there is Milesaver availability it should be bookable with Avios. The BA website can be buggy, but it should at least match up over the phone. I have found that AA availability in general is still very good, but perhaps has decreased a little over a year ago. I do not have experience watching that particular route.

  3. Do Avios expire if unused? Would I need to use them within the next year, or would they still be sitting there for a flight in 18 months? Thanks.

  4. I’m based out of CLT, so these miles will be worth a whole lot more to me once the merger comes into full fruition. Either way, just transfered 100K to British Airways. MIA and LGA are always fun, but again, I can’t wait for the full merger to kick in so I can use these miles to their full potential.

    • Kathy, don’t be scared, but do think strategically. AFAIK AA only flies to Dallas from CAE. If that is the case, you will have limited Avios use domestically unless you were interested in getting to some other nearby airports.

  5. MP, if the nonstop options from your home airport are fairly limited on Alaskan/American is the benefit limited? I searched their route maps for MSP and only 5-6 options, none to the caribbean, which is what I was hoping for.

  6. I found that BA and AA sites are not exactly match for award space. In the past few monthes, I had two incidents that I can see the saver available on AA site, but not on BA site. Even call in BA was no help. Both times, the agent just said “partner may not release all their available inventory to us”

  7. MLH, yes and no. You aren’t going to have nonstop to the Caribbean from there, but you just need to price out how many miles it would take you go get there and compare that to other programs. I think you are looking at 10K each way to Miami and then flights to islands starting at 4.5K each way from there. So, that is starting at 29K for the closer islands without the bonus. Factor in the 35% bonus and you are looking at round trip tickets to the Caribbean starting at 22,000 Membership Reward points (compared to 35K miles in many traditional programs)…but check my quick math. So, nonstops are better, but in some cases a connection isn’t bad if the numbers are still in your favor. This is going to be true moreso to the Caribbean as traditional programs charges more to get there than domestic flights.
    travelmi, yes and no. I think that BA call agents are somewhat rotten. It really should mostly line up. Sometimes I have to refresh my screen a dozen times and then the availability is there. Makes no sense, but it has worked for me if AA is showing the Saver availability. I do have to sometimes search segment by segment, but have had way more successes than failures with luck, persistence, and patience.

  8. I have still not yet been able to use Avios on American due to the lack of super saver awards. If the flight is available for a higher level of AA miles, you still can’t book with Avios, only AA miles.

  9. My question is also regarding Alaska Airlines. Is it best to look for award availability for Alaska flights on AA.com or on the Alaska site? The BA site came up with nothing in the one month time frame I looked (from SEA to DEN).

  10. If I book award tickets using Avios for AA flights, and I have the AA credit card with benefits (free checked bags) do I get those benefits on that flight? Or not because I booked it with Avios?

  11. Most importantly, if you are a churner with only one MR account, “Go ahead, take the bonus and run…”. In my experience, it is not worth it to wait on a potential transfer bonus for MR if you know that you will cancel the card and have no other MR earning account open. Just some food for thought….

  12. My home airport is Bdl, not finding alot of value in flights leaving from there.Maybe missing something? But I do hope to take advantage of the Bos-Dub. If I were to use avios to visit Amsterdam or London, would it make sense to return to Dublin for the flight back to Boston?

    • Mark, it is not on BA’s site it is on the AMEX site when you go to transfer Membership Reward points to BA. Hope that helps!

  13. Dear Mommypoints,
    I think you need to make it really clear to everyone that the Amex transfer bonus offer is ONLY for holder’s of US Amex Card holders! It does not apply if you are a UK holder of an Amex Card. Your reader’s should not be fooled into thinking it does. Pointsguy and others also need make that clear. Sorry Brits:(

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