How to Plan a “Bucket List” Trip on Points: Maximizing Amex Transfers and Airline Alliances

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I have mentioned before that I like to help my parents make the most of their points and miles to get to as many of their “bucket list” destinations as possible.  Their next big trip is next summer to Yosemite, Sequoia National Forest, and then finally to Las Vegas.  They delayed booking their trip a little longer than I recommended, and the reward flights we wanted disappeared.  I did make them repeat 50 times, “never, never, never wait when the flight you want is available now”……kidding, but I sure wanted to!  Anyway, as a result we had to get creative on their outbound flights from Houston to Fresno.  You can read all about that in this post.  This is the second half of the experience in booking their points-fueled trip!

Their plan was then to rent a car in Fresno and take their time wandering through California, and then to drive the rental car to Las Vegas.  The Man, Little C, and I plan to meet up with them in Las Vegas (Vegas, baby!) for a few days.  We will all then fly home on the same day.  Managing the planning logistics for my parents, my aunt (who is flying with them), and my own little family of three became a bit complex for this little journey – mostly because we all were flying on miles and points and were dealing with limited reward seat availability.

Once we had their outbound flight situation resolved, we worked on their return flights.  Thankfully, the flights we wanted on the return were still available (always double check the flights you want are available before you transfer points out of Membership Rewards).  We chose to take advantage of the (now expired) American Express Membership Rewards 50% transfer bonus to British Airways.  Recently, it seems like there is an Amex transfer bonus to either British Airways or Delta every few months.  This is a great way to make your points go even farther, so keep an eye out if you have a Membership Rewards account!  We were able to turn 25,000 Membership Rewards points into 37,500 points, the exact number we needed for three domestic one-way tickets at 12,500 miles a piece.

At first my family had a mild heart attack when I told them we needed to transfer their miles to British Airways.  To them British Airways meant you must be flying overseas.  I explained that American Airlines is a partner of British Airways, so they would actually be on American Airlines flights, even though their ticket would be issued by British Airways.  I’m still not sure if they 100% believe me.  🙂

My mom had never transferred points from her Membership Rewards account, so we first had to set up a frequent flyer account with British Airways for her.

We then had to enter that number into the Amex Membership Rewards system and “link” the two accounts.  It says it can take several days for that to process, but it only took a few seconds.

We then entered the 25,000 points that we wished to transfer, and voila, the points immediately displayed in her British Airways account.

If you would like a more detailed description of transferring Amex Membership Rewards points, check out this post

Since we were not transferring to a US based airline, we didn’t have to pay the .0006 cent per mile tax you would have to pay for a domestic airline transfer.  For the amount of miles we were transferring, it wouldn’t have been a huge expense one way or another, but every little bit helps!

We then selected the desired flights from my mom’s new British Airways frequent flyer account and paid $5.00 in taxes per flight.  Not a bad deal at all!

I may or may not have had a margarita once the entire booking process for the outbound and return flights was completed.  It doesn’t sound overly difficult looking back on it now, but in the moment it got a little complicated coordinating six total travelers who all needed reward seats.  It all worked out in the end though!  Once we finished recuperating celebrating the completion of that process, we still needed to book the one-way rental car from Fresno, California to Las Vegas, Nevada.  If you have never made a one-way car rental, I’ll let you in on a secret………..they can be CRAZY expensive.  In fact, the main reason they are flying into Fresno is because the one-way rental price from Fresno to Vegas was hundreds of dollars less than the surrounding airports.  We compared rates, and booked with Avis for a grand total of $441.  Considering that the rental spans 12 days, it was a fair price (especially for a one-way rental).  We will continue to watch rates over the next several months to see if we can find a better rate.

I wish that my parents had “pulled the trigger” a few days earlier, when American Airlines flights were available for both the outbound and return flights.  That would have saved them some money, but in the end, they still got a great deal.  Points and miles don’t do any good if they are earned, but not used.  We were able to put those points to good use by having six family members all fly for free.  Being able to avoid having that large expense, allows us to make our vacation dollars go that much further.  As a side-benefit of this vacation planning, my aunt even dipped her toe into the miles and points game by getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  I was so excited for her!

My parents are very excited about their next adventure, and we are very excited about having their assistance in Vegas with Little C!  🙂


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  1. Very cool! 6 travelers all on rewards tix is crazy, Especially when you consider how many people give up after looking for 1 or 2! Look forward to reading more about the family trip 🙂

  2. I often plan trips with my parents and my family and I completely understand how crazy it can be. But, it is also super satisfying when you finally redeem all those miles and points for such a complex trip.

    I did a trip earlier this year where I had a one-way rental, and prices were all over the map. I ended up finding the best deal at Dollar. I got a minivan for a week from Reno airport to SFO. Total cost with tax and $72 toddler seat was $607. The other quotes were as high as $1000 more than that, and that was with preferred/elite status at the other companies. I don’t have any special status at Dollar, and I did not use any special promos. They might be worth checking out.

    • Thanks for the info! It really can be crazy when you get that many different people involved. It may be “fun” chaos, but it is still chaos!

  3. I am not as educated about the BA use of miles as I should have been! I too thought BA was only overseas. Now I have 40K MR points I am trying to get the most value out of! Delta is out because they don’t fly anything that meets our needs from San Antonio. We too want to go to Yosemite next summer. But I can’t book any award tickets for awhile. Is it hard to get availability on BA within the US on their partners?

    • I have generally had good availability booking American Airlines domestically via British Airways. In the case of this flight for my parents, there was great availability both ways until the day before they decided to book. We started looking the day the schedule opened, roughly 11 months out….two weeks later the availability had changed drastically. For the routes I have searched, AA has actually had one of the best domestic availabilities I have found.

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