Updated with more information from an article originally posted on 08/01:
09/30 is the last day to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points into Continental miles. The good news is that at least we can still use Chase Sapphire Ultimate Rewards points or Ink Bold Ultimate Rewards points to instantly transfer miles into anyone’s Continental account. And there are no fees with Chase.
Membership Rewards Transfer Options Linky
-Personally I transferred out my entire hoard of Membership Rewards points to Continental. For my money nothing compares with the generosity of their program. They’re part of the Star Alliance which has dozens of top-notch member airlines with great award avaialbility, they never charge fuel surcharges on award tickets, they allow for one-way awards, they have a stopover+2 open-jaws policy, they allow free date changes and routing/airline changes, and therefore are extremely valuable for me. I have no qualms banking millions of miles with Continental.
The nice thing about program like American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Starpoints, and Chase Ultimate Rewards is their flexibility. What I’m about to suggest is that having the miles in Continental is better than that flexibility, but for some people that may not be true. It may still be better to retain that flexibility to transfer to a worse program when you know exactly what you want to use your miles for. While Continental may be better as a whole, if you just need 1 ticket it’s always possible that another program may be better for you. And of course American Express can always add another transfer partner like AA or USAirways (both of those are transfer partners at a 1:1.25 ratio with Starwood) that would change everything. Finally airlines are always tinkering and changing their award charts. Having points in a flexible is a hedge against that as you can always transfer to another airline. But still that didn’t stop me from loading up on Continental miles.
Let’s take a look at the other options.
-Delta is always running promotions for bonus miles (25%, 40%, 50%, there’s even a 67% bonus offer now) when you transfer Membership Rewards points. There’s a reason for that, and it’s because of how bad their miles are. Miles are not all created equal, just like no 2 monetary currencies are exactly alike. It’s nearly impossible to get tickets at the saver level, they are part of the worst alliance (Skyteam) with the stingiest and worst collection of airlines in an alliance, they charge fuel surcharges for redemptions on some partners and on some tickets originating overseas, there are no true first class redemptions possible with Delta miles, they don’t have one-way awards, they don’t allow you to cancel/change an award within 3 days of departure, their website is terrible and often misprices awards and their agents are even worse. Gary coined them SkyPesos for good reason, and I don’t participate in their program too much.
That being said, some people have great success with Delta miles. Every person uses miles in their own way, so if Delta works for you, then by all means grab those 50% and 67% bonuses while you can…they may not have to offer as many once Continental is gone.
-Air France/KLM Flying Blue is another Skyteam option, but they charge hefty fuel surcharges. Their are some loopholes (for example for tickets on Delta originating in Israel or buying one-way tickets from the US) though. They also consider Israel to be part of Europe which makes it cheaper than other programs, and they have incredible promo award pricing, but those get slammed with fuel surcharges. Overall not a place I’d want to bank miles.
-BA/Iberia is the OneWorld option. Their mileage programs are merging soon. They’re set to announce changes to their program in November that are likely to get rid of sweet redemptions options like 40,000 miles to South America without fuel surcharges and 50,000 miles to Asia. Massive fuel surcharges are the norm for most flying. It’s very possible that there will continue to be some good uses of BA miles. Like there are today within the US with free stopovers or to Hawaii. But that’s not something I would count on.
-ANA was a great Star Alliatnce option until a couple months ago when they added fuel surcharges on Continental, United, USAirways, and Virgin Atlantic. They still have a great award chart (60K to Israel in coach or 90k in Business) but it’s hard to swallow their fuel surcharges.
-El Al has a terrible program with high surcharges. If you want award tickets on El Al find yourself some AA miles to fly surcharge free. Caveat is AA can only book coach or business tickets on El Al, not first class.
-Airtran has some very intriguing aspects of their program (32 points for a ticket on another airline in the US, 50 points for a ticket on another airline to Hawaii, or 100 points for a ticket on another airline anywhere in the world) that I’ve taken advantage of in the past, but they’re being swallowed by Southwest (mooooooo) next year who I’m sure will get rid of that.
-Virgin America (effective next month), Frontier, Jetblue, and Hawaiian‘s programs are mostly domestic and they don’t particularly interest me, but they may for some folks. I tend to pay for most domestic tickets and save my miles for international trips where I can get greeter value out of them on trips I could otherwise not afford.
-Virgin Atlantic, Singapore, and Alitalia charge massive fuel surcharges. Singapore has some value as they have expanded availability for flying on Singapore, but be prepared to pay an insane amount of miles and surcharges if you want that A380 first class suite. Alitalia only charges 80K to Israel in business class, but fuel surcharges are heavy.
-I’m not familiar with the Aeromexico (Skyteam) program, but being Skyteam I would guess there’s nothing too exciting about it. I could be wrong here, so correct me if I’ve been missing out on something.
That leaves us with Continental (ending 09/30) and Air Canada, besides for all of the hotel options.
-Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is definitely a viable Star Alliance alternative program to transfer your points to, although I still prefer Continental miles to Aeroplan. Aeroplan miles for example require activity once a year to keep the miles active and expire after 7 years no matter what. Currently Continental miles never expire, although that will change once United swallows the Continental program on January 1st. They still won’t expire in the new program if you have a Continental OnePass Plus or United MileagePlus Explorer card though.
It’s worth noting that if you shuffle your miles from United to Continental and then back to United again you’ll extend the life of your miles by 18 more month.
Another factor is that while Air Canada doesn’t charge fuel surcharges when flying on Star Alliance and partner carriers, they do charge a surcharge if you want to fly on Air Canada. They also seem to charge slightly higher taxes than Continental/United. Continental/United never charges a fuel surcharge on award tickets. Continental/United also allows for one-way awards at half the miles of a round-trip award, which Air Canada charges a premium for one-way awards.
Not that there aren’t advantages to the Air Canada program. For one, they allow 2 stopovers on a mileage ticket, so you can check out 3 cities for as long as you want to, all for the cost of just 1 award. Continental only allows for 1 free stopover and doesn’t allow for any free stopovers on a domestic US48/Canada award ticket. Air Canada will also allow you to fly to Asia via Europe, something that is difficult to pull off with Continental miles.
Another major advantage to the Aeroplan program is that infants are charged just $50 in coach, $75 in business, or $100 in first class on an award. With most programs, including Continental, you need to pay 10% of the full fare for an infant. On a business class or first class ticket that can be very expensive, possibly even expensive enough to make you consider just paying the miles for a seat for the infant.
You can borrow miles and send them over to Continental now and pay them back by opening new cards up or spending on cards within the next 12 months. However you will be charged 2.5 cents per point if you do not pay back the points over the next year.
Here are some cards that can be opened to get points to pay back borrowed points. Be sure to clear your browser’s cookies to receive the best offer for each card:
American Express Consumer Platinum Card
American Express Consumer Premier Rewards Gold Card
American Express Consumer Gold Rewards Card
American Express Business Gold Rewards Card
American Express Business Platinum Card
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