Thursday, April 17th 2014

Reward Points Hack: Advancing Membership Rewards Points

by Jason Steele

Some airline and hotel loyalty programs will allow you to reserve an award when you do not have enough miles in your account. The expectation is that you will either be earning those miles very shortly, or you will be transferring them from a partner account. Unique among programs that I am aware of is a feature of American Express’s Membership Rewards program that will actually advance you points.

How American Express Points Advance Works

According to the terms of this program, Amex will advance you points when you are short of points for a particular program. The amount of points varies depending on which flavor of the Membership Rewards program you are in.

  • 5,000 points for Membership Rewards Express, typically credit cards including Blue, as well as their ZYNC charge card
  • 15,000 points for Membership Rewards, Gold and Green Cards
  • 60,000 points for Membership Rewards First, Platinum and Centurion

The catch is that you have to earn the points you have been advanced in the next 12 months, otherwise you are charged the purchase price of the points, which is $25 per 1,000 points, 2.5 cents/point. Granted, there are some offers out there that are worth 2.5 cents/per point, but most fall short, so you better make sure that you are going to meet the spending requirements and not get charged.

When Would This Make Sense?

Obviously, if you need some Membership Rewards points for a trip you are planning, you could borrow some to get you over the hump. Another strategy is to take advantage of one of Amex’s frequent, but limited time promotions. For example, Delta is currently running a promotion where first time transfers from a Membership Rewards program to the SkyMiles program will earn a 50% mileage bonus. That is good, but not great considering that Delta miles are the least valuable among the major domestic carriers. What makes this bonus worthwhile is the additional offer of a 25,000 mile bonus in the from of Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) if you transfer 50,000 Membership Rewards Miles. It is easy to imagine a Platinum card holder getting advanced 50,000 miles in order to earn a total of 100,000 Delta miles, 25,000 of which are MQMs. This would instantly catapult that person to Delta’s Silver status or put them much closer to the next level of status.

Similarly, Airtran is offering a 25% bonus, and British Airways had been running a 40% bonus on transfers from Membership Rewards, but the BA offer has expired.

In Conclusion

In general, I like the Starwood Amex program better than Membership Rewards programs, but there are some times where Membership has its privileges, so to say. So keep this option in mind when you are contemplating ways to make an award redemption strategy work with your Amex. In this way, Amex is like a good friend willing to loan you a few bucks when you are in a pinch.

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