At long last, American Express Membership Rewards points can be converted directly to a SkyTeam member airline. That’s thanks to one of Amex’s existing partners joining the SkyTeam Alliance earlier this month – Virgin Atlantic.
Not to be confused with Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic is based in the UK. Its loyalty program, Flying Club, has been an Amex transfer partner in Australia for quite some time. Now that Virgin Atlantic is a member of SkyTeam, Flying Club is even more appealing as the ultimate destination for those Membership Rewards points.
Of course, these developments also increase the appeal of Amex Membership Rewards itself. Along with direct transfers to a SkyTeam partner, conversions to selected oneworld and Star Alliance carriers remain available too. This gives Membership Rewards users significant flexibility when it comes time to fly.
Added to that, when you need a seat beyond what the three major global alliances can cover, direct conversions to Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest and Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer remain available too.
But back to Virgin Atlantic. Here are just some of the exciting options now available to Flying Club members. And by extension, Amex Membership Rewards cardholders.
American Express’ previous SkyTeam setup
It’s long been possible to use Amex Membership Rewards points towards some SkyTeam airline flight bookings. That’s by transferring points to specific partner programs, where those programs maintain their own direct relationship with a desired SkyTeam airline.
For example, Membership Rewards users can convert their points into miles with Etihad Guest. Etihad allows its members to redeem miles on Air Europa, Garuda Indonesia, Korean Air and Saudia – all SkyTeam member airlines. But Etihad miles can’t be used on other SkyTeam flights, such as with Vietnam Airlines.
For travel with Korean Air, converting Membership Rewards points into Emirates Skywards miles is another option. Yet in the same vein, Skywards miles can’t be used to fly with other SkyTeam carriers, such as Saudia.
Direct transfers to Qantas Frequent Flyer are also possible for members at the Ascent Premium tier of Membership Rewards. Qantas Points can be used to fly with Air France, China Eastern and KLM. They can also be used on China Airlines’ flights from Australia to Taipei and beyond – though not with other SkyTeam airlines like Garuda.
But now, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club acts as a single SkyTeam port of call for Amex Membership Rewards. Certainly, the options above remain available – and it’s always good to compare redemption rates. Yet Flying Club makes things simpler and unlocks significantly more options.
New SkyTeam redemption opportunities via Amex Membership Rewards
Let’s look at just how much flexibility Virgin Atlantic Flying Club adds to Amex Membership Rewards in light of the carrier joining SkyTeam.
While some SkyTeam flights were strategically bookable before, many just weren’t available using Membership Rewards points. But now that Virgin Points can be spent across the SkyTeam Alliance, things look different.
Here are the airlines that Membership Rewards cardholders can now (or soon) book by transferring their points. These weren’t available via any other Membership Rewards transfer partner before Virgin Atlantic’s move into SkyTeam. In the case of China Airlines, this was only previously available to Membership Rewards Ascent Premium members, via Qantas.
- Aerolíneas Argentinas
- China Airlines
- Czech Airlines
- ITA Airways
- Kenya Airways
- Middle East Airlines (MEA)
- Vietnam Airlines
That’s 10 new SkyTeam airlines on which all Membership Rewards cardholders can secure reward flights, using points transferred from American Express. And of course, Flying Club’s Virgin Points could – or could soon – get you a seat on SkyTeam’s other members too, such as China Eastern, Korean Air, Garuda and more.
Just be aware that Virgin Atlantic is still finalising the IT integration with a few of these partners. It notes that reward seat bookings on AeroMexico, China Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Saudia will all be ‘live shortly’.
Earn and burn on China Eastern will also be live in July 2023. The ability to spend Virgin Points on ITA Airways will also come ‘later in 2023’. But Flying Club is on the right track – and a few bumps in the road like this are to be expected in the early days.
Which American Express cards can earn Membership Rewards points?
Membership Rewards is the ‘de facto’ points currency of American Express. It covers most cards outside of the co-brand collection.
You could even earn Membership Rewards points via the no-annual-fee Amex Essential Credit Card.
Transfers from Amex Membership Rewards to SkyTeam’s Virgin Atlantic Flying Club are at a 2:1 rate. Conversions are possible from the Ascent Premium, Ascent, Gateway and David Jones tiers of Membership Rewards.
Following a recent IT upgrade, most transfers from Membership Rewards to Flying Club are also now instantaneous. Previously, the timeframe was ‘up to five business days’. Now, it’s ‘up to one business day’ – but if you log out and back into Flying Club after making a transfer, your Virgin Points will likely have landed.
When it comes to transferable points programs, flexibility is key. Having that flexibility to use Amex Membership Rewards points on a greater number of SkyTeam airlines adds a lot of value to the program.
By being able to transfer and book airlines across oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam, there’s a greater chance you’ll be able to turn your Membership Rewards points into a flight that suits you.
One journey might be easier to secure with points on oneworld airlines. Another might be simpler with Star Alliance. And now, if SkyTeam is a better fit – or its member airlines have reward seat availability to suit your plans – you’ll have a strategy for that too.
Feature image courtesy of Vietnam Airlines – one of the many SkyTeam carriers now bookable via Flying Club.
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