American Airlines’ AAdvantage frequent flyer program offers some good-value redemptions for Australia-based travellers, and this trick to transfer your Amex points can come in handy when you need to top up your AAdvantage balance.
When you should use this trick
If you are looking at a redemption on a oneworld airline such as Qantas, Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways, and both your Asia Miles and AAdvantage balances are (close to) zero, then the results here will show you why you should probably transfer your Membership Rewards points to Asia Miles instead but only if you have access to Amex Ascent points.
If you have access to Amex Gateway points, it’s on a case-by-case basis, and this guide will teach you how to compare your options.
If you have picked up some AAdvantage miles in a buy miles promotion and need to top up your balance, then this trick to convert your Amex points into AAdvantage miles may come in handy.
How to get your hands on the points in the first place
For Australians, there are just two ways to earn AAdvantage miles from credit card spend, and this guide covers the first one: earning points with American Express Membership Rewards cards and transferring them first to Starwood Preferred Guest and then onto AAdvantage.
The other card alternative is the relatively unused Diners Club account option, having a Diners and MasterCard, which can earn AAdvantage miles directly.
It is possible to earn American Express Membership Rewards points here in Australia through either the standard American Express Membership Rewards program or David Jones Membership Rewards and transfer them to Starwood Preferred Guest whenever you wish.
Transferring Membership Rewards points to Starwood Preferred Guest
The transfer rate from Amex Membership Rewards is 1 Membership Reward point = 0.5 Starwood Preferred Guest points, with a minimum transfer of 1,000 Membership Rewards points.
The transfer rate for both Membership Rewards programs is the same, which is not the case with every other Membership Rewards partner where David Jones Membership Rewards offers a worse transfer rate. This makes the comparison in this guide easier, thankfully!
You’ll need to link your Starwood account to your Membership Rewards account when logged into the American Express Membership Rewards website before making the transfer.
I have found the transfer from Amex to SPG usually takes 1-2 business days, with the points arriving in your Starwood account reliably around this time.
There’s no need to transfer a specific amount of points from Membership Rewards over to Starwood to maximise any bonuses – the transfer rate is a simple 1:0.5, and I have never seen a bonus promotion from Amex over to Starwood in the last few years, so transfer them whenever you have need to move them – no need to hold off.
For this case study, let’s say we start off with 40,000 Membership Rewards points, transferring over to 20,000 Starpoints.
Transferring from Starwood Preferred Guest to American Airlines AAdvantage
This is where things get a little more complex but for the better – SPG points ordinarily transfer to AAdvantage at 1 Starpoint = 1 AAdvantage mile, a simple conversion rate.
However, on top of this, a 20,000 point transfer to AAdvantage will also yield an additional 5,000 bonus miles, like with Starwood’s many other frequent flyer partners.
This is a bonus you won’t want to miss by making transfers of less than 20,000 miles unless you absolutely have to.
Also, you can only transfer a maximum of 79,999 points to miles every 24 hours out of your Starwood Preferred Guest account.
Because the 5,000-point bonus only kicks in for transfers of 20,000 Starpoints, that means three transfers of 20,000 points per day is the sweet spot – for a total of 60,000 SPG points transferred to 75,000 airline miles.
Here are some example transfer figures:
- 10k SPG = 10k airline miles (e.g. AAdvantage miles)
- 20k SPG = 25k airline miles (20k + 5k bonus)
- 30k SPG = 35k airline miles
- 40k SPG = 50k airline miles (40k + 10k bonus)
- 50k SPG = 60k airline miles
- 60k SPG = 75k airline miles (60k + 15k bonus)
- 70k SPG = 85k airline miles
- 79,999 SPG = 94,999 miles (79k + 15k bonus)
You’ll also need to consider that the name on the Starwood account has to match the name on your frequent flyer account – no swapsies with friends or family member accounts here.
Having said that, you can transfer points between household members within SPG, with more on that in the Starwood Preferred Guest buying points guide.
Combining the two transfers to convert American Express Membership Rewards points to AAdvantage miles
Back to our 40,000 Membership Rewards point example:
- 40,000 Membership Rewards points will transfer to 20,000 Starpoints
- 20,000 Starpoints will transfer to 25,000 AAdvantage miles
- Therefore, the effective transfer rate of American Express Membership Rewards points to AAdvantage miles is 0.625 AAdvantage miles per Membership Reward point
This allows us then to look at the effective earn rate of American Airlines miles from spend on different Membership Rewards cards.
Redemption comparisons when using this method
This table shows some example best price redemptions for oneworld airlines and frequent flyer programs.
It’s by no means complete – the intention is to highlight the cheapest redemption options (in red) for the example routes, across Asia Miles, Qantas Frequent Flyer, and AAdvantage when transferred over via SPG.
If you’ve got Ascent points, look for the winner in red; if you’ve got Gateway points, look for the winner in bold.
|MR to Asia Miles at 1:1||MR to Asia Miles at 1:0.75||MR to SPG to AA at 1:0.625||Qantas FF|
|Cathay Pacific||First Class|
|Hong Kong||Taipei||25,000||33,333 MR > 25,000 AM||52,000 MR > 32,500 AA||26,000|
|Hong Kong||Bangkok||30,000||40,000 > 30,000||52,000 > 32,500||38,000|
|Hong Kong||Tokyo||40,000||53,333 > 40,000||64,000 > 40,000||56,000|
|Hong Kong||New York||130,000||173,333 > 130,000||176,000 > 110,000||144,000|
|Melbourne||Dubai||105,000||140,000 > 105,000||160,000 > 100,000||144,000|
|Sydney||Los Angeles||105,000||140,000 > 105,000||128,000 > 80,000||144,000|
|Sydney||New York||130,000||186,667 > 130,000||128,000 > 80,000||192,000|
|British Airways||First Class|
|London||New York||70,000||93,333 > 70,000||136,000 > 85,000||78,000|
|London||Tokyo||105,000||140,000 > 105,000||144,000 > 90,000||126,000|
|London||Sydney||160,000||213,333 > 160,000||184,000 > 115,000||192,000|
|Melbourne||Singapore||45,000||60,000 > 45,000||64,000 > 40,000||60,000|
|Sydney||Los Angeles||70,000||93,333 > 70,000||128,000 > 80,000||96,000|
|Sydney||London||110,000||146,667 > 110,000||136,000 > 85,000||128,000|
|Qantas Domestic||Business Class|
|Sydney||Perth||30,000||40,000 > 30,000||32,000 > 20,000||36,000|
|Melbourne||Auckland||30,000||40,000 > 30,000||40,000 > 25,000||36,000|
|Perth||Auckland (via Sydney)||45,000||60,000 > 45,000||40,000 > 25,000||50,000|
One easy conclusion we can make is that:
- AAdvantage redemptions are generally cheaper outright than through Asia Miles and Qantas but
it depends on whether you have access to Amex Ascent points through the Platinum Charge or Platinum Edge (transferring to Asia Miles at 1:1) or Gateway points through the Explorer (transferring to Asia Miles at a lower 1:0.75).
If you have Ascent points then:
- Asia Miles wins in most cases except when you are travelling from one extreme end of a region to the opposite side of another region, e.g. Perth to Auckland or Australia to New York
- even then, the difference between the more expensive Asia Miles pricing and the cheaper AA one is so little that it might make sense to just forgo the extra MR points to save having to wait to have the double transfer take place, i.e. MR > SPG > AA
However, if you have Gateway points then:
- it’s a mixed bag – some redemptions will be cheaper through Asia Miles and some through AAdvantage and there doesn’t seem to be a hard-and-fast rule to this, meaning you should check how much the redemptions cost on the Asia Miles and AAdvantage award charts
Effective AAdvantage miles earn rates on Membership Rewards cards
Here’s how some different Membership Rewards cards stack up in terms of effective AAdvantage mile earn rates:
|Membership Rewards Card||Spend category||Membership Rewards earned per $||Starpoints earned per $||AAdvantage miles earned per $ (maximised)|
|Platinum Edge||All other||1||0.5||0.625|
|Platinum Charge||All other||1||0.5||0.625|
|Explorer||All except government spend||2||1||1.25|
|David Jones Platinum||David Jones||4||2||2.5|
|David Jones Platinum||Supermarkets||3||1.5||1.875|
|David Jones Platinum||Fuel||3||1.5||1.875|
|David Jones Platinum||All other||1||0.5||0.625|
|David Jones||David Jones||2||1||1.25|
|David Jones||All other||1||0.5||0.625|
For comparison purposes, I’ve assumed that you maximise your AAdvantage miles by only transferring Starpoints out in 20,000-point chunks.
Taking out the more niche David Jones Amex, the winners for the highest effective AAdvantage earn rates in each category are:
- general spend: Explorer
- supermarkets: Platinum Edge
- restaurants: Platinum Charge
- fuel: Platinum Edge and Explorer
- overseas: Platinum Charge and Explorer
The same maths, of course, applies to other airline programs which transfer out in a 1:1 ratio from Starwood, but these aren’t the focus of this guide, so I haven’t listed them explicitly.
Summing up: why you should know about Membership Rewards → Starwood Preferred Guest → AAdvantage transfers
The Membership Rewards → Starwood Preferred Guest → AAdvantage transfer route is a bit convoluted, but once you understand how the earn and transfer rates work for your specific card and each program, that can help make a better call on how you redeem your points.
The key takeaways are:
- That you have access to a wide range of overseas frequent flyer programs through your Membership Rewards-linked card and Starwood Preferred Guest program
- That these overseas Frequent Flyer programs, like AAdvantage, often offer lucrative miles purchase programs, meaning these accounts can be topped up from your Membership Rewards balance if needed
- AAdvantage has some redemption sweet spots for Australian travellers
- If you have access to Ascent points, it’ll usually make sense to transfer to Asia Miles over AAdvantage via SPG
- If you have access to Gateway points, you’ll need to compare the redemption values between Asia Miles and AAdvantage on a case-by-case basis
- Different Membership Rewards cards have category-specific spend bonuses that, if taken advantage of, increase your Starpoint and AAdvantage earn opportunities
- Try to take advantage of the 5,000 mile transfer bonus for transfers of 20,000 Starpoints
Links to American Express cards mentioned in this guide