The Marriott-SPG Merger Paves Way For Australians To Get United MileagePlus Via Amex MR: 38k Amex = 25k United


OK this is an eco-tourism blog so I don’t keep up with all the issues regarding elite status and 5 star hotels.  I prefer smaller independent hotels & eco-lodges.  But what I do need is airline miles to get to those amazing birding hotspots preferably through ordinary everyday spending.

The most popular program in Australia is American Express Membership Rewards and most Aussies in The Hobby are familiar with 40,000 Amex MR = 20,000 SPG = 25,000 AA or other SPG partner airline miles.  You can earn up to 3x MR per AUD (Amex Edge supermarket spend) which equates to 1.5 SPG per AUD.  Normal un-bonused spend gets 1 MR per AUD which equates to .5 SPG per AUD.

There is usually a lucrative promo in August or September to get 20% bonus when transferring to AA so you end up with 40,000 Amex = 20,000 SPG = 30,000 AA.


The one elusive program for Aussies has always been United MileagePlus as the SPG ratio is 2:1 rather than 1:1 plus bonus 5000 for transferring 20,000 SPG points.

Since the Marriott-SPG merger went through yesterday, they have released details of how to link your Marriott & SPG accounts.  You can transfer back and forth at the rate of 1 SPG = 3 Marriott.

The sweet spot for airline miles collectors is the preferred rates Marriott has with United Airlines.  (HT: Dan’s Deals for this section).


As you can see from the image, you can exchange 56,000 Marriott for 25,000 United MileagePlus.

With the new merger, that means that you can now transfer 38,000 Amex MR to 19,000 SPG which will get you 57,000 Marriott; that you can transfer into 25,000 United Mileage Plus with 1000 Marriott left over.


Don’t forget that you can also transfer Australian Amex MR to Singapore Krisflyer at 1:1 but SQ does have pretty hefty YQ “fuel” surcharges whereas United doesn’t have this surcharge.  So if you are after a Star Alliance award, you need to weigh up your options on the SQ and UA award charts and see if the cheaper transfer rate directly to SQ is better or if you would rather spend more Amex MR to save the “fuel” surcharges.


Amex 40,000 = 25,000 AA or other SPG partner in batches of 20k SPG

Amex 38,000 = 25,000 UA via SPG/Marriott

Amex 40,000 = 40,000 SQ (or VA, CX, MH, EK, EY).  But watch the surcharges!


We still don’t know how long Marriott will keep SPG as a separate program.  We also don’t know if the Australian Amex MR will partner with Marriott if/when SPG disappears.  Conventional wisdom says the full integration of SPG to Marriott should happen around 2018 and we would be given fair notice so we can do any last transfers required.

Best Uses Of Flexible Points (USA) For Eco-tourists

I’m a big fan of flexible points because they give so many options for flights to the more remote, exotic locations eco-tourists want to visit.  Here are a few of my favourite uses.


Flex Chase UR

Mostly I transfer points to United as the award chart is still pretty good to get to Asia and Africa.  They are also useful for routes within Central & South America on Avianca & Copa.  Singapore Krisflyer can be used for the same routes as United as they are also Star Alliance but beware of surcharges on routes between Australia & Asia & Africa.  I use British Airways for shorthaul economy within South Africa and on LAN flights in South America.


Flex Citi Thankyou

I’ve been using Thank You points mostly on Flying Blue for an upcoming redemption on Kenya Airways within Africa.  They can also be used on Garuda to many birding hotspots in Indonesia.


Flex Amex MR

I had a Premier Rewards Gold a few years ago and made good use of the points with a transfer to Flying Blue for Kenya Airways redemptions.  A few stray Amex MR also went to Singapore & British Airways.  You can only get any American Express card bonus once in a lifetime so I won’t be getting this card again.  I cancelled the one I had before the annual fee was due.  Considering that other cards also transfer to most of these partners and Amex isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard, this would be a last resort card to get.  The Australian version of the Membership Rewards cards is a better option (for my Australian readers) as there aren’t as many cards to compete with it.


Flex SPG

SPG points are extremely valuable as they have so many airline partners but unfortunately their credit card is issued by American Express and it’s another one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” cards.  I’ve highlighted the partners I use them on and they were extremely useful transferred to LAN to top up the miles from the LAN Visa so we could get free tickets to the Galapagos.  When Starwood is merged into Marriott, these options are likely to go away.

Australians Suffer Double Whammy With New American Airlines Devaluations

Right on the heels of the prospective Marriott-Starwood merger that will probably see the end of Aussies’ only transfer route to American Airlines, AA (one of my Top 8 recommended programs) has now advised their new award chart which affects awards booked on/after 22 March 2016 – and it ain’t pretty!

In a nutshell:  Not only will American Airlines miles be harder to get,  the ones you already have are being devalued!

I am going to focus on the award redeeming area since this blog doesn’t cater to business travelers and anyone who is concerned with earning status or crediting miles from paid tickets.  You can read all the details of the new program here.  My target audience is the average Joe/Jane who wants a free trip to someplace that has amazing birding and wants to get miles from their everyday spending on credit cards and sign-up bonuses.

This is the old chart which is in effect until 21 March 2016. I have highlighted the most popular long-haul redemptions for Aussie eco-tourists:  Central/South America & Africa.  I am leaving Asia out of the equation since there are easier options with low-cost carriers such as Air Asia.

AA old chartHere’s the new chart effective for flights booked on or after 22 March 2016.

AA 2016 chartAs you can see there is a modest increase on the Central/South America reg 1 in economy, somewhat worse increases on South America reg 2 and Africa in economy and huge 35-40% increases in business class to everywhere!  First class is even worse, though I have never really considered first as an option as long as I can get some sleep in a lie-flat business class seat.  Business class to Central/South America on the Qantas & Lan trans-Pacific flights are a moot point as they are rarer than hens’ teeth!


Awards within the South Pacific region – mostly on Qantas and Fiji Airways are going down from 20,000 to 15,000 in economy so that can be good if you are looking at Fiji, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu & New Caledonia.  Australia – New Zealand is going up from 10,000 to 15,000.


If all your American Airline miles come from your Amex Membership Rewards points via SPG, I expect that option will end in late 2016 after Marriott acquires SPG.  It is widely expected that the Marriott Rewards program will swallow the SPG program.


If you are an Aussie who wants to go to Africa or Central/South America before early Feb 2017 you should transfer your Amex to SPG and on to AA before the new charts take effect.  Before you move your Amex points, check that the availability is there as you won’t be able to move them back to Amex.

Etihad Guest For The Aussie Eco-tourist

Etihad Guest is a program that wasn’t really on my radar as I have been concentrating on other programs.  (I really need to update my old Top 8 Programs list.)  Now that it will become easy for Aussies to get Etihad miles via Flybuys by simply doing their grocery shopping at Coles, it’s time for a closer look at Etihad Guest.


This is geared for non-frequent fliers as there are other blogs who cater for frequent fliers as well as business travelers and airlines status seekers.  I am concentrating on the non-frequent flier who is into birding and eco-tourism and wants to get free miles for a free airline ticket to somewhere they can watch birds.

  1.  Newest partner Flybuys as detailed in my other post.
  2.  Amex Membership Rewards (Australian) transfer at 1000:1000 with occasional bonuses where you get 10-25% extra if you are ready at the right time.
  3. Etihad partners with E-Rewards so you can get miles doing surveys.  Be sure to join using the Etihad invitation or one from a hotel chain.  If you join with another airline’s invitation, you won’t get options for other airlines.

Be careful as Etihad Guest miles expire 2 years from date of activity so don’t transfer your points until you are close to booking an award.  There is no way to reset expiration by performing any activity.


This is where it really helps to have a bucket list, dream travel list or whatever you want to call it.  Then you can start analyzing a program and where it can help you go.  With Etihad you can obviously redeem on Etihad and on their partners as well.


Awards on Etihad are based on distance so amounts vary depending on the exact distance.  You need to do an individual quote so I will show you an example.  Since I like birding in Africa, I would possibly redeem between BNE and EBB since Uganda is on my bucket list.  Business class is roughly double economy and more tax & fees but on such a long flight it would be nice if I could get that many points!


You can also use Etihad Guest miles to fly on partner airlines.

EY PartnersBearing in mind my travel bucket list, I can see that partners that could be useful in the next few years are Air New Zealand, Garuda, Gol, South African and Virgin Australia.  Lets have a closer look at their award charts to see what is the best value.

Air New Zealand

I don’t like the looks of this chart for anything over 1750 and NZ is notoriously stingy about giving space to partners so this is probably not going to be my choice.  Possible short haul between AKL and Pacific Islands but then again these flights can often be bought cheaply on “happy hour” type sales.

EY4Garuda Indonesia

Again I can see good value in the shorter hops under 1000 miles.  If I hadn’t already ear-marked Flying Blue miles for my 2017 trip to Indonesia, I’d be seriously considering this option.  Using Great Circle Mapper one of my potential routes is Palu-Ujung Padang-Denpasar whic is 679 miles so 10k Etihad is great value here.  Business class is also really good value.


Brazil is one of my favourite countries to go birding in so I would be very interested in this option.  Since we would usually be landing in Sao Paulo I checked a few random cities around Brazil, most are well under 1500 miles so 9000 Etihad miles would be excellent value here!

EY2South African Airways

As I mentioned before, I am planning a future trip to see birds in certain parts of Africa we didn’t get to before.  Namiba, Zambia & Uganda are all part of this plan.  WDH-JNB-LVI is coming in at 1317 miles so would cost 15,556 Etihad.  It’s another option if I don’t go with BA Avios on this route.  It will all depend on which miles are easier to obtain at the time.

EY3Virgin Australia

For Virgin Australia, Etihad doesn’t have a nice, neat little chart.  It’s all on one big pdf categorized by distance/mileage required so please look here.  Find your home town and take note of where you can go and for how many miles.  Just looking at my home town of  Brisbane I can see a few interesting options.

6900 miles each way gets me to Tasmania, Vanuatu, basically anywhere Virgin flies in eastern Australia.

10,900 miles gets me to Papua New Guinea, Solomon  Islands, New Zealand & Fiji.

16,900 miles gets me to Darwin, Perth, Samoa & Bali.

60,000 miles gets me to LAX.

Considering all the options, I am happy to see that my everyday grocery shopping at Coles will get me some valuable miles which can be used in some pretty amazing places!




Shop Small Returns To Australia This Month

Last year, the Aussie Shop Small promo ran in November which is the usual time for the similar promo in the USA.  This year, it’s coming a few months earlier.

Shop Small Australia

You can register Amex cards issued by Amex, the NAB, ANZ, CBA & Westpac,.

It’s not quite as generous as last year where you got $10 for spending $20 so this year I won’t be going out of my way to hunt down eligible shops as the only useful one near me is a pharmacy.  Still $5 is $5 so I will def use my various Amexes at shops near me if possible!

Amex still doesn’t have the popularity here as it does in the USA and not many small shops accept it but I wish they would as typical Aussie Amex cards offer double the usual points a co-branded Visa or Mastercard would.

Help us support local businesses this August and get up to $50 credit*.

Register your American Express® Card and spend $20 or more in a single eligible transaction at up to ten different participating small business locations between 1 and 31 August 2014, and get a $5 credit for each purchase per location.
Don’t miss out – this offer is limited to the first 50,000 Cards to register.
*T&C’s apply.

I do have a minimum spend to make on my new ANZ Visa & Amex combo for 50,000 Qantas points………………..if the cards ever get here!  I’ve been approved but apparently there is a delay in shipping them out as the promo is so popular!

30,000 Bonus Starpoints For SPG Amex (USA)

From time to time Amex runs specials for their card holders that allows them to refer friends for an extra special deal.  The usual sign up bonus for this card is 25,000 points but until the end of June it has increased to 30,000 points.  The card holder (me) gets a bonus of 5000 points for each referral.  I do not have an affiliate marketing relationship with Amex, any card holder gets the same offer – you will too the next time around!


Your friends must apply for the Card through the REFER NOW buttons in the email (that I will send you) and be approved in order for you to earn your Referral Bonus.

And for a limited time, each friend can earn up to 30,000 bonus Starpoints: 10,000 Starpoints after their first purchase on the Card in addition to 20,000 Starpoints after they make $5,000 in purchases within their first 6 months of Card Membership.2,3 Referrals need to occur by June 30, 2014 and your friend must be approved by June 30, 2014 to be eligible for this limited time offer.

After you have met your minimum spend (pretty easy to do since they give you 6 months to do it), you will have at least 35,000 Starpoints in your account.  The best use of Starpoints for eco-tourists is to transfer them to airlines in blocks of 20,000 points as they give you a bonus of 5000 points so you end up with 25,000 miles in the airline.

If you would like a referral, please either comment here and make sure your real email is in the comment form, only I can see it.  Or send me an email tara at

I recommend transferring them to American AAdvantage or US Airways and depending on your destination maybe one of the others I highlighted below.  Don’t transfer them to United as they have a poor rate of exchange.  Here is the full list of partners.

Frequent Flyer Program

Exchange Ratio (Starpoints : Miles)

Aeromexico Club Premier 1:1
Aeroplan/Air Canada 1:1
Air Berlin 1:1
Air China Companion 1:1
Air New Zealand & Air Points 65:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 1:1
Alitalia MilleMiglia 1:1
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club 1:1
American Airlines AAdvantage 1:1
Asia Miles 1:1
Asiana Airlines 1:1
British Airways Executive Club 1:1
China Eastern Airlines 1:1
China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club 1:1
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles 1:1
Emirates Skywards 1:1
Etihad Airways 1:1
Flying Blue 1:1
Gol Smiles 2:1
Hainan Airlines 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank 1:1
LAN Airlines LANPASS Kms 1:1.5
Miles and More 1:1
Qatar Airways 1:1
Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan 1:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 1:1
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus 1:1
US Airways Dividend Miles 1:1
United Mileage Plus 2:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 1:1
Virgin Australia 1:1

2014 List Of Miles & Points Credit Cards – USA Edition



  • This is simply a list of which travel credit cards (airlines, hotels, travel points) cards are in existence and where you can look for more information.

  • This is not a list of current best deals on offer.

  • Do not apply for any of these cards until you have checked all resources to make sure you are getting the best deal.

  • You should also check on the airline or hotel’s website and FlyerTalk to see if there are any better offers going.

  • Cash back cards are not included in this list.
  • The links are to the bank’s page and are not affiliate links.
  • I’m not going to list cruise cards as they are such a bad deal, you are better off with a cash back card.
  • The figures may have changed by the time you read this.
  • Cards will be listed by bank issuing them in alphabetical order.
  • Although some cards may be “churnable”, meaning you can get the same card more than once, it is best to assume they are one-time only bonuses and keep you eye on FlyerTalk to see if others are currently churning a card.


I am only listing the name of the card, sign up bonus, minimum spend and annual fee (waived or not) for each card.  Some cards will have extra benefits such as category bonuses, free checked bags, priority boarding, elite benefits, lounge passes.  To see these, click on the card’s link.  Some cards also have business versions, please click on the respective links for details.





Amex Platinum Card – 25,000 sign up – $2000 minimum spend – Annual fee $450, not waived

Amex PRG (Premier Rewards Gold) – $25,000 sign up – $2000 minimum spend – Annual fee $175, waived first year

Mercedes Benz – 10,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $95, not waived

Most people wouldn’t sign up for the next two but downgrade an existing card to avoid the annual fee and keep collecting Membership Rewards.

Amex Gold Card – No sign up bonus/minimum spend – Annual fee $125, waived first year.

Amex Green Card – No sign up bonus/minimum spend – Annual fee $125, waived first year.


Gold Delta SkyMiles – 30,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $95, waived first year.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles – 35,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $150, not waived.

Delta Reserve – 10,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $450, not waived.

Jet Blue – 20,000 sign up – $2000 minimum spend – Annual fee $40, waived first year.

Hilton HHonors – 40,000 sign up – $750 minimum spend – No Annual fee.

Hilton HHonors Surpass – 60,000 sign up – $3000 minimum spend – Annual fee $75, not waived.

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) – 25,000 sign up – $5000 minimum spend – Annual fee $65, waived first year.





Alaska Airlines – 25,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $35-75, not waived.

Asiana Airlines – 10,000 sign up – First purchase         – Annual fee $99, not waived

Spirit Airlines – 15,000 sign up – First purchase             – Annual fee $19-59, not waived.

Virgin Atlantic – 20,000 sign up – First purchase            – Annual fee $90, not waived

BankAmericard Travel Rewards – 10,000 sign up – $500 minimum spend – No annual fee.  Points can be used to pay any travel expense on your statement, not transferable to airlines.




Be careful with this bank.  They will deny you if you have what they deem to be “too many recent inquiries” or “sufficient credit with them”.  They have a lot of partners (see link above), most of which don’t represent a good deal.  I wouldn’t waste an inquiry on Aer Lingus, Best Western, Choice, China Airlines, Iceland Air, Wyndham unless they come out with a major sign up promo.  They do have a couple good partners such as US Airways but this card will likely disappear once the merger is final.  Barclays is also fond of bait & switch.  You apply for a signature card and get a gold card for example.  They also advertise what looks like good sign up bonuses, then in the fine print, you need to do a balance transfer to get a lot of it.

Balance transfer points are not included below.  Check on FlyerTalk before applying as this Bank is constantly changing bonuses and terms.

Frontier– 40,000 sign up – $500 minimum spend            – Annual fee $69, not waived. No fee card available with lesser bonus.

Hawaiian Airlines (new) –

Lufthansa Miles & More – 20,000 sign up – First purchase            – Annual fee $79, not waived unless elite with LH.

US Airways – 30,000 sign up – First purchase         – Annual fee $89, not waived.

BarclayCard Arrival – 40,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend, $89, waived first year.  Points can be used to pay any travel expense on your statement, not transferable to airlines.





These cards can be churned, usually by waiting until Citibank thinks you are a “new” customer again.  This can take anywhere from 15-24 months.  Best advice is in the FlyerTalk thread, where you can usually find much better offers as well.  I haven’t listed the “Thank You” series of Citicards as they are more cash back than travel orientated.

AAdvantage Citi Gold – 25,000 sign up – $750 minimum spend, $50, waived first year.

AAdvantage Platinum – 30,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend, $95, waived first year.

CitiBusiness AAdvantage World Mastercard – 30,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend, $95, waived first year.

Hilton HHonors Reserve – 2 weekend nights, $2500 minimum spend – Annual fee $95, not waived.

Hilton HHonors Visa Signature – 40,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend, No annual fee.




Chase is probably the miles & points collectors’ favourite bank.  They have a wide variety of Ultimate Rewards cards and Co-branded cards.  Ultimate Rewards can transfer to various airlines & hotels or be used to pay for travel or statement credits.  You need a card with an annual fee to be able to transfer Ultimate Rewards points out.  Co-branded cards directly sweep to the partner’s program after each statement.  Using a combination of United Airlines cards and Ultimate Rewards cards it is pretty easy to get enough from a sign up bonus for even long-haul business class awards or several shorter flights.


Chase Freedom – 10,000 sign up – $500 minimum spend, No annual fee.

Chase Sapphire – 10,000 sign up – $500 minimum spend, No annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Preferred – 40,000 sign up – $3000 minimum spend, $95, waived first year.

Ink Cash – 20,000 sign up – $3000 minimum spend, No annual fee.

Ink Classic – 20,000 sign up – $3000 minimum spend, No annual fee.

Ink Bold – 50,000 sign up – $5000 minimum spend, $95, waived first year.

Ink Plus – 50,000 sign up – $5000 minimum spend, $95, waived first year.


British Airways Visa – 50,000 sign up – $2000 minimum spend         – Annual fee $95, not waived.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier – 25,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend         – Annual fee $99, not waived.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus – 25,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend         – Annual fee $69, not waived.

United Mileage Plus Explorer – 30,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $95, waived first year.

United Mileage Plus Club Card – $100 Statement credit after first purchase, United Club membership – Annual fee $395, not waived.

Fairmont Visa – 2 free nights, $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $95, waived first year.

Hyatt Credit Card – 2 free nights, $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $75, waived first year.

IHG Rewards Club – 60,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $49, waived first year.

Marriott Rewards Signature Visa – 30,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $45, waived first year.

Marriott Rewards Premier Signature Visa – 50,000 sign up – $1000 minimum spend – Annual fee $85, waived first year.

Ritz-Carlton Visa – 70,000 sign up – $2000 minimum spend         – Annual fee $395, not waived.




Although their cards are with foreign airlines, two of them are very useful to eco-tourists:  Avianca Lifemiles & LANPass.  They also have one of the best hotel cards on the market, the Club Carlson Visa.  Most of their cards have anniversary bonuses built in, see card’s web page for details.

U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa – 20,000 sign up – $3500 minimum spend         – Annual fee $49, not waived.  Award travel starts at just 20,000 FlexPoints (up to a $400 ticket value) on over 150 airlines with no blackout dates or redemption fees.2 List of available airlines.

AeroMexico Visa Card – 15,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $45, waived first year.

AeroMexico Visa Signature Card – 20,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $80, waived first year.

LANPASS Visa – 15,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $45, waived first year.

LANPASS Signature Visa – 20,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $75, waived first year.

Lifemiles Visa – 15,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $45, waived first year.

Lifemiles Signature Visa – 20,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $75, waived first year.

Skypass (Korean Airlines) Visa Classic – 5,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $50, not waived.

SkyBlue Skypass – 5,000 sign up – No minimum spend – No annual fee.

Skypass Visa SIgnature – 15,000 sign up – No minimum spend – Annual fee $80, not waived.

Club Carlson Visa Signature – 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase plus 10,000 points once you spend $1,500 on your card within the first 90 days – Annual fee $50, not waived.

Club Carlson Premier Visa Signature – 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days.  Annual fee $75, not waived.

ALL CLUB CARLSON CARDS -Bonus Award Nights – When you redeem Gold Points for 2 or more consecutive Award Nights, your last night is free.  Exclusively for cardmembers!


In future posts, I will be referring back to this list in showing you how to strategize best use of these credit card sign ups to get the points you need for YOUR trip.








USA Based Amex Card Referrals

It’s no secret that credit card sign up bonuses are currently the biggest source of acquiring frequent flyer miles.  You have probably seen numerous posts on travel blogs about them.  I rarely blog about credit cards but just thought I would share this deal.  American Express has a special deal where existing card members can get a bonus if they refer friends and family for cards they have.  For example, I have the SPG Amex and the Amex PRG and can offer referrals for either one of them.  This is what the offer currently looks like.


The offer of bonus points you get looks like these.



I can’t refer for cards I don’t have such as any of the Platinum cards.  The offers above are equal to the best offer currently on the market for this card so you don’t lose anything by letting me refer you and you help me to keep traveling, birding and writing if you do use my links.  I need your first name, last name and email address to refer you so it would be best to do this privately.

The benefits of the Amex PRG include the Membership Rewards program and the ability to transfer your points to many different partners.