This is the 4th and final post in my newbie’s guide to miles and points credit cards and is most useful to eco-tourists from the USA as these credit cards are only available to Americans. If you haven’t already, please read the other posts in this series or this one won’t make a lot of sense unless you are already churning credit cards. If you are involved in the miles and points community, you have probably seen other bloggers offering different ideas for maximizing these cards but I will be discussing them with a view to using the miles for top eco-tourism destinations.
Consider this more of a menu from which you will be deciding which credit cards suit your needs. Do not use these links to apply for the card, use the links you find while doing the steps in the Newbie Guide. You can use the links solely to read the T&Cs from the bank and learn what extra benefits are included such as lounge passes, elite status, checked bags, etc.
This is a must read as it tells you the proper techniques to decide which credit card is best for your individual situation and how to make sure you are getting the best possible offer on the credit card(s) you need. You should do all the steps for EACH credit card you are considering and do them on the day you apply. After awhile, you get used to the principles and will automatically know how to look for the best deal.
This post is a more intermediate level and discusses options such as combining points from more than one credit card to get a more expensive award, boosting points with category bonuses, business credit cards, churning credit cards and fixed value point credit cards.
AMERICAN EXPRESS MEMBERSHIP REWARDS (USA VERSION)
There is nothing inherently “advanced” about this program. It’s actually quite simple. You earn Membership Rewards points which can then be transferred to certain airlines and hotel programs. The reason I consider it “advanced” is because they don’t transfer to any of the mainstream airlines such as United, American or US Airways. Delta is a difficult program to work with if you are an infrequent traveler who just wants enough miles for a special trip.
To refresh your memory, here are the main Amex cards that earn Membership Rewards points minus the links from the first post. The offers are the bare minimum you get from the bank. If you get the timing right and keep an eye on FlyerTalk, you may luck into a 75-100k offer.
Amex Platinum Card – 25,000 sign up – $2000 minimum spend – Annual fee $450, not waived. Business version also available.
Amex PRG (Premier Rewards Gold) – $25,000 sign up – $2000 minimum spend – Annual fee $175, waived first year. Business version also available.
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.
Below, you can see the airlines you can transfer your points to. A case can be made for several of these as useful partners but be careful as most of them have large fuel surcharges. I have circled the 2 partners which are of greatest interest to eco-tourists.
I am working on an upcoming trip for 2015 to Africa and need one way awards between Mauritius-Madagascar-Kilimanjaro. Flying Blue is a SkyTeam member and offers one way awards bookable online on airlines flying to top birding destinations such as Kenya Airways and Garuda Indonesia. Garuda will join SkyTeam in March 2014 but they are already available on the Flying Blue website. They also partner with the non-allianced Air Mauritius but you have to call them to book it as they aren’t available online. This is why I have started collecting Amex Membership Rewards, remember in the Newbie Guide I recommended that you should always work towards a goal. The only other easy way to collect Flying Blue miles is by transferring from SPG, also an Amex card.
Amex Membership Rewards Airline Partners
BRITISH AIRWAYS AVIOS – CHASE, ULTIMATE REWARDS, AMEX, SPG CREDIT CARDS
Ironically this is one of the easiest programs to accumulate miles in. They have their own credit card issued by Chase which has sign-on bonuses ranging up to 100,000 miles. BA is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards (above) and they often give transfer bonuses of 15-30%. They also partner with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio and you can transfer SPG points at 1:1 with a bonus of 5000 miles if you transfer 20,000 SPG points. The best use of Avios for eco-tourists is redeeming for LAN flights within South America and Qantas flights within Australia. I will have to do a full review of this program soon. In a nutshell, since Avios price awards by distance rather than zone, it makes awards of a shorter distance such as Lima-La Paz or Brisbane-Cairns a real bargain. This means you can visit more than one destination during your trip. Here is the award chart.