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.

Shop Small Returns To Australian American Express Cards

American Express Membership Rewards are one of the most valuable tools to getting free airline miles in Australia.  This month is the annual Shop Small promotion.  You can also get some great shopping deals at small businesses all over Australia – $10 rebate on a $20 or more purchase.

Register your cards here and read the T&Cs.  If you have more than one Amex – for example from NAB, ANZ, Westpac, etc then you need to register each card individually.

Then check the map to see what small businesses are participating!  In my experience, the credits post pretty quickly around a day or so.

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!




Flexible Point Earning Credit Cards USA Edition And Best Uses For Eco-Travelers

This is the 3rd part in my reference guide series of USA based credit cards and the best uses for eco-travelers.  Please see my other two guides for more details.

Airline Mileage earning credit cards (and some basic info and a glossary)

Hotel Point earning credit cards


There are several options for Americans to earn flexible points that will transfer to a variety of airline and hotel programs, but the main two of interest to eco-travelers will be Chase’s Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.  Amex also has a similar program in Australia so if you live there, please visit this post.  Of the USA based programs, I feel that Ultimate Rewards have the best options for eco-travelers so I will start there.


These come in personal version (Sapphire and Freedom) and the business versions (Ink series).  Chase cards are usually not churnable for the same product but you can get one of each card as long as you can convince Chase to give you a sufficient credit limit to qualify for the card.   The screenshots below are from Chase’s website and may not represent the best offer on the market.  You should always check the Flyertalk MileBuzz forum as new deals get posted there pretty quickly when they come out.  The Ultimate Rewards points are only transferable to airlines and hotels with the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards.  The other cards earn you points that you can spend for travel in the Ultimate Rewards Mall.  Transfer partners are United Airlines, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Priority Club Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Ritz Carlton Hotels and Amtrak.

Of these, the best options are United Airlines for Star Alliance Awards and British Airways for short-haul Avios awards.  More details can be found on this page as to redemption ideas.





Like Chase’s cards, Amex cards also come in personal and business versions.  They have a wide range of products and it is best to see their website for the latest offers and features of each card.  Amex’s website is very detailed and too long to screenshot the whole thing so I will provide the main details on the personal cards and direct you to their website to see Amex Business Cards.   Flyertalk has extensive information about these cards in their own forum and new deals also tend to be posted in MileBuzz so always check there before applying for a card.  Also be on the lookout for transfer bonuses such as the recent 30% bonus to British Airways Avios.

See the Membership Rewards page for a complete overview of the program and these pages for a complete list of transfer partners.  Page 1, Page 2.

The best options for eco-travelers would be Delta for use on Skyteam awards or British Airways for use on short-haul Avios.  Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic can also be useful for redeeming on Virgin Australia.  Qantas is a partner but the award cost is higher than using Delta to Australia.  Be careful when transferring to any of the European and Asian airlines as they often have huge fuel surcharges even when redeeming on partner airlines.  Singapore Airlines is good for Air New Zealand redemptions between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands such as RarotongaAmex1 Amex2 Amex3 Amex4


There are some credit cards that earn points that you spend within the bank’s program on travel.  You can’t transfer them to airline miles or hotel points but you can use them to purchase travel from their affiliated travel agent.  These are not usually a great value unless there is a huge signup bonus.  If you have exhausted all the mileage earning cards and flexible point cards and are looking for somewhere to put your everyday spend, you may want to consider a 2% cash back card.  Many of these have no annual fee but there may be restrictions on how you get your cash back so be sure to read the T&Cs of the program.  Here are a few links to look at, but as always, check on FlyerTalk for any special deals that may be posted.

FlexPerks – US Bank

ThankYou Rewards – Citibank

Venture Rewards – Capital One

WorldPoints – Bank of America

Discover Card


This is just a VERY brief summary of what’s available.  Signup offers change very quickly so you always need to do your homework to make sure you get the best offer.  Take into account your ability to meet the minimum spend to get the bonus miles.  The odds are you will see some credit card offers in my advertising sidebar that will be directed to you based on your physical location.  I have no control over what ads you see.  Clicking on them helps me and the blog and a purchase or credit application is not required for me to get credit.  Please feel free to ask me any questions here in the comments of this post.