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Spending 1,250,000 Membership Rewards points better

Spending 1,250,000 Membership Rewards points better

After a few years as a miles-and-points blogger and some extra earlier than that touring in consolation that exceeded my occupation, you may assume that family and friends continually pepper me with questions on how they will leverage bank card rewards and journey extra or extra cheaply or extra comfortably. You’d be mistaken. I truly fairly not often have a member of the family or pal attain out for assist leveraging rewards. Nevertheless, I did get one such e mail this week from a member of the family who’s planning a particular journey. He emailed me as a result of Amex Journey wasn’t capable of get the job finished together with his 1.25 million Membership Rewards points — they quoted him a visit of about $16,000 and advised him that his points would solely cowl $9,000. Due to the large hole, he initially determined to place the journey on maintain after which figured he’d attain out to me to see if I might assist him stretch his points any additional. Yup, I’d say we will stretch them a bit past that . . .

Right here’s the primary guts of what my member of the family, who we’ll name Bob, despatched me:

…..earlier in 2018, I spent just a little time making an attempt to plan a two week trip with Amex Journey to Spain and Morocco. We’ve got 1.25 million Amex points, which, at 141 journey (air/lodge) points per greenback, equals to virtually $9000 in U.S. dollars. I assumed that’d be sufficient to get us two enterprise class flights and a few luxurious lodging.

Not fairly.

Right here’s what I initially requested for:

1. Fly from LAX into Madrid for a day – depart July 27th, arrive July 28

2. Fly to Marrakech for every week – arrive July 29th – Marrakech. (Essaouria) on coast (3hrs), (Ouarazate) inland (Four hrs) or Excessive Atlas (Four hrs)

Three. Fly to Madrid on August fifth for Three days

Four. Fly/drive to a different Spanish metropolis (Seville, Barcelona, Marbella, Granada?) till August 10-11 return to Madrid.

5. Fly from Madrid to LAX on Aug 11-12. 

Various: Fly to Madrid and drive all the best way through Gibraltar to Marrakech and fly out of there. Drawback is that may be a LOT extra driving than we need to do. 

I feel we’d quite spend Three-Four days in two Spanish cities and Three-Four days in two Moroccan cities. There’s no direct flight from Marrakech which is why I used to be considering of doing a loop and making Madrid our house base for the journey.


Right here’s what Amex got here up with:

Spain: complete value $8688

Morocco: complete value $7577

Lengthy story brief: we have been making an attempt to get two weeks paid in full at $9000 and Amex was like, yeah, that’ll cowl about HALF of your journey. 🙂

It’s value noting that the final sentence isn’t precisely saying that Bob was trying to pay $9,000 — that quantity is predicated on what Amex Journey informed him the worth of his 1.25 million points can be if utilized to the journey. For these holding rating at residence, that’s a worth of zero.72 cents per level. Our Affordable Redemption Worth for Amex points, which it’s essential to notice is predicated on worth you’ll be able to fairly anticipate to get with out a lot effort at prime redemptions, is 1.82 cents per level — which suggests these 1.25 million points ought to fairly be redeemed for round $22,700 value of journey….or fairly a bit extra with maximization.

It’s additionally value nothing that Greg wrote a submit yesterday about one of the best money again bank card choices available on the market (See: Tremendous Combos Money Again Credit score Playing cards). It’s necessary to keep in mind that the chance value of accumulating points over money again just isn’t zero. If Bob earned all of his Membership Rewards points at 1x, that very same $1.25m in spend might have earned $32,750 in money again with only one bank card and no effort at maximization (see Greg’s one card answer in that money again submit) – and one might have earned considerably extra my maximizing a money again technique with a number of playing cards. In fact, the points probably weren’t all earned at 1x, so in actuality the chance value is probably going much less.

Bob despatched me the pattern itineraries that Amex had used to cite the journey. Whereas I can’t fairly recreate the entire thing on points, I assumed it might be an fascinating to assume out how we’d use his points better — after which to get reader suggestions about what we might do to plan the journey for even fewer points as I’m positive that crowd-sourcing it will produce even better outcomes. Listed here are my ideas.

Straightforward street: money within the points for lots extra

The very first thing I informed Bob was this: he has sufficient points to darn close to cowl the journey that Amex Journey deliberate, and I don’t imply by strategically transferring to companions. One of many many flavors of the Amex Platinum card is the Charles Schwab Platinum. A key advantage of the Schwab Platinum card is that one can money out Membership Rewards points at a fee of 1.25 cents every when depositing them into an eligible Schwab brokerage account. From the brokerage account, one might clearly transfer the cash to a checking account, and so on. Physician of Credit score has a very good write-up on the method for opening the brokerage account, and you’ll find out extra concerning the Schwab Platinum card on our devoted Schwab Platinum web page. In case you’re fascinated with comparability with different Platinum playing cards, see: Which is the perfect Amex Platinum card?

So the straightforward math on the straightforward street is that this: If Bob opens a Schwab brokerage account, he can money out 1,250,000 points for $15,625. That’s awfully near overlaying the price of the journey as Amex quoted it. If he doesn’t need to spend a minute of his day transferring points from right here to there and looking for award availability, he might merely money out.

Savvy readers will even know that Bob’s timing couldn’t be better if that is the plan he selects. That’s as a result of opening the Platinum card in December provides him an opportunity to triple dip the annual airline incidentals credit score. That’s to say that if he opens a Platinum card in December, he might spend $200 on airline incidentals earlier than December 31, 2018 to get $200 in credit this calendar yr. Then, between January and December 2019 he can obtain one other $200 in airline incidental credit. Then, he might decide up a 3rd spherical of $200 in credit in January 2020. So long as he cancels inside 30 days of the day his annual payment posts in December 2019, he gained’t should pay the second yr’s payment. Since there are loads of issues that may set off these credit, it’s fairly straightforward to get at the least 85% of the face worth for these credit (~$510). If he then makes use of a few of the $200 in annual Uber credit (maybe for UberEats since he has a automotive and doesn’t possible use Uber a lot), he ought to come out forward of the $550 annual payment he’d pay within the first yr — even when he by no means makes use of one other advantage of the cardboard.

So if all Bob needs to do is money out and take his dream journey as Amex Journey deliberate it, that’s the straightforward answer. And if he needs to train the Pleasure of Free and use his points to completely cowl the journey – taxes, charges, excursions, and so on – I feel that cashing some out by way of the Schwab Platinum card is sensible.

Amex Journey’s complete package deal

One vital benefit to reserving with Amex Journey (or a journey agent usually) is that they actually deliberate out a lot of the journey intimately — together with airport transfers and a number of other days of excursions / personal automotive and English-speaking driver. Add on to that the comfort of getting a single contact level for all the journey and I can see the attraction of reserving by means of a journey agent. However the worth nonetheless appeared outlandish to me.

Bob advised me he was trying to ebook a luxurious journey. I used to be subsequently slightly stunned once I seemed on the itinerary Amex constructed — quoted on the costs above — and noticed that the flights given from Los Angeles to Spain, Morocco, and again have been all in financial system class. I additional seemed up the resorts, and whereas all have been well-reviewed and a few appeared fairly distinctive, most have been fairly cheap.

Nonetheless, I figured I’d attempt to approximate the itinerary Bob was given to see what number of points and miles it might take to A) Guide award flights and B) money out points to pay for excursions/transfers.

Award flights

Bob initially began planning final winter with the intention to take the journey this previous summer time, however determined to not transfer ahead since his points wouldn’t cowl as a lot of the journey as he’d hoped. He’s now trying to contemplate a visit within the spring. Nevertheless, summer time dates are historically the toughest for award tickets and costliest for paid tickets since it’s a peak journey interval. For that cause, I made a decision to cost out the journey (from an award journey standpoint) utilizing roughly the identical summertime dates he initially had. Spring dates will possible not be more durable / costlier.


The journey as proven above began out with a flight on July 27th from Los Angeles to Madrid. The itinerary produced by Amex Journey had them in financial system class on KLM by way of Amsterdam.

In fact, it must be probably to get them to Europe and again comfortably inside their points complete. And positive sufficient, that’s fairly simply doable. For instance, right here is one-way pricing for Los Angeles to Madrid and in enterprise class by way of Air France / KLM’s Flying Blue program. Flying Blue now gives variable pricing, however as you possibly can see, some dates can be found even in July from 70Okay miles and $254.85.

That stated, I’d observe that the 70Okay availability is on the Air France A380, which I consider options angled-flat seats. At 88.5K, you’ll be able to fly on the 777 in what must be a flat-bed seat.

In fact, that’s not the one means to make use of Membership Rewards to get to Europe and again. The present level switch bonus to Avios is providing a 40% bonus on Membership Rewards points transferred to Avios. Positive sufficient, Iberia has enterprise class availability on some summertime dates on its Los Angeles to Madrid nonstop flight. Two passengers in enterprise class on nonstop flights each methods involves a complete of 250,000 Avios and $504.78.

Because of the switch bonus, it might solely require 179Okay Membership Rewards points (plus $504) to e-book 2 individuals spherical journey in enterprise class. Assuming Bob needs to money out Membership Rewards points by way of the Schwab Platinum to cowl the taxes & charges additionally, he would wish to money out 40,382.40 further points. That’s 219,382.40 Membership Rewards points and the flights to and from LA are executed. These direct flights wouldn’t be low cost if paid money — the identical dates proven above can be greater than $5,000 per individual spherical journey.

That is the money worth for one on the above itinerary.

In fact, in the event that they’re in search of a extra luxurious flight, there are another good decisions:

  • Avianca expenses 63Okay every means in enterprise class or 87Okay every means in first-class from the US to Europe on Star Alliance carriers with no gasoline surcharges. I’m unsure if Lufthansa First Class is at present bookable with LifeMiles (and it might sometimes solely be out there inside 2 weeks of departure whether it is), however this is able to be a great way to fly in luxurious and elegance whether it is. That stated, I in all probability wouldn’t stake an essential journey on discovering availability two weeks earlier than departure.
  • ANA expenses 88Okay spherical journey in enterprise class or 165Okay spherical journey in first-class from the US to Europe on Star Alliance carriers, although surcharges might be excessive
  • Aeroplan expenses 55Okay one-way in enterprise class to Spain or 70Okay in in top notch from the US to Europe 1 (Spain) on Star Alliance carriers

I haven’t personally flown Iberia’s enterprise class, however between Iberia and the choices above, it’s potential to comfortably get 2 passengers to Spain for round 250Okay points complete.

Flights inside Spain and to/from Morocco

As one may anticipate, Avios initially seem like they might be one of the best worth for getting round Spain and to/from Morocco. That’s as a result of Avios gives a distance-based chart, so Madrid to Marrakesh would value beneath 17Okay for 2 passengers in financial system class earlier than the switch bonus (beneath 12Okay contemplating the bonus) plus $70 in taxes for 2 individuals.

In fact, that solely looks like a deal till you lookup the money worth and understand that the flight solely sells for $51 complete per passenger.

At $102 for a celebration of two, Bob would solely need to money out eight,160 points at 1.25c every to cowl two passengers. Flights from Marrakesh to Seville are a equally story – a bit extra to fly on TAP or Iberia (which in all probability make extra sense than Ryanair when touring with baggage).

Whereas Iberia’s solely nonstop flight from Marrakesh is to Madrid, it appears like Spanish low cost service Vueling flies direct from Marrakesh to Barcelona. Whereas low cost carriers like Ryanair and Vueling is probably not the stuff luxurious trip goals are manufactured from, I’d argue that even intra-European enterprise class doesn’t match that invoice, so I have a tendency to select flights inside Europe by the least period of time from Level A to Level B.

Whether or not he chooses to purchase the flights outright and money out points or e-book them as award tickets, he shouldn’t be out be out greater than 80,000 points to fly from Madrid->Marrakesh->Seville->Madrid for two individuals (and may in all probability do it for much less).


That is the place Amex is usually considered fairly weak as lodge companions are fairly restricted: Marriott (1:1 switch), Selection (1:1 switch), and Hilton (1:2 switch, although some individuals have been focused for better recently).

That stated, if Bob opens the Platinum card as talked about earlier than, he ought to be capable of ebook lodges via Amex Journey at a worth of $zero.01 per level. For instance, one of many inns Amex Journey had set him up with is the Gran Melia Fenix in Madrid. That lodge is a part of Amex Nice Inns & Resorts and prices $259 per night time on the date on the dates I checked — or simply shy of 26,000 points per night time.

Reserving via Amex FHR means he would obtain a $100 property credit score in the course of the keep, breakfast for two every day, assured 4pm late checkout, and a room improve and early check-in (based mostly on availability). Spending three nights on the Gran Melia Fenix would value about 78,000 points.

In fact, if he cashed these points out by way of the Schwab card, he’d solely want 62,160 points to pay the $777 invoice for Three nights.

If Bob actually needs to go luxurious, there are many choices for that in Marrakesh additionally. Based on Bob’s unique itinerary, he deliberate six days in Marrakesh. If he have been to pay 75,870 points per night time to remain on the 4 Seasons (once more, with every day breakfast for 2, late checkout, and so on), it will value him a hefty chunk at 455,220 points.

In fact, I’d recommend he do this in another way. I’d recommend he think about opening the Citi Status card when it re-launches and reserving by means of the Status concierge. After the Citi Status 4th night time free, he’d be taking a look at a invoice of about $Three,790 for six nights on the 4 Seasons. That might solely require him to money in round 303,000 points at 1.25 every to pay for it. In fact, there are many different luxurious properties in Marrakesh that possible value lower than $758 per night time, so this isn’t a “best” instance by any stretch.

Due to the truth that FHR is making the replace to supply 5x points (and certain as a result of it’s the finish of the yr, when Amex renews the listing of FHR properties), many properties aren’t at present bookable on-line. Some inns supply a third or 4th night time free by means of FHR, so I wouldn’t be stunned if one of many different FHR choices in Marrakesh gives a better worth.

Talking of worth, on the different finish of the spectrum the Le Meridien would solely value 12,500 points per night time. Whereas I’m positive it’s a vastly totally different expertise than the 4 Seasons, it might solely run 62,600 complete points (after Marriott’s fifth night time free).

Placing all of it collectively

Let’s make some assumptions about what number of points Bob will want based mostly on what I’ve laid out above:

  • 219,000 points [RT business class from LAX to Madrid + cashed in points for taxes / fees]
  • 80,000 points [Flights from Madrid->Marrakesh->Seville->Madrid
  • 62,160 points [Lodge in Madrid]
  • 303,000 points [Four Seasons in Marrakesh]664,160 points

Now he’s nonetheless lacking a lodge for Three nights in Seville and excursions. Guestimating that Seville gained’t value rather more than Madrid, he’ll be at round 725,000 points used. All that’s lacking from what Amex Journey deliberate is airport transfers and the personal guided excursions for Bob’s days in Morocco. He’d nonetheless have greater than 500,000 Amex points (with a cashout worth of $6,250), so I’d say these might be organized fairly simply.

In reality, there isn’t a scarcity of comparable excursions that may be booked by way of Viator.com and lots of of which might be personal or customized.

Alternatively, he might simply hold his leftover half-a-million points and fly 2 individuals spherical journey in enterprise class to Europe once more sooner or later. Twice.

Backside line

Whereas many readers strategically plan and gather points with most worth makes use of plotted out prematurely, many different individuals don’t gather with the identical laser-focus on redeeming. When this member of the family reached out this week, it made me marvel how many individuals should redeem points at low worth yearly. In fact, they doubtless get the aforementioned pleasure of free — a “free” $9,000 journey can definitely sound engaging — however this can be a nice meta instance of how largely it pays to teach your self about redemption choices, study overseas packages, and do a few of the leg work your self. I’m undoubtedly not an award reserving specialist, however I’ll be completely satisfied to assist this member of the family work out some flights and lodges and methods to money out for a lot better worth than what he’d been informed.