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I was pondering some of the many positive implications of the SPG/Marriott merger this morning (it’s the sort of thing your mind tends to wander to on Sunday mornings when you’ve probably been in the Miles ‘game’ too long!), when it struck me that American Express Membership Rewards Points are now even more valuable than they were before.
The primary reason for this is the huge array of airline partners you can now transfer to at favourable rates (a subject for another post), but the same is also true for hotel loyalty programmes.
The only major (from a UK perspective) hotel loyalty programme that you can’t now transfer Amex MR Points to is Accor ‘Le Club’; all the others – Hilton, Club Carlson, SPG, Marriott and IHG – are all possible transfer partners.
This matters, because flexibility is the fundamental cornerstone when it comes to getting great value from Points and Miles.
Some transfer rates work out better than others of course, but it’s worth going through all of them because there are occasions when taking advantage of any of the following options could make good sense.
Let’s start with the simplest and most obvious first:
Amex MR Points transfer directly to Club Carlson at a rate of 1:3 – so 1,000 MR Points gets you 3,000 Club Carlson Goldpoints.
At the low end, this means you can book a Club Carlson Category 1 hotel for just 3,000 MR Points (9,000 Club Carlson), and at the top end you can book the most expensive Category 7 properties for 23,334 MR Points (70,000 Club Carlson).
This means you can book a Hilton Category 1 hotel for just 2,500 MR Points (5,000 HH), all the way up to a Category 10 for between 35,000-47,500 MR Points(70,000-95,000 HH).
Amex MR Points transfer directly to Starwood Preferred Guest at a rate of 2:1 – s0 1,000 MR Points gets you 500 SPG Starpoints.
This means that you can book a Starwood Category 1 hotel for just 4,000-6000 MR Points (2,000-3,000 SPG Starpoints), all the way up to a top level Category 7 hotel for 60,000-70,000 MR Points (30,000-35,000 Starpoints).
The process is slightly more convoluted, but it is possible to transfer Amex MR Points to IHG Rewards Club at an effective rate of 1:1.
You have to first transfer your Amex MR Points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club at a 1:1 rate, and then transfer the Virgin Miles to IHG also at a 1:1 rate (details on how to do this can be found by clicking on “Spend Miles” on the Virgin site here. Points transferred in this way count towards status with IHG).
The upshot is that you can book IHG Category 1 hotels for 10,000 MR Points (10,000 IHG Points), and top level Category 11 can be booked for 60,000 MR Points (60,000 IHG Points). It’s also worth mentioning that when hotels are on the ‘Pointsbreaks’ list they can be booked for just 5,000 Points.
The new kid on the Amex transfer block is Marriott Rewards. Again, the process requires a couple of steps but the value here can actually be quite reasonable, with the effective transfer rate being 1:1.5 – so 1,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points gets you 1,500 Marriott Rewards Points.
You have to transfer your Amex MR Points to SPG first at the 2:1 rate listed above, and then transfer them on from SPG to Marriott Rewards at a rate of 1:3. You can do all of this online and it’s actually pretty quick and easy.
This means that you can now book Marriott Category 1 hotels for 4,000-5,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points (6,000-7,500 Marriott Rewards Points), and top level Category 9 hotels for 26.667-30,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points (40,000-45,000 Marriott Rewards Points).
For the sake of completeness, I should also mention that you can redeem Amex MR Points for stays at Sol/Tryp/Melia/Gran Melia/Paradisus Hotels for between 5,500-17,500 Points per night. Amex oddly seem to sort of hide the option on the Membership Rewards website, but it’s definitely still available – to get the full range of options just type ‘Melia’ into the search box when you’re on the site.
Not all of these redemption options are always going to provide tremendous value – in fact, quite often they won’t. The point though, is that sometimes they will.
For example, if you want to book a property that has a low Points category but a high cash rate for the dates you want, or if you need to just top up your account by a small amount of Points and would otherwise have to buy them at an extortionate price, then being able to transfer Points across is fantastic.
Flexibility really is the key to maximising the value you can get from Points/Miles, and the new opportunity to transfer Amex MR Points to Marriott Rewards at a respectable rate increases that flexibility considerably.
If you don’t yet have an Amex charge card to earn Membership Rewards Points with and would like to apply for one, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be very happy to refer you.
For a (free) Gold card you would get 22,000 bonus Points for being referred rather than the standard 20,000, and 35,000 Points for a Platinum card rather than 30,000 (I receive some bonus Points for referring you too, so thanks!). You should check out the cashback options as well to see which option offers you the best value.