I love the timing of this. Just yesterday I posted my analysis of what credit card points with the three “major” programs are worth, and included the following in the section about American Express Membership Rewards:
I sure hope they’re talking to either Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan or US Airways Dividend Miles for a potential partnership, as either would greatly improve the value proposition of the program.
The good news is that Membership Rewards has a new transfer partner — Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. While Asia Miles partners with some international Membership Rewards programs, this is the first time they’re partnering with the US program.
The bad news is that as far as I can tell it’s not really all that interesting for most of us.
As it stands you can redeem British Airways Avios points for travel on Cathay Pacific (or any other OneWorld partner), and while their award chart isn’t especially lucrative for longhaul flights, Membership Rewards is offering a 50% transfer bonus for British Airways through May 31. Still, even without the bonus their award chart is still more lucrative than Asia Miles’ in most instances.
For example, first class roundtrip between San Francisco and Hong Kong will run you 180,000 Asia Miles, plus about $400 in taxes and fuel surcharges (as a point of comparison, business class will run you 120,000 Asia Miles and coach will run you 60,000 Asia Miles).
So that is a bit cheaper than booking through British Airways (which charges 70,000 miles for coach, 140,000 miles for business class, and 210,000 miles for first class), though that’s not factoring in the frequent transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards to British Airways.
For short-haul awards, booking through British Airways is a much better value. For example, Hong Kong to Bangkok in business class costs 30,000 miles roundtrip through British Airways and 40,000 miles roundtrip through Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. Between Hong Kong and Singapore the roundtrip cost is 40,000 miles through British Airways while it’s 70,000 miles roundtrip through Cathay Pacific.
So while I suppose more options are a good thing, I don’t suspect there will be many instances in which this is useful. When it comes to short-haul awards on OneWorld carriers, you’re better off transferring points to British Airways. For longhaul flights Cathay Pacific’s costs are sometimes a bit lower, though with the transfer bonuses British Airways frequently offers they’re still cheaper.
At the end of the day if you want to fly Cathay Pacific first class you shouldn’t be accruing Membership Rewards points. You should be earning American miles, given that they don’t impose fuel surcharges for travel on Cathay Pacific and also have lower redemption rates (between the US and Asia they charge 70,000 miles for coach, 110,000 miles for business class, and 135,000 miles for first class).
So I guess it’s nice to have a new partner, and perhaps with some transfer bonuses in the future transferring to them could be a good value. I still find Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to be a more valuable foreign transfer partner.