American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Bonuses to Starwood, Hilton & Virgin Atlantic

American Express is currently running three different transfer bonuses to convert Membership Rewards points into either Starwood, Hilton or Virgin Atlantic points/miles. I’ll recap each one briefly and give you my opinion whether any of them are worth taking advantage of.

1. 50% Transfer Bonus to Starwood SPG (Targeted) - The biggest transfer bonus on the list at 50% but unfortunately all that means is that you can convert Amex points at a 2:1 ratio instead of the standard 3:1 ratio. Starwood points are more valuable than Amex Membership Rewards points but not double the value in my book. One possible way this promotion could work though is to transfer to an airline that is not a transfer partner of Amex but is a partner of Starwood.

As you might know, if you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to an airline, you automatically get a 5,000 point bonus so if you were to transfer say 40,000 Amex points over to Starwood, you could end up 25,000 airline miles in programs such as Alaska or American, places you cannot transfer to Amex points too normally. By using Starwood as the “middleman”, you can backdoor your way into all of Starwood’s transfer partners here. I don’t have a personal need to do this but this could make sense for some. This transfer bonus expires on 11/30.

SpgTransferBonus

2. 35% Transfer Bonus to Virgin Atlantic – Even though Amex is offering a 35% on transfers to Virgin Atlantic, I’ve discussed how Virgin miles can be difficult to use (though View From the Wing has some great uses of Virgin miles). You can’t depart London without incurring huge fuel surcharges but Virgin Atlantic is a great option to go TO London which is only 13,125 miles + $134 as I’ve written about before here.  Another possible use of their points is on Virgin America, especially if you live on the West Coast as it is only 10,000 miles one way on certain routes, such as LA to San Fran. I am going to sit the transfer out as I just applied for the 90,000 Virgin Atlantic Mastercard and I have no pressing needs for more Virgin miles. This transfer bonus expires on 11/30.

3. 33% Transfer Bonus to Hilton HHonors (Targeted) – Amex’s hotel partners are historically pretty bad so its not that surprising to see that even with a transfer bonus, this is a bad deal. In this case, a 33% transfer bonus to Hilton means Amex points convert at a ratio of 1:2 instead of the standard 1:1.5. Unfortunately, Hilton gutted their award chart a few years ago and any upscale property is for the most part an unreasonable amount of points. I’m talking 95,000 HHonors points for a single night stay when you used to be able to get a 4 night stay at the same property for 145,000 points (ex. Hilton Bora Bora). I don’t mind plan on taking advantage of this transfer bonus and don’t suggest it either unless you need to top off your account for an award stay. This transfer bonus expires on 11/30.

FREE 7,500 American Airlines Miles for Test Driving a Cadillac!

American Airlines has a new partnership with Cadillac in which certain elite members can receive a tarmac transfer in a Cadillac at some of American’s hubs when making a tight connection. To promote this partnership, American Airlines is offering 7,500 free AA miles to members who test drive a Cadillac!

Yes Please!

Yes Please!

The only way to take advantage of this promotion is to call the Cadillac Concierge at 844-469-2234 and schedule an appointment for a test drive. There is no commitment to buy the car or do anything other than take it for a test drive lasting “approximately 10 minutes”. This might cross some people’s ethical line to take a test drive and waste someone’s time when you have absolutely no intention to buy the car, so do what makes you feel comfortable.

I called to schedule my own test drive but did have to wait on hold about 30 mins until a rep picked up. They took down my personal information and AA # and asked which dealership I’d like the appointment at – it was a breeze and took all of 5 minutes to book a Saturday appointment to test drive a CTS. Here are the full terms and conditions:

*At participating dealers only.  Must have an AAdvantage account and be 21 years or older with a valid U.S. driver’s license.  Employees of General Motors are not eligible. Retail value: $221.00. Test drive lasts approximately 10 minutes.  Offer valid while supplies last.  Limit one test drive per person.  Allow 4-6 weeks for miles to be awarded after confirmation that test drive has been completed.  Offer is nontransferable, nonnegotiable and not redeemable for cash.

If you live near a Cadillac dealer and don’t mind spending some time testing out a brand new Caddy, this is a no-brainer promotion. The 7,500 AA miles are worth roughly $100 to me. Essentially, I am getting paid (in miles) to test drive a new luxury car – Sign me up!

Please Don’t Use American Express Membership Rewards Points to Pay for McDonald’s

American Express and McDonald’s announced that starting this week in NY and Chicago and nationwide in December you will be able to redeem American Express Membership Rewards Points for your next meal at McDonald’s. Reading that BusinessWeek article, you can tell both American Express and McDonald’s are excited for this new venture as American Express customers spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually at McDonald’s but you as the customer should not be.

Please Hit The Red Button

Please Hit The Red Button

The ratio of points to food is 100 points = $1 so a $4 Big Mac (do they even cost that?) will require 400 points. This is the standard a penny per point ratio seen with many other credit cards. So why is this a bad deal? Here are a few reasons:

  • American Express Membership Rewards Points are much more valuable when redeemed for travel by transferring them to hotels or airlines. You can easily get 2x-5x the value, probably more if you redeem miles for international first class travel.
  • If you have a Business American Express Platinum Card, each point is worth at 1.2 cents since you can redeem Amex points through Amex Travel for any flight, hotel or car rental.
  • Unless you have the new American Express Everyday card, you most likely pay an annual fee to hold an Amex card that earns transferable Membership Rewards points. If you plan on redeeming points for McDonald’s, you are essentially paying an annual fee ($175 for Gold, $450 for Platinum for example) for “free” McDonald’s. Think about that. Go get a no annual fee, 2% cash back card.
  • You are better off paying for McDonald’s with a card that earns 2x on dining then the any Amex Card. Here’s why:
    • Let’s say you spent $400 on dining expenses over a few months on an American Express Card (say the Gold) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Not unreasonable. With the Amex card, you would have 400 points while the Chase card you would have 800 points (2x on dining).
    • If you chose to take advantage of this promotion, you could earn 1 Free Big Mac with Amex. But with the Chase card, you would earn 2 FREE Big Macs! How? Two Big Macs cost $8 so pay for that with your Chase card and then issue yourself a statement credit for $8 by using 800 points. 
  • McDonald’s is creating a rise in childhood obesity and you shouldn’t support them by using your points for free meals there (and jeopardizing your own health at the same time anyway).
  • Lastly, you shouldn’t eat at McDonald’s that often so when you go, you can “treat” yourself and pay $8 for your meal.

Ok, some of those points were a little tongue in cheek but seriously, don’t use points to pay for food at McDonald’s.

Could the 70,000 Point Chase Ink Plus Offer Actually Be Available After 10/19?

If you read any other points and miles blog in the past month, you probably seen dozens of posts about the “Amazing 70,000 Chase Ink Plus Offer” or “Don’t Wait, Get 70,000 Points Today” and how the offer for this could expire any moment. In fact, many thought it was going to expire last week but it didn’t but now the new expiration date is October 19th. However, is it possible this is wrong and it could actually be extended again (cue mischievous laugh)!

This is pure speculation and I could be very wrong but based on this targeted offer my father received for his business, his 70,000 point offer is good until 11/10. To be clear, this is a targeted offer so by no means does it have to match the public offer that is going on for the Chase Ink Plus business credit card. The odds are small but it wouldn’t shock me to see Chase possibly extend that deadline one more time (and result in even more posts about with bloggers’ affiliate links which is something I refuse to do :) )

Notice the Expiration Date in the Bottom Left

Notice the Expiration Date in the Bottom Left

*As a reminder, I do not have affiliate links as that is a direct conflict of interest with my consulting services. In fact, I didn’t even link to the card in this post.*

Long Weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico Trip Report – Activities & Dining – Old San Juan

1) Introduction
2) Flights: American Airlines Business Class JFK – SJU & American Airlines Economy Class SJU – JFK
3) Hotel: Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde
4) Activities & Dining – Old San Juan

As I mentioned in the hotel review, the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde is close to the airport but not too far from Old San Juan, which was about a 15 minute cab ride. On Saturday evening, we decided to head down to Old San Juan for drinks and dinner. The hotel was able to call a cab for us and the 15-20 minute ride cost $21 dollars for the two us.

We didn’t go in with any set plans other than dinner at 7:30 – we planned to just walk around, maybe a find a bar at first and kill time people watching. Little did we know, there was a weekend festival that was going on and the cab driver mentioned to us he couldn’t take us to the heart of Old San Juan and would have to drop us off a few blocks away.  No matter as it was actually a nice night to walk around and we quickly saw several streets closed with people everywhere. It turns out the festival was the SOFO Culinary Fest which was from August 14 – 17 and involved many street vendors selling all types of food, drinks and other goodies.

We quickly found someone making mixed drinks in freshly cut pineapples so I had to get Andrea one. I think it was a pina colada but I don’t quite remember. The best part about the festival was that open container laws were waived so we take our drink to walk around and check out the rest of the festival. There was live music on several street corners and with the weather being perfect, there was a great atmosphere in the streets.

Andrea with her drink

Andrea with her drink

After walking around for a while, it was time for our dinner reservation at Marmalade which is ranked as the #1 restaurant in San Juan on Trip Advisor. It didn’t disappoint. The interior has a very unique vibe that I can’t quite put my finger on – maybe a modern setup influenced with Middle Eastern themes. The photo doesn’t do the place justice but it was on the most unique dining atmosphere for me in a while.

marmalade

They have a very eclectic drink menu and of course, we had to try something off it. I had the Global Warming, complete with chilies in my drink, while Andrea tried the Jimi Hendrick’s. The waiter recommended drinking my drink quickly as it “heats up” the longer you let it sit.

menu - Copy drink2 - Copy Drink

The food was excellent and they had several creative takes on food. For example, we ordered Popcorn Shrimp as an app but their take on it included laying grilled shrimp on a bed of spice-crusted popcorn (yes actual popcorn). Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture but it was delicious. That was followed by their signature white bean soup, which had truffle oil and pancetta dust in it. For our main courses, I had the pork belly with a black bean puree while Andrea had the spaghetti squash which looked nothing you’d like expect (again we were so hungry we forgot to take photos). Both dishes were quite unique and very different from what we normally have.

After dinner, we walked around and enjoyed the live music playing in the streets. When we eventually got tired of it, we took a cab back to the Courtyard Marriott which came to $20. For the rest of the trip, we didn’t do too much other than relax by the pool and beach. We wanted to relax and that was the perfect remedy for us. One night, we did walk from the hotel to the convenience store to pickup a few things and passed by a cockfighting arena. We obviously didn’t partake but found it interesting.

cockfight - Copy

In all, this was a successful, short 3 night getaway to Puerto Rico that allowed us to explore Old San Juan for the first time. We had some amazing food and drinks and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back for another long weekend.

Point & Center: Last Chance for Amazon Payments, $10 Off Uber for All Users, & Changes with American Express and Delta

*Some of the items below have out in the blogosphere for a while now but I never covered due to my vacation. Think of this post as a catchup for the past 2 weeks*

1) Last Day for Amazon Payments is October 12th - I’ve talked about the death of Amazon Payments earlier but this is a reminder to send your final $1,000 payment to someone on or before October 12th. When October 13th comes around, Amazon Payments will disable this functionality and you will no longer be able to make person to person payments. This was an easy and free 1,000 miles a month – AP will be missed.

2) $10 off Uber for Existing Users, $40 off for New Users – American Express has announced a new promotion in which anyone can take $10 off their next Uber ride if they sync their American Express credit card with Twitter and tweet #AmexUber. Here’s how to do it.

If you do not have an Uber account, you can signup for a new account with my link here and you will receive $30 off on top of the $10 credit above for a total of $40 your first ride (I will also receive $30 off a ride if you signup with my link above).

3) American Express Premier Rewards Gold Devaluation - The American Express Premier Gold Card lost a benefit last week when Amex announced that it will no longer rewards users with 15,000 bonus points if they spend $30,000 in a calendar year. The loss of this benefit might not be applicable to many of you but I really didn’t see the point of keeping this card past the first year with a hefty annual fee of $175 unless you were a big spender. And with that benefit revoked, I don’t understand the love for this card. But that’s another post for another time.

4) Restriction on Delta Transfers from American Express Membership Rewards - In the latest flyer #unfriendly move by Delta, they are limiting the amount of American Express Membership Rewards that can be transferred into Delta SkyMiles to 250,000 miles annually. Before you think that doesn’t matter cause that’s still a lot of miles, it’s not. If I wanted to book two business class tickets to Europe with Delta using my Amex points, that’s 250,000 miles right there. If I wanted to book two business class tickets to Asia or Australia, I will have to transfer miles to each individual’s Delta account since each ticket is over 125,000 miles. But I may not be able to do that, since Amex only let’s you transfer miles to your frequent flyer accounts or that of your authorized users. This takes effect in 2015, so you have until 12/31/14 to make unlimited transfers.

I’m Back, Relaxed and Ready to Roll

I’m slowly coming to grips that I am no longer on vacation after an amazing anniversary trip that took us to Bali & Phuket and really served as an eye opening trip for us. It was our first time in Asia and instead of staying just at the resorts, we went into the countryside on some days and saw how the locals lived and their way of life. I’ll have more in an upcoming trip report as it was a great experience but I’m ready to get back to a more normal posting schedule here on PointsCentric.

While taking some time to relax, I have decided to make a few changes at PointsCentric, which I think will improve the site and enhance the reader’s perspective. Some of the changes include:

  • Changing the structure and packages of my Consulting Services & Award Booking Services to make it more clear and concise for readers
  • Improving & updating the About Me page with new trips and more tips how we booked some of our past trips
  • Enhancing my Points & Miles 101 series with new posts and updates to previous posts while adding a dedicated link for all these posts
  • Adding more questions (with answers) to the FAQs
  • Posting a Point & Center update at least weekly (unless it has been an extremely boring week in the world of points and miles)
  • Some minor cosmetic updates including the new header which has already been updated

Furthermore, I will wrap up the last section of my Puerto Rico Trip Report and begin a new trip report featuring our first class flights, hotels and activities in Bali and Phuket.

Until then, here are just a few photos from our trip. IMG_1403 IMG_1409 - CopyIMG_1414 - Copy