Do You Pay a Fee to Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points to an Airline?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Julie commented:

I transferred 50,000 points to Delta from my American Express Gold and they charged me about $30.  I’ve never heard you (or anyone else) mention that they do this.  Is this your experience also?

Do You Pay A Fee To Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points To An Airline

Was Julie Correctly Charged a Fee When She Transferred American Express Membership Rewards Points to Delta?

Julie wants to know why she was charged a fee when she transferred her American Express Membership Rewards points from her American Express Premier Rewards Gold card to Delta Airline miles.  American Express charges a fee to transfer miles because they have to pay an excise tax to transfer the miles.  So they pass along the costs to you, the cardholder. 

American Express Membership Rewards Points

Link:   American Express Premier Rewards Gold card  

Link:   American Express Membership Rewards  

Julie earns American Express Membership Rewards points when she uses her American Express Premier Rewards Gold card.  Julie could also earn American Membership Rewards points from the American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum card, the Platinum card (personal), and Platinum (business) cards.  As always, terms and limitations apply with American Express cards.

Julie can use her American Express Membership Rewards points to:

Turn Points Into Miles

Julie can transfer her American Express Membership Rewards points to ~17 airlines, including Delta Airlines.

Do You Pay A Fee To Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points To An Airline

Transferring American Express Membership Rewards Points to Airlines Can Give You Big Travel With Small Money

There is no limit to the number of American Express Membership Rewards points Julie can transfer.  But American Express Membership Rewards points must be transferred in 1,000 point increments.

Julie will pay an excise fee when she transfers her American Express Membership Rewards points to US airlines.  Because the fee is a federal fee taxed on US airlines, Julie would pay the fee even if she lived in another country.

Do You Pay A Fee To Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points To An Airline

A Fee Applies When Transferring American Express Membership Rewards Points

There is no fee to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to hotels.  Julie can transfer her American Express Membership Rewards points for free to these hotels:

  • Best Western
  • Choice
  • Hilton
  • Starwood

Julie will be charged a fee of 0.06 cents per point up to a maximum of $99 when she transfers her American Express Membership Rewards points to a US airline.

So Julie will pay a fee when she transfers American Express Membership Rewards points to these US airlines:

  • Delta Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue
  • Virgin America

The 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards points she transferred to Delta Airlines cost $30 to transfer (50,000 points x .06 cents per point transfered).

Do You Pay A Fee To Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points To An Airline

American Express Charges an Airline Excise Tax Offset Fee of .06 cents per Point

The most Julie will pay to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points is $99, even if she transfers 500,000 American Express Membership Rewards points!  Because that’s the maximum amount American Express charges to transfer points.

Do You Pay A Fee To Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points To An Airline

There Is a Maximum Transfer Fee of $99

But there is no fee if Julie transfers her American Express Membership Rewards points to foreign airlines, like British Airways.  Julie can transfer her American Express Membership Rewards points for free to these airlines:

  • Aeromexico
  • Aeroplan (Air Canada)
  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • ANA
  • Asia Miles
  • British Airways
  • El Al
  • Emirates
  • Iberia
  • KLM
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
Do You Pay A Fee To Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points To An Airline

Julie Won’t Pay a Fee Transferring American Express Membership Rewards Points to Foreign Airlines

American Express Membership Rewards points usually transfer within ~2 days but can take longer depending on the airline.

Interestingly, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest points to US airlines for free.  I’m not sure if these airlines get around the excise fee, or if they incur the fee on behalf of their cardholders.

Bottom Line

Julie paid a $30 fee to transfer 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta Airlines.

American Express charges an excise tax recovery fee when you transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to a US airline.  Julie will pay .06 cents per point to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points.  The maximum fee that Julie will pay is $99.

Julie won’t pay the fee if she transfers her American Express Membership Rewards points to a foreign airline.

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27 Responses to Do You Pay a Fee to Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points to an Airline?

  1. Is it possible to transfer all your american express points to AreoMexico because their is no transfer fee then book delta flights because they are skyteam partners…would that work?

  2. What about Aeroplan?

  3. When Diner’s Club (credit card) instituted a fee on transfers way back when (early 2000′s?), I dropped the card. At the time, it was the darling of the frequent flyer community. Annual cost was in the $90 range. When was the last time you read anything about Diner’s Club??

  4. AmEx has had the transfer fee for as long as I can remember, but it isn’t .06 a point! $30 for 50,000 points is .0006 a point or .06 for 100 points. Or in a useful increment it is $6 for each 10,000 points.

    You can avoid the fee if you transfer to a non US partner airline but make sure you study the partner program first.

  5. Tammy Horvath

    My husband and I each have 50,000+ Amex Membership points. We want to get them to IHG Reward points since we are traveling in 2015 to Bora Bora and we need to cancel our Amex by Dec. 2014 to avoid the annual fee. Since they don’t transfer to IHG, could I open a Virgin Atlantic account or another flying club account & is this free and then transfer Amex points to there at 1:1 and then transfer flying club miles to IHG at 1:1 OR is there a better way?

    Also, I wouldn’t be able to use the Amex Membership points to fly from PPT to BOB, or BOB to PPT would I? I can’t seem to find matches for that if it is possible via Amex website. Thanks as always.

  6. @Pace S – Booking through Aeromexico requires a lot of patience. And their redemptions are in kilometers, not miles.

    @Cheryl – Aeroplan isn’t a US program so there shouldn’t be any fee.

    @dhammer53 – LOL! My dad had a Diner’s Club.

    @haleyb – It is 0.06 cents per point or $0.0006 per point, though $6 for 10,000 points is easier to understand!

  7. Very interesting post, Daraius. Curious though about Amex being required to pay a federal tax on the transfer.

    By comparison, am I correct that we don’t have to pay any fees when transferring points from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program to any of their partner airlines? If so, does this mean Chase is absorbing the tax? Or is there really a tax in the first place? How come one program, but not the other?

    (pardon the cynical implication of this — wouldn’t be the first time a major American corporation — eg.. phone companies — charged feeds for “taxes” that weren’t actually being assessed on them)

  8. My apologies for the redundancy. You DID note in your post that Chase UR and SPG don’t assess such fees for transferring points from their programs to partner airlines.

    Question indeed remains…. as to whether they’re absorbing the expense, “getting around it,” (?) or if there’s no actual expense in the first place. (if the latter, that’s grounds for class action or federal complaint — as happened with multiple phone carries last century….)

  9. Hi,

    I have a question. You mentioned that you can transfer the point to some hotels including Starwood for free. I take it that once transferred these Starwood points are different than the SPG points I am familiar with? Because if they are the same, then why not transfer to Starwood and then from there to Delta circumventing the fee?

    Thanks,
    Alex

  10. Thanks for posting this article. I haven’t signed up for a MR earning Amex card yet and have heard this fee mentioned briefly, but no one has ever tackled the issue head on.

  11. Also remember there is now a no annual fee card that can earn, hold and transfer Membership Rewards points as well – which makes it a bit more attractive than when compared to the Chase UR system.

  12. @Alex – You lose points when you transfer from Membership Rewards to Starwood hotels!

  13. Tammy Horvath

    Sorry for the re-post but can anyone answer if I can do this: (I appreciate all advice and thoughts on this as I’ve spent hours trying to figure out how to accomplish this.)

    My husband and I each have 50,000+ Amex Membership points. We want to get them to IHG Reward points since we are traveling in 2015 to Bora Bora and we need to cancel our Amex by Dec. 2014 to avoid the annual fee. Since they don’t transfer to IHG, could I open a Virgin Atlantic account or another flying club account & is this free and then transfer Amex points to there at 1:1 and then transfer flying club miles to IHG at 1:1 OR is there a better way? Does anyone know the timeframe it would take to accomplish this IF it can be done?

  14. I paid a fee to transfer points to Hawaiian. But if I remember getting a refund for those fees, and getting letter in the mail from American Express saying that refunds were due to a legal settlement. Does anyone else remember that? I can research more if anyone is interested.

  15. @Tammy Horvath – You can covert AMEX points to Virgin Atlantic and from there to IHG Rewards, but it may not be the best use of your AMEX points. That said, I haven’t done this particular type of transfer so I don’t have personal experience. I’d wait to see if there was a transfer bonus for transferring to Virgin Atlantic.

  16. @Will – Yep, Chase eats the tax when you transfer to United or Southwest. It’s something that you don’t see a lot in blog posts, but if you’re like me, and are transferring hundreds of thousands of points into programs each year, the savings add up. For the annual fees that most MR-earning cards demand, passing the excise tax on to cardholders is just stingy.

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  18. I get the following message when clicking on some of your AMEX links:

    “You have been identified as a current American Express Card Member. You may have seen an offer advertised for this product previously, but the offer is not available to current American Express Card Members.”

    Is there a way to get around this?

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  21. What is the best way to transfer Amex points into United Miles? I currently have a platinum amex and am looking to get a business class international flight with miles on united – If I were to transfer to aeroplan (air canada) would I than be able to transfer those to United miles without a fee or with a good conversion?

    Also, I am going to Asia and I saw that ANA is a partner but that they charge all the taxes ($600+) so what work around if any is there to book a United flight (codeshare ANA) without paying the taxes that ANA requires but United does not?

  22. @josh – You can’t transfer from Aeroplan to United, but you can use Aeroplan miles to fly on United. They don’t charge fuel surcharges for awards on United, but do charge on other airlines.

  23. wait, so you have to book on aircanada using their rewards?

  24. @josh – Yes, but you can transfer Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan.

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