Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Million Mile Secrets reader, Andrew, tweeted:
@MilMileSecrets Looking to use the AMEX 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points sign-up bonus for flights for a golf trip to Scotland. British Airways taxes and fees are crazy. Best option?
Excellent question! Andrew has 100,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points and wants to know how to get to the United Kingdom to play golf.
There are lots of ways to get to Europe with AMEX Membership Rewards points.
I’ll show you the best options. And give you tips on how to save on golf!
About AMEX Membership Rewards Points
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to airline partners like British Airways, Delta, and Virgin Atlantic.
When you transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points, they become miles or points within each airline’s loyalty program. And each 1 has its own set of pros and cons!
But when you use your points on certain airlines, you can get a lot of Big Travel with Small Money!
Read my series about all the ways to get to Europe with AMEX Membership Rewards points for more ideas.
The Best Ways to Get to the United Kingdom
Andrew discovered certain airlines (like British Airways) have fuel surcharges and taxes, even on award tickets! These extra fees can add up to hundreds of dollars, and I don’t like paying them!
But there are a few ways to reduce them. Let’s see which programs Andrew should look into.
1. British Airways
Even though British Airways has high fees on award tickets, they can still be useful to fly to Edinburgh or London from several US cities, or for short flights within the UK.
Flying out of the UK is expensive because of the Air Passenger Duty tax and fuel surcharges.
British Airways only charges 26,000 British Airways Avios points for an off-peak, round-trip coach award ticket from New York to London.
Fuel surcharges from New York to London are $256. But you’ll pay $338 to fly from London back to New York.
So Andrew might decide to use British Airways Avios points to the UK, and another program’s miles to get back home.
Or he can pay 40,000 British Airways Avios points for direct round-trip flights from the US to Scotland. But he’ll end up paying nearly the same amount in taxes and fees.
Another option is to use British Airways Avios points to fly to Dublin on Aer Lingus, and then connect to Scotland, either with British Airways Avios points or a cheap paid flight. A nonstop round-trip award flight from Boston to Dublin costs 25,000 British Airways Avios points and ~$50.
Keep in mind that British Airways uses distance flown to give you a price on an award ticket. So the longer your flight, the more points you’ll pay.
And starting October 1, 2015, the new transfer ratio will be 250 AMEX Membership Rewards points : 200 British Airways Avios points. Or 5:4.
Beginning October 1, 2015, you’ll need to transfer 32,500 British Airways Avios points for a round-trip coach award ticket from New York to London (instead of 26,000 British Airways Avios points like now.)
Even with the upcoming changes considered, British Airways charges the fewest points to Europe in coach from the East Coast. So Andrew may decide to save his points and pay the extra fees.
It’s NOT worth it to pay for Business Class or First Class on British Airways. You’ll pay 3 to 4 times more points, and the taxes are higher, too.
If Andrew wants to avoid paying fees, he should NOT consider using his points for British Airways Business Class or First Class, because they can add up to over $1,000 dollars per person!
A. Use British Airways Avios Points for Short Flights Within the UK
Another terrific use of British Airways Avios points is to book award flights under 650 miles within the UK.
That’s because British Airways only charges 4,000 to 4,500 British Airways Avios points for these flights!
Depending on where he wants to go in Scotland, Andrew can fly from London to Edinburgh…
…or Glasgow and pay 4,000 British Airways Avios points and ~$28.
That’s a good deal!
So even if Andrew flies to the British Isles with another airline, he may consider using British Airways Avios points to get to Scotland.
They charge 30,000 Aeroplan miles 1-way in coach from the US to Western Europe. And 45,000 Aeroplan miles each way in Business Class.
Aeroplan is a part of the Star Alliance. So you have your choice of many airlines!
Keep in mind that Aeroplan charges a lot of fuel surcharges for flights on Air Canada and Lufthansa. So Andrew will want to avoid those airlines if he doesn’t want to pay extra fees.
I found award flights on Brussels Airlines to Edinburgh for 60,000 Aeroplan miles and $235 round-trip in coach.
Compared to British Airways, you’ll use more miles but pay less in taxes and fees when you transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan.
As always, do the math and decide which is best for you!
3. Flying Blue Promo Awards
Link: Flying Blue Promo Awards
Flying Blue is the loyalty program of Air France and KLM. Each month, they release a new list of promo awards. You can fly from certain US cities to Europe for fewer miles. Some months the discount is up to 50% off!
You can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue instantly at a 1:1 ratio.
Compared to Aeroplan, this is an option if Andrew wants to use fewer points and pay a little more out-of-pocket.
Because each month has a new set of North American cities, it’s worth checking to see if 1 near you is on the list.
If the dates line up with your travel goals, this can be a good deal!
4. Virgin Atlantic
AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
Virgin Atlantic does not fly nonstop from the US to Scotland. But you can connect in London.
Prices vary depending on where you begin your trip.
From New York or Chicago, you can fly to Edinburgh for 35,000 Virgin Atlantic miles and ~$545.
And from San Francisco to Aberdeen, you’ll pay 42,500 Virgin Atlantic miles and ~$753 in fuel surcharges and taxes.
I found plenty of available award flights from the US to Scotland in September 2015.
Like British Airways, there are hefty fuel surcharges. But this could be helpful if Andrew can’t find an award flight on another airline on the day he wants to travel.
Virgin Atlantic is a partner of Hawaiian Airlines. And you can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to Hawaiian Airlines!
You will NOT pay fuel surcharges when you book Virgin Atlantic flights with Hawaiian Airlines miles. Round-trip coach award flights to London cost 60,000 or 80,000 Hawaiian miles, depending on where you fly from. So you’ll pay more miles but less cash.
Folks love the Virgin Atlantic experience. I flew on Virgin Atlantic and had a fun flight!
Pay With the Right Card!
Link: Citi Prestige Card
Link: Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Citi Prestige card has an annual $250 credit to use on any airline. That’s valuable because you can use it for flights, upgrades, baggage fees, or award booking fees.
So in the examples above, Andrew could pay the award booking fees with the Citi Prestige and subtract $250 from the fuel surcharges. That helps a lot with getting to the UK!
Read my review of this card.
Remember the Chase Sapphire Preferred earns 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel. And the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card earns 3X AMEX Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on airfare.
Start Golfing Before You Leave
Link: SPG Moments – Golf
If Andrew wants to practice his golf before he heads to Scotland, there are a few opportunities here at home.
Sign-Up for Golfmiles
Until August 15, 2015, Million Mile Secrets readers can earn 2,500 airline miles from their choice of 10 airlines when they use our link to sign-up for Golfmiles. This is an exclusive offer for our readers!
All of the golf courses are in the US, but this is a great way to earn miles toward your next trip!
Get $10 off $50+ at Golfballs.com
Save on gear if you have a Visa card! Until September 30, 2015, Visa cardholders get $10 of a $50+ purchase at Golfballs.com.
To get the discount, you must click through the promotion page and enter promotion code “VISABUCKS” at checkout – and pay with a Visa card.
SPG Golf Moments
And don’t forget SPG Golf Moments.
Folks who like to play (and watch) golf can use Starwood points for VIP tickets to tournaments, exclusive access to championship courses and resorts, and golf clinics with professional golfers.
Some of these packages are auctions which go to the highest bidder. Others can be purchased for a set number of Starwood points. If you need more Starwood points, opening a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (personal or small business) card is the easiest way to earn more!
Andrew wants to go to the United Kingdom with his AMEX Membership Rewards points for a golf trip and does NOT want to pay fuel surcharges. I don’t blame him – I don’t like paying those fees, either!
British Airways has the most direct flights to London and the British Isles. You’ll use fewer British Airways Avios points but pay more cash. Virgin Atlantic has comparable fees on award tickets. Citi Prestige comes with a $250 annual airline credit, which can help cover some of the expenses. It also includes 3 rounds of golf per year!
The next best option is with Aeroplan. You’ll pay more miles, but less cash. To get the best price, avoid flights on Air Canada and Lufthansa.
If you get to the UK a different way, remember that you can use 4,000 to 4,500 British Airways Avios points to fly from London to Edinburgh or Glasgow, Scotland.
And be sure to take advantage of golf offers to earn miles and save money before tee time!