Should you transfer your Amex Membership Rewards points to British Airways or Qantas?

Jun 25, 2020

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There was some exciting news for American Express Membership Rewards members earlier this week. The points programme of Amex already had more than a dozen useful airline transfer partners, but as of this week, there’s one more. You can now transfer your Membership Rewards to Qantas Frequent Flyer at a rate of 1:1 — so 500 Membership Rewards points become 500 Qantas points.

You may know that Qantas is a Oneworld alliance partner of British Airways. So with this new option, as a U.K.-based traveller who might usually collect and redeem Avios, should you consider switching to Qantas Frequent Flyer with this new transfer option?

In a nutshell, here’s the good and the bad of the Qantas Frequent Flyer programme.

The good

  • Qantas, like British Airways, is a member of the Oneworld alliance. So, you can earn and redeem points on British Airways as well as familiar airlines like Qatar, Iberia, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and more.
  • Qantas has unique partnerships with Emirates and El Al, allowing you to earn and redeem Qantas points on Emirates and El Al flights.
  • The Qantas award chart prices per journey, not per flight, which is great for connecting flights.
  • You can use Qantas points to upgrade Qantas flights, and these can be a great value use of the points.

The bad

  • Partner redemptions start at 10,000 Qantas points per person, one-way, even for a 45-minute British Airways flight.
  • Qantas releases very little premium cabin award availability using points for Qantas-operated flights, and like British Airways, it imposes fuel surcharges.
  • The way Qantas processes points upgrades is very different to British Airways, and the upgrade lottery can seem unfair.

Should you be looking at British Airways Avios or Qantas points for your next Membership Rewards points transfer?

Let’s have a look at a few different common redemption situations.

Qantas Lounge London Heathrow Terminal 3. (Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

1. Short-haul British Airways redemptions to Europe

For these short flights, it’s much better value to use Avios instead of Qantas points. This is because of British Airways great value Reward Flight Savers. They start at just 4,000 Avios + fixed fees and taxes of £17.50 per person. Using Qantas points on the same flight start at 10,000 points for the same BA flight, so stick with Avios.

2. Annual long-haul family holiday

Say you are looking to take the family to Florida for a summer holiday. If you can earn a British Airways Companion Voucher, you will be better off using Avios to book, as you’ll only be paying one set of Avios for two people and both programmes charge hefty surcharges.

If you don’t have a Companion Voucher, let’s look at the cost of four people flying BA to Orlando in economy by redeeming through the two programmes.

Assuming peak travel dates, you would need 200,000 (25,000 per person each way) Avios for four people return in economy. Using Qantas points for the same itinerary, you would need 241,600 (30,200 per person each way) for four people return in economy class.

So, whether you have a Companion Voucher or not, you would be better using Avios in this situation.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
British Airways A350 Economy (Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

3. A luxury honeymoon

Let’s say you want to fly in business class to Australia. We think Qatar Airways has the world’s best business class, so let’s aim for Qsuite between London (LHR) and Sydney (SYD) where you’ll need to connect in Doha (DOH). Avios prices this as each flight separately, while Qantas prices per journey, not per flight. All partner redemptions carry the peak Avios pricing, so British Airways would be looking for a whopping 866,000 Avios in total for two people return (62,000 + 154,500 per person, each way).

On the other hand, Qantas would charge a much lower 636,000 points in total, being 159,000 per person, each way.

Related: Approaching perfection: A review of Qatar Airways’ Qsuite business class on the 777-300ER, Doha to JFK

Still plenty of points, but it would be far fewer points if you used Qantas points than Avios.

Qatar Airways award-winning QSuite business class. Photo by Qatar Airways

4. Qantas or British Airways to Singapore

Let’s have a look at one of the few routes both BA and Qantas fly: London (LHR) to Singapore (SIN). Qantas has premium economy product on its A380s, so let’s consider the cost of booking this with Avios versus Qantas points. This is a pretty close comparison — you’ll need 72,250 Avios per person, each way, or 71,100 Qantas points. In this instance, either is a good option.

Related: Top-notch oasis for Oneworld elites: A review of Qantas’ brand-new International First Lounge in Singapore

Let’s say you’d prefer to fly the route on British Airways if you could save a decent amount of points. If you can find an off-peak date, you’ll need only 45,500 Avios to book the BA-operated flight, versus a much higher 81,800 using Qantas points for the same BA-operated flight.

While I would argue Qantas has a better premium economy product than BA, you will save money using Avios for the BA flight.

Image courtesy of Qantas Airways.
Qantas 787 Premium Economy. Image courtesy of Qantas Airways.

Upgrades

British Airways and Qantas take a very different approach to upgrades. British Airways will allow anyone to upgrade with Avios on BA-operated flights, provided there is a full award seat available in the higher class.

Qantas allows anyone to request an upgrade, though this is far from guaranteed. The airline will only begin to process upgrades in the few days before the flight, converting a good number of unsold seats to upgrades — whether they were showing as available for a full award seat or not. This helps ensure the flight goes out as full as possible. The order Qantas processes upgrades is based on status within the Qantas programme. The higher your status in that programme, the more likely your upgrade is to clear. Unfortunately, only Qantas status is recognised in terms of upgrade priority, so even if you have BA Gold status, while it would come with Oneworld status benefits when flying with Qantas like first-class lounge access, it would be of no benefit if you are using Qantas points to submit an upgrade request.

Remember, you can only upgrade certain types of both BA and Qantas fares — not the cheapest sale fares. While you might have a good idea based on award availability if your BA flight will be upgradeable with Avios, the same can’t be said for Qantas flights with upgrade requests. These upgrades may not be processed until you get to the boarding gate. I know of many people who have bought a more expensive Qantas economy fare for the sole reason that they wanted to upgrade with Qantas points, only for their upgrade not to clear because of their low status, leaving them stuck in economy with an expensive fare they paid too much for.

Related: How to upgrade your next flight with British Airways Avios

(Photo by Nicholas Ellis/The Points Guy)
Qantas A380 First (Photo by Nicholas Ellis/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Unless you’re booking connecting flights on partner airlines, you’ll likely receive better value transferring your Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios rather than Qantas points. BA’s short-haul Reward Flight Savers are a really fantastic deal that U.K.-based travellers are lucky to have. Qantas is an excellent airline in terms of its onboard product, lounges and service — domestic business class on Qantas in Australia is significantly better than Club Europe on BA.

Featured photo courtesy of Qantas.

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