American Express Explorer cardholders can convert their Membership Rewards Gateway credit card points into frequent flyer points with eight partner airlines and two hotel chains: but which of these programs present the best value for savvy spenders?
With AMEX Explorer customers previously rewarded with 100,000 bonus Gateway points after spending at least $1,500 on purchases within the first three months – and those points converting to most airlines at a 4:3 rate – Australian Business Traveller crunches the number to find the best ways to spend your cool 100k bonus.
(As of May 16 2017, new cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards Gateway points after meeting the spend requirements.)
1. Upgrade to Cathay Pacific premium economy, business class via Asia Miles
Taking a paid Cathay Pacific flight from Australia’s east coast to London or Europe? Convert 73,334 Gateway points into 55,000 Asia Miles and you’ll have enough for a return upgrade from premium economy to business class, or from economy to premium economy.
You read that correctly: for just 13,750 Asia Miles per flight, you could upgrade an entire Sydney-Hong Kong-London-Hong Kong-Sydney journey to the next-best class of service, provided you request all these upgrades at the same time and don’t break your journey in Hong Kong.
What’s more, you could upgrade a further Cathay Pacific return journey between Australia and Hong Kong to the next-highest cabin after converting an additional 30,000 Gateway points into 22,500 Asia Miles.
All up, that's 103,334 AMEX Gateway points in total: but as the Explorer card earns two Gateway points per dollar spent and you need to charge at least $1,500 to fetch your 100,000-point bonus, spend just $167 more and you’d have enough points for all of these upgrades!
(Cardholders who apply on or after May 16 2017 can instead receive 50,000 bonus Gateway points.)
2. Fly Singapore Airlines Suites Class to Asia via KrisFlyer
Along with upgrades, you can also convert your AMEX Gateway points to make outright flight bookings – including in Singapore Airlines’ flagship Airbus A380 ‘Suites Class’ and Boeing 777 first class cabins from Sydney or Melbourne.
A one-way journey from Sydney or Melbourne to Singapore sets you back an exact 80,000 KrisFlyer miles, which you can get by converting 106,666 Gateway points to KrisFlyer on a 4:3 basis from your AMEX Explorer credit card.
The first 100,000 Gateway points will be yours after that required $1,500 spend (for applicants prior to May 16 2017) – which itself earns a further 3,000 Gateway points – with the remaining 3,666 Gateway points landing in your account after charging an additional $1,833 to the card from your ongoing everyday purchases.
3. Book Virgin Australia business class through Etihad Guest
Although you can convert your Membership Rewards points directly into Virgin Australia Velocity points, the separate Etihad Guest frequent flyer program allows you to book the same flights as Velocity for fewer points overall.
For example, convert 90,134 Gateway points into 67,600 Etihad Guest miles and you’d have enough points for a return business class journey on Virgin Australia’s longest domestic routes such as between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and either Perth or Darwin – including flights with The Business – or from the same cities to Fiji and Denpasar (Bali, Indonesia).
Converting a further 9,200 Gateway points into 6,900 Etihad Guest miles also provides enough points for a one-way economy trek on mid-length Virgin Australia routes like Brisbane-Melbourne, for a grand total of 99,334 Gateway points spent.
4. Upgrade or book Virgin Australia flights to Los Angeles via Velocity
Switch 95,600 AMEX Gateway points for 71,700 Virgin Australia Velocity points and you could fly from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Los Angeles in Virgin Australia premium economy, one-way: being one route where the number of Velocity points needed is lower than via Etihad Guest.
Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers could instead use 60,000 Gateway points (45,000 Velocity points) for a one-way upgrade to business class from an Economy Freedom or Premium Saver ticket on the same route, and 33,334 Gateway points (25,000 Velocity points) to upgrade a higher-priced Premium fare to business class in the other direction.
Closer to home, Velocity members of all tiers can burn 96,000 Gateway points (72,000 Velocity points) for three one-way business class upgrades on Virgin Australia’s Sydney-Bali flights when booked on a Go Plus or Getaway economy fare, after converting points from their AMEX Explorer Card.
5. Upgrade or fly Emirates business class, first class via Skywards
Despite Emirates being based in Dubai, the airline also runs non-stop flights from Sydney to Bangkok and from Melbourne and Brisbane to Singapore: and on these routes, you could upgrade from economy to business class or from business class to first class by first converting your Gateway points into Emirates Skywards miles.
You’d need 40,000 Gateway points (30,000 Skywards miles) for a one-way upgrade from Economy Flex Plus to business class or from Business Flex Plus to first class, and 52,000 Gateway points (39,000 Skywards miles) to swap your Business Saver ticket for a first class suite or your Economy Flex ticket for a business class bed.
Book one fare type in each direction and that’s a solid 92,000 Gateway points spent: but if upgrades aren’t your thing, you could also convert 96,000 Gateway points into 72,000 Skywards miles for a return business class flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to New Zealand aboard the Emirates Airbus A380, courtesy of your AMEX Explorer Card.
Note that minimum transfer amounts (such as 5,000 Gateway points) and minimum transfer increments (such as converting points in multiples of 1,000) may apply and vary between American Express' frequent flyer partners: so convert all the points you need in one transfer to avoid getting stuck!