Reader Question: Best Way To Book Award Flight To Japan With American Express Membership Rewards Points

Today we received a Reader Question asking how to book a flight from the U.S. to Japan while utilizing a balance of Amex Membership Rewards points.

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Using Amex points one has various choices when it comes to redeeming points for flights, some of which are better than others.

Here is the question put forward by our reader Stephen:


I’m currently sitting on 172k amex membership points and want to book two ticket for my wife and I to Japan (we live in Washington, DC). Ideally we want to fly Business Class or better but the value for these points when booking a flight with American Express is extremely low while prices for tickets are high.

Any suggestions?

Indeed Stephen researched correctly that Amex points on face value have very little purpose unless you can find a cheap premium ticket. 1 Amex Membership Rewards point is worth US$0.01 so his 172,000 points can return a maximum of $1,720 which is merely a drop in the bucket when it comes to the price of a Business Class ticket.

Here is an example:

There are however much better options as in transferring points to one of American Express Transfer partners:

The best transfer partner here would probably be either Virgin Atlantic or ANA and then book an award flight using miles.

With Virgin Atlantic it would require 95,000 points per passenger to fly from DC to Japan (Amex transfer 1:1 to Virgin Flying Club) and the flight would be with ANA All Nippon Airways:

ANA’s own award chart is a little bit cheaper:

There are sometimes promotions for Amex to Virgin transfers which is why I outlined both otherwise it would obviously make very little sense to transfer to a more expensive program on the face of it.

If one would be able to fly from Los Angeles there’s also the possibility to take the Singapore Airlines flight to Narita but overall the ANA option solution is the best.


Stephen will be able to book two tickets to Japan by transferring 170,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to ANA Mileage Club and the (subject to availability) book the flights. Obviously taxes and fees apply as usual.

I’d not recommend using those Amex points for actual travel bookings or to offset charges from your card account on the 1 cent ratio. There is a way to get a little bit better return by opening a Charles Schwab Amex Platinum card and then transferring the points for 1.25 cent into the brokerage account which can then be cashed out. But other then that MR points are best used for mileage transfers and premium bookings.

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