Excuse me while I geek out for a few minutes regarding my love of points and frequent flier programs.

When you become loyal to one airline alliance, it becomes hard to defect unless you really fly a lot. However, Membership Rewards® points from American Express can be transferred to a number of participating airlines throughout multiple alliances, relieving pressure on those of us who can’t quite bring themselves to defect from a preferred alliance. This makes me absolutely giddy. You know why?

I just realized that my life bucket list flight is achievable using Membership Rewards  points.

Before I get into that, I’m going to walk you through how and why I usually book long haul flights using mileage award tickets, because the reasons extend far beyond saving money.

Why I Prefer Using Airline Miles for Long Haul Flights

(I should start by mentioning that my experience is only with the oneworld Alliance and that you should always check for applicable restrictions and fees prior to booking because they do change.)

First and foremost, using miles—either ones you have earned by flying or those accrued through Membership Rewards points transfers—to book long haul flights provides a great deal of flexibility should something go wrong. I recently paid cash for business class tickets to Paris because they were on sale. You know what? It turns out that the lower price also came with less flexibility including change fees that are totally prohibitive. It’s not the first time we’ve come across this.

So, I bought travel insurance for the above tickets. The very best policies usually cover about 75% of your cash outlay, leaving a ton of money on the table not to mention the premium paid and hassle of filing a claim.

If I’m on a mileage award ticket in any class of service (not a cash-paid economy class ticket with a mileage upgrade to business or first) and my daughter gets sick, I can usually postpone the departure date without a fee.

Or, if you decide your destination is too fabulous to leave (which we have done), you can stay longer if another suitable flight is available with the same routing. And, if everything goes pear-shaped, you can usually release mileage tickets for a fee that is less than a typical change fee for a restricted premium class ticket.

It is amazing how relaxing this level of flexibility is, especially for international itineraries planned months in advance. I’d be lying if I told you that I’m not uneasy about our June Paris trip, even with travel insurance. A lot can happen between now and then.

How to Find Mileage Award Ticket Availability

You can actually check a number of websites to find out if mileage award tickets are available on the exact flights you are interested in taking. Awesome, right?

In the old days, I used to call the airline daily to check for availability as it can change on the drop of a hat. There isn’t any need to do this anymore. For example, all oneworld Alliance members need to find available mileage tickets within the alliance is a British Airways Avios account. Based on my experience, results generated are pretty spot-on and the search is free to use. This is the award availability I’m looking at for our return flight to San Diego from Hong Kong in the spring, to give you an idea of what search results look like.

Check long haul flight availability using a British Airways Avios account

Site affiliate, ExpertFlyer, is a subscription tool that can be handy though all airlines aren’t represented. It displays mileage award ticket and upgrade availability on a number of airlines in real-time. I love it.

Now, Which Frequent Flier Account to Use?

After finding mileage award ticket availability, decide which airline frequent flier program should receive a Membership Rewards points transfer. For our trip to Hong Kong, the frequent flier program receiving points needs to be British Airways or Asia Miles since these are the ones we have active.

Thank goodness most smartphones have calculators because a little math is involved. You need to know:

  • Your current airline frequent flier mile balance as well as your balance for Membership Rewards points.
  • How many miles each airline frequent flier program is going to require per ticket.
  • What the conversion rate of Membership Rewards points to desired airline frequent flier program is.
  • Whether or not there are any points transfer bonuses available that may be advantageous. (These are awesome when they happen.)
  • How long the points transfer is going to take. It is instant in a number of cases, which is great because time is always of the essence when securing a mileage award ticket.

Have your answer? Good. Here’s what to do next.

Just Book It

I can actually lay out a number of horror stories involving opportunities lost because I waited to book airline mileage award tickets and upgrades.

Like that one time I had to be in Germany on certain dates and mileage upgrade awards were free-flowing on the first day I checked. I forgot to book because I didn’t feel a sense of urgency. The next morning, availability had been shut down completely. It happens. I had a similar experience when planning our last China trip.

Alas, our schedules are such that I can’t quite execute our upcoming Hong Kong trip just yet, but I plan to sort it out the second I’m sure there is no scheduling conflict.

Remember, it’s possible to redeem (hopefully) leftover Membership Rewards points for theme park tickets, dining and retail gift cards, and other gear that makes family travel easier.

My Dream Trip Is Possible with Membership Rewards

Singapore Airlines suites class exterior vie

Do you know which of my bucket list trips I just realized is an excellent use of Membership Rewards points? Suites Class on Singapore Airlines—the privacy, amenities, stand-alone bed, turndown service, exquisite dining are unmatched and something I would love to experience just once. Plus, I love Singapore.

I don’t regularly fly within the Star Alliance so it would take me forever to accrue the 100,000+ KrisFlyer miles to book a one-way flight in Suites Class.

But, you know what? This trip can be done by transferring Membership Rewards points to KrisFlyer, based on availability, though I’d make myself available at almost any time to do it. Let’s see if my husband bites on that idea… it’s better than paying $18,000 cash or whatever it is, right?

The Bottom Line

Using airline miles to book long haul flights is more than just about saving money. It’s also about convenience and peace of mind. And, a program like Membership Rewards from American Express with a variety of points transfer airline partners can definitely help make dream trips a reality. Life is too short.

Do you have a bucket list overseas trip? Where?

*Photos are courtesy of Singapore Airlines.
**This post is written in partnership with American Express on behalf of the Membership Rewards Program

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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