If you’ve gotten involved with US credit cards, chances are that you have an account with American Express US, perhaps as a result of initiating an American Express Global Transfer from the Canadian side.
One common misconception about the Global Transfer process is that the originating Canadian card gets closed as a result, and the points moved over to the US. In reality, your Canadian Amex relationship is merely being used to assess whether you’re creditworthy enough to be granted a US credit card with no existing history, so your Canadian card and points will very much remain intact.
But what if you did want to convert your Amex MR points between countries? Is it possible to convert your Canadian Amex MR points into US Amex MR points, and vice versa?
The answer is YES – and it unlocks an entire world of new opportunities.
The American Express International Transfer
Now, American Express doesn’t seem to publish any information on this topic on either their Canadian or US sites. However, if we turn to other regions – specifically, a set of Membership Rewards T&Cs from Amex UK (try using incognito mode if the link doesn’t work) – we can learn more about the process of transferring MR points between countries.
American Express describes the process as an “International Transfer”, which allows cardholders with another American Express card account, which is under the same name but denominated in a different currency, to transfer points from one account to the other.
Note the terminology here: an American Express Global Transfer refers to using an existing Amex card to establish a new Amex relationship in a different country, while an American Express International Transfer refers to transferring Membership Rewards points between accounts domiciled in two different countries.
Importantly, there is a timeframe restriction: you’re only allowed one International Transfer within a 12 month period. Furthermore, International Transfers are subject to an exchange rate conversion at the prevailing FX rate, and can take up to two weeks to complete.
The Transfer Process
Our summer intern, Andrew, recently went through this process, converting his Amex MR points from Canada to the US. He shares his experience below.
The first step in this process was to call Membership Rewards to begin the International Transfer procedure. It’s best to call the receiving country – in this case, that’s the Amex US call centre.
Their Customer Service phone number is 1-800-297-3276. They operate with generous business hours, offering service for the majority of the day on weekdays, with more limited operating hours on weekends.
I spoke to a representative, who took a moment to research the procedure; after that, she began the process to initiate the transfer. She took down my information, including the receiving card number, sending card number and country, the amount of points to be transferred, and my phone number.
Before concluding the call, I asked the representative how often an International Transfer could be done. She didn’t know the answer and went to look it up for me. She came back and read from their guidebook that it could be done once every 12 months. I later learned that this is on a per-cardmember basis, with the 12-month period beginning from the last time an International Transfer was done. So in my case, I wouldn’t be eligible for another transfer until around June 2020.
Three days later, a rep from the US side called to confirm the transfer. She communicated that the transfer process has begun and relayed a few more details about the expected timeline. True to her word, points were deducted from the Canadian side on the same day, appearing as an “Adjustment” on my Membership Rewards transaction log.
After seeing no sign of the points for a few weeks (although it was still within the timeline the rep had provided), I received another call from American Express, which went to voicemail. However, when I checked my Amex US account, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the points had shown up under “Canada Consolidation”!
The exchange rate applied to the International Transfer worked out to be 1.34836 CAD/USD, which roughly matched the prevailing foreign exchange rate at the time.
Something to be aware of is that American Express will call you many times throughout the process. They called to confirm the transfer has begun, they called when the transfer was complete, they called the next day to follow up, and then they sent me a secure message to let me know it’s all been taken care of. The reps that you deal with were all very willing to help, and would check their resources or with a supervisor if they didn’t know the answer to something (since the process is somewhat uncommon).
Overall, the procedure was very smooth, and while it took a few weeks to complete, I never felt that my points disappeared into a black hole, or anything like that.
So, now that we know how to transfer your Amex MR points between countries, let’s zero in on the Canada–US axis and figure out when it would beneficial to convert your MR points from one side to another.
Remember that every cardholder is limited to one International Transfer per 12-month period, so you should definitely approach this opportunity with a specific redemption goal in mind.
Comparing the Transfer Ratios Between US and Canada
First of all, let’s take a look the airline and hotel partners that are common to both countries’ Amex MR programs, to tease out any opportunities where it would be beneficial to transfer your points via the other country’s MR program first.
Let’s say you applied for the Canadian-issued American Express Business Platinum Card and earned 75,000 Amex MR points. If you transferred those points directly to partners, you’d get:
|Points Program||Transfer Ratio
from Canadian Amex MR
|75,000 Canadian Amex MR points
|Alitalia MilleMiglia||1:0.75||56,250 miles|
|British Airways Avios||1:1||75,000 Avios|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1:0.75||56,250 miles|
|Delta SkyMiles||1:0.75||56,250 miles|
|Etihad Guest||1:0.75||56,250 miles|
|Hilton Honors||1:1||75,000 points|
|Marriott Bonvoy||1:1.2||90,000 points|
Meanwhile, we can see from Andrew’s experience that 75,000 Canadian-issued Amex MR points would equal 55,623 US-issued Amex MR points at the prevailing exchange rate (of course, you should do your own math using the exchange rate at the time you’re converting points).
And if we were to transfer those 55,623 US-issued Amex MR points to the same airline and hotel partners, we’d get:
|Points Program||Transfer Ratio
from US Amex MR
|55,623 US Amex MR points
|Alitalia MilleMiglia||1:1||55,623 miles|
|British Airways Avios||1:1||55,623 Avios|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1:1||55,623 miles|
|Delta SkyMiles||1:1||55,623 miles|
|Etihad Guest||1:1||55,623 miles|
|Hilton Honors||1:1.2||66,748 points|
|Marriott Bonvoy||1:1||55,623 points|
We can therefore conclude that:
Marriott Bonvoy has a stronger transfer ratio (1:1.2) in Canada compared to the US (1:1); along with the exchange rate factor, that makes transferring from the Canadian side by far the superior option
Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Etihad, and Hilton Honors have a weaker transfer ratio in Canada compared to the US, which seems to somewhat mirror the difference in exchange rate; overall, you’d get a marginally better return by going through the Canadian side at the moment, though this analysis could change along with movements in the exchange rate
Knowing this, we can then examine the specific reasons why you might find it worthwhile to convert points across the 49th parallel.
Converting Amex MR Points from US to Canada
Canadian points collectors who have done an Amex Global Transfer to the US will likely find themselves with a stash of US-issued Amex MR points at some juncture. You have the ability of converting these US Amex MR points into Canadian ones – but why would you?
Well, as we showed above, if you were planning to use your US Amex MR points for any of the above eight programs, then it’s in your best interest to transfer those points to the Canadian side first, and then convert them into your chosen loyalty program.
You’d end up with a higher amount of miles in your chosen program than if you just transferred the US Amex MR points directly. The increase could be as high as 34% for Aeroplan and Avios, or even a whopping 62% for Marriott Bonvoy!
In fact, if any US-based Amex cardholders are reading this, and you frequently convert your Amex points to one of the above eight partners (but especially the three I’ve just highlighted), then it could well be in your interest to find a Canadian mailing address and do a Global Transfer up to Canada!
This would open the door to Canadian MR conversions, instantly boosting the value of your US-issued MR points by a cool 34–62%.
Meanwhile, if you don’t plan to use your US Amex MR points for one of the above programs, then there’s no real reason to convert them into Canadian MR points. After all, there are no additional airline or hotel partners up here in Canada compared to the United States; instead, all of the fun partners seem to be concentrated down in the US, which brings us to…
Converting Amex MR Points from Canada to US
If you hold Amex MR points in both countries, why might you want to convert points in the southbound direction?
By far the most compelling reason to do so is that you’d gain access to another 12 frequent flyer programs via the US Amex MR program, which unlocks a whole new world of redemption possibilities. These 12 programs are:
Aer Lingus AerClub (1:1)
Aeromexico Club Premier (1:1.6)
Air France/KLM Flying Blue (1:1)
ANA Mileage Club (1:1)
Avianca LifeMiles (1:1)
El Al Matmid (1000:20)
Emirates Skywards (1:1)
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles (1:1)
Iberia Plus (1:1)
JetBlue TrueBlue (5:4)
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (1:1)
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (1:1)
We could spend a whole day talking about all the new award chart sweet spots that Canadians would unlock through these programs. To pick a few of the most outstanding ones:
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club lets you fly to Europe in Delta One Suites for significantly fewer miles than Delta themselves; moreover, Virgin’s partnership with ANA lets you fly ANA First Class round-trip from North America to Japan for a staggeringly low 120,000 miles (as a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge 210,000 miles for the same redemption)
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer allows you to book Singapore Airlines’s coveted premium cabin redemptions on flagship routes, which are most often not available at all to partner programs
Air France/KLM Flying Blue often has Promo Rewards between Canada and Europe, allowing you to fly in business class on non-stop flights for as little as 45,000 miles one-way
Moreover, Amex US seems to implement conversion bonuses much more frequently than Amex Canada. For example, until July 1, 2019, you can earn a 30% bonus on transfers to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, which sweetens the deal on the aforementioned ANA First Class redemption even further!
(Oh, and on top of the 12 new airline partners, US Amex MR points can also be transferred to one more hotel partner: Choice Privileges.)
As you can see, for Canadians, the ability to transfer points to the US takes the already highly versatile Amex MR program to a whole new level. Instead of only eight airline and hotel partners, you really have an unbelievable TWENTY-ONE partners at your fingertips – with the caveat that you must plan your redemptions with the 13 US-based partner programs very carefully, as a result of the once-in-12-months rule surrounding International Transfers.
Lastly, there’s one more thing to note as regards transferring Amex MR points from Canada to the US.
If you are already feeling excited about what we’ve discussed so far, then… just wait, it gets so much better.
There’s a pretty unbelievable opportunity at hand here, which is almost too good to be true, so I’m going to be a little subtle about it. Go back and look at the screenshots that Andrew provided very carefully, and I’m sure you’ll figure it out. 😉
The American Express International Transfer, a strategy that hasn’t received much attention in Miles & Points circles thus far, can open up a wealth of new opportunities for points collectors on both sides of the border.
For Canadians, it’s all the more reason to get started with US credit cards, as it allows you to easily supplement your US Amex earnings with a Canadian points transfer and benefit from a vastly expanded pool of airline transfer partners. Meanwhile, American cardholders could consider setting up a presence in Canada as well, since they’d receive a huge boost when transferring points to a few select partners as a result. I look forward to hearing about how you're all planning to take advantage of this!