How To Use Membership Rewards To Fly On The 10 Largest Airlines

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How To Book The 10 Largest Airlines In The World Using Amex Membership Rewards

How To Use Membership Rewards To Fly On The 10 Largest Airlines

Today, we will look at how to use Membership Rewards to book and fly on the 10 largest airlines in the world. After understanding what airlines are in the top 10, we’ll look at how to book and fly on all of them with Amex Membership Rewards. For many, we’ll do this by using their alliances and partnerships. It’s possible to fly all 10 of them using Membership Rewards points earned from credit cards.

What Are The 10 Largest Airlines In The World?

There are a bunch of ways to slice this. Is it the most passengers carried? The number of cities served? How many planes they own? The best combination, the one used for knowing which airlines to invest in, is ranking them by annual revenue. This helps us get a picture of worldwide presence, carrying lots of passengers, flying many people to many places, customers use the airline again and again, etc. So, the 10 largest airlines in the world by annual revenue are:

10. Air China
9. All Nippon Airways (ANA)
8. China Southern
7. Southwest Airlines
6. International Airlines Group (British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, & Vueling)
5. Air France-KLM
4. United
3. Lufthansa
2. American Airlines
1. Delta

How Do I Earn Membership Rewards?

American Express Membership Rewards are earned from their credit cards. For me, these are the best, most flexible points to have. The easiest way to get a lot of them is from welcome offers on their credit cards. Here are some current offers to take advantage of:

Some Of These Offers Have Ended Or Changed

  • The Platinum Card from American Express – Full of perks like monthly Uber credits, 5x points earning on airfare purchases, and Priority Pass lounge membership. The card has a $550 annual fee. For new cardmembers, you can earn 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months. It may be possible to get a targeted 100K or 125K offer though so try those first.
  • American Express Gold Card – Many people use this card for their daily purchases, because you earn 4x points at supermarkets, 4x points at restaurants, and 3x points on airfare. It has a $250 annual fee. For new cardmembers, you can earn 40,000 points after spending $4,000 in your first 3 months.
  • American Express Green Card – This card was refreshed last year and now earns 3x points on restaurants, public transit, and travel. The card’s annual fee is $150. For new cardmembers, you can earn 30,000 points after spending $2,000 in your first 3 months.
Why Amex Membership Rewards?

A key perk of Membership Rewards is that you can transfer them to numerous partners. They have 18 airlines and 3 hotel programs you can transfer points to. This allows us to use a variety of airlines for travel, rather than if your points are parked in 1 spot with 1 airline. There are occasional bonuses where you receive increased transfer ratios to really maximize the value of your Amex MR points. Now that we have them and know how to combine points in your airline accounts, we’re ready to book travel on the 10 largest airlines in the world.

Booking The 10 Largest Airlines Using Amex MR Points

From 10th place to 1st place, here’s how you can fly on the 10 largest airlines in the world using your Membership Rewards points. Not all bookings are created equal, and we previously looked at maxing out the value of Membership Rewards. Without considering “sweet spots” or ideal routing, here’s how we can fly on the 10 largest airlines.

10. Air China

Air China is a member of Star Alliance. I cannot transfer my Membership Rewards points directly to an Air China account to make bookings. However, I can transfer my MR points to their partners Air Canada’s Aeroplan, ANA, Avianca LifeMiles, and Singapore KrisFlyer. Using their programs, I can book flights on Air China.

Best Option: Air Canada’s Aeroplan

Use Amex Membership Rewards to fly on ANA

9. All Nippon Airways (ANA)

ANA also is a member of Star Alliance. I can transfer Membership Rewards straight from American Express to my ANA account and book flights from there.

8. China Southern

China Southern is a former member of SkyTeam, but they still partner with some of its airlines. I can’t transfer points directly from Amex to China Southern. Instead, I can transfer to their partners Aeromexico, Alitalia, Delta, or Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue program. Then, I can book flights on China Southern.

Best Option: Delta or Air France-KLM

Use Amex Membership Rewards to fly on Southwest via "pay with points"

7. Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is not a member of any alliances. It also does not accept points transfers from American Express. How can I use my Membership Rewards here? We have 2 options. We can use Amex Travel or go direct to Southwest. Unfortunately, you can’t book Southwest flights online at AmexTravel.com and have to call Amex Travel at 800-297-2977. Because Membership Rewards points can also be used to pay for purchases, you can buy your flights from the Southwest Airlines website, instead. Wait for the charges to post to your account, then use Amex chat or call the number on the back of your card. They can help you “pay with points” for the purchase. Yes, you can buy Southwest flights with Membership Rewards! Also, if you have Southwest set as your preferred airline with the Business Platinum Card, you’ll get some of those points back as a rebate.

Use Amex Membership Rewards to fly on British Airways

6. International Airlines Group (British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, & Vueling)

London-based International Airline Group owns British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, and Spain’s low-cost carrier Vueling. I can transfer my Membership Rewards points directly to British Airways, Iberia, and to Aer Lingus. I can also book flights from the account of one of these airlines to fly on the others, because of their partnerships.

5. Air France-KLM

Flying Blue, the rewards program from Air France-KLM, is a transfer partner of Membership Rewards. I can send my points straight to my Flying Blue account and then fly on Air France or KLM flights to my destination of choice.

Use Star Alliance partners to fly on United with MR points

4. United

Because of its credit card partnership agreements with Chase, United is not a transfer partner from American Express. However, I can use its Star Alliance partners to fly on United using Membership Rewards. I can transfer points to their partners ANA, Avianca LifeMiles, and Singapore KrisFlyer. Using their programs, I can book flights on United.

Best Option: Air Canada’s Aeroplan

3. Lufthansa

Because of its credit card partnership agreements with Barclays, Lufthansa is not a transfer partner from American Express. Again, we will use Star Alliance partners to fly on Lufthansa. Transfer points to ANA, Avianca LifeMiles, or Singapore KrisFlyer to fly on Lufthansa using Membership Rewards.

Best Option: Avianca LifeMiles (to avoid Lufthansa’s fees)

Using oneworld partners, you can use Amex MR and fly on some of the largest airlines in the world

2. American Airlines

American Airlines is a member of oneworld alliance. Because of its credit card agreements with Barcalys and Citibank, they’re not a transfer partner from American Express. Instead, I will transfer points to their partners British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, or even their non-oneworld partner Etihad Airways.

Best Option: British Airways for short flights, Etihad for long flights

You can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta, which is the largest airline in the world

1. Delta

By annual revenue, Delta Airlines is the largest airline in the world. They’re a founding member of SkyTeam and, luckily for us, a direct transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. Amex also is the official credit card partner, offering numerous Delta co-branded credit cards for personal and business accounts.

Final Thoughts

There we have it. It’s possible to use American Express Membership Rewards points to book and fly on the 10 largest airlines in the world. We looked at what those 10 airlines are and whether they’re transfer partners with Amex. When they aren’t, we looked at how to use partners or even “pay with points” to book these flights using points & miles.

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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2 COMMENTS

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Has anyone had luck using the instructions in this article to book Southwest flights with Amex Membership Rewards? Stories seem to vary across the internet as to how effective this actually is…and I’ve also heard that the redemption rate for Southwest is fairly poor.

    • I never fly Southwest, but you should be able to use your MR at 1 cent each to pay for items on your credit card bill, just like other travel expenses. However, Amex has a reputation for not seeing prices as low as what you see on the Southwest site, so that could sway you into the purchase/points rebate route rather than calling Amex Travel.

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