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Overview: The Canadian American Express Membership Rewards Program

by on May 1, 2012 · 16 comments

in American Express, Canada

Back in February, I wrote about the “Best Canadian Credit Cards for Miles and Points, which prompted a few readers to ask me what exactly the differences are between American Express’ Membership Rewards program in the US and that in Canada, so I thought I’d take a look.

You can find out all about the US program by having a look at my presentation from last year’s Chicago Seminars.

For now, let’s have a look at the ins and outs of the Canadian program and do a quick comparison concerning the travel partners and transfer potential of Canadian Membership Rewards points.

There are some very big differences when it comes to redemptions, including the number of partners, and the transfer ratios.

Airline and Hotel Partners

Airlines:
Air Canada, 1,000 points: 1,000 miles
Alitalia: 1,000 points: 750 miles
British Airways: 1,000 points: 1,000 Avios
Asia Miles: 1,000 points: 750 miles
Delta: 1,000 points: 750 miles

The US program has additional partners of Aeromexico, ANA, El Al, Flying Blue (Air France/KLM), Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic, though not Asia Miles, and the transfer ratios are usually 1:1 rather than 1:0.75.

Hotels:
Priority Club: 1,000 points: 800 Priority Club Points
Hilton HHonors: 1,000 points: 1,000 HHonors
Starwood Preferred Guest: 1,000 points: 500 Starpoints

The US program has additional partners of Best Western Rewards, Choice Privilege and Jumeirah. The other two differences to point out are that the transfer ratio to Priority Club is 1:1, to HHonors is 1:1.5 and that the transfer ratio to Starwood is actually worse in the US at just 3:1 rather than 2:1, so Canada has the US beat there.

The key difference is that the US program runs frequent transfer bonuses, while the Canadian one does not. This is a huge downside to the Canadian program, including the dismal 1:.75 transfer ratios.

Amex Travel

Much like the US program, Canadians can also just use their points at a set value of one cent apiece to pay for travel. In the US it’s called Pay With Points, while in Canada it’s just done by booking through Amex Travel. Canadians can also pay with points via the TripFlex feature where they can book travel with their carrier, agent or entity of choice and pay with their Amex card then request a statement credit. The ratio is at 1 cent per point as well.

Other Redemptions

Canadian Membership Rewards members can also use their points to pay for vouchers at restaurants, theme parks, movie theaters, and various other stores selling electronics, home & garden, business and home office equipment, clothing and other outlets, though the ratio is often well below one cent per point, so in general these are not good options for pulling a lot of value out of your points—same as in the US!

Current Bonuses
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the sign-up bonuses tend to be smaller than here in the US, so our neighbors to the north are usually out of luck on that account, plus you don’t get the same lucrative spending categories that you do in the US (3x airfare and 2x gas and grocery on the personal and 2x gas and shipping on the business card).

While Canadians generally get offered lower sign-up bonuses than in the US, right now you can get the Business Gold Rewards card with 25,000 points after $3,000 in spend within 3 months. The $180 annual fee is waived the first year. The personal Gold card has a 15,000 points after $500 in spend within 3 months with the $150 annual fee also waived for the first year.

Since the Canadian Membership Rewards program has less than stellar transfer ratios to airlines, it might make the most sense to get the Canadian Starwood American Express since those points transfer at a 25% bonus to over 30 airline partners including Aeroplan, American, Delta, and US Airways.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Michael
  • thepointsguy

    Nice- I updated the links. For anyone applying, use RSVP code 10000 to waive the first year fee!

  • Rewards Canada

    The personal Gold Rewards Card does have a bonus like the US version except it is 2x points for gas, grocery, drug store and all travel purchases

  • thepointsguy

    Interesting- very weird that they don’t actively market that. I’ll update the post

  • Rewards Canada

    It is marketed very actively up North here on TV, in print and right on the home page of the Amex.ca site. Maybe not so much in the Membership Rewards section however.

  • Simon

    There is a current 50% transfer bonus from MR to Avios (May 1 -31). I had to call Amex to do the transfer manually because the online transfer generated an error. The first rep I spoke to didn’t even know British Airways was a transfer partner, once they confirmed that they told me that the 50% offer had expired! I now have confirmation from a rep that it started to today and runs through the end of the month, the extra points will be credited to my Executive Club account when the transfer goes through in a few days so it is not instant like Aeroplan or SkyMiles. IMHO, the Gold Rewards card is hands down the best points card in Canada.

  • Greg

    Thanks for doing a piece on the Canadian Amex rewards card. I found it very informative.

    How did you get your information? I tried to get the information myself and the website is horrible. It is very nice to get a description of the benefits in one place. The only way I was able to get some of my information was by asking on flyertalk. I could try calling, but find agents are misinformed or give vague information like oh the MR rewards can be transftered to airline partners – but don’t easily give out the details like 1 – .75 asia miles etc.

    Another set of benefits that I would like clarified is the Amex Business Platinum rewards card in Canada. That is the card I think I want but am waiting to find the details. I believe it gives
    - 50,000 point sign up (targeted or you have to beg or have the magic handshake)
    - Fairmont Platinum after 5 nights (which includes free night certificate and suite upgrade certs)
    - Fine Hotels and Resorts, FHR, membership for stays at fine properties that often includes breakfast and resort credits
    - Priority Pass type lounge progam (again very few details)

    Not sure why Amex tries to keep their cards a mystery – thanks for your efforts in showing off the benefits of the cards.

  • Dan

    I moved back to Canada and switched from the US platinum to the Canadian platinum and was very disappointed at first… That said, it is worth mentioning that despite the lower transfer ratios, the platinum card accrues MR at the rate of 1.25MR points per $ spent, so Aeroplan miles and Avios actually accrue at 1.25 points per dollar (vs. 1 for 1 in US) and all other airline partners accrue at 0.9375 points per dollar (still not 1 for 1, but not as bad as 0.75 to 1 might seem). If you can get the 50% bonus as Simon did, it can become fairly attractive.

    Also worth noting that the business gold card gets you 15K bonus after spending $50K and an additional 25K bonus after spending $100K, so $100K in purchases gets you 140K MR points (actually better than the business platinum card which would only give you 125K MR points in that scenario)

  • Ryan

    Thanks for giving us Canadians some love! I believe the Canadian Amex has worse transfer rations because they were set years ago when the Canadian dollar was worth only about 70% of the USD, so it kind of made sense not to offer full value on transfer. None of the other CCs in Canada did that and in fact there used to be huge value relative to the USD program depending on the exchange rate. Now that the US and CDN are at par it would only be fair for Amex to equalize the rates.

    There is also a non-advertised Amex Corporate Platinum card that offers 1.5 MR per dollar. If you qualify (they visit your business in person) its a pretty good deal.

    Another problem with acquiring points in Canada is Amex is the only issuer that ever offers 1st year free (and even that not too often). Expensive for churners. Best value card up here IMO is probably the RBC Avion that has for the last 6-7 years twice-annually 50% promotions on transfers to BA.

  • Rewards Canada

    “the platinum card accrues MR at the rate of 1.25MR points per $ spent, so Aeroplan miles and Avios actually accrue at 1.25 points per dollar (vs. 1 for 1 in US)”

    Depending on your spend the Personal Gold Rewards card will earn even more than the Platinum card, see here:
    http://blog.rewardscanada.ca/2012/04/which-credit-card-earns-most-aeroplan.html

  • Joe

    This conversion bonus is quite nice considering not too long ago the regular conversion rate was 1:0.75 just like Alitalia, Delta, and Asia Miles. Looking at my MR balance, all of a sudden I’ve got enough for a CX ticket in First YVR-HKG using avios. Can anyone tell me what sort of taxes/fees I’d be looking at if using Avios with CX?

  • arcticbull

    You should be looking at about $368.11 based on a revenue fare plus a phone booking fee of $25 and probably some misc fees (they told me at one point there was a “channel fee” of $40 on top of the $25 for booking by phone).

    Conservatively you’re looking at 425~650 per ticket. A much better deal than redeeming to Europe :P

  • arcticbull

    On the other hand 10K is a very low offer for the Canadian SPG. It’s easy to find it at 15K and it’s been 20K recently. That’s probably good to keep in mind.

  • Pingback: The Top Travel Credit Card Offers for Canadians | The Points Guy

  • Pingback: (Canada) 50% British Airways Transfer Bonus With Amex Membership Rewards Through March 31 | The Points Guy

  • Dan Rydell

    Much better offers for SPG American Express in Canada are available now. Use a referral link to get 21,000 Starwood points.

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