Amex Membership Rewards 25% Discount on Hotels Transfers and Gift Cards

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I’m always excited to check out American Express’ Membership Rewards homepage on the first and 15th of every month because that’s when they normally launch transfer bonuses. Especially coming off some recent good ones like the 50% British Airways and Starwood bonuses, I was expecting something decent this month. Yet sadly there’s currently not a single airline bonus and only a 25% “discount” on hotel transfers and gift cards until June 30, 2012. To say I’m having a transfer bonus hangover would be putting it lightly.
Note: This seems to be targeted- I have a Membership Rewards First account thanks to my Amex Platinum, so if you just have a Gold/Premier Rewards/ Green card your bonuses may be lower.

I got excited to see so much red “special” text, but was underwhelmed with the details.

So lets take a look at the 25% hotel discount promotion, which has been going on for a while now, but I’ve been too lazy to write about because it’s not really that great of a deal. Instead of a transfer bonus, this is coded as a “discount” so they keep the ratio the same, but require 25% less base points to transfer. That means:
1,000 750 Amex points = 333 Starwood, a 1:.44 ratio
1,000 750 Amex points = 1,500 Hilton, a 1:2 ratio
1,000 750 Amex points = 1,000 Choice, a 1: 1.33 ratio
Note: Best Western, Jumeirah and Priority Club transfers are not discounted.

A 25% discount is essentially a 33% bonus

I personally transferred a bunch of Amex points to Starwood when the ratio was 2:1, so the current ratio of 1:0.44 doesn’t really excite me and I’ll hold off until something better (hopefully) comes along. The Hilton promo is decent, but was recently as high as 1:2.5 utilizing the Virgin Atlantic bonus and transfer route described here. I suppose using 25,000 Amex points to get a top-tier free night that would cost $500+ (in London, for example) might make sense, but I’m not clamoring to cash in for Hilton points. Lastly, Choice (the loyalty program of Comfort Inn and Quality Inn) doesn’t have many properties that I personally think would be worth using valuable Amex points on, and they recently had a 50% bonus, so this 25% discount is underwhelming.

Amex is also discounting hotel gift cards. For example you can now get Best Western, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton  gift cards in the following increments:
6,000 4,800 for a $50 gift card, 1.04 cents a point
12,000 9,600 for a $100 gift card, 1.04 cents a point
30,000 24,000 for a $250 gift card, 1.04 cents a point

Not really a good deal, unless you are rich in Amex points and looking to save on hotels and using hotel points either isn’t an option or doesn’t make sense. If you are only getting 1 cent per point in value from your points via gift cards, you should look into getting the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card card, which essentially gets you 2% back on all purchases. Amex Platinum cardholders get 1.25 cents per point in value towards Amex Travel redemptions, so these gift cards would make very little sense unless they were being purchased as gifts.

The bottom line is that American Express Membership Rewards points are most valuable when transferred to airlines and redeemed for awards- especially when an airline is running a lucrative transfer promotion. I’m personally holding tight on transferring any points this month until something better comes along. To be honest, I’m shocked that there have been so few Delta transfer bonuses this year and hope that dry spell comes to an end soon!

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