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Travel Tuesday Top 10: Reasons Why I Like Amex Membership Rewards Cards

by on March 5, 2013 · 50 comments

in American Express, Top 10

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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

Update: The offer mentioned below for the Business Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.

Update: The 50,000 point sign up offer for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card is no longer available through the Card Match Tool.  Offers for the Business Gold Rewards and Business Platinum cards have expired. Please find the current offers here

The biggest piece of advice that I give to people who are putting together their miles and points strategy is to accrue flexible, transferable points. Planning a long-term, sustainable points strategy that will give you maximum return on redemptions should include accruing points that can be redeemed many ways, giving you maximum flexibility.

American Express Membership Rewards is Amex’s own points program that allows you to accrue points into a central pool and then transfer or redeem them a number of different ways. However, be warned that most of the Membership Rewards cards are charge cards, so you must pay your balance off in full every month or else you are hit with huge fees. I have numerous Membership Rewards cards and here are the top ten reasons why:

1. Signup Bonuses
Amex has gotten very aggressive lately with offering lucrative sign-up bonuses, presumably because Chase has really changed the marketplace within the past couple years with their Ultimate Rewards program (stealing transfer partners from Amex like United, Southwest and Priority Club). However, this heightened competition is good for consumers because there’s no better way to get excited about participating in a program than starting off with enough points for free flights.  Outside of corporate cards, there are 8 main Membership Rewards cards, excluding all Membership Rewards Express cards like the Blue (I don’t list them, because you can’t transfer your points with MR Express).

Amex Premier Rewards Gold at 50,000 points and the first year $175 waived

Amex Premier Rewards Gold at 50,000 points and the first year $175 waived

Personal
Premier Rewards Gold: The public sign-up bonus is only 25,000 points after $2,000 spend within 3 months with the $175 annual fee waived the first year, but many people are reporting success getting offered 50,000 points after spending just $1,000 in 3 months and the annual fee waived for the first year by putting their information into the Creditcards.com Card Match Tool (there is no credit pull for submitting the form to see what offers are available to you). More details and lots of reader comments about this amazing offer on this post.
Mercedes-Benz Platinum: 50,000 points after $3,000 spent within the first three months. $475 annual fee.
Platinum: 25,000 points after $2,000 spent within the first 3 months. $450 annual fee.
Mercedes-Benz Regular Credit Card: 5,000 points after your first purchase. $95 annual fee.
Gold: No sign-up bonus at this time. $125 annual fee, waived the first year.
Green: No sign-up bonus at this time. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.

Business
Business Platinum: 25,000 points after $5,000 spent within first 3 months. $450 annual fee.
Business Green: 5,000 points after your first purchase. $95 annual fee.
Business Gold Rewards: No current sign up bonus, but occasionally Amex will run 75,000 point sign up offers. $175 fee waived the first year.

2. Transfer Partners
While the Membership Rewards program has lost valuable partners like Continental and Southwest, there are still a lot of choices and depending on how you leverage each program, it is possible to get much more than 1 cent per point by transferring to programs and booking award tickets. I generally don’t transfer to hotels, though once in a while it makes sense to transfer to Starwood when they run 50% bonuses (bringing the ratio to 2:1), though I generally just stick to airlines.

Airlines
Star Alliance:
Air Canada Aeroplan, Singapore, All Nippon Airlines
Oneworld: British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific
Skyteam: Delta, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Alitalia, Aeromexico
Other: Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, El Al, Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines

Hotels
Starwood 3:1
Hilton 1: 1.5
Best Western 1:1
Jumeirah 23:1

To take an example of getting great value out of transferring Amex points to partners, Aeroplan only charges 95,000 miles for business class from the US to deep South America. A JFK to Rio de Janeiro roundtrip in business is 95,000 miles and $100. Aeroplan does not charge fuel surcharges on domestic awards and certain Star Alliance carriers, like Copa. They will charge ~$300 for United flights to Europe, but they start at 90,000 miles for roundtrip to Western Europe in business class, so even thought the fees are high, the amount of miles is less than what is requireed in most programs. For Star Alliance flights, always go to Aeroplan.com and check availability and fees before transferring- it may make more sense to transfer to ANA or Singapore Airlines instead.

NYC to Rio for in business class for 95,000 miles and $100

New York JFK to Rio in business class on United for 95,000 Aeroplan miles and $100

3. Transfer Bonuses
Though there are no current US transfer bonuses currently (there is a juicy 50% bonus to British Airways for Canadian cardholders), Amex frequently offers up to 50% when transferring points to partners. The most lucrative I’ve seen in the past have been: 67% to Delta, 50% to British Airways, 50% to Starwood, 35% to Virgin Atlantic and 35% to Air France/KLM Flying Blue.

A recent 30% bonus to British Airways

A recent 30% bonus to British Airways

4. Quickness of Transfers
Most transfers go through instantly, though some take ~48 hours (ANA, Singapore and Hawaiian). This is much better than programs like Starwood Preferred Guest, where transfers can take weeks, making it difficult to find and book awards.

5. Transferability to Others
While you cannot transfer Membership Rewards points to someone else’s Membership Rewards account, you can link others’ frequent flyer/guest programs to your Membership Rewards account and then transfer your points directly into their loyalty programs.
To add a program to your Membership Rewards account go: membershiprewards.com -> Points Summary -> Linked Travel Programs (bottom right corner) -> Scroll to the bottom of your linked programs and then link Link Additional Programs.
Amex Link Additional
6. Category Spending Bonuses
Several Membership Rewards cards have lucrative category spending bonuses:
Premier Rewards Gold: 3 points per dollar on airfare, 2 points per dollar on gas and groceries and a 15,000 point bonus when hitting $30,000 in spend within a calendar year
Business Rewards Gold: 3X points on airfare, 2X points on purchases in the U.S. for advertising in select media, gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, and shipping.
Mercedes Benz Credit Card 5 points per dollar on eligible Mercedes-Benz purchases, 3 points per dollar at gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations for each transaction of $400 or less, 2 points per dollar at US restaurants
Mercedes-Benz Platinum- 5 points per dollar on eligible Mercedes-Benz purchases

7. Points Advances
If you need extra points, Amex will let you advance yourself 15,000 free of charge (60,000 for Platinum cardholders). You just need to earn them back within the next year, or else you’ll be charged 2.5 cents apiece, which isn’t a terrible price. Points advances are not available on corporate cards and if you are a new cardholder, you may not have the ability until you build up at least 6 months of cardmembership.

Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership. Cardmembers will continue to receive access to participating Delta Sky Club lounges, Priority Pass Select (enrollment is required), and Airspace lounges in JFK, CLE and BWI airports.

8. Travel Perks
While the Platinum cards come with $450+ annual fees, the perks can be worth many times that. For $450 you get lounge access to Delta, American, US Airways, Alaska (via Priority Pass Select) as well as $200 a year in airline fee rebates, $100 Global Entry reimbursement and access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program. So not only do you bank valuable points, but you also get great perks.

9. Built-in Consumer Benefits
While specific benefits vary by card, when you use an American Express personal charge card, you get built-in benefits that can save hundreds, or thousands, of dollars over the years.
Purchase Protection: Amex will reimburse (The coverage is limited up to $1,000 per Occurrence, up to $50,000 per Card account per calendar year. $10,000 per occurrence for Platinum cardholders) if you purchase an item on your card and then it gets stolen or accidentally damaged within 90 days of purchase.
Return Protection:  If you try to return a designated item within 90 days from the date of purchase and the merchant won’t take it back, American Express may refund the full purchase price, up to $300 per item, excluding shipping and handling, and up to a maximum of $1,000 annually per cardmember account.
Extended Warranty: Extends the terms of the original U.S. manufacturer’s warranty for up to one additional year on eligible purchases with warranties of 5 years or less, when the eligible purchase is charged to the card.
Amex Shopping
10. Pay With Points
I personally use my points for transfers to partners, but along the theme of “flexibility” is everything with points, it’s good to have the option to redeem your points for any flight/hotel. Granted, the ratio is 1 cent per point (1.25 cents for Business Platinum cardholders), but the bright side is that you earn miles/points on flights and hotels stays purchased with Pay With Points, including elite-qualifying miles/points. Many credit card programs tout the ability to book “any flight any time”, but few actually also allow you to transfer points to partners as well, that’s why I like American Express Membership Rewards.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Points on the Dollar

    I think that the Mercedez Benz card should be 5,000, not 50,000 points.

  • thepointsguy

    Typo- fixed, thanks!

  • Lively

    Are you sure Priority Club is a transfer partner of American Express.

  • thepointsguy

    They no longer are- used to be, but now they are exclusive transfer partners of Chase

  • Hitt Greg

    looks like MB regular credit card is only 5000 points, not 50000

  • http://twitter.com/tenchirob7 Robert Marin

    What if I want to transfers my miles from delta to say like Continental.. Will it work?

  • thepointsguy

    No- you generally cannot transfer airline miles from one to another. And FYI continental no longer exists (it is now United). :-)

  • http://twitter.com/tenchirob7 Robert Marin

    oops, my bad. Thanks for the heads up

  • Alpine

    Cardmatch is giving me the following error: “based on the information provided by you, we could not find a match with the credit bureau. This is not a reflection of your credit quality.” Although you say they don’t run a credit check, they may do a “soft” inquiry. I have credit freezes at each of the bureaus and I’m thinking this is the likely cause. Has anyone else with a credit freeze been unable to view card offer from cardmatch?

  • thepointsguy

    Interesting- try again without your social

  • eip

    Is it true that transferring Amex points to Delta costs something?

  • Casanbu

    Isn’t the SPG card a much better option for accruing points? I have been a long time Amex fan, but only on airfare (Amex 3:1 SPG) does the Amex match the SPG in terms of points. In all other types of expenses, you’d be better off to accrue the points in SPG. I get the value of flexibility, but I’m DFW based (AA flights) and SPG seems to have the best value in hotels. For these two major categories, wouldn’t I be best off to start with SPG points?

  • Squeezer

    The Points Guy, do you have an article on converting Chase Sapphire Preferred Points to Chase Ultimate Rewards, then transferring the points to an airline partner and booking a flight? I have an upcoming trip to Portland, Or, and I recently met the spending requirements on the Sapphire card to get 40,000 points, but I’m unsure of all the steps I need to follow to ensure that I get the trip paid with miles. I can fly Delta, US Airways or American as they are the airlines that service my local airport.

  • http://twitter.com/TheDealMommy Dia Adams

    I wanted to just add a quick plug for their roadside assistance on the Plat: up to $50 per incident, and concierge service. This one helped us out with a roadside repair…they had a tow truck to us in 20 minutes.

  • thepointsguy

    For each conversion of points into the Frequent Flyer program of a U.S. airline, a fee of $0.0006 per point, with a maximum fee of $99, will be charged to your Card account.

  • davep

    Although a little out of the scope of points, AmEx, especially platinum, has a lot of other benefits, one of those being med evac. A couple months ago a friend of a friend had a heart attack while in the Caribbean. AmEx arranged, at night on a holiday weekend, for a med evac plane to transport him and family back to Miami, for no charge. Not something that is widely used, but if needed is a godsend.

  • Peepoo

    Would Amazon purchases be better put on Amex rather than Amazon branded card?

  • Pingback: Amazing Deal Alert: Limited Time 75,000 Points For Amex Business Gold Rewards Card | The Points Guy()

  • JTP

    TPG- I think the cardmatch tool is offering $1000 minimum spend as opposed to $2000 as stated in your post?

  • Paulie

    First time poster as I’m fairly new at this. But I jumped last weekend on an Amex Platinum invitation: 100K points after 3K spend in 3 mos. I also took advantage of the PRG invitation for 50k points. I’m hoping since I was approved for both nearly simultaneously, I’ll get 150K as a sign-up. This article confirms that taking Amex up on these invitations was probably a good move.

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks I fixed it!

  • Wes

    For us the most coveted AMX-Platinum (we have four Platinum cards (2 personal, 2 personal MB cards) is the cruise benefits that come with the card.
    By being an AMX-P card holder and booking/paying for your cruise with an AMX (not an AMX cobranded card like Delta or Costco) card with Azamara, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Oceania, Paul Gauguin, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, Uniword or Windstar–you get a $300 Ship Board Credit. On some lines (e.g., Silversea, Seabourn) you get a bottle of Dom as well as the $300 SBC..almost makes the $450 annual fee for one booked cruise. We book 2-3 cruises a year–so our platinum cards are golden.

  • Robertjbarron

    Have to agree with davep. But if you don’t have the Plat Card, you can still get an Aeromedical Evac plan from AMEX for dirt-cheap.I have a plan with them that only costs $109.00 per year, but when you imagine what an emergency aeromedical evac could cost….I think you’d be seriously lacking in judgment not to spend the minor amount it requires…especially since it could save you thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars.

  • BML

    I’d like to use my Amex points on hotels but they don’t have any good hotel partners. Are there any airlines that can transfer to hotel programs that you’re aware of? Especially the ones that’re Amex’s airline transfer partner?

  • JTP

    The CSP Points are UR points. The premium Chase cards (CSP, Ink Bold, etc) can transfer to airlines and hotels and whatnot. You just have to go into the ultimate rewards website through your chase account and you should see a transfer option.

  • Susan

    Am I not understanding correctly? You have the Hilton conversion listed as 1:1.3 but on the Amex site it shows that 1000 Amex points = 1500 Hilton points. Wouldn’t that be 1:1.5?

  • thepointsguy

    That was a typo – fixed it, thanks!

  • Ldretzka

    New, first post.
    First thanks for all the info you share with us here, lots to figure out but lots of benefit once you have. I have two questions for you:
    1. I have tried Cardmatch twice, two different days, and get this response:
    Currently, our systems are not responding. Please try again later or call/contact us as follows:

    To apply by phone or for product information — 1-800-223-2670.

    We apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to serving you.

    I will call but thought I would ask here first.

    2. Also I have a AmEx Blue card with lots of points but just found out that I can’t transfer them to airlines, etc. If I get a new AmEx Gold can I transfer points from my Blue card to the Gold card? Then I can transfer them to airlines for a better use of the miles.

    Thanks for any help that you can offer.

  • Rob

    Try using another browser with the cache cleared, that should solve it.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes, once you open up a card that earns premium Membership Rewards points like the Premier Rewards Gold or the Platinum Card, you can combine your points and transfer them to partners.

  • HollyS

    What happens to the points when you cancel the card before the annual fee is charged? Do you lose them? I am wanting to amass some spg points so I was also wondering how often they offer bonus transfers with spg.

  • Ldretzka

    Thanks so much!
    Safari and Chrome did not work but Firefox did.

  • So, so new to all of this

    I am so new to this. So, although you can no longer transfer rewards to SW, you can still use the rewards to buy $500 in airline tickets?

  • Flyer708

    Can someone tell me why Jumierah’s rate is 23:1 and what’s so good about them, and why I should even think about it remotely?

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  • Miles

    Regarding the cards that have Membership Rewards Express, why exclude those?

    My understanding is that if you also have a regular Membership Rewards card, the points from the Express card will get pooled together into your regular MR account.

  • thepointsguy

    I wouldn’t think about it- I did the math and redemptions require a ton of points generally

  • thepointsguy

    Yes you can drill use pay with points to but airfare at 1 cent a point

  • Pingback: Travel Tuesday Top 10: Lesser Known Amex Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners | The Points Guy()

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  • Billy D

    My mother has 52,000 Amex MR points and she only flys United domestic; don’t ask me why but at 87 years old, I’m just happy she still happy she still likes to fly; what is my best way to utilize those points for United flights? Thanks!

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  • disqust101

    Very interesting. Last year, my wife’s cousin broke his back in South Africa hand gliding and was quoted as much as $128K to get a medical flight back home. After a few weeks in the hospital, they eventually bought a few first class tickets and flew back home on his back the entire way – “only” cost ~$50K…

  • disqust101

    SPG is a mediocre card to have in your wallet as they only earn 1x (or 1.25x when transferred in 20K chunks to airlines). SPG hotel award redemptions are the worst of all the major hotel chains.

    PRG is one of the best cards you can have if you manufacture spend. 2x at grocery/gas plus 15K bonus for $30K spend, plus Amex transfer bonuses to various partners makes it very attractive card. I rate it #2 behind Inks.

    That said, MRs have limited transfer partners, so you have to decide if getting 2-3x more points for dollar of spend makes up for that limitation (to me, their big earning advantage is a no brainer). Upside is you can transfer in 1K increments and transfers are very fast, if not instant.

    MRs aren’t a worthwhile hotel transfer partner as redemptions aren’t attractive. But MRs are very attractive for airlines (you can transfer to all three alliances), particularly if you can take advantage of some of Amex’s transfer bonuses. You can get as many as 3x more airline points with a PRG than SPG.

  • Pingback: New Amex Business Gold Rewards Bonus Category – 2X Points On Computer Purchases | The Points Guy()

  • Gokul

    I am not directly answering your question. Bit, related to the context.. You also have an option in Amazon to pay with AMEX points.

  • Shannon

    Why do you say that SPG award redemptions are the worst? I stay at Starwood props way way way cheaper than Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt.

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