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American Express recently announced a partnership with McDonald’s that lets you redeem Membership Rewards points to pay for your purchase when you use your eligible Amex card at participating locations. This service — which follows a similar Amex partnership with Uber earlier this year, and one with Amazon last year — is available at some locations now, and will be fully available by December 2, 2014 at any McDonald’s with the right payment systems installed.
To pay with points, just log in to your Amex account either through the mobile app or online, select the Use Points for Charges feature, and locate the eligible purchase in your transaction history. You can redeem points at a rate of 1 cent apiece for now, though the program terms specify that this is a temporary promotional rate valid until December 2, 2015. To me, this implies that after one year the redemption rate will drop below 1 cent.
In my most recent monthly valuations, I list Membership Rewards at 1.9 cents apiece, so even at the higher promotional rate, redeeming for McDonald’s purchases doesn’t provide very good value. I’d rather save my points for transfers to air and hotel partners, not to mention that I’d rather pay with a card that offers a category spending bonus for dining.
That said, it does beat the redemption rate for gift cards (usually about 0.84 cents apiece) or for Amazon purchases (0.7 cents apiece). If you don’t have enough Membership Rewards points to take advantage of more lucrative options, you could do worse. Note, however, that you can’t redeem for purchases of less than $1, so the 99-cent menu is strictly off limits if you’re in a state with no sales tax.
One incentive of this partnership is that every time you use points to cover your purchase, Amex will donate $1 to Ronald McDonald House Charities, which supports programs that contribute to the health and general well-being of children. There’s no minimum purchase requirement for these donations, so even a $1 purchase and corresponding points redemption will qualify.