What are American Express Membership Rewards points worth?

Dec 23, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

For as long as I can remember, American Express Membership Rewards points have sat at or near the top of TPG’s monthly valuations of loyalty currencies. According to TPG’s valuations, Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents each, tied with Chase Ultimate Rewards but noticeably higher than nearly all individual airline and hotel points.

However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll get exactly two cents in value every time you redeem your points. Instead, it’s intended as a general guide as you go through the booking process. In fact, many of my proudest Amex redemptions have been at much higher rates — though there are many less-ideal uses of Amex points too.

New to The Points Guy? Sign-up for our daily newsletter and check out our beginner’s guide.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at how much Amex Membership Rewards points are worth.

In This Post

How to earn Amex points

Unlike airline loyalty programs, the only way to earn Amex Membership Rewards points is by having at least one open (and eligible) American Express credit card. Note, this doesn’t apply to the issuer’s cobranded cards — like the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express or the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card — as these earn points or miles in the given partner’s currency.

READ MORE: The surprising reasons why 2020 is the year of cobranded travel credit cards

Amex issues a wide variety of Membership Rewards-earning cards, including personal and business varieties and both charge and credit cards, but here are a few of the current top offers that are available:

Do note, however, that not all Amex-issued and branded cards participate in the program. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express awards cash back from your spending, not Membership Rewards points.

You can also earn bonus Membership Rewards points through Rakuten, one of the most popular online shopping portals. Once you set your earning preference to Amex points (rather than cash back), you can take home bonus points at thousands of online retailers just for clicking through to their site from Rakuten.

Further Reading: Best American Express credit cards

Finally, on any of these cards, you’ll likely be targeted for a variety of Amex Offers, giving you the chance to earn bonus points (or discounts) for a variety of purchases. It’s another excellent way to boost your Membership Rewards account balance.

Redeeming Amex points for cash back

If long-haul flights represent one of the best possible values for Amex points, then redeeming them for statement credits is one of the worst. You can technically use your Membership Rewards points to erase eligible charges from your statement (essentially a cash-back redemption). Still, I strongly recommend against ever doing this since Amex only values your points at 0.6 cents each if you redeem this way.

The online portal to cover your credit card charges using American Express Membership Rewards points
Screenshot courtesy of American Express

If your goal is to earn cash-back rewards to go shopping or help pay the bills, check out TPG’s list of top cash-back credit cards instead of trying to use Membership Rewards points this way.

Redeeming Amex points for gift cards

Amex partners with several different retailers to offer both physical and electronic gift cards in various denominations. If you choose to go this route, each Amex point will typically get you 1 cent worth of value (so a $50 gift card would be 5,000 points). This is better than the statement credits redemption option, but it’s still pretty low and should only be considered a last resort. Amex points don’t expire as long as you keep at least one Membership Rewards card open, so there’s no reason to rush into a low-value redemption.

Note that American Express will occasionally offer bonuses for these redemption options with select retailers. These can provide a discount of anywhere from 10-30% — but still falls well short of the value you can get below.

Redeeming points through the Amex Travel portal

While we focus a lot on the value of transferable points here at TPG, you can only maximize them if your preferred airline or hotel has award space available. If you need to travel on fixed dates — especially on a premium route like New York to Los Angeles — this might pose a problem. If you’ve exhausted all your other options, you can get a decent value by redeeming your points directly through the Amex Travel portal. Different types of travel come with different redemption values, and you might get a boost depending on which cards you have.

Flights

Let’s start with flights, where you can redeem your points at a fixed rate of 1 cent each. This can be great to stack with a cheap fare sale, but it isn’t always the best option available.

However, if you have any of the following Amex business cards, you can receive a rebate when you use Pay with Points for eligible flights:

These rebates are valid on first- or business-class flights with any airline, or you can enjoy them for economy flights with your designated airline for your annual fee credits. You need to have the full number of points in your account at the time of booking, and the rebate will post to your account within six to 10 weeks.

Utilizing one of these rebates can bring your redemption value up from 1 cent per point to 1.33 with the Business Gold card, 1.54 with the Business Platinum, and an even 2 cents with the Business Centurion card. As a bonus, you’ll earn both redeemable miles and elite-qualifying miles on tickets booked this way, as the airlines treat them the same as cash bookings.

Hotels

Hotels typically fall into the category of bad Amex redemptions that you should try to avoid. With nearly all hotels, you can redeem your points at a rate of 0.7 cents each towards the room rate. Not only is this a pretty low value compared to some of the other options, but also, since these are third-party bookings, you won’t usually earn hotel points or elite credits for your stay.

The one exception is Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, a luxury hotel program that’s only available to Platinum and Centurion cardmembers. If you pay with points to book one of these properties, you’ll get 1 cent of value per point and receive elite-like benefits for your stay, including free breakfast, room upgrades, late checkout and usually a dining or spa credit.

However, I’d again encourage you to avoid this option. Remember that prepaid Fine Hotels & Resorts bookings are eligible for 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, so you’re forgoing those bonus earnings if you redeem Amex points. This opportunity cost drops your final redemption value lower than 1 cent per point.

How much are points worth when you transfer to partners?

Transferring your Amex points to its partners is where you’ll usually find the most valuable redemptions. Amex partners with a whopping 19 airlines plus three different hotel programs — though I’d recommend sticking with airlines, as the hotel chains typically don’t offer consistent value. Among those 19 airlines, you’ll find a mix of gems and programs you can comfortably ignore. The list also includes at least one airline from each of the major alliances: Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld.

You’ll get the absolute best value out of your Amex points (and most other transferable points and airline miles as well) when redeeming them for long-haul flights in first or business class. This is partly due to the absurd cash prices of these tickets — the more expensive the cash value, the higher a redemption value you’ll get — and because of the unique luxury experiences these flights can provide.

I’ll share two examples of recent redemptions I’ve made that have netted me over 10 cents per Membership Rewards point, which is an incredible deal compared to TPG’s valuation of 2 cents each.

The first was for a Delta One Suites flight from Detroit (DTW) to Shanghai (PVG). While American Express allows you to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to Delta SkyMiles, Delta wanted a whopping 180,000 SkyMiles for this particular flight, much more than I was willing to pay. Instead, I was able to transfer just 60,000 miles to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and book the same ticket. Since this business-class ticket was pricing at $6,773, my redemption was worth 11.3 cents per point ($6,773 ÷ 60,000 = 11.3 cents/point).

Further Reading: TPG Points Lab: Save miles booking Delta awards with Virgin Atlantic

Delta One Suites (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)
Delta One Suites. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

More recently, I was flying from Beijing (PEK) to New York-JFK and jumped at the chance to review Air China’s first-class on the 747-8. Air China is one of just three airlines to operate this next-generation jumbo jet, and I was curious (and ultimately very impressed) with the onboard product.

For this trip, I turned to my favorite Amex transfer partner: Avianca LifeMiles. LifeMiles ran a 10% off award sale on this route when I booked, so we only had to spend 81,000 miles instead of the standard 90,000. For a $10,000 cash ticket, this gave us a redemption value of about 12.5 cents per point, and it gave me a very comfortable ride across the Pacific.

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

You’ll need to spend some time studying Amex’s list of transfer partners to identify the ones that complement your travel plans. Still, I would generally recommend focusing your efforts on the following frequent flyer programs:

Whether you’re looking to fly somewhere far away in a fancy first-class suite or travel around North America as many times as possible, these programs can help you do so for the smallest amount of miles possible. If you look at TPG’s monthly valuation series, you’ll see that these ten programs — which cover most of the best-value Amex redemptions — have an average valuation of just over 1.4 cents per point. In fact, not one of Amex’s transfer partners is valued at 2 cents per point or higher, so how is it that Membership Rewards as a whole earn such a lofty valuation?

The answer, in a word, is flexibility. When TPG assigns Delta SkyMiles a value of 1.2 cents each, that’s because many redemptions under the carrier’s dynamic award-pricing scheme represent a mediocre value. However, you can find above-average values with many partner airlines. The same holds true for Aeroplan, British Airways and many of the other programs.

The big difference? You aren’t forced to use a single program. Having Membership Rewards points and the transfer flexibility they offer lets you cherry-pick the very best from each program. Instead of being forced to use Delta miles, you can arbitrage award rates as I did with Virgin Atlantic. You can even look for alternate routings that get you where you need to go for fewer miles. It’s tough to overstate the value of this so-called “flexibility premium,” but it’s the reason that your Amex points can get you all around the world pretty much any day of the week.

All that said, there are two important reminders when it comes to transferring your Amex points to partners:

  • Not all transfers are instantaneous: We’ve tested transfer times for all of Amex’s partners, and unfortunately, only 15 processed instantly. All the others did complete within a couple of days. However, if you’re going after a tough-to-find award, be aware of those that take some time. Note that this is why we suggest transferring points to British Airways and then using Combine My Avios to utilize the Iberia Plus program.
  • All transfers are final: When you transfer Amex points to partners, you can’t reverse the transaction. This is especially important with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but is always something to keep in mind. If you ultimately need to cancel a trip booked with points or miles that you transferred from Amex, you’ll be left with the converted currency — you can’t change them back to Membership Rewards points.

How should you use your Amex points?

With this in mind, I believe that it’s important to have a plan in place for how you might want to redeem your points before you start earning them. Of course, travel plans change, and spontaneous trips can end up being some of the most memorable. However, if you don’t start with an end goal in mind, it’s easy to get tempted by all of the low-value redemption options out there.

Simply put, you should aim to use your Membership Rewards points for flights above all else. If you like to travel in first or business class or want to experience a true luxury flight for the first time, Amex points are a great way to achieve that goal. If you’re traveling with a family and are more interested in finding multiple seats together on the same flight, Membership Rewards can help you there as well.

You should always compare rates before booking an award, but generally, your first goal should be to look for airline transfer partners you can leverage. If you can’t find award space, you may also want to consider booking directly through the Amex Travel portal. If you have less flexibility in your travel plans, finding a good flight that gets you where you need to go becomes more important than merely getting the cheapest award.

One last thing to note is that Amex frequently runs transfer bonuses to various airlines and hotels — including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. We don’t recommend transferring points speculatively but make sure to keep an eye out for any bonuses that might affect your math on which airline offers the cheapest award rates.

Related: Here are 7 of our favorite ways to use Amex Membership Rewards points

The worst ways to redeem Amex points

If you find yourself about to redeem Membership Rewards points for less than 1 cent each, I would strongly encourage you to stop and reevaluate. Unless you’re about to close your card and are worried about losing your points, there is no reason you should ever be going down this path. Like I said before, if you’re more interested in cash back than in free travel, you should select different credit cards that help you meet that goal.

Even at the 1 cent value, you should think long and hard before clicking the submit button, since all redemptions are permanent and can’t be reversed. This means you should hold off on those lower-value gift cards, flight, and hotel redemptions unless you’re 100% sure it’s the best decision for you and your long-term points strategy.

Bottom line

Amex Membership Rewards points have long been considered some of the most valuable points on the market. They sit near the top of TPG’s monthly valuation series. They have become my preferred rewards currency thanks to a plethora of high-value airline transfer partners that I can use to book premium-cabin awards at low rates.

When considering the range of possible values, we put Amex points at 2 cents per point — but you can easily surpass that by being strategic with your redemptions.

Featured photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.