What are American Express Membership Rewards points worth?
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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. Many of my proudest Amex redemptions have been at much higher rate, but plenty of people make use of less ideal uses of Amex points.
Today we’re going to take a closer look at how much Amex Membership Rewards points are worth. I’ll start by discussing how to earn Membership Rewards points and then dive into some redemption options. I’ll discuss the value you can get from these redemptions along the way.
How to earn Amex points
The only way to earn Amex Membership Rewards points is by having at least one open (and eligible) American Express credit card. This doesn’t apply to the issuer’s cobranded cards — like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card — as these earn points or miles in the given partner’s currency.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 in the first six months of account opening. Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. $695 annual fee (see rates & fees)
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of account opening. $595 annual fee (see rates & fees)
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months of account opening. However, some readers have been targeted for a 75,000-point bonus (after meeting minimum spend requirements) by applying through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at any time). $250 annual fee (see rates & fees)
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.
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.
Related: Best American Express credit cards
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. This is far less than half of TPG’s valuation.
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 using 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 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), but some merchants offer less than this in value. You can also redeem points for American Express gift cards.
This is better than the statement credits redemption option, but it’s still pretty low and should only be considered a last resort. Remember, 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 an OK value by redeeming your points directly through the Amex Travel portal.
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.
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:
- Amex Business Centurion Card: 50% rebate
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: 35% rebate (up to 500,000 points per calendar year)
- American Express® Business Gold Card: 25% rebate (up to 250,000 points per calendar year)
The information for the Amex Business Centurion Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
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 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 and the unique luxury experiences these flights can provide. The more expensive the fare, the higher the redemption value you’ll get.
Here are a few examples of redemptions that provide well over TPG’s valuation of 2.0 cents per Membership Reward point in value.
Business-class to Europe for 88,000 points round-trip
TPG reporter Andrew Kunesh recently booked a trip to Turkey and Ukraine by transferring Membership Rewards to ANA Mileage Club. This program charges just 88,000 miles for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe, a solid redemption rate. It also includes a free stopover which Andrew used to add on a United domestic ticket later in the year.
The program passes on fuel surcharges, so I was on the hook for paying roughly $530 in taxes and fees. That said, I still got a huge $3,115 in savings from the ticket, not including the domestic award segment. This means my Amex points gave me 3.53 cents per point in value. In my mind, this is an excellent redemption value.
Nearly 20 cents per point in value for first-class to Japan
Looking for a trip to Japan? Consider transferring your points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
You can use this program to book ANA first or business class from the U.S. to Tokyo on the cheap. The award chart below shows round-trip pricing for round-trip flights, with some of the standout redemptions being West Coast and East Coast to Tokyo for 110,000 and 120,000 points, respectively, round-trip.
A paid ticket from New York-JFK to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) in ANA first class costs a huge $21,928 in fall 2021. Assuming taxes and fees of $200, this redemption would give you a massive $21,728 in savings for 18.1 cents per point in value. This is just over 9x TPG’s Membership Rewards valuation and is by far one of the best ways to stretch your Amex points.
American transcontinental Flagship first class
Alternatively, you can transfer points to Etihad Guest and book American Airlines’ Flagship first-class product from New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX).
This is the only way to fly true first-class domestically and gives you a super comfortable way to get from coast-to-coast. You’ll pay 32,500 points one-way — or 65,000 round-trip — to book this product under Etihad’s American award chart. Plus, you’ll only pay minimal taxes and fees of $11.20 round-trip.
Flights on the New York to San Francisco route cost $1,853 in late 2021, so you’d get a nice 2.83 cents per point in value for this redemption.
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:
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- All Nippon Airways Mileage Club
- British Airways Executive Club
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Delta SkyMiles
- Etihad Guest
- Singapore KrisFlyer
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
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 1.1 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.
Pros and cons of Membership Rewards points
There’s no doubt that American Express Membership Rewards points are some of the most valuable points out there — but it’s important to break down the pros and cons. Here’s a quick look at both sides of the coin.
Pros of Membership Rewards points
As I said earlier, one of the biggest benefits of Amex Membership Rewards is how flexible they are. Amex offers the most transfer partners of all major transferable points currencies and — in my opinion — the most powerful. Programs like ANA Mileage Club, Avianca LifeMiles, Etihad Guest and Air France/KLM Flying Blue may not be the most well-known, but they offer excellent deals on partner carriers.
Another pro is how easy Membership Rewards points are to earn. Amex has a huge suite of cards that earn Membership Rewards points, and each has its own points-earning structure. For example, the Amex Gold earns 4x points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants and groceries at U.S. supermarkets while the Amex Platinum offers 5x points per dollar spent on flights booked with the airline or through Amex Travel.
You can open multiple American Express cards and earn bonus points on most of your everyday spending. This will help you quickly earn points and get closer to your next big redemption.
Cons of Membership Rewards points
The main con of Membership Rewards is that you can’t redeem points for paid flights unless you have a business Gold, Platinum or Centurion card. Sure, you can use Amex Travel, but it will give you a poor value for your miles.
This is especially disappointing when you consider that you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points toward paid travel at 1.25 or 1.5 cents per point in value, respectively, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® card.
The same goes for redeeming for non-travel. Chase cardmembers can use the Pay Yourself Back feature to redeem points at the same rate as they can through the Chase Travel Portal toward groceries, restaurants and other purchase categories. This is a huge benefit for these members and we’d like to see Amex bring to Membership Rewards.
Further, while I’m a huge fan of Amex’s transfer partners, they’re not always the easiest to use. For example, you need to call Virgin Atlantic to book ANA awards and Etihad to book American award tickets. This means you’ll have to do more research when redeeming Amex points for flights versus using Chase points through its travel portal.
How the value stacks up against other programs
Amex Membership Rewards isn’t the only major transferable points currency. It has fierce competition from other major banks, including programs like:
- Capital One Rewards
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi ThankYou points
As discussed in the last section, Chase has a slight edge over Amex Membership Rewards when redeeming for paid travel and cash back on select purchases. That said, I think that Amex has a huge edge over Capital One, Chase and Citi when it comes to transfer partners — I’ve found they’re more flexible and powerful across the board.
For example, Chase only has United MileagePlus and Singapore Krisflyer as Star Alliance transfer partners. On the other hand, Amex has Air Canada Aeroplan, ANA Mileage Club, Avianca LifeMiles and Singapore Krisflyer. For most awards, you’ll get a far better redemption value with Avianca, ANA or Air Canada than you would with United or Singapore Airlines, barring a few exceptions.
On the flip side, Chase has an edge over Amex when it comes to hotel transfer partners. You can transfer Chase points to World of Hyatt and take advantage of reasonably-priced hotel redemptions. On the other hand, you can transfer Amex points to Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, which generally presents a poor value compared to redeeming for flights.
On the Capital One side, all transfers process at either a 1.5:1 or 2:1 transfer ratio. For example, Capital One miles transfer to Emirates Skywards at a 2:1 ratio, meaning 100,000 Capital One points is worth 50,000 Emirates points. On the flip side, Amex processes almost all transfers at a 1:1 transfer ratio, meaning you won’t “lose” points when transferring to a partner.
How to maximize your Amex points
Once you’ve amassed a stash of Amex Membership Rewards points, it’s important to learn how to redeem them for the most value. Here are a few tips on how to maximize them.
Try and redeem for travel whenever possible
Redeeming for travel using transfer partners always provides the best value for your Amex points.
As shown earlier, it’s possible to get over 18 cents per point in value when redeeming points for aspirational awards. Of course, it’s still possible to get huge value on domestic tickets using partners like Avianca (for United flights), British Airways (for American flights) and Delta.
Speaking of travel: I recommend staying away from the Amex Travel portal if possible.
While redeeming points through Amex Travel certainly isn’t the worst use of your Amex points, it still only provides 1 cent per point in value. My rule of thumb is to always compare the cost of a paid ticket to one booked through a transfer partner. If I can’t get more than 2 cents per point in value, I’ll pay for the ticket instead.
Understand how to best use each transfer partner
Each transfer partner has its own quirks, features and sweet spots that help you get the most value from your points. For example, ANA Mileage Club offers free stopovers on round-trip bookings, Aeromexico Club Premier has excellent deals on round-the-world tickets and Iberia Plus has excellent deals on off-peak awards to Europe.
Familiarize yourself with each of these transfer partners, so you know when it’s best to transfer to each program. Otherwise, you could spend more miles than necessary for an award ticket, lowering the value of your redemption in the process.
I recommend skimming through guides for transfer partner programs on TPG. Additionally, you may find these guides on specific types of redemptions helpful.
- Economy class on the cheap: getting the best points deals with all three alliances
- The cheapest business class awards across all three alliances
- The cheapest first class awards across all three alliances
- Here are 9 of our favorite ways to use Amex Membership Rewards points
Don’t redeem for cash back
As discussed earlier, cash back is by far the worst way to redeem your Amex points. That said, if an unexpected expense comes up and you want to redeem points to cover it, you’ll want to redeem for gift cards instead. Amex issues its own debit gift cards that you can redeem your Amex points for. You’ll always get 1.0 cents per point in value, which is higher than the 0.6 cents per point you’d get from covering a charge with points.
Amex sometimes runs promotions for select merchant gift cards too. This will help you get a slightly higher cent per point value, so consider doing this if your expense is at a big-box store. You can view all current deals on the gift cards page in the Membership Rewards portal.
How should you use your Amex points?
With all 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.
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.
Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh
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