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While your points and miles have all the potential to take you to most destinations in the world, loyalty programs don’t exactly make it easy for you to discover all the best options. Without a bit (or a lot) of prerequisite knowledge, it’s tough to find the strategies for redeeming your rewards at maximum value. Today, I’ll go over the strategies you should consider when it comes time to put your hard-earned American Express Membership Rewards points to use.
Earning Membership Rewards Points
In the points and miles world, Membership Rewards have a bit of a reputation for being difficult to acquire because of a lack of credit card bonus categories and a once-in-a-lifetime welcome bonus policy. However, there are dozens of Membership Rewards-earning cards, and the following have bonus earning categories:
- The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- American Express® Gold Card
- American Express® Business Gold Card
- The Blue BusinessSM Plus Credit Card from American Express
Let’s narrow the field and look at three popular cards that allow you to earn the most Membership Rewards and have substantial ancillary benefits:
American Express® Gold Card
Current Bonus: 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first three months. However, you may be eligible for a targeted 50,000-point bonus through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at anytime).
Category Spending Bonuses: 4x points at US restaurants; 4x points at US supermarkets (capped at $25,000 per year; then 1x points); 3x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines; 1x points on all other purchases
Other Benefits: $100 airline fee credit per calendar year; $120 dining credit per year
Annual Fee: $250 (See Rates & Fees)
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Current Bonus: 60,000 points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months. However, you may be eligible for a targeted 100,000-point bonus through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at anytime).
Category Spending Bonuses: 5x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines or Amex Travel, hotels booked through Amex Travel, and Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts; 1x on all other purchases
Other Benefits: Airport club access including Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta) and Priority Pass Select; no foreign transaction fees; $200 annual airline credit; statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; $200 in annual Uber credits; Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits; automatic Marriott Gold and Hilton Gold status.
Annual Fee: $550 (See Rates & Fees)
The Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express
Current Bonus: 15,000 points after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first three months
Category Spending Bonuses: 3x at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 of purchases annually (then 1x); 2x at US gas stations; 1x on all other purchases
Other Bonuses: Use the card to make 30 or more purchases in a billing period and earn 50% extra points on all those purchases (less returns and credits).
Other Benefits: 0% introductory rate on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months, then a variable 14.24% to 24.24%.
Annual fee: $95
The information for the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card and Amex EveryDay® Preferred has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Redeeming Membership Rewards: Poor-Value Options
There are many ways to redeem your Membership Rewards online, and unfortunately, several of these options represent a less-than-stellar value and should generally be avoided. These include:
Use Points for Charges — This is like a cash-back option for covering eligible charges on your billing statement. What are eligible charges? I’ve yet to find a solid definition, and American Express can change whatever charges it deems eligible at any time without prior notification. You’ll only receive 0.6 cents per point with this option, so it’s not a very good return.
Shop Amazon — After linking your Amazon and Membership Rewards accounts, you can use points to pay for your purchases at a slightly better (but still poor) value of 0.7 cents per point. As TPG Editor Nick Ewen notes, you should make sure this option is turned off to prevent accidental and unauthorized use of your points.
Members Give — American Express will donate $10 to a charity of your choice for every 1,000 points redeemed. You can search all charities eligible to receive donations through the Members Give website. There’s a limit of 500,000 points per year, after which the redemption value for giving is cut in half to $5 donated for every 1,000 points redeemed.
Shop with Membership Rewards — You can find pretty much anything under the sun via the Membership Rewards online shopping mall. The only thing you won’t find is value, as your points are worth a standard 0.5 cents apiece when redeemed this way.
Gift Cards — Redeem your points for gift cards to shops, rental car agencies, restaurants, American Express Gift cards and even Airbnb. Most of the time you redeem points for a flat value of 1 cent apiece, but there are instances that yield slightly better and slightly worse values. Four AMC movie tickets will cost you 6,063 points, with each ticket valued at $12. Occasionally you’ll find specials that offer better than 1 cent per point, but not significantly higher value. Plus, gift cards from high-end brands like Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental yield redemption values of less than 1 cent per point. Redeeming for Delta gift cards yields a measly 0.7 cents/point:
Redeem for Paid Travel — There are a few options in this category with significantly different values. I’ve written about how you can pay for travel with points through Membership Rewards. This option gives you a value of 1 cent per point toward airfare, and 0.75-0.85 cents per point for cars, hotels, vacations or cruises.
However, the one exception is if you have The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, as this card allows you to redeem points for an airline of your choice (it must be the same airline you choose for the $200 fee credit) and receive 35% of your redeemed points back. You will earn redeemable and elite qualifying miles for flights covered with Membership Rewards in this way.
Redeem Membership Rewards: High-Value Options
If you’re looking to get solid value from your American Express Membership Rewards points, transferring them to partner hotel and airline loyalty programs is your best bet. Rather than points having a fixed value like the above options, when you transfer them into a hotel or airline currency, you can redeem set amounts of points or miles for free hotel nights and free flights regardless of their current selling prices. Here are some of the best programs to which to transfer your points and some sample redemptions:
Utilize Etihad Guest Partner Award Bookings
Etihad was only added as a transfer partner in 2016. While using miles for flights on Etihad’s own metal rarely results in a good value for your Membership Rewards points, the Etihad Guest program does have a variety of partner awards you can book. The uniqueness of the individual partner award charts open up some very valuable trips you can book for comparatively few miles.
One great example involves American Airlines; you can still book American Airlines flights at the pre-devaluation costs, as Etihad has not devalued its American award chart (note: PDF link). This can result in some substantial savings. A round-trip business class flight from the US to Europe or Southern South America, for example, would only set you back 100,000 Etihad Guest miles compared to 115,000 AAdvantage miles. And of course, you can’t transfer your Membership Rewards points to American, so this is a great option to snag AA award flights with your Amex points.
Here’s a sample of other current Etihad partner awards you can book (all are priced based on a one-way ticket, unless otherwise notated):
- Prague (PRG) – Seoul (ICN) in Czech Airlines business class: 25,610 miles
- New York (JFK) – Casablanca (CMN) in Royal Air Maroc business class: 44,000 miles
- New York (JFK) – Brussels (BRU) on Brussels Airlines: 44,000 miles (business) or 27,000 miles (economy)
- American Airlines A321T business class transcontinental flight: 25,000 miles
Make sure to also look at the ANA, Virgin Australia, Air Seychelles and Asiana partner charts for using Etihad miles, each with their own sweet spots.
Fly Singapore Airlines Premium Classes
Even after Singapore KrisFlyer’s 2019 devaluation, using your miles for any Singapore-operated flight can be a great deal. With the carrier’s renowned Suites class, it’s difficult to find a more luxurious seat in the sky. Fly the new first class on the A380 for 85,000 Membership Rewards if you book Singapore (SIN) to Sydney (SYD) or vice versa. From the US, you can fly in a suite on the LAX-NRT route for 95,000 points or JFK-FRA for 86,000 points — but you have to find saver availability, which can be tough.
Remember too that KrisFlyer miles are among the easiest currencies to earn, as the program is a 1:1 transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards as well.
KrisFlyer also now allows Star Alliance partner awards to be booked online, making it easier to take advantage of sweet spots like the continental US to Hawaii round-trip on United for 35,000 miles in economy or 60,000 in business.
For more information on these and other valuable options, check out Jason Steele’s post on maximizing KrisFlyer partner awards.
Choice Hotels for International Stays and Luxury Properties
The Choice Privileges program used by Choice Hotels is a 1:1 Membership Rewards transfer partner, and it boasts several properties across typically expensive European cities. For award nights, these hotels range from 8,000-25,000 points. I’ve found this program to be particularly useful when visiting Ireland, a country with few chain hotels.
You can also use Choice points to book Preferred Hotel properties, a group of luxury hotels located around the world. This won’t always provide fantastic value, but it can when revenue rates are high. For example, the Royal Lancaster London regularly has rates over £500 during the summer, and those standard rooms can be booked for just 35,000 Choice Privileges points per night. There’s even an online search calendar to quickly check availability (which is generally wide open), though you do have to call to book Preferred Hotel properties.
The newly revamped loyalty program of Air France, KLM and others is mostly illogical, but the upside to bad logic is the occasional deal the program presents. Flying Blue promo awards is the area of the program where I would focus most of my attention. Recent examples of deals include flights from Seattle to Europe at a 50% discount, getting you round-trip transatlantic flights for 21,600 miles. Other US routes to Europe were discounted by 25%, making round-trip flights to Europe from Boston (BOS), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Houston (IAH) and Washington-Dulles (IAD) cost a mere 33,000 miles round trip.
Bear in mind that fuel surcharges on these awards can be a little hard to handle at about $300 per person, but paying less than 40,000 miles for round-trip flights can still be a great deal. There are also occasional transfer bonuses from American Express to Flying Blue which can make several routes attractively priced. Don’t count on Flying Blue always providing great value, but it certainly has the potential under the right circumstances.
British Airways Avios
Back in 2017, American Express increased the transfer ratio for Avios back to 1:1, which was a nice enhancement, especially after the program removed 4,500-Avios awards within North America. In addition, the program regularly offers transfer bonuses that allow you to further maximize its distance-based award chart, but even without a bonus, there’s still a lot of value to be had. For instance, many routes from the US to Dublin on Aer Lingus fall under 4,000 miles in distance, allowing you to book them in economy for just 26,000 Avios round-trip on off-peak dates. Plus, you can still fly short-haul within other countries (like Japan) for 4,500 Avios each way with no fuel surcharges.
Perhaps the best use of Avios is flying from the West Coast to Hawaii on American or Alaska Airlines for 12,500 Avios each way, but note that Alaska Airlines flights are not bookable on BA.com. You’ll have to call the service center once you find saver-level award inventory.
Unfortunately, British Airways did just announce that it’ll be changing most partner award rates as of May 30, 2019, though we don’t have specifics on what these changes will be.
Fly Round-Trip to Madrid on Iberia
Transferring your Membership Rewards to Spanish partner airline Iberia can be another terrific use of Membership Rewards points, especially when it comes to booking Iberia-operated flights. Even though you can book these itineraries with British Airways Avios, booking with Iberia Avios will result in lower fuel surcharges. Here are some of the terrific award rates you can get on these flights (all prices are one-way):
|Destination||Blue Class/ Economy Off-Peak||Blue Class/ Economy Peak||Premium Economy Off-Peak||Premium Economy Peak||Business Off-Peak||Business Peak|
|New York-JFK||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Boston (BOS)||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Miami (MIA)||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
|Los Angeles (LAX)||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
|San Francisco (SFO)||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,000||62,500|
Snagging a round-trip economy award flight to Europe for just 34,000 miles (or business class for 68,000 miles) can be a fantastic deal.
Transfer to ANA
Unfortunately, previously reduced fuel surcharges on ANA-operated flights have returned. However, due to loose routing rules and a great award chart, you can put together incredible award ticket itineraries using ANA’s Mileage Club. Flying during off-peak dates yields very attractive pricing like 40,000 miles round-trip from North America to Japan in economy on ANA metal and 75,000 round-trip in business. That’s really, really cheap, even with fuel surcharges.
There are quite a few gems to investigate with the program, including reasonably priced around-the-world tickets that allow eight stopovers for as little as 100,000 miles in business class, but be sure to confirm availability before you transfer points.
Book Delta Flights (With no Fuel Surcharges) Through Virgin Atlantic
For far too long, I ignored Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program, mainly because I thought every award ticket involved fuel surcharges and nothing could be done online. Lately, however, Virgin Atlantic is my first stop when I’m looking to book nonstop, domestic Delta itineraries. These always come in at 12,500 miles, even when Delta isn’t showing low-level availability. I recently booked Atlanta to both San Francisco and Seattle for 25,000 Virgin Atlantic miles round-trip in economy and $11.20.
You can also book transpacific and transatlantic Delta One flights on Virgin Atlantic’s website with no fuel surcharges (and often at substantial savings compared to transferring your points to Delta SkyMiles). Here’s an example of a Delta One flight from Atlanta (ATL) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) for 60,000 miles and $5.60:
Here’s another example of Detroit (DTW) to Amsterdam (AMS) for only 50,000 miles and $5.60 in Delta One:
For complete details on this award option, check out JT Genter’s post on How to Book Cheap Delta Awards With Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
There are additional fantastic uses of Virgin Atlantic miles to book ANA premium class, South African Airways from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Africa, Air New Zealand business class and Virgin Australia intra-Asia/Pacific flights.
35% Pay With Points Rebate for Business Platinum Cardholders
If you have a Business Platinum Card and use points to pay for economy airfare (with the airline of your choice) or any business/first class airfare, you’ll receive 35% of those points back. That means a $1,000 ticket will cost 65,000 points, giving you a redemption value of 1.54 cents apiece. While this may not be the absolute best value for your points, remember that these tickets are almost always treated as revenue fares by the airlines, meaning you’ll earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles. If you want to skip the hassle of looking for award space and simply redeem your points to book inexpensive fares, Business Platinum cardholders have a very valuable tool.
My mindset for using Membership Rewards is fairly simple: as a Business Platinum cardholder, if I find a good Delta economy fare (my chosen airline for the benefit), I’ll look to use my 35% points rebate to cover the ticket cost. Otherwise, I am trying to transfer points to an airline partner to book a premium class ticket I could never afford out of pocket.
Like the other transferable points programs, American Express Membership Rewards offers some great options to those who do their homework on the various transfer partners and potential redemptions. Take the above examples to heart, and make sure you’re using your points wisely.
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WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber credits annually
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees