How to redeem American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the most current cards and information.
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 prerequisite knowledge, it’s tough to find the strategies for redeeming your rewards at maximum value.
American Express offers some of the best travel credit cards on the market. For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express is an iconic travel card that’s chock-full of benefits like extensive lounge access, up to $100 in statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and more. It also has a lucrative welcome bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of Card Membership, which can be worth $2,000 or more if you know how to redeem your points right.
Today I’ll go over the strategies you should consider when it comes to putting your hard-earned American Express Membership Rewards points to use. Use these tips to get the most out of your Membership Rewards points as the world starts to reopen after a year of coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.
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How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points
Membership Rewards easy to acquire, thanks to card options like the American Express® Green Card and American Express® Gold Card. Even with a once-in-a-lifetime welcome bonus policy lingering in the background, the numerous cards that earn Membership Rewards mean racking up a large balance isn’t a difficult task.
Here are some of the cards that earn Membership Rewards points:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for high-end benefits
- American Express® Green Card: Best for beginner travelers
- American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining and groceries
- American Express® Business Gold Card: Best for flexible earning on business expenses
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: Best for everyday spending
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for frequent business travelers
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Best for everyday business expenses.
The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred and Amex Green 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.
Let’s narrow the field and look at five popular cards with bonus categories that earn the most Membership Rewards and have substantial ancillary benefits. These broad bonus categories make it easy to rack up points on your daily expenses, so choose a card that aligns with your usual expenses to earn the most points.
Current bonus: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Earn points: Earn 10x points on combined eligible purchases at on eligible purchases on your new 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. 5x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines or American Express Travel (earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). Plus, earn 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express 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 (see rates and fees); up to $200 annual airline statement credit; statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100); up to $200 in annual (U.S.) Uber credits; Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits; automatic Marriott Gold and Hilton Gold status. Terms apply. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees).
Current bonus: 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, you may qualify for a targeted for either a 75,000-point bonus through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at any time).
Earn points: 4x points at restaurants ; 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (capped at $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x points); 3x points on airfare purchased directly from airlines; 1x points on all other purchases Terms apply.
Other benefits: Up to $120 dining statement credit per calendar year (enrollment required)
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees).
Current bonus: 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Earn points: 3x points on dining, 3x points on travel, 3x points on transit, 1x points on all other purchases. Terms apply
Annual fee: $150 (see rates and 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
Earn points: 3x at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 of purchases annually (then 1x); 2x at U.S. gas stations; 1x on all other purchases. Terms apply.
Other bonuses: Use the card to make 30 or more purchases in a billing period and earn 50% extra points on all those purchases (fewer returns and credits).
Other benefits: 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 12 months, then a variable APR of 12.99% to 22.99% applies.
Annual fee: $95.
Current bonus: Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Earn points: 4x points on the two categories you spend most on each month. The choices include airfare purchased directly from airlines, U.S. advertising purchases in select media (online, T.V., radio), U.S. purchases made with select technology providers of computer hardware, software and cloud solutions, U.S. gas stations, U.S. restaurants and U.S. shipping purchases. The 4x bonus applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases each calendar year (then 1x) and 1x on all other spending.
Annual fee: $295 (see rates and fees). Terms apply.
Redeem Membership Rewards: High-value options
With card options covered, let’s look at the different ways you can redeem Membership Rewards. We’ll start with the highest-value options and then move to low-value options, which should be avoided.
If you’re looking to receive solid value from your American Express Membership Rewards points, transferring them to partner hotel and airline loyalty programs is your best bet. When you transfer points into a hotel or airline currency, you can redeem them for free hotel nights and award flights regardless of their current selling prices. Here are some of the best programs to transfer your points and some sample redemptions:
Utilize Etihad Guest partner award bookings
Etihad was added as a transfer partner in 2016. While using miles for flights on Etihad’s own metal rarely results in good value for your Membership Rewards points, the Etihad Guest program does have various partner awards you can book. The uniqueness of the individual partner award charts opens up some high-value trips you can book for comparatively few miles.
One great example involves American Airlines, which can result in some substantial savings. A one-way first-class flight from the U.S. to Europe, for example, would only set you back 62,500 Etihad Guest miles compared to 85,000-175,000 AAdvantage miles. Since you can’t transfer your Membership Rewards points to American, this is a great option to snag AAdvantage award flights with your Membership Rewards 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 noted):
- New York-JFK – Casablanca (CMN) in Royal Air Maroc business class: 44,000 miles (business) or 22,000 miles (economy)
- New York-JFK – Brussels (BRU) on Brussels Airlines: 44,000 miles (business) or 27,000 miles (economy)
- San Francisco (SFO) — Seoul (ICN) on Asiana Airlines: 59,000 miles (business) or 35,000 miles (economy)
- American Airlines A321T business class transcontinental flight: 25,000 miles
- American Airlines flagship first class to Asia or Europe: 62,500 – 67,500 miles
You’ll notice that you can book some of these routes by merely earning the welcome bonus on the Amex Green Card. Make sure to look at the ANA, Air Canada and Air Seychelles partner charts for using Etihad miles, each with its 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, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more luxurious seat in the sky.
You can fly the new first class on the A380 for 85,000 Membership Rewards if you book Singapore (SIN) to Sydney (SYD) or vice versa. You can fly in a suite on the JFK-FRA route for 86,000 points — but you have to find saver availability, which can be challenging.
One thing that makes these redemptions so special is that you can only book Singapore premium classes with KrisFlyer miles. Thankfully, they’re among the easiest currencies to earn. The program is a 1:1 transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards and a 2:1 transfer partner of Capital One miles.
KrisFlyer also now allows Star Alliance partner awards to be booked online, making it easier to take advantage of sweet spots like the continental U.S. to Hawaii round-trip on United for 35,000 miles in economy or 60,000 in business.
Transfer to Flying Blue for flights to Europe and North Africa
Flying Blue is Air France and KLM’s join loyalty program. The program prices award tickets dynamically and often has good deals on flights from North America to Europe and North Africa. You’ll sometimes find these flights pricing as low as 22,000 miles one-way in economy and 53,000 miles in business class.
For example, here’s a flight from Boston (BOS) to Amsterdam (AMS) in KLM business class for 53,000 miles and $224.98 in taxes and fees.
Or, you can book New York-JFK to Paris (CDG) in economy for 22,000 miles and $69.79 in taxes and fees.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for Flying Blue Promo Rewards. These were put on pause during the pandemic, but have come back for intra-Europe flights in recent months. We hope that its famous transatlantic deals come back soon, because they’re pretty great. Past deals include flights from Washington (IAD) to Paris for 20,625 miles one-way in economy and Seattle (SEA) to Paris is 43,125 miles for one-way Premium Economy.
Bear in mind that fuel surcharges on these awards can be a little hard to handle at about $300 per person, but roughly 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, so pricing on some routes become even more attractive. Don’t count on Flying Blue to always provide the best value, but it has the potential under the right circumstances.
British Airways Avios
You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to British Airways at a ratio of 1:1. Also, the program regularly offers transfer bonuses that allow you to maximize its distance-based award chart further. However, even without a bonus, there’s still a lot of value to be had.
For instance, many routes from the U.S. to Dublin on Aer Lingus fall under 4,000 miles in length. You can book these routes in economy for just 26,000 Avios round-trip on off-peak dates. Plus, you can still fly short-haul within international countries and regions for 4,500 Avios each way with no fuel surcharges.
You can also get a good deal on some domestic U.S. flights. Domestic U.S. flights under 600 miles cost 7,500 miles in economy and flights between 601 and 1,151 miles cost 9,000 Avios. This can be a good deal on last-minute fares on business-heavy routes, like New York (LGA) to Washington-Regan (DCA).
Perhaps the best use of Avios is flying from the West Coast to Hawaii on American or Alaska Airlines for 13,000 Avios each way. Plus, Alaska flights are now bookable on the British Airways website, so there’s no need to call in to book. Make sure you read our full guide on how to maximize the British Airways award chart.
Fly round-trip to Madrid on Iberia
One of my favorite ways to redeem Amex points is booking Iberia business class on off-peak dates. This can be a terrific use of your Membership Rewards points, especially when considering the low points price and minimal fuel surcharges.
Iberia flights from the U.S. to Barcelona (BCN) and Madrid (MAD) start at just 17,000 Avios one-way in economy and 34,000 one-way in business class. You’ll find the cheapest flights from Boston (BOS) and New York-JFK, but other cities have attractive pricing too. Here’s a look:
|Destination to/from Madrid (MAD)||Blue class / economy||Premium economy||Business|
|New York-JFK||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Chicago – O’Hare (ORD)||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,500||62,500|
|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||42,500||62,500|
|Los Angeles (LAX)||25,550 / 30,000||32,500 / 42,000||38,250||52,500||51,000||75,000|
|San Francisco (SFO)||25,550 / 30,000||32,500 / 42,000||38,250||52,500||51,000||75,000|
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. And availability isn’t too difficult to find.
Transfer to ANA for cheap Star Alliance business class flights
Due to loose routing rules and a great award chart, you can piece together incredible award ticket itineraries using ANA’s Mileage Club.
The first way to maximize this transfer partner is flying to Japan on off-peak dates. You can score round-trip tickets from the U.S. for just 40,000 miles in economy on ANA metal and 75,000 miles round-trip in business. That’s really cheap, even with mild fuel surcharges. Plus, you can add a free stopover too.
You can also score an excellent deal on Star Alliance business class flights from the U.S. to Europe. These flights cost just 88,000 miles round-trip, but you’ll pay high fuel surcharges when flying with carriers that charge them. Thankfully, you can avoid these by booking flights on SAS, Lot Polish Airlines, United and others that do not add fuel surcharges to their tickets. This is one of the best deals out there for booking tickets to Europe in business class.
There are other gems to investigate too, 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 to Europe (with no fuel surcharges) and ANA first class through Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club gutted its Delta award chart earlier this year but left one sweet spot behind: business class flights to Europe.
You can book Delta flights from the U.S. to Europe for just 50,000 points one-way in Delta One business class. This is an excellent deal, especially since you don’t have to pay fuel surcharges. Book flights equipped with Delta One Suites for the best experience.
Unfortunately, the rest of Virgin Atlantic’s Delta award chart is distance-based and not particularly useful. It can sometimes make sense to book short-haul Delta domestic tickets with the program if cash fares are expensive. You can book flights that are 500 miles or shorter for just 7,500 points in economy. Just be sure to check Delta SkyMiles (another Amex transfer partner) pricing first to see if it has a better price.
Another time you might transfer to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is to book ANA first class tickets. You can book a one-way flight to Japan from the U.S. West and East Coast for 55,000 and 60,000 points, respectively. This is an exceptional deal and beats ANA’s own award chart for first class tickets. Here’s a look at the full award chart — note the prices below are for round-trip tickets, but you can book one way for half the cost.
Other high-value transfer partners
Depending on what specific routes you are trying to fly, other Amex transfer partners like the new Aeroplan, Asia Miles, Delta SkyMiles LifeMiles and even a transfer to Qantas could make sense if you know the sweet spots in those programs. Do some research on these programs and see if you can leverage them for a future trip.
35% Pay With Points rebate for Business Platinum cardholders
If you have a Business Platinum Card and use points to pay for economy airfare (on the carrier you choose for your $200 airline fee credit) or any business/first-class airfare booked on amextravel.com, you’ll receive 35% of those points back up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year. That means a $1,000 ticket costs 65,000 points, giving you a redemption value of 1.54 cents each.
This may not be the absolute best value for your points, but remember that tickets booked through Amex Travel are treated as revenue fares by the airlines. This means you will earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles on these tickets. If you want to skip the hassle of looking for award space and redeem points to book inexpensive fares, the Business Platinum card can be a valuable addition to your wallet.
Redeem Membership Rewards: Poor-value options
There are many ways to redeem your Membership Rewards online, and unfortunately, most of these options represent a poor 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 good return.
If you want to use points to cover your everyday purchases, consider opening a cashback credit card instead. These cards earn cash back instead of points, so there’s no transfer partners or cent per point ratio to worry about. One of the best is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express— check out our full review for more info.
Related: Best cash-back credit cards of 2021
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. The one exception is when Amazon sends out targeted offers for discounts when using Membership Rewards at checkout. You only need to redeem one point to trigger the discount.
American Express partnered with a third-party website named Just Giving, which allows you to donate to various causes, charities and individuals. You can search all charities eligible to receive donations through the Just Giving website. You have to create an account and enter your Amex Membership Rewards earning card to find the number of points corresponding to the dollar amount. The platform adds a 5% charge to any donation. The website was hard to use, clunky and finding charities to donate to was difficult.
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 each when redeemed this way.
You may 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 each, but some instances yield slightly better and slightly worse values.
Occasionally you’ll find specials that offer better than one 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. Likewise, redeeming for Delta gift cards delivers a measly 0.7 cents/point. Steer clear of these redemptions if you want to maximize your Membership Rewards points.
Redeem for paid travel (with one exception)
There are a few options in this category with significantly different values. We’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 0.7 cents per point for cars, hotels, vacations or cruises. Again, one exception to this rule is using The Business Platinum Card® from American Express to cover paid flights with a 35% rebate.
Low-value transfer partners
Except for some obscure or rare situation, I cannot think of why I would ever transfer my Membership Rewards to MilleMiglia, Hawaiian or Hilton (unless there’s a transfer bonus). These programs either lack sweet spots or other currencies are easier to book the flights with. It’s too easy to earn Hilton points with co-branded cards like The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or through paid stays. So, I would never waste Membership Rewards by transferring them to Hilton Honors.
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.
For example, the Amex Green Card’s 30,000-point bonus is enough for a round-trip flight from the West Coast to Hawaii using British Airways Avios. But if I transfer them to Hilton, I’ll receive 60,000 Hilton points and likely only save a couple of hundred dollars on a mid-tier award night. With a transfer bonus, the math becomes more favorable.
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 Amex benefits), I’ll use my 35% points rebate to cover the ticket cost. Otherwise, I try to transfer points to airline partners to book a premium-class ticket I could never afford out of pocket. We’ve had plenty of readers maximize Membership Rewards to get to places like Japan or save miles when booking domestic flights.
There are many ways to earn Amex Membership Rewards points, like the revamped Amex Green Card and Amex Business Gold Card. Like the other transferable points programs, American Express Membership Rewards offers great sweet spots to those who do their homework on the various transfer partners and potential redemptions. Take the above examples to heart, and make sure you choose the best American Express credit card for you and use your points wisely.
Check out our beginner’s guide if you’re new to points and miles.
Additional reporting by Joseph Hostetler, Victoria Walker and Andrew Kunesh.
Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
For rates and fees of the Amex Green Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold, click here.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees