How to redeem American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
While your points and miles have 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 can be tough to find the strategies for redeeming your rewards at maximum value.
Case in point: American Express Membership Rewards points. They offer innumerable redemption options thanks to the program’s many transfer partners, but it can be difficult to pinpoint the best ways of leveraging them to full effect. So today, we’ll go over the strategies you should consider when it comes to putting your hard-earned American Express Membership Rewards points to use.
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How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points
Even with a once-in-a-lifetime welcome bonus policy lingering in the background, the fact that there are numerous cards that earn Membership Rewards means racking up a large balance isn’t a difficult task. 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.
Current bonus: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.
- 10x on combined eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you shop small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases, during your first six months of card membership.
- 5x on airfare purchased directly from airlines or Amex Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year, then 1x).
- 5x on prepaid hotels booked with Amex Travel and Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts.
- 1x on other eligible purchases.
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 card membership. However, you may qualify for a targeted for a 75,000-point bonus through the CardMatch Tool (offer subject to change at any time).
- 4x at restaurants.
- 4x at U.S. supermarkets (capped at $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x).
- 3x on airfare purchased directly from airlines or via Amex Travel
- 1x points on other eligible purchases.
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees).
Current bonus: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within three months of card membership.
- 5x on flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel.
- 1.5X points in select business categories and eligible purchases of $5,000 or more on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
- 1x on other eligible purchases.
Annual fee: $595 ($695 if application is received on or after 01/13/2022) (See rates and fees)
Current bonus: Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership.
- 4x 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. 4x applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases each calendar year, then 1x.
- 1x on other eligible purchases.
Annual fee: $295 (see rates and fees).
Current bonus: Earn 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of card membership.
- 3x on dining at restaurants
- 3x on travel.
- 3x on transit.
- 1x on other eligible purchases.
Annual fee: $150 (see rates and fees).
The information for the Amex Green has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Other options for earning Amex points
Once you have a card that earns Membership Rewards points, you can leverage Rakuten, one of our favorite online shopping portals here at TPG. When you click through Rakuten to a participating merchant’s website, you can earn bonus Amex points for every dollar you spend. If you don’t currently have a Rakuten account, you can sign-up here and enjoy a one-time bonus of $30 (or 3,000 Amex points) when you spend at least $30 within 90 days of becoming a member.
Redeem Membership Rewards: High-value options
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 convert points into a hotel or airline currency, you can redeem them for free hotel nights and award flights that might otherwise be quite costly. What’s more, you might stretch the value of your points even further by taking advantage of periodic transfer bonuses to specific partners.
Here are some of the best programs to transfer your points and some sample redemptions.
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, but left one sweet spot behind: business-class flights to Europe (excluding the U.K.).
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-specific 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.
British Airways Avios
You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to British Airways at a ratio of 1:1. 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 East Coast of the U.S. to Dublin on Aer Lingus fall under 4,000 miles in length. You can book these flights in economy for just 26,000 Avios round-trip on off-peak dates. Plus, you can still fly short-haul within other countries and regions outside the U.S. for as few as 4,500 Avios each.
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 just 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 the best 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 at Iberia’s award chart:
|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.
Utilize Etihad Guest partner award bookings
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: 32,500 miles.
- American Airlines flagship first class to Asia or Europe: 62,500 – 67,500 miles.
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 Airlines-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 newer first class suites 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 miles — 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 69,000 in business.
Transfer to Flying Blue for flights to Europe and North Africa
Flying Blue is Air France and KLM’s joint 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.
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.
Transfer to ANA for cheap Star Alliance business class flights
Due to lenient 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.
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 levy 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.
Other high-value transfer partners
Depending on what specific routes you are trying to fly, other Amex transfer partners like Air Canada Aeroplan, Asia Miles, Delta SkyMiles, Avianca 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 the Business Platinum Card and use points to pay for economy airfare (on the carrier you choose for your up to $200 airline fee statement credit) or any business/first-class airfare booked on Amex Travel, 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. Enrollment required for select benefits.
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? There does not appear to be 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, though, so it’s not a good return.
If you want to use points to cover your everyday purchases, consider opening a cash-back credit card instead. One of the best is the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express — check out our full review for more information.
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’ll 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.
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. 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 Amex Business Platinum to cover paid flights with a 35% rebate.
Low-value transfer partners
Except for some obscure or rare situation, you probably won’t want to transfer Membership Rewards to programs like 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, don’t 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.
There are many ways to earn Amex Membership Rewards points, like the Amex Gold 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 card for you and use your points wisely.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon, Joseph Hostetler, Victoria Walker and Andrew Kunesh.
Featured image by Zach Griff for The Points Guy.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold, click here.
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Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
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.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- 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.
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- 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.
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- $250 Annual Fee.
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