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

Nov 19, 2020

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest information. 

It’s no secret that American Express Membership Rewards are my favorite points and miles currency.

Over the years, Membership Rewards have given me tens of thousands of dollars in value. I’ve used these points to fly everything from Lufthansa first class to countless domestic hops booked at the last minute. Many of these trips would’ve been financially impossible without the help of my Membership Rewards.

And I’m not the only one that finds Membership Rewards super valuable.

TPG’s latest valuations tie Membership Rewards with Chase Ultimate Rewards points as the most rewarding transferable points currency in TPG’s monthly valuations at 2 cents apiece. However, it’s easy to get even more value out of your points by leveraging the right transfer partners.

To prove this value to you, we’ll take a look at some of the best ways to redeem your Membership Rewards points in this article. We’ll discuss everything from ultra-high-end business class redemptions to domestic flights around the U.S., giving you a look at how to stretch your points for the best possible travel experience.

Before we start, however, you need to actually earn Membership Rewards points. The best way to quickly do this is by utilizing welcome offers on the issuer’s top credit cards — here’s a look:

Now, let’s dive into the best ways to use Membership Rewards points!

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In This Post

Transfer partners

Amex Transfer Partner Screen
(Image courtesy of American Express)

The best way to spend your Amex points is through transfer partners. The program partners with 19 different airlines including ANA, JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic. You also have the option to transfer your points to three hotel chains: Hilton, Marriott and Choice.

You can book flights or hotels directly through Amex Travel too, but redeeming points with a transfer partner usually results in a better redemption value. This is because Amex Travel only lets you redeem at a set 1 cent per point value for flights, while transfers can yield a much higher value.

Most Membership Rewards transfers process instantly, while others can take up to 48 hours. Make sure to check out our guide to Membership Rewards transfer times for more information.

Related: Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards points for maximum value

Cheap American Airlines International Flights

American Airlines International Business Class
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Although Etihad isn’t a member of one of the three major alliances, it has non-alliance airline partnerships that yield excellent value. One of the best values is using Etihad Guest points to book American Airlines-operated flights at prices similar to what American charged before its 2016 devaluation.

The best deals are for international business and first class flights on American’s large international route network. Here’s a look at Etihad’s American award chart for flights departing North America.

(Screenshot courtesy of Etihad)

These rates are often much lower than you’d pay if you booked directly with American. For example, you can use 30,000 miles to book a one-way ticket from any U.S. city to Lima (LIM), Bogota (BOG) or other cities in the “Central/South America 1” region. This includes many cities in Central America and northern South America.

Or, you can fly to Europe in business class for 50,000 points one-way. This is cheaper than the 57,500+ miles that American charges for the same tickets, giving you cheap access to American’s large European route network. This includes cities like Frankfurt (FRA), Paris (CDG) and others.

Finally, you can use Etihad Guest to get a solid deal on American’s premium transcontinental first and business class from New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). The San Francisco route is operated by American’s specially configured A321T aircraft with a true first class cabin. This costs just 32,500 points one way when you book with Etihad Guest.

Related: Best strategies for Etihad Guest miles

American still offers true first international class

American Airlines is the last U.S. carrier to offer a true international first-class product, available only on its flagship 777-300ER aircraft. That said, TPG flew it from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) and found it wasn’t a major improvement over the carrier’s business class product.

That being said, you might want to consider booking it to access Flagship First Dining (when it reopens) at major hub airports such as Los Angeles (LAX) or New York-JFK. If you’re able to find award space when international travel fully reopens, you could book a first-class award on the following routes for only 62,500 miles:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) or New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR)
  • Miami (MIA) to Sao Paulo (GRU)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND)

Related: Is American Airlines Flagship First worth it?

Incredible redemptions with Virgin Atlantic

(Photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy)

Virgin Atlantic is another great example of an airline that has leveraged individual partnerships in lieu of an alliance membership to build a valuable loyalty program.

Each Virgin Atlantic partner has a different award chart, but you’ll want to pay the closest attention to are Delta and ANA. In many cases, you can get more value than if you were to redeem the carrier’s own miles for flights.

Here’s a look.

Related: How to find and book Virgin Atlantic partner awards

Delta Air Lines

Even though Delta is a Membership Rewards transfer partner (more on that soon), its dynamic award pricing often makes international awards extremely expensive. You’re better off transferring your Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club to book international Delta flights.

The program offers standard, award-chart based pricing for Delta flights. Here’s a look at the program’s 2020 Delta award chart:

Virgin Atlantic Delta Award Chart
(Image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic)

This award chart is far more attractive than Delta’s dynamic award pricing in many cases. For example, a Delta flight from Atlanta (ATL) to Seoul (ICN) costs just 60,000 points, with $5.60 in taxes and fees in business class.

Virgin Atlantic Delta Award Chart
(Image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic)

A Delta award ticket on the same date costs 180,000 SkyMiles — three times the cost. It goes without saying that it’s easy to see which partner gives you the best value for this redemption.

ATL to ICN Delta SkyMiles Price
(Screenshot courtesy Delta Air Lines)

Related: How to book cheap Delta awards with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

ANA

While this is a much more narrow use, Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart has to be one of the single best sweet-spot redemptions in the entire points-and-miles world. The chart below shows round-trip prices:

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club redemption chart on ANA
(Image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic)

This means you can fly from West Coast airports like Los Angeles or San Francisco to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) or Tokyo-Haneda (HND) in ANA first class for only 110,000 miles round-trip. That’s less than some airlines charge for a one-way ticket, essentially giving you a 50% discount.

ANA first-class tickets sometimes cost $16,000 or more, so this is an easy way to get more than 10 cents per point in value.

Fly ANA First Class with Avianca LifeMiles (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)
ANA First Class (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

You’ll still get a great deal flying from other U.S. cities for 120,000 miles round-trip, while booking business class will only require 90,000-95,000 miles round-trip. Note that you have to book a round-trip award to score this redemption, and you need to book at least 48 hours before departure, but ANA has been generally pretty good about releasing premium cabin award space.

Even cooler, you can use this trick to book a mini-round-the-world trip with an open-jaw itinerary. This is when you depart from one city and return to another. So, you could use this to book New York-JFK to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) as your outbound flight and Tokyo to London-Heathrow (LHR) as your “return” flight. This itinerary costs just 120,000 points in total.

Related: Review of The Room, ANA’s new business class on the Boeing 777-300ER

United and Alaska flights to Hawaii

(Photo by M.M. Sweet/Getty Images)

Hawaii is a dream for many travelers — and it’s easy to see why. From the great city of Honolulu to the vast beaches of Maui and Kona, the islands truly have it all. You can book flights to the islands on United and Alaska Airlines by transferring your Membership Rewards points to Singapore Airlines Krisflyer.

Related: Hawaii again welcoming visitors; Here’s everything you need to know

Those on the West Coast should book Alaska flights with these miles. The two airlines have a non-alliance partnership that offers ultra-cheap nonstop flights to Hawaii from cities including Los Angeles (LAX), Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX), among others.

You’ll pay just 12,000 Krisflyer miles for a one-way flight from California, Oregon or Washington state to any of the Hawaiian islands. Just note that Singapore doesn’t let you book Alaska flights with stops, so you’re restricted to booking flights from one of Alaska’s various hubs.

Those based elsewhere in the country can book nonstop or connecting flights with United Airlines. You’ll pay just 17,500 points for a one-way economy ticket or 34,500 for business class. This includes United’s long-haul nonstop flights from Newark (EWR), Chicago (ORD) and Washington D.C. (IAD) to Honolulu.

Newark to Honolulu Price Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

This can be an excellent deal if you manage to book one of the long flights from the Midwest or East Coast. These flights are operated by wide-body aircraft with lie-flat seats. Check out Zach Honig’s review of Newark to Honolulu in United First for a look at what to expect on board.

Related: The best ways to get to Hawaii using points and miles

Fly the world’s longest nonstop flight in comfort

Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Singapore Airlines restarted the world’s longest flight — New York to Singapore — earlier this month. While Americans still can’t enter Singapore for tourism, it’s refreshing to see this flight make a comeback. It will be an excellent way to fly from the East Coast to Singapore and beyond without a layover — once travel resumes.

Of course, you’re not going to want to spend 18 hours in an economy seat — so use your Membership Rewards to fly business class instead. The New York-JFK to Singapore (SIN) route costs 99,000 points, which is a small price to pay for comfort on such a long flight.

JFK to SIN Krisflyer Pricing
(Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines)

Onboard, you can expect top-notch service and dining. Plus, the seat is nothing to scoff at either — it’s fully lie-flat and has a fully stocked entertainment selection. Think of it like a five-star hotel room and restaurant that whisks you around the world.

Related: 18 hours in nonstop style: Singapore business class on the world’s longest flight

Iberia flights to Madrid

(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)

Booking premium-cabin award flights to Europe can be a complicated and expensive endeavor, but Iberia’s distance-based award chart is one of the best options to consider.

That said, there are two things to keep in mind with distance-based award charts. The first is that sweet spots are likely to be between individual city pairs with nonstop flights. This is different than a zone-based award chart, where the sweet spots cover flights between all cities that fall into the corresponding region(s) in which you’re traveling.

Second, you’ll typically be punished for taking connecting routings, so you’ll want to stick to the shortest nonstop flight you can possibly manage. That might even mean taking a domestic positioning flight to kick off your award ticket.

With that in mind, Iberia’s award chart for transatlantic flights to and from Madrid (MAD) offers some incredible values. Here are the one-way award prices:

Destination Blue Class/ Economy Off-Peak Blue Class/ Economy Peak Premium Economy Off-Peak Premium Economy Peak Business Off-Peak Business Peak
New York 17,000 / 22,000 20,000 / 28,000 25,000 35,000 34,000 50,000
Chicago 17,000 / 22,000 20,000 / 28,000 25,000 35,000 34,000 50,000
Boston 17,000 / 22,000 20,000 / 28,000 25,000 35,000 34,000 50,000
Miami 21,250 / 27,750 25,000 / 35,000 31,750 43,750 42,000 62,500
Los Angeles 21,250 / 27,750 25,000 / 35,000 31,750 43,750 42,000 62,500
San Francisco 21,250 / 27,750 25,000 / 35,000 31,750 43,750 42,000 62,500

Off-peak business class flights offer the best deal. You can fly from New York-JFK, Chicago (ORD) and Boston (BOS) to Madrid for just 34,000 Avios in economy, 50,000 in premium economy and 68,000 in business class. Those are round-trip prices — yes, you read that right.

When you consider the fact that most airlines charge 50,000 to 60,000 miles for a one-way business-class flight to Europe, this is an absolute steal. Even longer flights to Madrid from Miami (MIA), Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) are also attractively priced — here’s a look at off-peak pricing:

  • Economy: 42,500 Avios
  • Premium economy: 63,500 Avios
  • Business: 84,000 Avios

Booking these awards through Iberia not only lets you save your hard-earned points, it helps you minimize the taxes and fees that you’ll pay. If you book the exact same round-trip business-class award from JFK to Madrid using British Airways, you’d pay the same 84,000 Avios but have to fork over $1,000+ in taxes and fees. Booking through Iberia costs a much more reasonable $211.

Book Choice hotels around the world

The Choice Privileges program is lesser-known when compared to the bigger chains like Marriott and Hilton, but it’s still worth a look. You can still get value by transferring Membership Rewards to Choice Privileges, with awards starting at just 8,000 points per night.

Choice has a wide range of brands and properties around the world. On the low end, you can use 8,000 points per night to book a stay at the Econo Lodge in downtown Salt Lake City. While not the most luxurious property, it’s a nice option to have if other hotels are out of your price range.

Econo Lodge Salt Lake City Points Price
(Image courtesy of Choice Hotels)

The hotel company also has conveniently located hotels outside of major cities. For example, you can use 10,000 points per night to book the Comfort Inn near the Six Flags theme park in Gurnee, IL, a suburb of Chicago. This can be a good option for a staycation or a stop on a long road trip.

Comfort Inn Gurnee Illinois Points price
(Image courtesy of Choice Hotels)

Things get more exciting when you travel abroad. There is a handful of 8,000 point per night properties in Tokyo that bring excellent value. The centrally located Comfort Hotel Tokyo Kanda is one of them. The rooms look solid, and it’s within walking distance of public transit.

Comfort Hotel Tokyo Kanda Price
(Image courtesy of Choice Hotels)

Of course, Choice has higher-end options too. You can spend 20,000 points for a Hotel Christiania Teater — a member of Choice’s higher-end Ascend Hotel Collection. This hotel has unique rooms, a beautiful lobby and a central location that gives you easy access to everything Oslo has to offer. That said, cash rates can be cheap, so do your own research to see if paying with points is a good idea.

Hotel Christiania Teater Points Price
(Image courtesy of Choice Hotels)

As mentioned, Hilton is also a transfer partner, but it’s so easy to earn Hilton points either with cobranded cards including Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or through paid stays, so we don’t recommend transferring Membership Rewards to Hilton Honors unless you’re just short points for an award booking.

Related: Why I often choose IHG and Choice hotels, despite limited elite perks

Book short-haul flights with Avianca LifeMiles, Avios or Delta SkyMiles

Delta A220 Economy Class Seating
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

You don’t have to jet halfway around the world to get a great redemption. If you’re looking for a great deal on domestic flights, you have plenty of options. The three best transfer partners for domestic flights — LifeMiles, Avios and SkyMiles — span the three major airline alliances, so you can book tickets with the Big 3 U.S. carriers and Alaska Airlines.

Book American flights with British Airways Avios

British Airways Avios are the best way to book domestic flights operated by American and Alaska Airlines. The program has a distance-based award chart, so you’ll pay more Avios for longer flights, but short and mid-haul domestic flights are the award chart’s sweet spots for Oneworld flyers.

Flights that are 1,151 miles or shorter can be booked for just 9,000 Avios. This is a solid way to use your points if cash flights are otherwise expensive. Think peak travel times like holidays, conferences and school breaks.

One thing to note about Avios: it charges per leg, so you’ll pay more for connecting flights. In most cases, you should only use Avios to book nonstop flights. You’re better off booking connecting flights with LifeMiles or SkyMiles, or using American AAdvantage miles if you have them.

Related: Here’s why you should care about British Airways Avios

Book United flights with LifeMiles

LifeMiles is the loyalty program for Avianca, a Star Alliance member. This means you can book United flights with your LifeMiles, and there are some excellent deals to be had.

The program has kept a standard award chart so you’ll pay a predictable price for your flights. The program splits the U.S. up into three regions: United States 1, 2 and 3. You can view the regions and flight prices on LifeMile’s United partner page.

While the award chart shows flights starting at 7,500 LifeMiles one-way, there’s a hidden 6,500 LifeMile tier that’s reserved for short flights like Newark (EWR) to Washington-National (DCA) and Pittsburgh (PIT). These business-heavy routes can get expensive when booking at the last minute or during peak times, so it helps to have a low-cost points option in your back pocket.

EWR to PIT LifeMiles
(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

You can score solid deals on longer flights too. You’ll pay 7,5000 LifeMiles for mid-haul flights such as Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Philadelphia (PHL) and Newark (EWR). On the other hand, even longer routes will cost 10,000 LifeMiles or 12,500 LifeMiles one-way, which is still a good deal if cash tickets are expensive.

ORD to PHL LifeMiles
(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

Domestic first class isn’t a terrible deal either. This flight from Newark (EWR) to Austin (AUS) is just 15,000 LifeMiles one-way, which is a mere 2,500 LifeMiles more than an economy ticket.

EWR to AUS LifeMiles
(Image courtesy of LifeMiles)

Related: 3 reasons your family needs LifeMiles for domestic travel

Book Delta flights with SkyMiles

If Delta is your airline of choice, you can transfer your Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles. Unlike Avios and LifeMiles, the airline has dynamic pricing, so prices change by route, date and when you search. That said, we’ve found that domestic flights are generally one of the best ways to get value from the program.

For example, check out this flight from Detroit (DTW) to Chicago-Midway (MDW) — it costs just 6,500 SkyMiles one-way in basic economy. This is a pretty excellent deal on this route, especially if cash fares are expensive.

DTW to MDW Delta SkyMiles
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Long transcontinental flights offer great deals too. For example, this flight from New York-JFK to San Francisco (SFO) costs just 7,500 SkyMiles in basic economy and 11,000 in standard economy. This is an excellent redemption for one of the longest domestic flights in the U.S.

JFK to SFO SkyMiles Pricing
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Best Amex Membership Rewards cards

Now that you’re more familiar with how to maximize and burn your hard-earned Amex points, it’s time to start earning them. Here’s a look at some of the best Membership Rewards-earning credit cards for businesses and individuals:

The information for the Amex Green and Amex EveryDay Preferred cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

Whether you’re looking for first class airfare, an economy flight home for the holidays or a road trip hotel, you can use Membership Rewards to cover it all. Use the eight examples listed in this article as inspiration for your next big trip. Not only will you have a better experience, but you’ll spend significantly less out of pocket too.

Safe travels!

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg, Victoria Walker and Chris Dong.

Feature photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy

American Express® Gold Card

With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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