Here are 9 of our favorite ways to use Amex Membership Rewards points
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 per point. 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., looking at how to stretch your points for the best possible travel experience.
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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:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after spending $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. However, some readers have been targeted for up to a 100,000-point bonus using the CardMatch tool (offer subject to change at any time). Terms apply.
- 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 card membership. However, some readers have been targeted for up to a 75,000-point bonus using the CardMatch tool (offer subject to change at any time). Terms apply.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card within the first three months of card membership. Terms apply.
Once you have one of these cards, you can earn even more Amex points by shopping through Rakuten or when you buy (or sell) a house using a participating agent with RBN.
Now, let’s dive into the best ways to use Membership Rewards points!
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The best way to spend your Amex points is through transfer partners. The program partners with 20 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, 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
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.
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, Paris 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's John F. Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (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
Incredible redemptions with Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic is another great example of an airline leveraging individual partnerships instead 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 Delta and ANA for the best value
Related: How to find and book Virgin Atlantic partner awards
Delta Air Lines
Virgin Atlantic devalued its Delta award chart last year but kept one sweet spot: 50,000-point flights from the U.S. to Europe in Delta One business class. This pricing applies to all nonstop Delta tickets from the U.S. — connecting tickets are subject to extra mileage.
This is a great way to fly Delta from the U.S. to one of its many European destinations. Likewise, it’s substantially cheaper than transferring points to Delta SkyMiles for the same award ticket.
For example, this flight from New York to Zurich costs the stated 50,000 points and $5.60 in taxes and fees:
The same flight costs an insane 215,000 Delta SkyMiles and $5.60 on the same date:
If you’re booking a Delta One ticket to Europe, always check Virgin Atlantic first. It consistently prices lower than Delta and other SkyTeam programs on these routes.
Related: 3 great ways to redeem Virgin Atlantic points now that Delta awards are devalued
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:
This means you can fly from West Coast airports like Los Angeles or San Francisco to Tokyo's Narita International Airport (NRT) or Haneda International Airport (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.
You’ll still get a great deal flying from other U.S. cities for 120,000 miles round-trip. Booking business class will only require 90,000-95,000 miles round-trip. One-way tickets are bookable at half the listed mileage cost.
You can also 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 JFK to HND as your outbound flight and HND to 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
Hawaii is a dream for many travelers — and it’s easy to see why. From the great city of Honolulu to Maui and Kona’s vast beaches, 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.
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, Seattle and Portland, among others.
You’ll pay just 13,500 Krisflyer miles for a one-way flight from California, Oregon, or Washington to any 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. You also need to call in to book these awards.
Those based elsewhere in the country can book nonstop or connecting flights with United Airlines. You’ll pay 19,500 points for a one-way economy ticket or 39,00 for business class. This includes United’s long-haul nonstop flights from Newark, Chicago and Washington D.C. to Honolulu.
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 to 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 operates two of the world’s longest flight: Singapore Changi International Airport (SIN) to EWR and JFK. It's an excellent way to travel to one of Asia's most modern big cities and connect to other countries like Malaysia, India and Indonesia.
Of course, you’re not going to want to spend 18 hours in an uncomfortable seat — so use your Membership Rewards to fly business class.
Both routes cost 111,500 points plus taxes and fees one-way, a small price to pay for comfort on such a long flight.
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
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.
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 from a zone-based award chart, where the sweet spots cover flights between all cities that fall into the corresponding region(s) 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 find. 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 to/from Madrid||Blue class / economy||Premium economy||Business|
|New York||17,000 / 22,000||20,000 / 28,000||25,000||35,000||34,000||50,000|
|Chicago||21,250 / 27,750||25,000 / 35,000||31,750||43,750||42,500||62,500|
|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||42,500||62,500|
|Los Angeles||25,550 / 30,000||32,500 / 42,000||38,250||52,500||51,000||75,000|
|San Francisco||25,550 / 30,000||32,500 / 42,000||38,250||52,500||51,000||75,000|
Off-peak business class flights offer the best deal. You can fly from New York-JFK and Boston (BOS) to Madrid for just 34,000 Avios in economy, 50,000 in premium economy and 68,000 in business class. Yes, those are round-trip prices. Considering that most airlines charge 50,000 to 60,000 miles for a one-way business-class flight to Europe, is an absolute steal. Even longer flights to Madrid from Los Angeles or San Francisco are attractively priced — here’s a look at off-peak pricing:
- Economy: 51,100
- Premium economy: 76,500 Avios
- Business: 102,000 Avios
Booking these awards through Iberia not only lets you save your hard-earned points but also helps you minimize the taxes and fees that you’ll pay. If you book the 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.
Related: The complete guide to American Express Membership Rewards partners
Round-trip business class flights to Europe
Another great way to get to Europe is transferring points to ANA Mileage Club and booking Star Alliance flights.
While you can book any Star Alliance partner with these miles, European partners like Lufthansa and Swiss add huge fuel surcharges to their tickets. These can add up to well over $1,000 round-trip on a business class ticket, so stick with United if you want to keep taxes and fees low. You can also book with low-surcharge carriers like Air Canada, LOT Polish Airlines, TAP Portugal or SAS.
ANA Mileage Club charges just 88,000 miles for a round-trip business class flight from the U.S. to Europe. This is an exceptional deal as it’s just over what most other Star Alliance carriers charge for a one-way ticket. Plus, you can also add a stopover on another airline, letting you see two European cities on one trip. This may slightly raise the taxes and fees but are generally worth it if your connecting flight is in business class.
If you're looking for a basic round-trip redemption, you can book something like this TAP Portugal itinerary from New York to Lisbon for 88,000 points and just over $55 in taxes and fees.
Or, you can spice things up by adding a stopover and booking New York to Lisbon for a stopover before continuing to Madrid. Then, you can fly home via Lisbon for the same 88,000 points. Taxes and fees rise slightly to roughly $88, but this depends on the itinerary you book.
Whatever you book, you can get a solid deal when you book low-fuel surcharge carriers to Europe with ANA Mileage Club — especially if you maximize your included stopover.
Related: Do this before booking award tickets for your family
Round-the-world on SkyTeam carriers
Continuing on the path of international business class, you can transfer your points to Aeromexico Club Premier to book round-the-world tickets on SkyTeam carriers. These tickets let you visit multiple cities on various continents while sampling a ton of SkyTeam carriers. Aeromexico’s round-the-world pass pricing is extremely reasonable and there’s just a small list of restrictions to keep in mind.
On the pricing side, you’ll pay 224,000 Aeromexico points in economy or 352,000 in business class. Membership Rewards points transfer to Aeromexico at a rate of 1:1.6 transfer ratio. This means a pass costs 140,000 or 220,000 Membership Rewards points for economy and business class, respectively. I think it’s worth the extra points to fly business class — especially if you’re doing a true round-the-world trip.
Here’s a look at the restrictions to keep in mind when you book a round-the-world ticket with Aeromexico:
- Travel must continue in the same direction, east or west.
- Travel must begin and end in the same country.
- You can have a minimum of three or a maximum of 15 stopovers, with no more than five per continent. A stopover is defined as any city where you remain for 24 hours before continuing your travel.
- All flights must be booked in the same class of service.
- Pass is valid for one year from the date of issue.
This gives you a ton of flexibility in how you plan out your round-the-world ticket. I whipped up a quick example that routes you through Central America, Europe and Asia before returning to the U.S. via Hawaii — here’s a look:
- Los Angeles to Mexico City – Aeromexico.
- Mexico City to Panama City – Aeromexico.
- Panama City to Paris – Air France.
- Paris to Prague – Czech Airlines.
- Prague to Bucharest – TAROM.
- Bucharest to Istanbul – TAROM.
- Istanbul to Seoul – Korean Airlines.
- Seoul to Honolulu – Korean Airlines.
- Honolulu to Los Angeles – Delta Air Lines.
This all fits into the criteria above and lets you see eight cities, all while flying some of SkyTeam’s best business class products. To book this, you’d have to find SkyTeam award space using your favorite SkyTeam search tool. Then, call Aeromexico to book the award.
One last thing: Aeromexico passes on fuel surcharges for carriers that charge them. You can check by searching for your flights with ITA Matrix and looking for the “YQ” line on the flight’s pricing breakdown. You may also be responsible for paying some taxes and other fees levied by local governments, the operating carrier or Aeromexico.
Related: A review of Aeromexico’s business class on the 787-9 from Mexico City to Buenos Aires
Book Choice hotels around the world
The Choice Privileges program is lesser-known than 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 if other hotels are out of your price range.
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.
Things get more exciting when you travel abroad. There are a handful of properties in Tokyo that can be booked for 8,000 points per night. The centrally located Comfort Hotel Tokyo Kanda is one of them. The rooms look solid, and it’s within walking distance of public transit.
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 offers. That said, cash rates can be cheap, so do your own research to see if paying with points is a good idea.
Hilton is also a transfer partner, but earning Hilton points is easy via paid stays or cobranded cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. So we don’t recommend transferring Membership Rewards to Hilton Honors unless you’re just short points for an award booking.
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.
Related: Why I often choose IHG and Choice hotels, despite limited elite perks
Book short-haul flights with Avianca LifeMiles, Avios or Delta SkyMiles
You don’t have to jet halfway around the world to get a great redemption. You have plenty of options if you’re looking for a great deal on domestic flights. 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, SkyMiles or 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. 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 to Pittsburgh. 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.
You can score solid deals on longer flights too. You’ll pay 7,500 LifeMiles for mid-haul flights such as Chicago to Philadelphia and Newark. 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.
Domestic first class isn’t a terrible deal either. This flight from Newark (EWR) to Austin (AUS) is just 15,000 LifeMiles one-way, a mere 2,500 LifeMiles more than an economy ticket.
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 Chicago to Detroit — it costs as few as 4,500 SkyMiles one-way in basic economy. This is a pretty excellent deal on this route, especially if cash fares are expensive.
Long transcontinental flights offer great deals too. For example, this flight from New York to Los Angeles costs just 9,000 SkyMiles in basic economy and 12,000 in standard economy. This is an excellent redemption for one of the longest domestic flights in the U.S.
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 cards for businesses and individuals:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for high-end travel benefits
- American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining at restaurants and buying groceries
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for frequent business travelers
- American Express® Business Gold Card: Best for flexible earning on business expenses
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Best for everyday business expenses
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.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.
Additional reporting by Juan Ruiz, Ethan Steinberg, Victoria Walker and Chris Dong.