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American Express issues 32 different credit cards, including co-branded hotel and airline cards as well as two editions (personal and business) of the invite-only Centurion card. That’s a dizzying array to choose from, but only 10 publicly available Amex cards — six personal and four business — grant full access to the company’s Membership Rewards program. (While the Amex Green, Business Green, and Blue from American Express are MR-earning cards, none offer substantial welcome bonuses or a compelling assortment of perks, so we’ll be passing over those.)

In the points and miles world, Membership Rewards points have a reputation for being difficult to acquire because of a lack of credit card bonus categories and a once-in-a-lifetime welcome bonus policy. They are, however, valued at a respectable 2 cents apiece per TPG’s most recent valuations, and can be used to facilitate adventures across myriad partners. The program partners with 18 different airlines (including Aeromexico, British Airways, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Singapore), as well as three hotel chains (Hilton, Choice and the new Marriott).

Whether you’re looking to dive into the Membership Rewards program for the first time, or you’re looking to expand your portfolio, select a card for a family member or pair an existing personal card with a business card, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a deep look at this program, with an analysis of each of the MR-earning cards, what they offer, how to redeem the points and how to maximize benefits.

In This Post

Earning With Credit Cards

First, here’s a quick glance at the welcome bonus, bonus category structure, annual fee and benefits for each of the seven most valuable Membership Rewards credit cards.

Card Welcome Offer Bonus Categories Annual Fee Perks
The Platinum Card® from American Express 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, and on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. Terms apply. $550 $200 annual airline fee credit; $200 total in annual Uber credits; a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; Global Lounge Collection
American Express® Gold Card 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months; receive 20% back as a statement credit at US restaurants with the Gold Card within the first 3 months of your card membership, up to $100 back 4x points at US restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 per year in purchases; 3x on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com. Terms apply. $250 $100 airline fee credit; $120 total in annual dining credit at participating partners; no foreign transaction fees
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express 10,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months 2x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1% thereafter). Terms apply. $0 Make 20 or more purchases with your card in a billing period and earn 20% extra points on those purchases less returns and credits
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1% thereafter); 2x at US gas stations. Terms apply. $95 Make 30 or more purchases with your card in a billing period and earn 50% more points on those purchases less returns and credits
The American Express® Business Gold Card Up to one year free of G Suite Basic for three users and up to one year of ZipRecruiter Standard in the form of statement credits for purchases on the card in your first 12 months of card membership 4x points on two select categories where you spend the most each month, up to $150,000 in combined purchases from these two categories each calendar year (then 1% thereafter). Terms apply. $295 25% points back after you book a flight using Pay With Points
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express 75,000 points: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within the first three months 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com; 1.5x on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to one million additional points per year). Terms apply. $450  $200 annual airline fee credit; a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; Global Lounge Collection; complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and new Marriott Gold Elite status; complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access
The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express 0.0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. Then your APR will be a variable rate based on your creditworthiness and other factors. 2x points on everyday business purchases up to $50,000 each year with no category restrictions (1x thereafter). Terms apply. $0 $0 annual fee for adding employees

That’s a lot of information, so let’s take a deeper dive into each card and what each one offers.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

For a long time, the Amex Platinum was the premium travel rewards card, though this segment is now quite competitive. Nevertheless, the card does offer a very solid value proposition that even a semi-frequent traveler should appreciate. Read the full review.

Welcome Bonus

Earn 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of opening your account. Per TPG’s latest valuations, this welcome bonus is worth a whopping $1,200. But an even larger bonus may be available, so check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’ve been targeted for a higher bonus of up to 100,000 Membership Rewards points.

Earning

You’ll earn 5 points per dollar spent for prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com (including prepaid Fine Hotels and Resorts booked online) and flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar everywhere else. This makes the Amex Platinum particularly useful for airline bookings, but less so for other spend categories.

Perks

Amex Platinum benefits could be worth hundreds of dollars annually. The primary benefits include:

American Express® Gold Card

The Gold Card is the perfect card for foodies, since it offers generous bonus earning at US restaurants and US supermarkets. In particular, you can earn 4x Membership Rewards points at US restaurants, which represents a solid 8% return on your dining spending. Plus, you’ll get 4x points at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 per year in purchases. With a $250 annual fee and many benefits, this card is a solid in-between card that falls between the premium card category and the entry-level tier. Read the full review.

Welcome Bonus

You’ll earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $2,000 in purchases in your first three months. Per TPG’s latest valuations, the 25,000-point welcome bonus is worth $500. You’ll also receive 20% back as a statement credit at US restaurants, up to $100 back, when you use your new card.

Earning

You’ll earn 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at US restaurants; 4 points per dollar at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases; 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with an airline or on amextravel.com; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.

Perks

The card’s $120 annual dining credit provides up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at participating dining partners like Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations. The card also includes a $100 airline fee credit for one selected qualifying airline and no foreign transaction fees. You can also get a $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges when you use your card to book a stay of two nights or longer through The Hotel Collection.

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

If you’re looking for a card without an annual fee that still allows you to participate in the Membership Rewards program, this flavor of Amex EveryDay is a terrific option. It still gives you a category bonus at US supermarkets, which is notable since many no-fee cards offer a flat earning rate across all merchants. It may take a while to get to a valuable redemption like Lufthansa first class, but it’s a good way to start!

Welcome Bonus

You’ll earn 10,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months, though you could be targeted for an elevated 15,000-point offer through the CardMatch Tool. Per TPG’s latest valuations, this welcome bonus is worth $200.

Earning

You’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year); then 1 point dollar after that and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. If you make 20 or more purchases with your card in a billing period, you’ll earn 20% extra points on those purchases less returns and credits.

Perks

Given the no-fee nature of the card, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Amex EveryDay Credit Card has minimal perks. We’ll point out a few below, most of which are considered table stakes for a points-earning card.

  • You’ll earn 2x Membership Rewards points on every dollar of eligible travel purchases — such as prepaid hotel stays, vacation packages and cruises — when you use your card to book your trip through amextravel.com.
  • Access to Amex Offers
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Amex Extended Warranty: the length of your warranty can be extended for up to two additional years when you use your card for eligible purchases that come with an original US manufacturer’s warranty of five years or less.

Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

This is another card that gets you into the Membership Rewards program without breaking the bank with a high annual fee. It’s also great if you don’t travel that frequently, as you don’t get the significant perks of the Amex Platinum but still have some solid category bonuses for everyday spending. If you do use it as your primary card, you should definitely make a point of hitting 30 transactions a month to earn the 50% bonus, though be sure you know the timeline for how American Express awards these points.

Welcome Bonus

You’ll earn 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months. Per TPG’s latest valuations, this welcome bonus is worth $300.

Earning

You’ll collect 3 points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year); 2 points per dollar spent at US gas stations; and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. If you make 30 or more purchases in a billing period, you’ll earn 50% more points on those purchases.

Perks

You’ll receive some fairly standard rewards card benefits perks, which we’ve highlighted below.

  • You’ll earn 2x Membership Rewards points on every dollar of eligible travel purchases — such as prepaid hotel stays, vacation packages and cruises — when you use your card to book your trip through amextravel.com.
  • Access to Amex Offers
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Amex Extended Warranty: the length of your warranty can be extended for up to two additional years when you use your card for eligible purchases that come with an original US manufacturer’s warranty of five years or less.

The American Express® Business Gold Card

The card is a great option for those who value flexibility in both earning and redeeming points. With the Business Gold Card, you’ll always earn 4x in the two spending categories where you spent the most that month. So, you don’t have to worry about selecting the best two categories. Couple that with the flexibility of the Membership Rewards program and you have a potent combination. Read the full review.

Welcome Offer

The Business Gold Card is currently offering a welcome offer of one year free of G Suite Basic for three users and up to one year of ZipRecruiter Standard. The welcome offer is in the form of statement credits for purchases on the card in your first 12 months of card membership. If you purchase both G Suite Basic and ZipRecruiter Standard, this welcome offer is worth up to $3,188. But, if your company doesn’t already use G Suite Basic or ZipRecruiter Standard, you might be able to snag a 50,000 point welcome bonus if you’re referred by a friend. Per TPG’s latest valuations, the 50,000 point welcome bonus would be worth $1,000.

Earning

The card offers bonus points on six different categories of purchases: airfare, advertising, technology, gas, restaurants and shipping (the latter five only apply to US purchases). You’ll only earn 4x points on two categories, but the two categories with highest spend will be automatically chosen each month as your 4x categories. You’ll only earn 4x on the first $150,000 of 4x bonus category spend each calendar year though. Once you’ve passed that amount, your earning rate will drop down to that of all other purchases: 1x points.

These bonus categories can be quite lucrative. TPG pegs the value of Membership Rewards points at 2.0 cents apiece, which means you get a 8% return on the two categories where you spend the most each month. If you’re able to max out your bonus category spend by spending $150,000 in bonus categories each year, you’ll take home 600,000 points annually which are worth $12,000. This doesn’t include any other points you’d earn on everyday purchases, which still give you a respectable 2% return.

Perks

While the Business Gold Card may come with terrific earning ability and valuable flexibility in redeeming your points, the added collection of perks on the card is a bit lackluster. Here’s a quick overview:

  • You’ll earn 2x Membership Rewards points on every dollar of eligible travel purchases — such as prepaid hotel stays, vacation packages and cruises — when you use your card to book your trip through amextravel.com.
  • 25% points back after you book a flight using Pay with Points
  • Access to Amex Offers
  • Premium Roadside Assistance: You’re covered for emergency roadside assistance if your car is suddenly inoperable up to four times per year. If you call American Express, they will arrange assistance and pay for eligible third-party charges related to towing less than 10 miles, winching, jump starts, flat tire change when you have a workable spare, lockout service or delivery of up to two gallons of fuel. If towing exceeds 10 miles, you’ll be charged $3 per mile.

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

There’s one very good reason why The Business Platinum Card stands out as a best-in-class pick among the top business cards: It offers unparalleled travel rewards and perks. From airport lounge access to huge points earnings on airfare and hotel spending, this is a card the frequent business traveler really could use to his or her benefit. Read the full review.

Welcome Bonus

You’ll earn 50,000 points after you spend $10,000 in the first three months and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 also within the first three months from account opening. If you can meet this hefty $20,000 spend requirement, you’ll earn points worth more than three times the card’s annual fee. Per TPG’s latest valuations, this welcome bonus could net you $1,500 in value if you hit all of the spending requirements.

Earning

You’ll earn 5x points when you purchase airfare and prepaid hotel rooms from amextravel.com. That’s the same return as you’ll see on the personal Platinum Card, though with the personal Platinum Card you also get 5x points on airfare booked directly with airlines.

For businesses that have significant expenses, Amex will add a slight incentive to coax you to use its card: All purchases of $5,000 or more earn 1.5 points per dollar, up to 1 million extra points per year.

Perks

Rewards and redemption limitations aside, the Amex Business Platinum really shines when it comes to travel perks.

The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express

According to Amex, the Blue Business Plus was created specifically for smaller small businesses — think sole proprietorships, or young companies with limited revenue that could benefit most from a no-interest intro offer. And, with an all-encompassing 2x bonus, business owners can spend more time focused on growing their companies and less time worrying about which card will earn them the greatest return.

Welcome Offer

0.0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that your APR will be a variable rate based on your creditworthiness and other factors as determined at the time of account opening.

Earning

This is a no annual fee card that earns 2x points on everything (yes, everything!) up to $50,000 per calendar year, then 1x beyond that. Those 2x points equal 4 cents per dollar, or around 4% back on whatever your business needs. If you’re planning to spend beyond $50,000 annually, we’d recommend shifting to a category-specific card to maximize earnings.

Perks

As you’d expect from a no-fee card, the perks are fairly minimal. Below, we’ve highlighted a few of the noteworthy additions.

  • You can add employees for $0 a piece, and all of their spending will boost your earning. (We can’t swear that they’ll appreciate not being able to earn their own points, though.)
  • Amex Extended Warranty: the length of your warranty can be matched for up to two additional years when you use your card for eligible purchases that come with an original US manufacturer’s warranty of five years or less.
  • Amex Purchase Protection: Eligible items purchased on the card will be protected from accidental damage or theft for up to 120 days from the moment you buy them.
  • You’ll also be eligible for Amex Offers, giving you a series of targeted discounts and/or boosted earning rates across select merchants.

Redeeming Membership Rewards: Poor-Value Options

Unfortunately, several of the options for redeeming your points represent less than stellar value and should typically be avoided. These include:

Use Points for Charges — This is like a cash-back option for covering eligible charges on your billing statement. What are eligible charges? I’ve yet to find a solid definition, and American Express can change whatever charges it deems eligible at any time without prior notification. You’ll only receive 0.6 cents per point with this option, so it’s not a very good return.

Shop Amazon — After linking your Amazon and Membership Rewards accounts, you can use points to pay for your purchases at a slightly better (but still poor) value of 0.7 cents per point. Although this option can be useful for promotions, you may want to turn this option off to prevent accidental and unauthorized use of your points.

Free Uber Rides — You can redeem points for Uber rides at a value of 1 cent apiece. Add an eligible Membership Rewards American Express card as your payment method, and the Uber app will present you with a “Use Points” option to pay for the ride.

Transferring to Partners

This is where the magic really unfolds. By transferring Membership Rewards points to 18 airline and three hotel transfer partners, you’re able to search for award travel across the globe, covering just about every major route and city on airlines you may never otherwise have the chance to try.

Below, we’ve listed out all of those partners, along with transfer ratios and the transfer times discovered in our testing.

Instant transfers are obviously always preferred, and Amex does a good job of making that happen compared with some of the other transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Citi ThankYou points. If you haven’t done so already, link all your different transfer partner accounts to your Membership Rewards account. This prevents delays in the future when you may need to make a quick transfer.

Program Ratio Transfer Time
Aer Lingus AerClub 1:1 Instant
Aeromexico Club Premier 1:1.6 24 Hours
Air Canada Aeroplan 1:1 Instant
Air France/KLM Flying Blue 1:1 Instant
Alitalia MilleMiglia 1:1 Instant
All Nippon Airways Mileage Club 1:1 48 Hours
British Airways Executive Club 1:1 Instant
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles 1:1 48 Hours
Delta SkyMiles 1:1 Instant
El Al Matmid 50:1 Instant
Emirates Skywards 1:1 Instant
Etihad Guest 1:1 Instant
Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles 1:1 Instant
Iberia Plus 1:1 48 Hours
JetBlue TrueBlue 1.25:1 Instant
Singapore KrisFlyer 1:1 Less than 24 Hours
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 1:1 Instant
Choice Privileges 1:1 Instant
Hilton Honors 1:2 Instant
New Marriott 1:1 Instant

There are endless ways to utilize these transfer partners to get maximum value for your Membership Rewards points. Here’s just a sampling:

  • Transfer your points to Etihad to redeem on its partners, such as 50,000 miles for a business-class flight between the US to Japan on American Airlines, 44,000 miles for a business-class seat on Royal Air Maroc between New York (JFK) and Casablanca, or any of American’s A321T business transcon flights for 25,000 miles one-way.
  • Transfer your points to your Singapore KrisFlyer account to fly first class on the A380 for 80,000 Membership Rewards if you book Singapore to Sydney or vice versa.
  • Singapore KrisFlyer also now allows Star Alliance partner awards to be booked online, making it easier to take advantage of sweet spots like the continental US to Hawaii round-trip on United for 35,000 miles in economy or 60,000 in business.
  • The Choice Privileges program used by Choice Hotels is a 1:1 Membership Rewards transfer partner, and it boasts several properties across typically expensive European cities. For award nights, these hotels range from 8,000-25,000 points.
  • Transfer your points to British Airlines Avios to open up a host of options, such as flying from Boston to Ireland on Aer Lingus for just 26,000 Avios round-trip. Plus, you can still fly short-haul within other countries like Japan for 4,500 Avios each way with no fuel surcharges.
  • If you’re looking to book on Delta, including its Delta One Suites, transfer points to Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club. For instance, you can grab a Delta One Suite ticket on Delta’s new Airbus A350 or reconfigured Boeing 777 for 60,000 miles (and no fuel surcharges!).

With so many options, you’ll want to review some of our favorite tips and tricks on redeeming Membership Rewards points. We’ve listed a number of the very best ones in the section below.

Further Reading

Now that you’ve learned the basics of Amex Membership Rewards, you’ll find more advanced information in our multitude of guides on the subject. Here are some of our favorites:

Bottom Line

The American Express lineup of Membership Rewards cards offers something for everyone — from heavy travelers, to budding small business owners, to those looking to dip their toes in without shouldering a large annual fee. To make the most of the lineup, you’ll want to take a hard look at what you spend money on. The goal is to optimize your array of Amex cards (up to five) so that you have a card for every major category that matters to you, along with a card for “everyday spending” that doesn’t neatly fit into a bonus category.

Currently, most Amex card bonuses include language that a person is only eligible for a bonus “once in a lifetime,” which could impact which cards you should add going forward. While one card may be suitable from a usage standpoint, you may want to ogle a card with a welcome bonus that you can actually cash in on — and that means applying for a card that you’ve never held before. If you’re unsure if you’re eligible for a certain welcome bonus, be sure to check first using Amex’s qualification tool.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), up to a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.