American Express Membership Rewards: The ultimate guide
American Express issues several dozen cards, including cobranded hotel and airline cards, and two editions (personal and business) of the invite-only Centurion card. That’s a dizzying array of cards to choose from. Still, only a handful of publicly available Amex cards grant full access to the company’s lucrative Membership Rewards program.
Whether you’re looking to dive into Membership Rewards 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 closer look at this program and analyze some of the top Amex points-earning cards, what they offer, how to redeem points and how to maximize Amex rewards and benefits.
What are Membership Rewards points?
Membership Rewards points are the points currency of American Express. If you have an Amex card that earns Membership Rewards points, you will earn them for everyday spending, just as you would earn airline miles with an airline-branded card or hotel points with a hotel-branded card.
In the world of points and miles, American Express Membership Rewards points are considered some of the most valuable and useful points you can earn because of their flexibility. They are valued at a respectable 2 cents each per TPG valuations, and can maximize your travel across myriad partners. The program has 17 airlines and three hotel transfer partners.
How do I earn Membership Rewards points?
The easiest way to earn a lot of Membership Rewards points is by applying for a Membership Rewards points-earning American Express card. Amex has several to choose from, ranging from premium cards with generous benefits (and high annual fees) to no-annual-fee cards that reward daily business spending.
Earning Membership Rewards points from credit cards
Here’s a look at the welcome offer, bonus-category structure, annual fee and benefits for each of the six most valuable Membership Rewards credit cards to help you choose which is the best Amex card for you.
|Card||Welcome offer||Bonus categories||Annual fee||Perks|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Earn 80,000 points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases within the first six months of account opening.||5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year) and prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel. Terms apply.||$695 (see rates and fees).||Up to $200 in annual airline fee credit; up to $200 total in annual Uber Cash (in the U.S.); up to $200 in hotel statement credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, with Amex Travel; up to $240 in digital entertainment statement credit for select providers; up to $300 in Equinox credit annually on select Equinox memberships; up to $189 in Clear Plus statement credit; a fee statement credit for Global Entry (up to $100) or TSA PreCheck (up to $85); access to the Global Lounge Collection; complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status (enrollment required for select benefits).|
|The Business Platinum Card® from American Express||Earn 120,000 points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.||5 points per dollar on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com; 1.5 points per dollar on eligible purchases in select business categories and eligible purchases of $5,000 or more (on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year).|
|$695 (see rates and fees).||Up to $400 in annual credit for U.S. Dell purchases; up to $200 in annual airline fee statement credit for one selected airline; a fee credit for Global Entry (up to $100) or TSA PreCheck (up to $85); access to the Global Lounge Collection; complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Gold elite status (enrollment required).|
|American Express® Gold Card||Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases in the first six months of card membership.||4 points per dollar on dining at restaurants; 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1 point per dollar); 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com. Terms apply.||$250 (see rates and fees).||Up to $120 in annual dining statement credit at participating partners (enrollment required); no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).|
|American Express® Business Gold Card||Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership.||4 points per dollar on two select categories where you spend the most each month, on up to $150,000 in combined purchases from these two categories each calendar year (then 1 point per dollar). Terms apply.||$295 (see rates and fees).||25% points back after you book a flight using Pay with Points (up to 250,000 points back per calendar year).|
|American Express® Green Card||Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn 20% back on eligible travel and transit purchases made during your first 6 months of Card Membership, up to $200 back in the form of a statement credit.||3 points per dollar on virtually all travel purchases (including transit) and restaurants in the U.S. Terms apply.||$150 (see rates and fees).||Very broad and generous definitions of travel purchases, including vacation rentals, tolls and public transport.|
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||Earn 15,000 points after you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of account opening.||2 points per dollar on everyday business purchases up to $50,000 each calendar year with no category restrictions (then 1 point per dollar). Terms apply.||$0 (see rates and fees).||None.|
Other ways to earn Membership Rewards points
Once you have one (or more) of the above credit cards, there are additional options for earning Amex points. The first is leveraging Rakuten, one of TPG's favorite online shopping portals. Formerly known as Ebates, the site once offered cash back to shoppers who clicked through to participating merchants from its dashboard. However, members can now earn cash back or Membership Rewards points.
If you don’t have an account, you can sign up here and enjoy a one-time bonus of $30 (or 3,000 points) when you spend at least $30 within 90 days of becoming a member.
Another way to earn Membership Rewards points is by buying or selling your home through a company called RBN. This referral brokerage matches prospective buyers and sellers with participating agents — and then awards you up to 1 Amex point for every $1 of the purchase or sale price after closing.
To learn more, check out this guide — or you can visit RBN’s site to connect with a participating agent.
Read more: How to use Rakuten to earn bonus cash back or Amex points
Do Amex points expire?
Membership Rewards points do not expire, provided you keep at least one card that earns Membership Rewards points open.
If you cancel all Membership Rewards Amex cards, you must redeem or transfer your points before closing the last card. Otherwise, you will forfeit the points.
Who are the Membership Rewards transfer partners?
By transferring Membership Rewards points to 17 airline and three hotel transfer partners, you can search for award travel across the globe, covering almost every major route and city. Thus, earning Membership Rewards is usually more valuable than only earning points in one of these airline or hotel loyalty programs. Remember, you are not locked into one transfer partner — you can send some points to one program and then some to another.
Below, we’ve listed all those partners, transfer ratios and the transfer times discovered in our testing.
Instant transfers are always preferred, and Amex does a good job of making that happen compared with other transferable points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Citi ThankYou points. If you haven’t done so already, link your transfer partner accounts to your Membership Rewards account. This prevents delays in the future when you may need to make a quick transfer.
Related: Current point transfer bonuses
|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|
|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 Air Lines SkyMiles||1:1||Instant|
|Etihad Airways Guest||1:1||Instant|
|Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||1:1||Instant|
|Iberia Plus||1:1||48 hours|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||1:1||Instant|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1:1||Less than 24 hours|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1:1||Instant|
The best ways to redeem Membership Rewards points
There are endless ways to use these transfer partners to get maximum value for your Membership Rewards points. Here’s just a few of our favorite redemptions:
- Transfer your points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and you’ll pay just 13,500 KrisFlyer miles for a one-way flight from California, Oregon or Washington to any Hawaiian islands on Alaska Airlines. Those based elsewhere in the country can book nonstop or connecting flights on United Airlines. You’ll pay 19,500 points for a one-way economy ticket or 39,000 for business class. This includes United’s long-haul nonstop flights from Newark, Chicago and Washington, D.C., to Honolulu.
- Singapore Airlines also operates two of the world’s longest flights: From Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). You won’t 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 for comfort on such a long flight.
- Transfer your Amex points to Iberia Plus. You can fly from JFK and Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to Madrid for just 17,000 Avios in economy, 25,000 in premium economy and 34,000 in business class each way. Considering that most airlines charge 50,000 to 60,000 miles for a one-way business-class flight to Europe, this is an absolute steal.
- Transfer your Membership Rewards 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. You’ll pay 224,000 Aeromexico points in economy or 352,000 in business class. Membership Rewards points transfer to Aeromexico at a 1:1.6 ratio. This means a cost of 140,000 or 220,000 Membership Rewards points for economy and business class, respectively.
- Transfer your Amex points to Air France-KLM's Flying Blue to take advantage of its fantastic monthly Promo Rewards offers. We have regularly seen business-class flights to Europe for under 30,000 Membership Rewards points each way.
- British Airways Avios is the best way to book domestic flights operated by American and Alaska Airlines. The program has a distance and segment-based award chart, so you’ll pay more Avios for longer flights. However, 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.
- Transfer your Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club program and book round-trip business-class flights to Japan on ANA for just 90,000 Membership Rewards points from the West Coast of the United States and 95,000 points from the East Coast.
- 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 to 25,000 points per night.
Just remember that transfers are irreversible, so you’ll only want to transfer your points once you’ve confirmed award space for the flight or hotel you want.
You can also use your points to book virtually any travel through the Amex Travel booking platform, where you usually receive a value of about 1 cent per Amex point. This is an OK but not spectacular way to redeem these points.
Poor-value ways to redeem Membership Rewards points
Unfortunately, several options for redeeming your points represent less than stellar value and should typically be avoided if you want to maximize your travel. These include:
Using points for charges: This is like a cash-back option covering eligible charges on your billing statement. What are eligible charges? There’s no published definition and American Express can change whatever charges it deems eligible at any time without prior notification. With this option, you’ll only receive 0.6 cents per point, so it’s not a great return.
Using Pay with Points at checkout: After linking your Membership Rewards account with various online merchants like Amazon and Grubhub, 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 sometimes be useful for promotions, you may want to turn this off to prevent accidental and unauthorized use of your points.
Redeem for taxi rides in New York City: You can redeem points for your fare in New York City taxis at a value of 1 cent each. First, pay with an eligible Membership Rewards American Express card as your payment method. Then, the checkout experience will present you with a “Use Points” option to apply points toward the ride.
Redeeming for gift cards: One of the worst options is redeeming your points for gift cards. Your points are worth anywhere from 0.5 cents to 1 cent apiece on these redemptions, depending on the merchant.
Related: How everyday purchases cost me thousands of points
The American Express lineup of Membership Rewards cards offers something for everyone — from frequent 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 credit card lineup, you’ll want to look hard at what you spend money on. Membership Rewards points are easy to earn thanks to the generous card offers. They're also easy to redeem, thanks to the fantastic mix of transfer partners.
Currently, most Amex card bonuses include language that a person is only eligible for a bonus “once in a lifetime,” which could affect which cards you should add going forward. If you’re unsure if you’re eligible for a certain welcome bonus, check first using Amex’s qualification tool.
- Choosing the best American Express card for you
- Redeeming American Express Membership Rewards points for maximum value
- Best ways to redeem Amex points on SkyTeam airlines
- Best ways to redeem Amex points on Star Alliance airlines
- Best ways to redeem Amex points on Oneworld airlines
Additional reporting by Benji Stawski.
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 Green card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus card, please click here.