7 ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points for holiday gifts

Nov 30, 2020

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Is your American Express Membership Rewards balance higher than your savings account balance? If so, you may be looking at how to cash out your Membership Rewards points for holiday gifts this winter.

Usually, I’d recommend redeeming your points for a trip. After all, travel is one of the best gifts you can give anyone — especially if you can give your time and travel together. And, redeeming your Membership Rewards points for travel will generally provide the most value.

But, many travelers aren’t traveling now due to the coronavirus pandemic. And, there’s a lot of uncertainty involved in booking future travel now. So, although redeeming your points for travel generally provides the most value, I’ve also considered some other options in this guide.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the best ways to redeem Amex Membership Rewards points for gifts this holiday season.

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In This Post

Transfer points to travel partners to book award travel

Lufthansa first class
You could book a surprise trip in Lufthansa first class as a gift. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Some transferrable rewards programs let you share rewards with others. However, Amex is one of the more restrictive programs when it comes to sharing. Specifically, Amex only allows you to transfer Membership Rewards points to your loyalty accounts or the loyalty accounts of your authorized users.

Luckily, most airline and hotel loyalty programs allow you to book awards for others when traveling together. And, some loyalty programs allow you to book travel for others even if they’re traveling without you. So, you may be able to give the gift of travel this holiday season by booking award travel for others.

If you’re looking to book award travel this holiday season, you can transfer your points to the following Membership Rewards transfer partners:

Based on TPG’s valuations, you can get about two cents of value per Membership Rewards point when you transfer to travel partners. And, it’s possible to get much more than two cents of value per point when you use the points you transfer to redeem for first and business-class tickets or aspirational hotel stays.

However, make sure award availability exists before transferring. And although most transfers are instant, sometimes it can take up to 48 hours for points to transfer (like with ANA, Cathay Pacific and Iberia). See our post on how long American Express Membership Rewards transfers take to estimate transfer times.

Related: Which is the best American Express credit card for you?

Pay with Points to book travel

Southwest cabin
It may make sense to Pay with Points for flights, especially if you have a card that provides a bonus. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Amex Pay with Points allows you to redeem Membership Rewards points for one cent each when you book airfare through Amex Travel. So, a $1,000 flight would cost 100,000 Membership Rewards points if you use The Platinum Card® from American Express or American Express® Gold Card. But, cardholders of three Amex business cards get a bonus when using Pay with Points for airfare:

  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: 35% bonus when you Pay with Points for first- and business-class flights on any airline or economy flights on your selected airline, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year
  • American Express® Business Gold Card: 25% bonus when you Pay with Points for first- and business-class flights on any airline or economy flights on your selected airline, up to 250,000 bonus points per calendar year
  • Amex Business Centurion Card: 50% bonus when you Pay with Points for any flight. The information for the Centurion 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.

Plus, you can book a flight for anyone using Pay with Points.

You can also book hotels, vacations, car rentals and cruises using Pay With Points through Amex Travel. But, you’ll only get 0.7 cents per point when doing so. So, $700 in hotel stays will cost 100,000 Membership Rewards points.

You will get a slightly better redemption rate of one cent per point if you Pay with Points for a stay booked through Amex’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program. But, since TPG’s valuations value Amex Membership Rewards points at two cents each, paying for hotel stays through Pay with Points isn’t usually how you’ll want to redeem your Amex points.

Related: Amex Business Platinum for flights: When to transfer vs. when to pay with points

Redeem for gift cards

Gift cards on sale at a store
You can redeem your Amex points for gift cards. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

You can also redeem Membership Rewards points for a variety of gift cards. However, redemption rates depend on the type of gift card:

  • 1 cent per Membership Reward point (for example, $1,000 in gift cards for 100,000 points) for most gift cards
  • 0.85 cents per point for select gift cards including Apple, Best Western, Bonefish Grill, Macy’s and Panera Bread
  • 0.7 cents per point for select gift cards including Best Buy, Delta, Four Seasons, Hilton, Marriott, Starbuck’s and Uber
  • 0.5 cents per point for American Express gift cards (so a $500 gift card is 100,000 points)

You can get a physical gift card or a digital gift card for most redemptions. And you can obtain gift cards in various values, but most start at $25 or $50.

Related: What credit cards should you use to purchase gift cards?

Pay with Points at check-out

Man shopping for the holidays online at home
You can use points to pay when shopping with select online merchants. (Photo by 10’000 Hours/Getty Images)

Pay with Points isn’t just for travel. There are also various online merchants, including Amazon, Best Buy, Boxed, Dell, GrubHub, Newegg, Paypal, Seamless, Staples and Walmart, that allow you to pay for purchases with Amex Membership Rewards points.

However, paying with points at these merchants usually isn’t a good use of your points. You’ll only get 0.7 cents per point for the merchants listed above when you redeem Membership Rewards points. So, a $700 purchase would cost 100,000 Membership Rewards points.

And the redemption rate is even worse at 0.5 cents per point if you use Membership Rewards points for event tickets through Ticketmaster.

Related: I spent 30,000 points on shopping — reader mistake story

Donate points to charity

Volunteers working for a charity
You can donate your points to charity. (Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images)

You can also donate your points to charity. Specifically, you can donate to any of 1.5 million U.S. charities through JustGiving with Amex Pay with Points. You’ll get a value of 0.7 cents per point when you make a JustGiving redemption. So, 100,000 Membership Rewards points would provide $700 toward the charity you choose.

Related: The best credit cards to maximize your nonprofit donation

Cover recent card charges

woman and baby with laptop and credit card
You could redeem points to cover recent charges. (Photo by Cavan Images/Getty Images)

If you buy gifts on your card from merchants that don’t participate in Pay with Points, you may want to use Membership Rewards points to cover these purchases. Although you can redeem Membership Rewards points to cover recent charges on your card, doing so will only provide a redemption rate of 0.6 cents per point. So, you’d need 100,000 points to cover a $600 charge.

Related: Are non-travel statement credit redemptions worthwhile?

Shop with points

Finally, you can also shop with Membership Rewards. However, doing so will only provide 0.5 cents per point of value. So, 100,000 Membership Rewards points would be worth $500 when used to shop with Membership Rewards. Even when sales offer 25% or 30% off, you still won’t get great value.

Related: Ultimate guide to maximizing your holiday purchases

Bottom line

If cash is tight or you have a large stash of points, you may want to use your American Express Membership Rewards points for holiday gifts. You’ll get the best value from your points by transferring them to travel partners and then booking luxury hotel stays or premium cabin flights. Or, if you don’t want to give the gift of travel, you can still get one cent per point of value when you redeem for select gift cards.

Make sure you understand the redemption value you’re getting before you redeem your points for holiday gifts. Of course, sometimes being able to redeem for a gift instead of paying cash can be a good value for you even if you get less than TPG’s stated valuation. Luckily, one easy way to compare all the options for your Amex Membership Rewards points is to use Amex’s Rewards Calculator.

Featured photo by goodpong/Getty Images.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points Terms Apply.

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $2,000

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, up to $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber Cash annually (only for use in the U.S.)  (Enrollment required for select benefits)

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • $200 Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. Now there are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
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