7 ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points for holiday gifts
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If money is a little tight this year, you may find your American Express Membership Rewards points balance is higher than your savings account balance. If you fall into this camp, you might have wondered how to turn some of your Membership Rewards points into holiday gifts this winter.
Typically I’d recommend redeeming your points for a trip. Travel is one of the best gifts you can give anyone — especially if you can give your time and the gift of travel together. And redeeming your Membership Rewards points for travel will generally provide the most value for your points.
But some travelers are still limiting their travel, especially internationally, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some destinations are still closed to tourists, and some uncertainty is involved in booking future travel depending on the destination. Although redeeming your points for travel generally provides the most value on a cents per point basis, the best redemption is the one that helps you meet your goals. And right now, maybe your individual goals look different than a flight or hotel.
So whether you want to gift travel, a toy, or the latest and greatest gadget, 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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Transfer points to travel partners to book award travel
Some transferable 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:
- Airlines: Aer Lingus AerClub, Aeromexico Club Premier, Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France-KLM Flying Blue, All Nippon Airways Mileage Club, Avianca LifeMiles, British Airways Executive Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Delta SkyMiles, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles, Iberia Plus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Qantas Frequent Flyer, Singapore KrisFlyer and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.
- Hotels: Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy.
Based on TPG’s valuations, you can get about 2 cents of value per Membership Rewards point when you transfer to travel partners. Of course, it’s possible to get much more than 2 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.
Use Pay with Points to book travel
Amex Pay with Points allows you to redeem Membership Rewards points for 1 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 rebate when using Pay with Points for airfare:
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Get 35% of your points back when you use 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: Get 25% of your points back when you use 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: Get 50% of your points back when you use 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.
Best of all, you can book a flight for anyone using Pay with Points.
You can also book prepaid hotels, cruises, car rentals and vacations using Pay with Points through Amex Travel. But, you’ll only get 0.7 cents per point, so $700 in prepaid hotel stays will cost 100,000 Membership Rewards points.
You will get a slightly better redemption rate of 1 cent per point if you use Pay with Points for a prepaid stay booked through Amex’s Fine Hotels + Resorts program. Since TPG’s valuations value Amex Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, booking hotel stays isn’t usually how you’ll want to redeem your Amex points.
Redeem for gift cards
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, Starbucks 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.
Use Pay with Points at checkout at Amazon, Best Buy and more
Pay with Points isn’t just for travel. After all, you can use Pay with Points at Checkout when you shop with various merchants, including Amazon, Best Buy, Boxed, Dell, Grubhub, Newegg, PayPal, Saks Fifth Avenue and Staples.
However, paying with points at these merchants usually isn’t a good use of your points if you are looking for the best return. 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.
The redemption rate is even worse at 0.5 cents per point if you use Membership Rewards points for event tickets through Ticketmaster.
Donate points to charity
You can also donate your points to charity. Specifically, you can donate to more than 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.
Cover recent card charges
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.
Shop with points
Finally, you can also use Shop with Membership Rewards. However, when you buy products from the Shop with Membership Rewards catalog, you’ll only get 0.5 cents per point of value, so 100,000 Membership Rewards points is worth $500. As such, even when sales offer 25% or 30% off, you still won’t get great value if you have other options at your disposal.
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.
If you want to give the gift of travel, 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 for loved ones. But it is the best option for you, you can use Pay with Points for select travel at a rate of 1 cent per point. And even if you don’t want to give the gift of travel, you can still get 1 cent per point in value when you redeem for select gift cards.
Regardless, it’s still a good idea to understand the redemption value you’re getting before you redeem your points for holiday gifts. One easy way to compare all the options for your Amex Membership Rewards points is to use Amex’s Rewards Calculator.
Featured photo by Maskot/Getty Images.
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