Point extravaganza: How to redeem 1 million Amex Membership Rewards
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Over the past year and a half, many TPG readers have been saving up their points for a post-pandemic blowout. Others have just accrued them with no redemption goal in mind. But what happens if you find yourself with over a million points and no idea what to do with them?
We’ve shared our tips on how to redeem 1 million Marriott points and now we’re tackling Amex Membership Rewards. Here’s how TPG’s Points and Miles team would put 1 million Membership Rewards points to good use.
Andrew Kunesh, senior reporter
American Express Membership Rewards points have long been my favorite transferable points currency. I find that they have some of the most flexible transfer partners, and I’ve gotten tens of thousands of dollars in value from Amex redemptions in the past, redeeming for things like Lufthansa first-class tickets to Europe.
If I was tasked with spending 1 million Amex points, I’d plan a round-the-world trip with ANA Mileage Club for my girlfriend and me. I developed an itinerary that would let us revisit some old favorites, and see a couple of new cities at the same time. The ideal itinerary would look like this, all in business class:
- New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) — United Airlines, layover.
- Los Angeles to Sydney (SYD) — United Airlines, stopover.
- Sydney to Tokyo Haneda (HND) — ANA, stopover.
- Tokyo to Hong Kong (HKG) — ANA, stopover.
- Hong Kong to Bangkok (BKK) — Thai Airways, stopover.
- Bangkok to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) — Ethiopian Airlines, stopover.
- Addis Ababa to Istanbul (IST) — Turkish Airlines, stopover.
- Istanbul to Prague (PRG) — Turkish Airlines, stopover.
- Prague to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) — Lufthansa, layover.
- Frankfurt to London Heathrow (LHR) — Lufthansa, stopover.
- London to Newark (EWR) — United Airlines, home.
The whole itinerary clocks in at 29,218 miles, so it costs 200,000 Amex points (transferred to ANA Mileage Club) per person. This would take 400,000 points out of the 1 million, leaving me with 600,000 to spare.
While I don’t normally advocate for transferring Amex points to hotels, it can sometimes make sense when there’s a transfer bonus. For example, at the time of writing this, Amex is offering a 40% transfer bonus to Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors.
Amex points transfer to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio, or 1:2.8 with the 40% transfer bonus. I’d use this to book high-end Hilton properties with points.
These are the hotels I’d book, alongside the price I’d pay for three nights in December:
- Hilton Sydney: 45,000 Amex points, equal to 126,000 Hilton points.
- Conrad Tokyo: 102,000 Amex points, equal to 285,600 Hilton points.
- Conrad Hong Kong: 78,000 Amex points, equal to 218,400 Hilton points.
- Conrad Bangkok: 26,000 Amex points, equal to 72,800 Hilton points.
- Hilton Addis Ababa: 43,000 Amex points, equal to 120,400 Hilton points.
- Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus: 49,000 Amex points, equal to 137,200 Hilton points.
- Hilton Prague Old Town: 44,000 Amex points, equal to 123,200 Hilton points.
- The Waldorf Hilton, London: 86,000 Amex points, equal to 240,800 Hilton points.
So, it would cost a grand total of 873,000 Amex points for two people to go on a round-the-world business class adventure in business class plus four- and five-star hotel stays.
Ariana Arghandewal, editor
With a million Membership Rewards points, I would take advantage of sweet spots like ANA’s 88,00-mile business-class ticket to Europe or 75,000-mile award to Asia. A trip to Japan is on my bucket list and I’d love to plan out a three-week itinerary to see as much of the country as I can. I recently got The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and plan on redeeming my points this way, once travel to Japan becomes possible again.
If I had 900,000 points to spare after that, I would go all out: I’d transfer 220,000 points to Aeromexico Club Premier for an around-the-world ticket in business class. I’d bring along my younger sister, who graduated from college during the pandemic and hasn’t had a graduation party or a vacation to celebrate yet.
I have this fantasy of throwing a dart at a map and flying to wherever it sticks. I imagine we’d use that approach to piece together our itinerary.
With the rest of my points, I’d ask my parents to pick a spot on the map and book their flights for them. My dad has family in Europe and Australia that he hasn’t seen in almost three years. The best way to book this reunion tour would probably be with an around-the-world ticket, for which I’d have plenty of points left over.
Benji Stawski, strategic travel reporter
First things first: Unlike winning the lottery, if I had a million American Express Membership Rewards points, I’d try to redeem them right away. History has shown us that points and miles are a bad long-term investment. Although transferable points such as Membership Rewards are slightly more insulated, loyalty programs can devalue their rewards at any moment so you don’t want to hoard points.
Like my colleagues, I’d use my points to book a round-the-world adventure — all in style, of course.
There are a few different options for booking round-the-world tickets with Amex points. Since I’m a Oneworld flyer, I’m going to book my trip with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, a 1:1 transfer partner. The program offers a quasi-around-the-world award option called “Oneworld multi-carrier awards,” which allow you to fly up to 50,000 miles for 345,000 miles all in first class. However, in reality, I’ll likely fly a bit less than that. My ideal itinerary would look like this:
- New York-JFK to London Heathrow (LHR) – British Airways first class.
- London to Hong Kong (HKG) – Cathay Pacific first class.
- Hong Kong to Tokyo (HND) – Cathay Pacific first class.
- Tokyo to Sydney (SYD) – Japan Airlines business class (first class not available on this route).
- Sydney to Los Angeles (LAX) – Qantas first class (assuming Qantas brings its A380s back into service, otherwise American Airlines first class).
- Los Angeles to New York-JFK – American Airlines Flagship first class.
This itinerary would clock in at just under 23,000 miles so the cost would be 280,000 miles, plus taxes, fees and fuel surcharges. Although one of the segments will be in business class, all segments will be charged like first class. The cash price of all of these flights could easily exceed $25,000 altogether so I’ll be getting terrific value for my points.
I’ll then have 720,000 points remaining, which I’ll use mostly toward booking hotel stays. We usually don’t recommend transferring Amex points to hotels since you typically don’t get as much value out of them, but it can sometimes make sense when there’s a transfer bonus.
For instance, at the time of writing this, there’s a 40% bonus for transferring to Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors. Plus, I plan to stretch the value of my points by taking advantage of Marriott Bonvoy’s and Hilton Honors’ fifth-night free benefits on award stays.
Here are some hotels I’d like to stay at during my trip. Like my flights, I’ll aim to stick to luxurious accommodations. As a quick refresher, Amex points normally transfer to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio and Marriott and Choice Privileges at a 1:1 ratio.
- The Biltmore Mayfair London, LXR Hotels & Resorts: 95,000 Hilton points per night (34,000 Amex points including 40% bonus).
- The St. Regis Hong Kong: 70,000-100,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points per night (50,000-72,000 Amex points including 40% bonus).
- Conrad Tokyo: 95,000 Hilton points per night (34,000 Amex points including 40% bonus).
- West Hotel Sydney, Curio Collection by Hilton: 36,000 Hilton points per night (13,000 Amex points including 40% bonus).
- Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills: 95,000 Hilton points per night (34,000 Amex points including 40% bonus).
Assuming I book four nights at each hotel (and get a fifth night free at each one), my total cost for my accommodations would come out to around 660,000 points. Will I be getting as good of value from my points as my round-the-world flight? Probably not, but considering I’ll essentially be living out of some of the world’s top five-star hotels for nearly a month, I’d still consider this a pretty solid redemption.
This would leave me with about 60,000 points remaining. I’ll likely save these as a safety net for any last-minute emergency trips. These points should cover at least one round-trip domestic business-class trip.
Katie Genter, senior writer
Like others on the Points and Miles team, I planned out a multidestination trip. But I took a slightly different approach. Instead of considering a traditional around-the-world ticket, I’d utilize various Membership Rewards transfer partners as follows:
- 50,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points (50,000 Amex points) plus $5.60 per person to fly Delta One nonstop from Atlanta (ATL) to Venice, Italy (VCE).
- 52,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles (52,000 Amex points) plus $57.32 per person to fly in business class on TAP Portugal from Venice to Cape Town (CPT) via Lisbon (LIS).
- 27,730 Amex points per person to book South African Airlink in economy class from Cape Town to Skukuza, South Africa (SZK), through Amex Travel.
- 14,930 Amex points per person to book South African Airlink in economy class from Skukuza to Johannesburg (JNB) through Amex Travel.
- 7,750 British Airways Avios (8,000 Amex points) plus $63.83 per person to fly British Airways (operated by Comair) in business class off-peak from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (VFA).
- 35,000 Avianca LifeMiles (35,000 Amex points) plus $51.70 per person to fly Ethiopian Airlines in business class from Victoria Falls to Cairo (CAI) via Gaborone, Botswana (GBE), and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD).
- 25,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (25,000 Amex points) plus $88.20 per person to fly Qatar business class from Cairo to Dubai (DXB) via Doha, Qatar (DOH), including a long stay in the Al Mourjan lounge in Doha.
- 76,500 Singapore KrisFlyer miles (77,000 Amex points) plus $288.58 to fly Turkish Airlines in business class from Dubai to Atlanta via Istanbul (IST).
And, here’s how I’d use the rest of the 1 million American Express Membership Rewards points to book hotels for my trip. I’d stay in five-night increments at Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy hotels to maximize the fifth night free perk on awards that both programs provide:
- Hotel Aquarius Venice, Ascend Hotel Collection: 48,000 Choice Privileges points (48,000 Amex points) for a three-night stay (award pricing valid through Nov. 30).
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cape Town Upper Eastside: 60,000 to 80,000 Hilton Honors points (30,000 to 40,000 Amex points) for a five-night stay.
- Protea Hotel Kruger Gate: 80,000 to 120,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (80,000 to 120,000 Amex points) for a 10-night stay.
- Hilton Sandton: 84,000 to 88,000 Hilton points (42,000 to 44,000 Amex points) for a five-night stay.
- Protea Hotel Livingstone: 40,000 to 60,000 Marriott points (40,000 to 60,000 Amex points) for a five-night stay.
- Conrad Cairo: 76,000 to 120,000 Hilton points (38,000 to 60,000 Amex points) for a five-night stay.
- Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai: 280,000 to 400,000 Marriott points (280,000 to 400,000 Amex points) for a five-night stay
- Conrad Dubai: 132,000 to 280,000 Hilton points (66,000 to 140,000 Amex points) for a five-night stay.
Hilton hotels use dynamic pricing and Marriott hotels have peak, standard and off-peak pricing. So, the total cost of this trip would range from 913,660 to 1,201,660 points. Of course, I’d also have rental car expenses in some destinations and Uber or taxi expenses in the other destinations. But frankly, I’m surprised how much I could plan with 1 million American Express Membership Rewards points.
Ryan Patterson, contributing writer
American Express Membership Rewards points are some of the most valuable points out there, according to TPG valuations. I would take advantage of transfer partners and move points around for not just one trip, but a few big trips.
If I were tasked to spend 1.5 million American Express Membership Rewards points, I think I would have to take my parents on a bucket list adventure to the Maldives. They have done so much to show me the world, and I feel like I have to return the favor at some point. Here is what I would plan out.
To start off my spending spree, I would go ahead and transfer 360,000 Membership Rewards points to Emirates Skywards for a round-trip ticket in the game-changer Emirates first-class suite with a stop in Dubai. While it is a ton of points to dish out, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For my parents, they would rather travel together. And since travel is a little bit harder for them than it is for me, I would rather send them in business class in the incredible Qatar Qsuite. Two award tickets together in business class is not nearly as hard to come by so I would transfer 280,000 points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles for two round-trip tickets.
After meeting them in the Maldives, I would definitely hope to treat them to an overwater bungalow experience. I think after seeing Brian Kelly’s amazing stay at the Waldorf Astoria I am sold on a redemption at the flagship Hilton property. I receive an annual free night certificate at any Hilton property thanks to my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card so I would take advantage of that as well as a fifth night free.
The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.
For a seven-day redemption I would transfer 240,000 points to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio, topping off my Hilton Honors account at 480,000 points. Hilton currently requires 120,000 points for one night in an overwater bungalow but they have said they will begin charging 150,000 points per night in the near future.
I would certainly take advantage of my Hilton Diamond status during my stay to earn free breakfast and a space-available upgrade as well.
With this, I would have only spent 880,000 Membership Rewards points plus the money necessary for transfer to and from Male International Airport (MLE). Unfortunately, while there are ways to minimize the out-of-pocket expense, there is currently no way to use points for airport transfers.
With the rest of nearly 700,000 points, I will definitely be trying out Lufthansa first class for 70,000 Avianca LifeMiles, domestic awards on British Airways starting at 7,500 points one way in economy, and maybe even cross paths with Andrew Kunesh on an ANA Mileage Club round-the-world ticket.
How to earn 1 million Membership Rewards points
While earning 1 million Membership Rewards points requires a lot of spending, you can get there much faster with credit card category and welcome bonuses. While it may be tempting to apply for all of the high welcome bonuses at once, keep in mind that Amex does limit the number of cards you can have at once.
As of May 2020, you can only be approved for four personal or business Amex credit cards, and up to 10 formerly known as charge cards. Amex also restricts each card’s welcome bonus to one per lifetime. So if you’ve previously received an Amex Platinum welcome bonus, for example, you won’t be eligible for another one.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 points after you spend $6,000 in the first six months of card membership. Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you “Shop Small” in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases, during your first six months of card membership.
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.
- American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership.
- 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.
- The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express: Earn 10,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: Earn 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening.
The information for the Amex EveryDay and Amex EveryDay Preferred cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Featured photo by Ryan Petterson/The Points Guy.
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