My top 5 American Express Membership Rewards redemptions of all time
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American Express Membership Rewards points are by far my favorite type of miles and points. Over the years, I’ve redeemed them for well over $100,000 worth of flights. Some of my best redemptions include a $12,000 first-class ticket from Europe to the U.S., a round-the-world trip, and many other high-end redemptions. These points were earned by opening and using a suite of American Express cards for my everyday purchases.
In this article, I’ll give you a look at my best American Express Membership Rewards redemptions of years past. These are a mixture of my highest value and most enjoyable redemptions. That said, I’ll give you a rough estimate of how much value I received to illustrate just how valuable these points are. Then, I’ll give you a look at my favorite American Express cards at the end of the article.
Sound good? Let’s dive in!
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1. Lufthansa first class from Budapest to Chicago
Let’s start with the best of the best: Lufthansa first class. In 2018, I used Membership Rewards points to fly back to the U.S. from Budapest on what might be my best flight of all time. I was returning from a three-week journey through Slovakia and Hungary with my cousin. I took a gamble and didn’t book a return flight before I left, hoping that Lufthansa first would open two weeks out from departure.
To prepare for booking this flight, I set up an award alert with Expert Flyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures). This alert emailed me as soon as an award seat opened. I live in New York, but am originally from Chicago, so I set alerts into New York-JFK, Newark (EWR) and Chicago-O’Hare (ORD).
Flights to Chicago opened up shortly after crossing the two-week mark, so I quickly transferred 87,000 Membership Rewards points to Avianca LifeMiles and booked a one-way flight from Budapest (BUD) to Chicago via Frankfurt (FRA). This flight would’ve cost nearly $8,500, so I got a huge 9.7 cents per point in value from this redemption — almost 5x TPG’s valuation of 2.0 cents per point.
The flight and ground experience was nothing short of incredible. When I stepped off the connecting flight in Frankfurt, I was picked up in a Porsche transfer vehicle and taken to the dedicated first-class terminal. Once onboard, the flight to Chicago was stocked with excellent food and beverage in a huge lie-flat seat. For more on the Lufthansa first experience, check out TPG Editor at Large Zach Honig’s full review.
As an added bonus, the flight was operated by my favorite aircraft: the Boeing 747-8. Thankfully, Lufthansa will continue to operate its 747-8 aircraft (with first class!) post-pandemic while other airlines quickly phase them out. I highly recommend you try Lufthansa first class post-pandemic too — it may not be the most over-the-top, but the service and experience are great and you really can’t beat the ground experience.
2. Round-the-world on the cheap
I recently booked an amazing round-the-world trip by transferring Membership Rewards to ANA Mileage Club. I haven’t actually taken this trip yet, but I booked it for next summer. This trip will be truly incredible value if travel reopens and I’m able to actually take it. The trip’s all-in cost was just 170,000 points and a bit over $1,000 in taxes and fees.
The trip spans Europe and Asia and includes a quick stop in the U.S. too. This trip is all in Star Alliance business class on carriers like ANA, United, Turkish Airlines and others. This should make for the post-pandemic trip of a lifetime. That said, I will likely have to make some changes based on which countries are actually open.
This trip is hard to price out as multicity flights price differently than round-trip tickets. However, it’s safe to say that a round-the-world business class ticket would be way outside my price range if paid cash. So for me, this fits into the “priceless” category. If you’re interested in booking a similar ticket, check out my article on booking this ticket.
3. Last-minute to Europe for a family visit
I live in New York, but my family is in Chicago and Prague. I’m close with my cousins in Europe, so I often fly between New York and Prague to visit them. In a normal travel year, I make this trip at least three times and generally book at the last minute. I recently saved over $6,000 on a flight between New York and Prague, which made an otherwise impossible flight well within my budget.
I did this by transferring miles to Avianca LifeMiles to fly Swiss and Austrian Airlines. The flight cost 126,000 miles and just over $100 in taxes and fees round-trip, which is an excellent deal for a business class flight to and from Europe. I could’ve booked for a lower 88,000 miles with ANA Mileage Club, but with significantly more taxes and fees.
This flight would’ve cost $6,479 round-trip, so I got a huge 5 cents per point in value from this redemption. Again, I consider this redemption to be priceless — it let me see family after months of not traveling, and I arrived rested and ready to go. And at just over $100 out of pocket, it was an easy trip to justify.
4. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of domestic flights
I redeem miles to fly back to my hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois — located just outside of Chicago — multiple times per year. Flights between New York and Chicago are plentiful but can get expensive at the last minute and during holidays. I fly back to Chicago for most major holidays and last-minute gatherings with friends and family, so having access to points and miles has saved me a ton of money over the years.
I generally book my last-minute domestic flights with Avianca LifeMiles, British Airways Avios or Delta SkyMiles for United, American and Delta flights. LifeMiles and Avios are pegged to a standard award chart, so the New York to Chicago route costs 7,500 and 9,000 points, respectively. On the other hand, Delta prices its awards dynamically and offers some extremely cheap flights.
For example, you can book a flight between the cities for as low as 4,500 SkyMiles and $5.60 one-way if you don’t mind flying basic economy. On the other hand, you can upgrade to Main Cabin or Comfort+ for 7,000 and 9,000 SkyMiles, respectively. These prices are for flights booked just two weeks out from the date of departure.
My general rule of thumb is to book my short-haul flights with Membership Rewards if I can get more than two cents per point in value. I’d say this makes up roughly half my domestic flying on an annual basis. I make this flight at least 10 times per year, so Membership Rewards continue to save me thousands.
5. American Airlines business class to Peru
One of my best points and miles memories was flying to Lima, Peru with my father. We flew to Lima and Cuzco in 2017 to see the cities and hike Machu Pichu as a father-son trip. My dad is an American loyalist, so we opted to fly Chicago to Lima (LIM) via Miami (MIA) on American Airlines and then connect to Cuzco (CUZ) on LATAM.
I transferred Membership Rewards to Etihad Guest to book my ticket. A round-trip flight from the U.S. to South America Zone 1 — which includes Peru — costs just 60,000 miles round-trip with minimal taxes and fees. This is an excellent deal and it matches the AAdvantage award chart. It’s worth noting that I booked the Lima to Cuzco flight separately and paid cash as Etihad and LATAM are not partners.
This redemption wasn’t of exceptionally high value from a cent per point perspective, but it was one of the most fun trips I’ve ever taken. Lima was a ton of fun, and Machu Pichu is truly a sight to behold. I think the true value of this flight was the time spent in Lima with my father, which is truly priceless for me.
That said, I looked through old notes and found that this round-trip flight would have cost $1,568 when I booked the ticket. After taxes and fees (totaling $71.82), I got a nice 2.49 cents per point in value from this redemption. This is almost half a cent higher than TPG’s valuation, so it’s a great value redemption too.
My favorite American Express cards
I earn the bulk of my Membership Rewards points with three Amex cards. Each of these cards is used for specific purchases like dining, airfare and everyday spend. Here’s a quick look at the cards I use to earn points on a daily basis.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Airfare and lucrative travel benefits
The Platinum Card from American Express is the creme de la creme of premium travel cards. It includes benefits like extensive lounge access, an up to $200 annual airline incidental fee credit, hotel elite status and a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application credit (up to $100), amongst other benefits. The card also earns 5x points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel (earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year; starting Jan. 1, 2021).
These benefits are excellent for frequent travelers that value lounge access. I am one of these travelers, and I find that lounge access more than offsets the card’s large $550 annual fee (see rates and fees). I also use the card to purchase all of my paid airfare as 5x points is a nice 10% rebate on flights. Plus, all flights paid for with the card include a suite of travel coverages like trip delay and baggage insurance.
Welcome offer: Earn 75,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first six months of opening your account. Select applicants may be targeted for an incredible 125,000-point offer by checking the CardMatch Tool (targeted offer, subject to change at any time).
American Express® Gold Card: Grocery and dining
The American Express Gold Card is what I use to earn the bulk of my Membership Rewards points. It earns 4x points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1x). Plus, the card earns 3x points per dollar on airfare booked with the airline or Amex Travel.
I use this card or all of my restaurant dining and grocery purchases at U.S. supermarkets. It’s been a huge point-earner for me over the years, and I use it almost every day. The card has a suite of other benefits, like an up to $120 per calendar year dining credit. These benefits and the bonus points earning easily justify the card’s $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 6 months.
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Everyday expenses
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express is one of the most interesting business credit cards on the market. It earns 2x points per dollar spent on all business purchases, up to $50,000 per calendar year (then 1x). Plus, it doesn’t have an annual fee (see rates and fees). This card is super powerful for business owners who spend money on things not covered by popular bonus categories.
Welcome offer: None
American Express Membership Rewards points have made it possible for me to travel the world in style. Here, I showed you my top five Membership Rewards redemptions I’ve made since opening my first American Express card in 2014. Use these as inspiration for planning your post-pandemic vacations with Membership Rewards points. Plus, make sure to check out our complete guide to maximizing Membership Rewards points for even more interesting redemptions.
Feature photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock
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WELCOME OFFER: Up to 100,000 bonus miles
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- Earn 80K bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 20K bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months
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