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If you’re a points junkie, American Express Membership Rewards is one of the most valuable credit cards rewards programs around. It offers an abundance of ways to earn points — with 10 affiliated credit cards — and also has more than 20 travel transfer partners (the most of any program!).
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So you’re dreaming of an exotic beach vacation? Or a stay at a plush Parisian hotel?
One way to get there for (basically) free is earning American Express Membership Rewards with your Amex card.
Here’s everything you need to know about this extraordinarily valuable rewards program.
A whole slew of credit cards — 10 at our last count! — earn Amex Membership Rewards points (see the full list here). Options include several of the most popular Amex credit cards, including the American Express® Gold Card (Review) and The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review).
Rather than list the gamut here, here are our favorite cards for each type of user.
|Best For||Card||Bonus Categories||Annual Fee|
|Newbies||Amex EveryDay® Credit Card||
|Foodies||American Express® Gold Card||
||$250 (Rates & Fees)|
|Globetrotters||The Platinum Card® from American Express||Starting 1/1/21, on up to $500,000 spent per calendar year:
||$550 (Rates & Fees)|
|Business Owners||The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||
||No annual fee (Rates & Fees)|
We love the Amex Everyday for points noobs. It earns 2X points/dollar on the first $6,000 of annual purchases at U.S. supermarkets — not bad for a card with a $0 annual fee. And, as an added perk, you’ll get a 20% point bonus when you make at least 20 purchases on the card within a single billing period.
Though this card’s annual fee may be intimidating at first, it’s tempered by the fact you’ll get up to $10 in monthly statement credits ($120 annually) when you use your card at Grubhub, Seamless, and several restaurant chains. If you’re able to max out both of those benefits, your effective annual fee will only be $30 — well worth the 4X points you’ll get at U.S supermarkets and restaurants!
This credit card offers serious perks for serious travelers: up to $200 in Uber credits per year, a Global Entry application fee credit, and the best airport lounge access of any card around. When combined with its hefty introductory bonus, solid earning in travel categories, and renowned concierge service, you can see why this card has so many fans.
Be aware that you can only earn an Amex card’s welcome bonus once in a lifetime. So it can be wise to wait for a serious promotion; the introductory bonus for The Platinum Card® from American Express, for instance, has occasionally gone as high as 100,000 points!
When you own a business, you’ve got enough things to worry about. That’s why we love the straightforward rewards structure of this card: 2X points on the first $50,000 worth of purchases each year — no matter their category. Even better, it’s got no annual fee!
Here are the three other personal cards that earn Membership Rewards points:
And the three other business cards that do, as well:
If you’re familiar with other credit card loyalty programs, Amex Membership Rewards works very similarly.
To collect points, you’ll need to get approved for an American Express card that’s part of the Membership Rewards program. Each one earns at least one Membership Reward point for every dollar you spend, and many come with generous signup bonuses, too. (You’ll generally need good credit to qualify; if you’re not sure whether that’s you, here’s how to check your scores.)
There’s no limit to the number of Membership Rewards points you can earn, and, as long as you keep your American Express card active, they don’t expire. However, you can’t share points with another credit card holder, unless he or she has been an authorized user on your account for at least 90 days.
From there on out, you'll earn points on your everyday spending: at least 1X point/dollar, and more in your card's bonus categories.
The Amex Gold Card, for example, earns 4X points/dollar at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 4X at restaurants, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel, and 1X on everything else. So, if you spend $500 at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants each month, you'll earn 2,000 points per month and 24,000 per year.
You can further amplify your earning by signing up for “Amex Offers” within your online account — and then shopping at the affiliated stores using your card. Here’s a recent sampling of the retailers at which you’d earn bonus MR points.
Though using credit cards is the easiest way to rack up Membership Rewards, you can earn points in a few other ways, too:
With all American Express personal cards and most business cards, failing to make your minimum payment means you “may forfeit all the points that you earned during the billing period covered by that statement.” Not only is that a bummer, but it could damage your credit and put you on the hook for fees and interest. We’d strongly advise you to only apply for a rewards card if you can pay off the balance in full each statement period.
Once you’ve got some points stashed away, it’s time to decide how to cash them in.
You can exchange your points for statement credits, gift cards, travel, and more. Depending on which route you take, your redemption value will range from 0.5 to more than 2 cents per point.
As the Membership Rewards program is geared toward travelers, you’ll usually see the highest redemption values when using your points to book flights or hotels directly with Amex’s travel partners.
Here’s a summary of your options, in increasing order of the approximate redemption value you can expect.
To begin the redemption process, you’ll need to log in to Membership Rewards. We recommend using its calculator to determine which path is best for you (and always encourage you to seek redemption options that offer a value of at least 1 cent/point).
There’s no fixed value for an American Express Membership Rewards point; it all depends on how you redeem. In general, you can expect to get anywhere from 0.5 cents to 2 cents per point.
You can typically score the highest per-point value by transferring your points to an American Express airline or hotel partner. Shop carefully and you may score a redemption value of 2 cents or more per point. This is a fairly common situation with big-name travel cards.
With everything else, including Amex Travel, gift card, and statement credit redemptions, you’ll generally get a cent per point or less in value.
As noted above, you’ll get the best bang for your buck by transferring your points directly to one of Amex’s 19 airline and three hotel partners — which it says is the most of “any major U.S. credit card rewards program.”
Most Membership Rewards transfer partners offer at least a 1:1 transfer ratio, which means that 1,000 Membership Rewards points will convert to 1,000 points in their reward systems. Most transfer partners will complete the transaction instantly, as well.
|Transfer Partner||Miles/Points Received for 1,000 Membership Rewards Points||Transfer Time|
|Aer Lingus AerClub||1,000||Instant|
|Aeromexico Club Premier||1,600||Up to four days|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||1,000||Instant|
|Air France-KLM Flying Blue||1,000||Instant|
|All Nippon Airways Mileage Club||1,000||Up to 72 hours|
|British Airways Executive Club||1,000||Instant|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1,000||Instant|
|El Al Matmid||20||Instant|
|Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||1,000||Instant|
|Iberia Plus||1,000||Up to 48 hours|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||1,000||Instant|
|Singapore KrisFlyer||1,000||Up to 48 hours|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1,000||Instant|
Here’s an example to illustrate how the transfer process works and why it’s so valuable.
Let’s say you want to fly from Los Angeles to French Polynesia. You find a flight on Air France-KLM that either costs $1,300 or 60,000 miles and $100 in fees. Opting for the latter, you transfer 60,000 Membership Rewards points to Air France-KLM, where they become 60,000 Flying Blue miles, and you book your flight.
Because you’re getting a $1,300 flight for 60,000 MR points, you’re getting roughly 2 cents/point — double the value of the other redemption options.
And the French Polynesia flight is just one example. With more than 20 partners, the sky is literally the limit when it comes to redeeming your Membership Rewards points for killer rewards.
The only caveat: When you transfer points to an American airline, Amex charges a fee of $0.0006 cent per point, up to a maximum of $99. So, if you transfer 50,000 points, you’ll pay a $30 fee.
Don’t feel like dealing with point transfers? You can also use points to book flights, prepaid hotels, cruises, or vacation packages at amextravel.com. You’ll get a decent value on flights — 1 cent/point — and will pay a non-refundable fee of $6.99 to book domestic tickets and $10.99 to book international ones.
On everything else at Amex Travel, like cruises and hotels, you’ll get an uninspiring 0.7 cents/point — the same value you’ll get at Expedia when using MR points to book prepaid hotels and flights.
At Amex Travel, you’ll also find “Insider Fares” on 40 airlines; on average, Amex says these airfares are 10% cheaper than what’s publicly available.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, please click here.
Susan is a freelance writer who specializes in turning complex financial topics into engaging and accessible articles. She's been writing about personal finance for six years, and was previously the senior writer at The Penny Hoarder and a staff writer at Student Loan Hero. Her personal finance writing has also appeared in publications like MarketWatch and Lifehacker.
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