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Best ways to spend American Express points

Amex Membership Rewards can be a valuable currency if you use them wisely


We show the value of redeeming Amex points for cash back, gift cards, Amazon, Membership Rewards travel and transfers to travel partners.

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If you love having reward redemption options, then the American Express Membership Rewards program delivers, giving you a long list of ways to spend your points and use your credit card rewards. But some pack more punch than others.

With a few exceptions, airfare redemptions deliver the best value on your Membership Rewards points. And, if you want to go the extra mile (or thousands of extra miles), then consider transferring your points to one of American Express’ travel partners. You can get values of 2 cents per point or more by finding sweet spots in the redemption tiers.

Best ways to use Amex points

Redeem your points at the Amex travel portal

The American Express Travel portal is a full-fledged travel site that lets you book all kinds of travel, including hotels, vacation packages and cruises. All travel booked through the American Express Travel portal (besides airfare) is booked at a rate of 0.7 cents per point. This makes it a relatively unattractive option for using your American Express points.

Like most travel sites, American Express Travel lets you search for airfare within a date range and from a variety of airlines. You can book any available flight with your rewards starting at 5,000 points. The average value per point for airfare is 1 cent.

To the airline, tickets booked through American Express Travel appear as cash tickets, so you will earn miles and elite status on your rewards flight. This is another factor you should consider when determining the overall value of your ticket.

Let’s illustrate that with an example. Say a flight costs $300. Any American Express cardholder could book this flight for 30,000 points. But if you have the Business Platinum card and it’s an eligible flight, you’d get a 35% rebate of your points, or 10,500 Membership Rewards. That puts your net cost at 19,500 points.

A note of caution: Airfare on American Express Travel can run higher than average. Also, you’ll need to subtract booking fees from the overall value of the ticket. There’s a $6.99 fee for domestic airfare and vacation packages, a $10.99 fee for international airfare and vacation packages and a $39 fee for phone reservations. Before you make a booking, you should compare with other travel sites to ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

Another travel option is using Membership Rewards points to bid for upgrades, which American Express introduced in 2019. On 21 different airlines, you can use your Membership Rewards at a value of 1 cent per point toward upgrading an economy cash ticket to a premium cabin ticket.

As we’re about to explore, transferring points can provide more value than using the American Express travel portal, but it takes a bit of work. While booking travel through the American Express Travel site is ultimately not the best value, it’s a good choice if you want a simple way to book airfare without worrying about blackout dates and restrictions.

You should also stick with using them for flights at the 1 cent per point rate. The 0.7 cents per point you get for other forms of travel is not a great use of your points. If you find yourself booking a lot of airfare through the travel portal, consider the American Express Business Platinum card for the 35% rebate.

Transfer American Express points to airlines

If you’re willing to spend a little time and effort, you can find transfer redemptions worth two or three times the value you get through the travel portal.

This is especially true if you’re interested in taking a special trip in a premium airline cabin. Using points for this can get you outstanding value. American Express has 22 travel partners – including 19 airlines that can take you practically anywhere you want to travel – and your points transfer at a 1:1 rate to most of them.

The value per point varies wildly by each program. You also need to consider that American Express charges an excise fee of 0.06 cents for each point you transfer (up to $99) when you transfer to a U.S.-based airline or hotel chain. This excise fee is relatively small, but it’s important to consider when calculating your value.
If you aim for the best value for your Membership Rewards, it’s really all about airfare redemptions. Here’s the estimated point value for each of American Express’ airline partners, as well as an adjusted point value that takes into account the transfer ratio and the excise fee where applicable:

American Express airline partners

Transfer timeTransfer ratioEstimated point value (including transfer ratio and excise fee, where applicable)
Singapore KrisFlyerUp to 24 hours1:12.36 cents
Iberia Plus48 hours1:11.7 cents
Aeromexico24 hours1:1.61.6 cents
Delta SkyMilesInstant1:11.55 cents
Avianca LifeMilesInstant1:11.5 cents
AeroplanInstant1:11.5 cents
All Nippon Airways (ANA)48 hours1:11.48 cents
British AirwaysInstant1:11.4 cents
JetBlueInstant1.25:11.16 cents
Emirates SkywardsInstant1:11.1 cents
Hawaiian AirlinesInstant1:11.08 cents
Aer LingusInstant1:11 cent
Alitalia MilleMigliaInstant1:11 cent
Asia Miles48 hours1:11 cent
Etihad GuestInstant1:11 cent
Flying BlueInstant1:11 cent
QantasInstant1:11 cent
Virgin AtlanticInstant1:10.8 cents
El AlInstant20:10.05 cents

Transfer Amex points to hotels

Only three of the Amex travel partners are hotels, and not quite as lucrative as the best airline transfer options, but those partners happen to be Hilton, Choice and Marriott – major chains with thousands of hotels around the world.

Hilton, in particular, offers a great return on your rewards investment, and a better value than the 1 cent you get from booking tickets through the Amex travel portal. Here’s how hotel transfers measure up:

Transfer timeTransfer ratioEstimated point value (including transfer ratio)
Hilton HonorsInstant 1:21 cent
Choice PrivilegesInstant 1:10.6 cent
Marriott BonvoyInstant 1:10.8 cent

Use American Express points for gift cards and cash back

American Express lets you redeem your points for various gift cards, including travel, restaurants and retailers. Gift cards are a decent redemption option – most of the gift cards will give you a value of 1 cent per point, which is on par with Membership Rewards. Watch out for lower-value gift cards, however. American Express brand gift cards go for only 0.5 cents per point.

You can redeem your Membership Rewards points as statement credits for charges on your credit card account (a minimum of 1,000 points is required to make a redemption). Unfortunately, statement credits are only worth 0.6 cents per point, so this is a poor use of points.

Redeem Amex points for shopping

American Express has many shopping partners – including Amazon, Walmart, Grubhub and Best Buy – that allow you to link your account to their sites and apply your points at checkout with a single click.

Additionally, you can use your Membership Rewards points via PayPal anywhere that accepts the service. These options are convenient, but they’re also a poor use of points since you only get a value of 0.7 cents back for each point.

The American Express shopping portal gives you an even worse value on your points. Though you will find a bevy of merchandise through the portal, your rewards are worth 0.5 cents per point. If you’re determined to use your Membership Rewards points for online shopping, visiting one of American Express’s shopping partners may be your best bet.

Use Amex points for charity and concerts

You can also use your American Express Membership Rewards points to support your choice of thousands of different charities. Simply choose a charity that you want to help, and you can use your points at a value of 0.7 cents per point.

You can use Membership Rewards points to purchase tickets for concerts and events through Ticketmaster and AXS, but this is ill-advised. Points are worth 0.5 cents apiece when redeemed for event tickets.

Bottom line

You have many different ways to earn American Express Membership Rewards points, so it’s smart to understand which ones give you maximum value. While it’s easy and convenient to use your Amex points on gift cards or shopping partners like Amazon, these generally provide poor value and are not recommended in most cases.

Most people will get the best value of their points by either transferring to airline or hotel partners or booking airfare directly through the American Express travel portal. Which one is right for you will depend on what type of travel you’re looking for and how much effort you want to put in. It can pay to spend some time comparing the cost in cash via Amex Travel to the cost in points if you transfer to a partner to see which one makes sense for you.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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