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Best ways to spend American Express points

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

Summary

We examine the value of redeeming Amex points for cash back, gift cards, Amazon, American Express 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 redemption methods pack a bigger 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

Find out now how to maximize your rewards:

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. When you book travel through the American Express Travel portal (besides airfare) you’ll get 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 you book through American Express Travel appear as cash tickets, so you’ll earn miles and elite status on your rewards flight. This is another factor you should consider when determining the overall value of your ticket.

Airfare prices on American Express Travel are generally competitive compared to other travel sites. However, 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, $10.99 fee for international airfare and vacation packages and $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 the Upgrade with Points program, which American Express introduced in 2019 and allows you to bid for upgrades using Membership Rewards points. With 20 different airlines, you can use your points, at a value of 1 cent per point, to upgrade an economy cash ticket to a premium cabin ticket. With the program, you bid an upgrade for an eligible reservation then find out within five days of your flight if the offer was accepted.

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 Amex Travel may not be the best value, it’s a good choice if you want a simple way to book airfare without worrying about blackout dates and restrictions.

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 20 travel partners — including 17 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. The following estimated point value for each of American Express’ airline partners are from The Points Guy’s current valuations and CreditCards.com’s valuations:

American Express airline partners

Airline partnerTransfer timeTransfer ratioEstimated point value (including transfer ratio and excise fee, where applicable)
Aer LingusInstant1:11.5 cents
Aeromexico24 hours1:1.60.6 cents
AeroplanInstant1:11.5 cents
All Nippon Airways (ANA)48 hours1:11.4 cents
Asia Miles72 hours1:11.3 cents
Avianca LifeMilesInstant1:11.7 cents
British Airways72 hours1:11.5 cents
Delta SkyMilesInstant1:11.41 cents
Emirates Skywards48 hours1:11.2 cents
Etihad Guest120 hours1:11.4 cents
Flying Blue96 hours1:11.2 cents
Hawaiian AirlinesInstant1:10.9 cents
Iberia Plus48 hours1:11.5 cents
JetBlueInstant1.25:11.3 cents
QantasInstant1:11 cent
Singapore KrisFlyerUp to 24 hours1:11.3 cents
Virgin AtlanticInstant1:11.5 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.

Though the value of points drops below 1 cent for all the hotel chains, it can still be worth it to transfer your Amex points to these hotel partners if you’re already a loyal customer to one of them and just need a few thousand points for your next free stay. Here’s how hotel transfers measure up:

Hotel partnerTransfer timeTransfer ratioEstimated point value (including transfer ratio)
Choice PrivilegesInstant1:10.6 cent
Hilton HonorsInstant 1:20.6 cent
Marriott BonvoyInstant1:10.84 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 also redeem your Amex 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 they’re 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. Still, if you have no vacations planned on the horizon, this option could prove attractive.

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 Amex points to support your choice of thousands of different charities. Simply choose a charity that you want to donate to, and you can use your points at a value of 0.7 cents per point.

You can even use your 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 points, so it’s smart to understand which ones give you maximum value. While it’s easy and convenient to use them for gift cards or shopping partners like Amazon, these generally provide poor value and are generally not recommended.

Most people would get the best value from their points by either transferring to airline or hotel partners or booking airfare directly through Amex Travel. Which one is right for you depends 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.

Credit Card Rate Report
Reward
18.00%
Student
18.66%
Airline
17.81%
Business
16.07%
Cash Back
17.95%

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