American Express Rewards guide: The best ways to earn and use Membership Rewards points

Robin Ratcliff
Reviews Editor
Researcher, analyst and editor

Amex Membership Rewards Guide

Photo Credit: Manuel Moreno / Unsplash

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If you love luxury travel perks, or if you love collecting large sign-up bonuses to finance your travels around the world, then you should consider signing up for an American Express Membership Rewards card or two.

What is American Express Membership Rewards?

The American Express Membership Rewards loyalty program is the rewards program of choice for frequent travelers who love lounge access and other luxury travel perks. The program has it quirks, but thanks to its prodigious array of cards with generous sign-up bonuses and a large list of travel partners that you can transfer points to (mostly at a 1:1 rate), the Membership Rewards program should definitely be a point on your journey toward traveling the world on rewards points.

American Express Membership Rewards program overview

 
Type of currency Flexible points
Average point value 1.19 cents
Credit cards Everyday Preferred card, Blue card, Green card, American Express Gold Card, Platinum card, Blue Business Plus card, Business Green Rewards card, Business Gold card, Business Platinum card, Mercedes-Benz card, Ameriprise Financial Gold card, Ameriprise Financial Platinum card, Morgan Stanley card, Morgan Stanley Platinum card, Schwab Platinum card
Redemption options Airfare, hotels, vacations, cruises, merchandise, gift cards, Expedia travel, Uber/NYC taxi, event tickets, donations, statement credits, transfer to a travel partner
Minimum required to redeem
  • 5,000 points for a flight
  • 1,000 points for statement credits and transfers
Do rewards expire? No
Blackout dates/travel restrictions None. If a flight or a hotel room is available, you can book it with your rewards.
Point transfer options
  • 19 airline and hotel partners
  • Rewards pool into common account, so you don’t have to transfer from card to card
Fees
  • 0.06 cents per point for transfers
  • $6.99 per domestic plane ticket or vacation package through Amex Travel
  • $10.99 per international plane ticket or vacation package through Amex Travel
  • $39 per airfare or vacation package phone booking
  • No fee for hotel or cruise bookings
Best for
  • Frequent travelers
  • Heavy spenders
  • Business travelers 
  • Luxury travelers
  • Delta flyers

First, let’s consider the kinds of points you can earn using an American Express card:

Membership Rewards points

(See All Membership Rewards Cards)

Membership Rewards are the signature rewards points offered by American Express. You’ll earn these points by using premium Amex credit or charge cards like the Platinum Card, Premier Rewards Gold Card, and Amex EveryDay Credit Card. The full suite of Membership Rewards-earning cards includes personal cards, small business cards, and corporate cards.

Membership Rewards points are redeemable for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, hotel stays, and airfare. Though you’ll earn points at a steady rate, the value of those points varies by how you use them.

Co-branded Amex card points

American Express has a number of co-branded cards with their travel partners. Co-branded Amex cards do not earn Membership Rewards points, but the loyalty program points of the partner, instead. Consider the following co-branded Amex cards and the points you’ll earn by using them:

  • The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card — earns SkyMiles (Delta airlines)
  • The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card — earns StarPoints (Starwood Hotels)
  • Hilton Honors Ascend Card — earns Hilton Honors points (Hilton Hotels)

Points you earn by using a co-branded card will be less flexible than Membership Rewards points, but if you’re a loyal customer to their brand, the rewards will be more than worthwhile.

Do Membership Rewards points expire?

Membership Rewards points do not expire, but American Express stipulates that they may be forfeited in certain instances. If your card is active and your account is in good standing, you’ll be able to collect as many Membership Rewards as you want without worrying about an expiration date.

How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points

(See Comprehensive Earning Guide)

There are many ways to earn American Express points, the most obvious of which is by making purchases on your Amex card. Most rewards cards offer at least 1 point per dollar spent, so as long as you’re using it, you’re earning points. Sign-up bonuses and referral bonuses are other major point-earners; so are Amex Offers—special offers that feature limited-time point bonuses at select retailers. Unlocking bonus value will take some strategy, but even with a low effort, a rewards card should save you money annually.

1 point is better than nothing, but to maximize the rewards you get for spending, you’ll need to utilize several cards that complement each other with bonus rewards rates in certain categories, for instance using the Platinum card to earn 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Not every purchase you make will earn multiple Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, but by utilizing more than one of American Express’ rewards cards, you can cover most major expenses.

What are Membership Rewards points worth?

(See Comprehensive Value Guide)

The value of American Express points varies based on what you use them for and the method you employ to redeem them. Consider the following scenario:

You have been approved for the Amex Everyday Credit Card. After spending $1,000 in the first three months, you are awarded an introductory bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards points. Considering the 1X points per dollar earned on every purchase, you’ll have a grand total of 11,000 points at a bare minimum. With 11,000 points in hand, some of your redemption options include:

  • Booking airfare through American Express Travel (points have a flat 1 cent value, except if using the Blue card) - total value of points: $110
  • Transferring points to Delta Airlines and converting to SkyMiles (points transfer at a 1:1 ratio with a SkyMiles value of 1.29 cents per mile) - total value of points: $141.90
  • Redeeming points as a statement credit (points are worth 0.6 cents apiece when redeemed as a statement credit) - total value of points: $66

As you can see, value fluctuates greatly across redemption options. How exactly those values are determined is a fluid formula, partly established by American Express, its travel partners, and a number of other outside influences.

CreditCards.com has established a comprehensive guide to Membership Rewards point value, which includes the many redemption options American Express provides—as these numbers can change, be sure to check often for updates.

Membership Rewards vs Amex co-branded card points

Point values fluctuate, sign-up bonuses come and go, and partner relationships change. Finding the card that’s right for you is as much a game of staying in-the-know as it is managing your expenses. Fortunately for American Express Cardholders, there are a number of travel partners that have become almost synonymous with Amex points-earning.

Putting a true value on those points can be tricky. Personal hotel preference, destinations flown to, and other factors can add intangible value to points earned on Amex cards. From strictly a dollar-value perspective, points you can earn on American Express cards are worth:

  • Membership Rewards: 1.9 cents per point
  • Delta SkyMiles: 1.2 cents per point
  • Hilton Honors: 0.6 cents per point
  • Starwood StarPoints: 2.7 cents per point

The Points Guy reports point values monthly, which provides good insight on one of the first factors to consider when applying for a new American Express card. The key takeaway here is that Membership Rewards have a fluid value—1.9 cents per point is an average of the values you can expect when redeeming them. Membership Rewards are much more flexible than any partner points program, but if you are loyal to one brand in particular, you may find more value in the co-branded card.

So which points are better? The answer is subjective; it depends on your spending habits, travel preferences, and location. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Are you loyal to one airline or hotel brand?
  2. How many times in a year do you fly and/or stay in a hotel?
  3. Does an Amex partnering airline have a hub in your city?
  4. Does loyalty program status matter to you?
  5. What are your rewards program goals?

Answering these questions will help prioritize the benefits you want, need, and will get the most use out of. As a rule of thumb, if you’re just starting out in the rewards points game, opting for the most flexible points program is probably the best route to take. With cards like the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, you can test the waters and “underutilize” Membership Rewards without having to pay an annual fee. Once you’re more comfortable with American Express’ rewards program, you can apply for a more premium card with a higher point-earning potential and use your rewards with confidence.

Membership Rewards vs. other issuer rewards programs

Credit card users have a bevy of rewards program options, starting with some of the biggest issuers in the world but also including nearly every bank and credit union that offers cards. American Express has a well-tread rewards program history for good reason, as their extensive list of partnerships and points flexibility is on par with today’s best.

If you’re considering a new rewards credit card, it’s a good idea to take a look at the leading programs and see how they stack up against one another before applying for any of them. Again, from a pure cent-per-point perspective, we can look to The Points Guy for the following valuations:

  • American Express Membership Rewards: 1.9 cents per point
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: 2.1 cents per point
  • Capital One: 1 cent per mile
  • Citi ThankYou Points: 1.7 cents per point

The factors that lead to these monetary valuations include: number of partnering airlines, transfer ratios, redemption options, and more. Another point to consider when talking value is the rewards rate offered by issuers on their respective premium cards. If you’re planning on booking a flight, take note of the following rewards rates:

  • Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express: 3X points on flights
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 2X points on flights
  • Capital One Venture: 2X miles on flights
  • Citi ThankYou Premier Card: 3X points on flights

From just looking at cent-per-point value and rewards rates, the argument can be made that American Express Membership Rewards hold some of the highest value among major rewards programs. There are certainly other rewards cards in each issuer’s suite, and when you consider annual fees, category spending, and credit limits, the debate over whose cards are best gets sticky. It’s safe to say, though, that no matter what card you choose, as long as you’re earning back more than what you pay in annual fees, you’re winning as a rewards card user.

Membership Rewards redemption options and value

(See Comprehensive Spending and Redemption Guide)

You have a number of options when redeeming your American Express Membership Rewards, but if you’re looking for the absolute most value, stick to airfare. Transferring to a partnering airline generally garners the best cent-per-point ratio, but booking through amextravel.com is also a good option.

Some other popular redemption options include:

  • Gift cards – up to 1 cent per point (except when purchasing an Amex gift card, where points are valued at 0.5 cents per point).
  • Shopping with points (Amazon, Best Buy, and more) – 0.7 cents per point.
  • Purchasing event tickets – 0.5 cents apiece for event tickets at Ticketmaster and AXS.
  • Charitable donations – 1 cent per point for first 500,000 points in a calendar year, then 0.5 cents per point.

For a complete list of redemption options and the value of points in their respective categories, visit our Membership Rewards redemption guide.

American Express travel partners worth transferring your points to

(See Full List of Transfer Partners & Comprehensive Transfer Guide)

With nearly 20 travel partners, American Express offers plenty of options if you’re looking to transfer your Membership Rewards. Additionally, the partner points you can earn using a co-branded Amex card are valuable in their own right, especially if you are already loyal to that particular brand.

When it comes to transferring points, airfare is generally your best bet for getting more than one cent per point value. Some of American Express’ best airline partners for transferring points are:

  • Delta Airlines – points are transferred at a 1:1 ratio. When converted to Delta SkyMiles, Membership Rewards take on a 1.29 cents per point value.
  • British Airways – points are transferred at a 1:1 ratio. When converted to Avios, Membership Rewards take on a 2.23 cents per point value.

The loyalty points programs of Amex’s hotel partners are not as generous when it comes to value. Transferring points to Hilton, Choice Hotels, and Starwood Hotels will all yield less than one cent per point for your Membership Rewards. For that reason, if you frequent one of those three hotel chains and you want to see some rewards, you’re better off with an American Express co-branded card. Consider the following top options:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express – Though you won’t get a ton of transfer value from Amex to Starwood, StarPoints themselves are incredibly valuable (2.7 cents per point, according to The Points Guy). Rack up StarPoints at restaurants, gas stations, and SPG and Marriott hotels.
  • Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express – Hilton Honors points are worth about 0.6 cents per point, but with the Ascend Card, you stand to earn a ton of them via the 12X rewards rate on Hilton purchases. Their value is a bit watered down, but if you’re staying at Hiltons fairly often, you’ll quickly bank enough points to make up for it.

Transferring Membership Rewards to one of American Express’ travel partners requires a little bit of research. Although transfer values are usually higher for airlines, costs fluctuate on a daily basis, so you may not necessarily get the exact value you were hoping for. Keep in mind that there are certain key points to keep in mind when making a partner transfer. Visit our guide on Amex transfer partners for tips on getting the most bang for your points. If you already have Membership Rewards points and would like to use them on an airline that Amex does not partner with, visit our guide on transferring Amex points between airlines.

American Express perks and benefits

American Express Membership Rewards are valuable themselves, but what makes Amex Amex is the customer service, perks package, and special benefits you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re relatively new to Amex rewards, one of the most valuable tidbits you can learn is this: never shop online without first checking Amex Offers.

Amex Offers are special deals from American Express’ network of retail partners, which includes: Amazon, Best Buy, Pottery Barn, 1800flowers, and many more. You can access Amex Offers through your online account or the Amex app, where you’ll find big discounts or limited-time points offers on purchases. Simply activate the offer, complete the purchase, and enjoy more points than you normally would.

Beyond helping you save at the point-of-purchase, American Express rewards cards offer great value in the form of perks:

Benefit / Card Amex EveryDay Credit Card Premier Rewards Gold Card The Platinum Card
Extended Warranty
Purchase Protection
Return Protection
Baggage Insurance Plan  
Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance
Global Assist Hotline
Roadside Assistance
Travel Accident Insurance

Maximize your Membership Rewards

Maximizing the value of your American Express Membership Rewards is equal parts spending and strategizing—spending in the categories that yield the most rewards, and strategizing your redemptions to glean the most value from them. The choice is yours and as long as you’re achieving your goal, whether that be a ‘free’ vacation or regularly upgraded hotel stays, it’s hard to complain. To sum it up:

  1. Carry cards that complement each others’ spending categories. The goal is to earn more than one point per dollar spent on as many purchases as possible.
  2. Pay off your balances. It goes without saying, but carrying a balance and paying interest on rewards cards will quickly negate the benefits you have the opportunity to earn.
  3. Sign up for loyalty programs. It’s free to sign up for loyalty programs and it’s a great way to compound your earning potential. Select a travel partner with whom you’ll have the opportunity to book with most often and always use your Amex rewards card when purchasing from them. By doing this, you’ll earn Hilton Honors points, Delta SkyMiles, etc. while also building up your supply of Membership Rewards.
  4. Transfer your points when possible. After earning an intro bonus of points, you’ll have a big chunk of transferable points off the bat. You’ll likely also have made purchases at a travel partner by the time your bonus comes in. At that time, transfer your Amex points and magnify your rewards.

There is a certain amount of trial-and-error when it comes to maximizing the rewards you earn on all credit cards. If you’re putting in your research and spending wisely, you’ll quickly realize how beneficial frequent use of an American Express card can be.

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Updated: 12-15-2018