Best ways to spend American Express points
If you love having reward redemption options, the American Express Membership Rewards program delivers them – giving you a long list of ways to spend your points that could possibly make your head spin and leave you muddled on how to best use your credit card rewards.
We’ll summarize for you: With a few exceptions, airfare redemptions give you by far the best value on your Membership Rewards points. And, if you really want to go the extra mile (or, thousands of extra miles, to be exact), then you should consider transferring your points to one of American Express’s travel partners, where you can get values of 2 cents per point or more by finding sweet spots in their redemption tiers.
Here’s an overview of your redemption options:
Membership Rewards redemption options
|Redemption Option||Point Value|
Platinum card airline bonus (one designated airline only)
Rewards portal airfare (except Blue card)
Membership Rewards portal travel rewards (hotels, vacations, cruises) (except
Rewards portal travel with Blue card (including airfare)
||Up to 1 cent
partner (Amazon, Best Buy, Boxed, Grubhub, Newegg, Rite Aid, Seamless, Staples)
|Transfer to Plenti
|Ticketmaster & AXS tickets
|Transfer to Schwab account (with Schwab Platinum card)
|Excise tax offset fee (for transfer to travel partner)
Using American Express points for gift cards
American Express lets you redeem your points for a variety of gift cards, including travel, restaurants and retailers. This is a relatively decent redemption option – most of the gift cards will give you a value of 1 cent per point, which is par for Membership Rewards. You’ll need to watch out for lower value gift cards, however, especially American Express brand gift cards which go for 0.5 cents per point.
Using American Express points for cash back
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.
Using American Express points for Uber
Fans of Uber should love American Express cards – not only can you earn double points on Uber rides and use your $200 Uber credit on the Platinum card to cover your rides, but you also can seamlessly apply your Membership Rewards points to Uber rides through the Uber app. And the value of your points is good, amounting to 1 cent per point.
Using American Express points on Amazon and other shopping partners
American Express has many shopping partners – including Amazon and Best Buy – that allow you to link your account to their sites and to apply your points at checkout with a single click. Convenient, sure, but also a poor use of points since you get 0.7 cents back on each point.
Using the American Express shopping portal
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 points 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.
Using American Express points at TicketMaster
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.
Transferring points to a Charles Schwab account
A rare option for a points-based rewards program: You can transfer your points to a qualified Charles Schwab account, and it’s actually a great value. You get a 25 percent relationship bonus when you do so, amounting to a value of 1.25 cents per point, which is a better return on your points than most of the airfare options. However: You to have to be the owner of a Charles Schwab account and a Charles Schwab Platinum card, so few cardholders will qualify.
Using American Express points for airline tickets
If you are aiming for the best value for your Membership Rewards, then it’s really all about airfare redemptions. And, while booking travel through the American Express Travel site is not ultimately the best value, it’s a good choice if you want a simple way to book airfare, without having to worry about blackout dates and restrictions.
American Express Travel, like most travel sites, lets you search for airfares 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 and you can even search for Insider fares that give you slight discounts on your points to boost that value. Also, you earn miles and elite status on your rewards flight, which you should factor into the overall value of your ticket.
Business Platinum cardholders get a 35 percent bonus on their points if they book a flight on an airline that they designate at the beginning of each year – raising their potential point value to 1.35 cents for airfare.
A note of caution: Airfares 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 make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
Using American Express points for other travel options
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. Airfare aside, none of these other travel options is a good redemption choice – you get only 0.7 cents per Membership Rewards point.
Using American Express points on Expedia
Expedia is an American Express partner, so you have another option for using American Express points. At 0.7 cents per point, Expedia bookings are usually not the best deal.
Transferring points to an American Express travel partner
Actually, the best deals are to be found by transferring your points to one of American Express’s travel partners. It’s possible to more than double your point value if you know where the sweet spots lie, but it’s also a very complicated endeavor that requires lots of research and flexibility.
American Express has 19 travel partners – including several major airlines that can take you practically anywhere you want to travel – and your points transfer at 1:1 rate to most of them, but not all of them.
The value per point varies wildly by each program, and you also need to consider that American Express charges an excise fee of 0.06 cents for each point you transfer (up to $99) – it’s small, but you’ll need to subtract it from the overall point value.
In the chart below, we’ve listed our estimated point value for each of American Express’s travel partners, as well as an adjusted point value that takes into account the transfer ratio and the excise fee:
Membership Rewards point transfer options
|Transfer Partner||Transfer Ratio||Loyalty Program Point Value||Estimated Point Value|
||1:1||2.29 cents||2.23 cents|
||1:1||2.17 cents||2.16 cents|
||1:1||1.7 cents||1.64 cents|
||1:1.6||1 cent||1.54 cents
||1:1||1.5 cents||1.44 cents
Nippon Airways (ANA)
||1:1||1.48 cents||1.42 cents
||1:1||1.35 cents||1.29 cents
||1:1||1.33 cents||1.27 cents
||1.25:1||1.47 cents||1.12 cents
||1:1||1.1 cents||1.04 cents
|Alitalia MillegMiglia||1:1||1 cent||0.94 cent
|Asia Miles||1:1||1 cent||0.94 cent
|Choice Privileges||1:1||1 cent||0.94 cent
||1:1||1 cent||0.94 cent
||1:1||1 cent||0.94 cent
||1:2||0.44 cent||0.82 cent
|Starwood Preferred Guest||3:1||2.4 cents||0.74 cent
||1:1||0.8 cent||0.74 cent
|El Al Israel Airlines
||20:1||1 cents||(0.01) cent
As you can see, a large number of American Express’s partners, including Delta Air Lines, offer a much better value than the 1 cent value you get from booking tickets through the American Express Travel site. But, also, many of Amex’s partners fall below the 1 cent threshold, because of the excise fee, poor point value or an unreasonable transfer ratio. This includes all of Amex’s hotel partners.
Using American Express travel vs. transferring points
In sum, transferring your points to an American Express travel partner can give you the best return on your Membership Rewards points, but not every cardholder may have the time or flexibility to go hunting for values in outside loyalty programs. Here are a few additional things to consider in deciding whether to transfer your points or redeem them on the American Express site:
Benefits of using American Express travel:
- You have a larger selection of airlines to choose from, including most of the major domestic and international airlines.
- It’s easy to find and book flights – you don’t have to scour multiple websites searching for limited rewards flights. Rewards flights aren’t always listed on the site, by the way – sometimes you must contact the airline directly to verify the availability of a rewards seat.
- Rewards bookings aren’t subject to blackout dates or restrictions – if a seat or hotel room is available, you can book it.
- You have the most flexibility on your travel dates and destinations – you don’t have to restrict yourself to traveling at times when seats are available and good deals can be found.
- You don’t have to be familiar with a complicated rewards chart to find the best value for a flight – the number of points required is based on the cost of each ticket, at a rate of one point per dollar.
Benefits of transferring Membership Rewards points:
- You can get a much better value than 1 to 1.35 cents per point if you’re willing to do the legwork (especially since American Express Travel doesn’t offer the lowest fares).
- You can get a better value on hotel stays with American Express’s hotel partners than by booking a hotel through American Express travel (though we generally don’t recommend using your points for hotel stays).
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