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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 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, 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.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Why should you get this card?

The Amex Platinum card comes with a massive list of perks – including the most extensive lounge access of any credit card and hundreds of dollars in travel credits – making it the best value for a luxury traveler.

Learn more

More things to know:

  • 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in first 3 months
  • 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
  • 5X points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com
  • 1X points on other purchases
  • Access to Priority Pass lounges, Centurion lounges and more
  • Up to $200 airline fee credit

Here’s an overview of your redemption options:

Membership Rewards redemption options

Redemption optionPoint value (cents)
Airfare on amextravel.com1
Upgrade flight with points1
Gift cardsUp to 1
Amazon purchases0.7
Charitable donations through JustGiving0.7
Other amextravel.com purchases0.7
Shopping partner purchases (Best Buy, Grubhub, Walmart and more)0.7
Statement credit0.6
Merchandise0.5
Ticketmaster purchases0.5
Excise tax offset fee (for transfer to domestic travel partners)0.5

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. American Express brand gift cards go for only 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 on Amazon and other shopping partners

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 also a poor use of points since you only get a value of 0.7 cents back for 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 for charity through JustGiving

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 support, and you can use your points at a value of 0.7 cents per point.

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.

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 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.

As we mentioned above, Business Platinum cardholders get a 35% rebate on their points if they book either a premium cabin flight on any airline or an economy a flight on one airline that they designate at the beginning of each year through amextravel.com.

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 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. 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.

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

Transferring points to an American Express travel partner

Usually, 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 slightly more complicated compared to just booking through the American Express travel portal.

American Express has 22 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.

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) when you transfer to a US-based airline or hotel chain. This excise fee is relatively small, but it’s important to consider it when calculating your 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 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

American Express hotel partners

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

As you can see, a large number of American Express’s partners offer a much better value than the 1 cent you get from booking tickets through the American Express travel portal.

Using the American Express travel portal vs. transferring points

There’s no doubt that transferring points can provide more value than using the American Express travel portal, but it takes a bit of work. Using the travel portal provides a fixed cost for your points and is definitely simpler.

Consider using your points through the American Express travel portal if you don’t have the time to spend to learn the intricacies of the different airline and hotel rewards programs. 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 do find yourself booking a lot of airfare through the travel portal, consider the American Express Business Platinum card for the 35% rebate.

If you’re willing to spend a little bit of time and effort, you can easily find transfer redemptions that are 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 compared to booking a business class cash ticket.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of different ways to earn American Express Membership Rewards points, so it’s only smart to maximize the ways to spend your Amex points as well.

While there are many options to spend your Amex points on gift cards or through shopping partners like Amazon, PayPal, Best Buy and Expedia, these generally provide poor value and are not recommended in most cases.

Most people will get the best value of their points 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 when you want to go. It can pay to spend a bit of time comparing the cost in cash via Amex Travel to the cost it would be in points if you transferred to a partner to see which one makes sense for you.

In any case, good luck and happy travels!

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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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: July 8th, 2020
Business
13.91%
Airline
15.48%
Cash Back
16.09%
Reward
15.82%
Student
16.12%

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