It’s been nearly 6 years since Ben last put together a series on the best ways to use American Express Membership Rewards points by region. Since late 2012, we’ve seen a lot of changes to award charts so it was definitely time for a refresh.
How much are Membership Rewards points worth?
In our latest points valuation, we have Amex Membership Rewards points listed at 1.7 cents each. To be clear, how you choose to redeem your Amex points will dictate the cents per point value you’ll get.
If you’re booking international first class awards, you can expect to get much more value. Even many business class awards will exceed 1.7 cents per point in value. Economy awards are where you really have to put in some thought. With cheap economy fares, it might make sense to pay cash for a ticket — if it fits your budget — and save your points for later.
If you have The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, there is one more wrinkle to the equation. If you have this card, you might able to receive a 35% rebate when you Pay with Points when booking through Amex Travel. Two types of bookings make you eligible for the rebate:
- Business and first class flights on any airline
- All flights with your selected airline
These bookings provide a value of about 1.54 cents per point. As a result, it can be worth booking through Amex Travel if you find a cheap economy fare on your selected airline or a cheap business class fare.
Amex Membership Rewards transfer partners
Amex Membership Rewards currently has 17 airline partners. While you can transfer points to most of these partners at a 1:1 ratio, keep an eye out for those with worse transfer rates so you don’t waste your points.
Occasionally, Amex will run a transfer bonus of up to 40%, which can really help you stretch your points further.
Amex also has 3 hotel partners though it’s rarely a good idea to transfer Membership Rewards points to them.
|Membership Rewards Transfer Partner||Transfer Ratio||Transfer Time|
|Aer Lingus AerClub||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Aeromexico Club Premier||1000 : 1600||~ 4 to 5 days|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Air France KLM FlyingBlue||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Alitalia MilleMiglia Club||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|ANA Mileage Club||1000 : 1000||~ 2 to 3 days|
|Avianca LifeMiles||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|British Airways Executive Club||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1000 : 1000||~ 1 to 4 days|
|Delta SkyMiles||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|El Al Matmid||1000 : 20||Instant|
|Emirates Skywards||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Etihad Guest||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Hawaiian HawaiianMiles||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Iberia Plus||1000 : 1000||~ 4 to 24 hours|
|JetBlue TrueBlue||250 : 200||Instant|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1000 : 1000||~ 12 to 24 hours|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Choice Privileges||1000 : 1000||Instant|
|Hilton Honors||1000 : 2000||Instant|
|Marriott Bonvoy||1000 : 1000||Instant|
Many of these transfers process almost instantly, but be aware of the six that don’t. The transfer times of these six aren’t too bad, but you should be aware of the risk that award space could disappear while you wait.
Know before you transfer
Many of Amex’s partner airlines impose fuel surcharges on award bookings. However, there are often exceptions made within each program. For example, Singapore KrisFlyer will hit you with surcharges on many partner awards, but not when you book an award on one of its own flights.
Aeroplan imposes surcharges on several airlines including Air Canada, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, LOT, Lufthansa, TAP Air Portugal and Thai Airways but not on others. The surcharges on LOT are more reasonable too.
ANA also includes surcharges on many awards but often has good redemption rates — which require a round-trip booking.
If you transfer Membership Rewards to one of the U.S. carriers — Delta, Hawaiian Airlines or JetBlue, American Express will require you to pay an excise tax of 0.06 cents per point transferred, up to $99.
This is just a quick overview, but it’s a good reminder that you’ll want to make sure you know what to expect before transferring your hard-earned points.
Please don’t use your points these ways
American Express oh so generously allows you to redeem your points for stuff. As has become a famous refrain in the miles and points community… don’t get a toaster! Whether it’s merchant gift cards, toys for your kids or just the stupid toaster, just don’t use points like this.
Additionally, if you don’t have the Amex Business Platinum, your points are only worth 1 cent per point when you Pay with Points through Amex Travel. This is yet another sad way to burn your points. In this case, stick to airline partners — and maybe Choice Privileges.
Transferring Membership Rewards to Hilton Honors or SPG is almost always a poor way to use points. I won’t be so hard on transferring to Choice as this could be worth it for an award stay at a hotel in northern Europe.
If you want a card that earns Membership Rewards points
If you haven’t dipped a toe into Amex’s Membership Rewards program yet, there are a number of cards from which to choose. Personally, I would start with Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points because of the Chase 5/24 rule, which could prevent you from getting them later.
However, Membership Rewards points are very valuable and a great move once you’ve hit 5/24. One caveat to this is if you’re in the market for a new business card, as you can get a business card from American Express without impacting your 5/24 status.
Here are some of your options for earning Membership Rewards points:
The Amex Membership Rewards program really provides a great one-two punch. You can use a combo of cards to earn points quickly — on top of the welcome bonus — and the airline partners provide some great ways to book award flights.
In the upcoming pieces, I’ll cover some of the best ways to use Membership Rewards points to book award flights within the U.S. (including Hawaii) and to Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America. As a bonus, we’ll even discuss some great awards that don’t touch the U.S.
Thanks for following along, and please let me know what questions you have as we go!