Best Ways To Use Amex Membership Rewards Points By Region: Introduction [2018]

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Introduction
Domestic (Including Hawaii)
Europe
Asia
Australia & New Zealand
Middle East & India
Africa
South America
Caribbean, Central America, & Mexico


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.

Membership Rewards Airline Partners

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 Hotel Partners

Membership Rewards Transfer PartnerTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Aer Lingus AerClub1000 : 1000Instant
Aeromexico Club Premier1000 : 1600~ 4 to 5 days
Air Canada Aeroplan1000 : 1000Instant
Air France KLM FlyingBlue1000 : 1000Instant
Alitalia MilleMiglia Club1000 : 1000Instant
ANA Mileage Club1000 : 1000~ 2 to 3 days
British Airways Executive Club1000 : 1000Instant
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles1000 : 1000~ 1 to 4 days
Delta SkyMiles1000 : 1000Instant
El Al Matmid1000 : 20Instant
Emirates Skywards1000 : 1000Instant
Etihad Guest1000 : 1000Instant
Hawaiian HawaiianMiles1000 : 1000Instant
Iberia Plus1000 : 1000~ 1 to 2 days
JetBlue TrueBlue250 : 200Instant
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1000 : 1000~ 12 to 24 hours
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1000 : 1000Instant
Choice Privileges1000 : 1000Instant
Hilton Honors1000 : 2000Instant
Marriott Rewards / Starwood Preferred Guest1000 : 1000Instant

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:

Earn Membership Rewards Points

Bottom line

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!

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Comments

  1. >just don’t use points like this

    I think the comments that you shouldn’t use points for merchant gift cards or SPG is a little bit unfair or at least unqualified.

    As someone who has used them for many thousands of dollars worth of Fairmont and SPG hotel rooms because we wanted to stay at those hotels in those places for reasons unrelated to point value.

    I don’t buy slavish devotion to value maximization in any other element of my life (I spent $4.95 this morning on a Starbucks plastic cup, a few leaves of tea, some ice and some filtered water, actual cost ~ $0.12), I don’t buy it in my travel. My family travels *as a family* where we *want* to travel, when we *can* travel, and that combination typically isn’t consistent with value maximization.

    It’s OK to teach people where you can value maximize, but don’t make people feel bad if they don’t get those last few basis points per mile of value.

  2. Wow, transfers are very different in Canada. Many fewer options, and worse transfer rates for some… but better SPG transfer at 1000:500

  3. Amazing article looking forward to it. In the Middle East we only get 2 points to every mile with less partners. Hope you cover the region for us. Thanks

  4. The AMEX Everyday card is a great way to get a fast start with no annual fee. I somehow stumbled across a 25,000 point bonus with 2k spend and applied. Talk about an easy 27k points!

  5. @Greg – To each his own. That said, this post clearly was not written for people who share your point of view. You can go ahead and skip this series. Simply rejecting the premise of the post to say that you’re just going to redeem however you see fit, value proposition be damned, doesn’t add anything of value to this conversation.

  6. Dunno if this is still going on but I tried to transfer some points to Flying Blue over a month ago and the transfer still didn’t come through, and i’ve read a BUNCH of other people have had similar experiences.

  7. @William W: I just had an (admittedly much milder) problem with transferring to Flying Blue from MRs two days ago. Something urgent came up and I was trying to book a flight for a relative that was departing in three hours, and award space was available at much better value than a revenue fare. Great, I’m in luck I thought, and there was even a transfer bonus this month. Transferred over the points, which in my experience in the past arrives instantly….. and the miles didn’t post. I kept re-logging in to my Flying Blue account over the next two hours to see if it has posted. At the T minus one hour mark I bit the dust and bought the revenue fare.

    Ten minutes later the miles posted. Now I have a bunch of Flying Blue miles I don’t have use of in the foreseeable future. The transfer process has definitely become much slower.

  8. @tda – I didn’t actually reject the premise of the post, just the characterization of it as somehow *wrong* not to fully maximize.

    I’ve been around this community for 20 years and there are plenty of people who freak out and decide they won’t go to the place they really want to go because they’re not fully realizing some arbitrary value per point. This article is clearly targeting people who are relatively new at this, so sometimes they need to be reminded of this.

    It’s kind of like telling CrossFit fanatics that it’s actually OK not to do the WOTD every day. Sure it’s great and they are getting stronger, but they’re not doing something *wrong* if they’d rather go for a jog one morning instead of doing the WOTD.

  9. @ Greg — Please continue to redeem your points for gift cards, toasters, and televisions. If everyone used their miles properly, the entire ecosystem would collapse.

    Also don’t shop around for car insurance. Pay what you are told Sir.

    —JRL

  10. I don’t see why folks are taking on Greg here in such a condescending way – the snarky judgment feels quite ridiculous, and his point is a valid one: one can certainly assign a specific monetary value to a points currency, but that value can be subjective, based upon one’s own needs. For example, if someone uses points to book a domestic flight in economy that costs under $250 because they don’t have $250 to pay for it and really needed to be somewhere, there’s real value there: if those points help meet a need, so be it – they were well spent in that sense. No one here should be admonishing or snarking at other people for how they choose to spend their own points or miles, nor telling them their voices add nothing of value to the conversation…

  11. If you are not going to recognize a RRV in the MR point for whatever reason, you would be far better off with a strait cash back system. It wouldn’t be quite as fun imo, but with the B of A premium rewards, the uber visa, the ink cash, and a few rotating category cards, you could probably average 4% cash back.

  12. Why not something about amex points per region or country? This article only applies to amex US cards

  13. Interesting you should say that BAEC miles post straight away. It was 5 days (3 business days) for me in the UK… So if you’re going to be doing this series on a per-region basis, you might add that to the mix 🙂

  14. Great post, and thanks for that.

    Question: With the carrier-imposed surcharges, who gets the money? E.g., if Air Canada imposes surcharges for a redemption on ANA or Austrian, is that because Air Canada is doing a money grab, or because ANA and Austrian etc. impose surcharges and Air Canada is simply passing on the costs?

    Same question with other carriers that impose a surcharge on award tickets. Or does it vary?

  15. @ben I suggest setting up an email where all the other regions can send over the info to be included then you can give us your analysis on it. Thanks

  16. @ Justin Ross Lee – Here’s the thing. We all have resource constraints. Unlike many people playing in the miles world, I can afford to pay cash for premium travel and luxury hotels for my family, if I so chose, and I often do. My constraint is time. We don’t get to take many vacations because of my work and my kids’ school. As a result, I can’t afford to have a vacation that my family doesn’t enjoy. If I’m taking my family to HK, we stay at the Peninsula and I pay cash because that’s where we want to stay, and not a Hyatt just because that’s where I can get a free room. Similarly, my family enjoys the Fairmont hotels in Hawaii, so sometimes we cash in MR points for gift cards there, because I’m sitting on many hundreds of thousands of them and I don’t have the time to spend them otherwise. The enjoyability of my scarce resource (time) has greater value to me than the (no more “real”) value that bloggers place on points.

    I actually haven’t cashed in MR points for Fairmont in a while, because for the past few years, I’ve bought $5K worth of gift cards to get the 15-25% bonus value each time they put them on sale for 3 hours twice a year. *That’s* a deal I will play – way better IRR on my capital than I get from equities. How about you?

  17. @Greg – I was impressed with your post and measured explanation, even though you didn’t owe anyone that. Much of your post I related to, from being able to afford to pay cash (my personal travel is a combo. of award tickets and cash tickets), to the time constraints due to work. For me, minus any kids.

    But honestly, did you really post “…way better IRR on my capital than I can get from equities?” Like, on purpose? Because the condescension from that was remarkable. Other than that, thanks for explaining your thinking.

  18. @TravelinWilly Yeah, I let my annoyance with “Pay what you are told Sir” get the best of me. My comment wasn’t cool and I should have known better.

    It’s also true, though, that investing $5K in Fairmont gift cards 4 months before our trip was by far the single best investment I made last year, which probably says more about my poor stock picking skills than anything else.

  19. I would also love a Canada specific post. It seems to be much different than the US program with vastly fewer partners and less opportunities

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