Membership Rewards is American Express’ transferable points currency. Membership Rewards can be earned via credit card spend, new account bonuses, credit card referrals, and in many other ways. Once earned, these points can then be transferred to airline or hotel partners, used to pay for travel or merchandise and, in one specific case, even converted to cash back.
If you’re at all interested in free and/or luxury travel with points & miles, then you need to understand the basics of Amex Membership Rewards. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know.
How to earn Amex Membership Rewards Points
The easiest and quickest way to earn Membership Rewards points is through Amex credit card welcome bonuses.
Most Amex welcome offers stipulate that you can’t get the bonus if you’ve ever had that card before. That said, it doesn’t preclude you getting a bonus for a similarly named card. For example, there quite a few versions of the high end Platinum card, and it’s possible to get the welcome bonus with each and every one. Additionally, targeted offers sometimes do not have that once per lifetime language. In those cases, you can get the bonus even if you’ve had the card before. See: 8 ways to get the best targeted Amex welcome bonus offers.
Below are the Amex cards with the best current and public Membership Rewards welcome offers.
Amex frequently offers bonus points for upgrading from one card to another. For example, we’ve seen 140,000 point offers for upgrading from the Business Gold Rewards card to the Business Platinum card. Even better, these upgrade offers usually do not have the once per lifetime language. That is, if you are targeted for an upgrade offer, you may be able to earn the bonus points even if you currently have the card or if you’ve had the card before.
Note that it’s best to accept these offers only after you have earned a signup bonus for the card that you’re upgrading to. Accepting an upgrade offer for a given card will make you ineligible to receive a new cardmember welcome bonus for that card if it contains Amex’s “once in a lifetime” language.
Shopping Portal Rewards
It is possible to earn Amex Membership Rewards points by starting your shopping with the Rakuten Shopping Portal. An option within the portal lets you choose whether you want to be paid via cash back or in Membership Rewards points.
In addition to earning points by clicking through to stores from the portal, you can also register your credit cards with the portal to earn additional points at select stores and restaurants.
Another great way to earn Membership Rewards points is by using the best card for different spending categories. If you spend a lot personally or through your business on any of the below categories, you can do very well. Particularly noteworthy is the no-annual-fee Blue Business Plus Credit Card which offers 2 points per dollar for all spend, up to $50K spend per calendar year (then 1X thereafter). That’s fantastic.
|Spend Category||Best Options|
||American Express Gold 4X (up to $25K per year, then 1X)
EveryDay Preferred Up to 4.5X* (max $6K per year)
|US Gas Stations
||Business Gold Rewards Up to 4X**
EveryDay Preferred Up to 3X*
|Restaurants||American Express Gold 4X
American Express Green 3X
Business Gold Rewards Up to 4X**, US only
|Travel (Broadly Defined)
||American Express Green 3X|
||Platinum consumer cards 5X
Business Platinum (via Amex Travel) 5X
Business Gold Rewards Up to 4X**
American Express Gold 3X
American Express Green 3X
||Platinum cards (via Amex Travel) 5X
American Express Green 3X
|Select Car Rental Companies||American Express Green 3X
Morgan Stanley Credit Card 2X
|Select US Department Stores||Morgan Stanley Credit Card 2X|
|US Shipping||Business Gold Rewards Up to 4X**|
|US Advertising in select media||Business Gold Rewards Up to 4X**|
|US Computer related purchases
||Business Gold Rewards Up to 4X**|
|US Construction/Hardware Stores||Business Platinum 1.5X|
|Everywhere else||Blue Business Plus 2X
EveryDay Preferred 1.5X*
* The Amex EveryDay Preferred card earns a 50% bonus every billing period in which the card was used for 30 or more transactions. Before the 50% bonus, the card has the following bonus categories: 3x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x); 2x points at US gas stations; 1x points on other purchases. After the 50% bonus, it offers: 4.5x points at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1.5x); 3x points at US gas stations; 1.5x points on other purchases.
** The Business Gold Card offers 4X on the two categories where your business spends the most each billing cycle from the following categories: ⚬ US purchases at restaurants ⚬ Airfare purchased directly from airlines ⚬ U.S. purchases for advertising in select media ⚬ U.S. purchases at gas stations ⚬ U.S. purchases for shipping ⚬ U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers. 4X applies to first $150,000 in combined purchases in your two categories each calendar year, 1X point per dollar thereafter and on other purchases. Terms apply.
Yet another way to earn Membership Rewards points is by referring friends and relatives to an Amex credit or charge card. In some cases these referral bonuses can be substantial and Amex has offered as much as 30,000 points for referring someone to another Amex card. However, if you want to keep your friends, then make sure that the offer they get is as good as the best available public offer (by comparing your referral offer to our Best Offers page).
Log into your account to check for any special referral offers.
Amex Offers are a great option for saving cash. But, sometimes Amex Offers can also provide terrific opportunities for point-earning instead. One (now expired) example was an offer for Reebok: Spend $75 or more, Get 1,500 Membership Rewards points. And one for Hugo Boss: Spend $250 or more, Get 5,000 points.
Amex Offers can also be longer term and act more like a new category bonus in which you can get an extra Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at selected merchants. See: 2x Membership Rewards (2.5x with Everyday Preferred) at many online merchants.
Log into your account and check the section titled “Amex Offers and Benefits” to look for offers like these.
Enroll in Pay Over Time
Once you sign up for an American Express charge card, you will start getting emails and letters inviting you to sign up for the Pay Over Time. This option essentially turns your charge card into a credit card. Don’t do it. That is, don’t sign up until the offer includes a bonus of 10,000 to 30,000 Membership Rewards points. In my experience, these bonus offers usually appear towards the end of your first year of card membership (as long as you haven’t enrolled already).
Once you get an offer like the one shown above, go ahead and sign up. As long as you keep paying your card’s complete balance each month, there is no downside to enabling this feature.
FX International Payments
Amex offers businesses the ability to earn 1 Membership Rewards point per $30 of foreign wire payments (max 4,000 points per transaction). Even better, you may receive a welcome bonus offer like the one shown above (keep an eye out for this in your mailbox or email!).
How to Use Membership Rewards Points
In general, Membership Rewards points are worth up to 1 cent each. Fortunately, there are three ways in which it is possible to get more value: redeem points for flights, transfer points to hotel or airline partners, or invest rewards. More on each below…
Those with American Express Platinum cards automatically get 1 cent per point value when redeeming points for travel. That’s not particularly good, but it’s much better than the value that people get without a Platinum card. Currently, the only way to get better than 1 cent per point value when redeeming points for travel is with the Business Platinum Card.
The Business Platinum Card offers a 35% Airline Bonus: Get 35% of your points back when you redeem points through Amex Travel for either a First or Business class flight on any airline, or for any flights with your selected airline.
After you receive the 35% rebate, the value works out to 1.54 cents per point. That’s very good, but it does require owning this ultra-premium card.
The best use of Membership Rewards points, in my opinion, is to transfer them to airline and hotel partners in order to book high value awards. Your best bet is usually to wait until you find a great award before transferring points. One exception: Amex often offers 30% or higher transfer bonuses to certain programs (Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are two recent examples). If you’re confident that you’ll use the points for good value, it may make sense to transfer points when those bonuses are in effect.
Points can be transferred to the loyalty accounts of the primary cardholder or any authorized user or employee on the account.
For specific examples of great ways to use points transferred to airline miles, please see: Amex Membership Rewards sweet spots.
List of Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
It is free to transfer Membership Rewards points to foreign airlines. For transfers to US airlines, however, Amex charges an “excise tax offset fee” of $0.0006 per point (with a maximum fee of $99). Airlines subject to this fee are noted below.
|Rewards Program||Amex Transfer Ratio||Best Uses|
|Aer Lingus Avios||1 to 1||Iberia offers very low award prices on their own flights. Round trip partner awards can offer good value under some circumstances as well. Fuel surcharges are often lower when booking with Iberia rather than British Airways. It's possible to move points (Avios) between Iberia, British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Qatar. See also: Avios Sweet Spots for Award Tickets.|
|AeroMexico ClubPremier||1 to 1.6||AeroMexico is a SkyTeam partner. Club Premier points can be used to book flights on AeroMexico, SkyTeam alliance members (such as Delta or Korean Air), or on select partner airlines. Unfortunately many have reported that awards are extremely difficult to book through AeroMexico so we do not recommend transferring points to this program. If you want to fly AeroMexico, look to transfer points to another SkyTeam partner (such as Air France) and then book AeroMexico with that program.|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||1 to 1||Redeem for Star Alliance flights and/or flights with Air Canada partners (such as Etihad). No fuel surcharges; $39 CAD award booking fee; 5,000 points to add stopover on one-way award. See: Air Canada Aeroplan: Everything you need to know.|
|Air France KLM Flying Blue||1 to 1||Monthly Air France Promo Awards often represent very good value. Air France miles can be used to book Sky Team awards, including Delta awards. Air France often offers very good business class award pricing between the US and Europe & Israel.|
|ANA Mileage Club||1 to 1||Redeem for Star Alliance flights. Multiple stopovers allowed. ANA offers many great sweet-spot awards, including flying around the world in business class for as few as 115K miles! See also: ANA - a terrific Membership Rewards gem.|
|Avianca LifeMiles||1 to 1||Avianca LifeMiles can be great for Star Alliance awards. They offer reasonable award prices and no fuel surcharges on awards. They also offer shorthaul awards within the US (for flying United, for example) for as few as 7,500 miles one-way. Best of all, their mixed-cabin pricing can lead to fantastic first-class award prices. See this post for details.|
|British Airways Avios||1 to 1||While flights on British Airways itself often incur outrageously high fuel surcharges, many BA partners charge low or no fuel surcharges. Excellent value can be had in redeeming BA points for short distance flights. It's possible to move points (Avios) between Iberia, British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Qatar. See also: Avios Sweet Spots for Award Tickets.|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1 to 1||Cathay Pacific has a decent distance based award chart, but they no longer allow stopovers longer than 24 hours. Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be a good option for booking American Airlines flights with a distance based award chart, especially if other OneWorld Alliance miles aren't available. For long distance flights, it is possible to reduce the cost of first class by adding on a business class flight. See this post for details.|
|Choice||1 to 1||Choice Privileges points seem to be randomly valuable within the US, but dependably valuable internationally in expensive locations such as Scandinavia and Japan|
|Delta SkyMiles||1 to 1 plus excise tax||Delta no longer charges change or cancellation fees on awards originating in North America. Flash award sales can offer great value. See: Best uses for Delta miles.|
|Emirates Skywards||1 to 1||The best use of Emirates miles has been to fly Emirates itself. Unfortunately fuel surcharges can be steep. See: Emirates Sweet Spot Awards - First class from 30K miles round trip.|
|Etihad Guest||1 to 1||Etihad has a very competitive award chart for American Airlines flights, among others. For example, they charge only 50,000 miles one-way for business class flights from North America to Europe. Partner awards must be booked over the phone.|
|Hawaiian Miles||1 to 1 plus excise tax||Hawaiian Airlines’ award prices tend to be quite high, but there are some not-terrible uses: fly to neighboring islands for 7.5K miles, fly first class round-trip from Hawaii to South Pacific islands for as few as 95K miles, fly first class round-trip from Hawaii to Australia for as few as 130K miles.|
|Hilton||1 to 2||5th Night Free awards. Best value is usually found with very low end or very high end Hilton hotels. Bonus: award nights are not subject to resort fees.|
|Iberia Avios||1 to 1||Iberia offers very low award prices on their own flights. Round trip partner awards can offer good value under some circumstances as well. Fuel surcharges are often lower when booking with Iberia rather than British Airways. It's possible to move points (Avios) between Iberia, British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Qatar. See also: Avios Sweet Spots for Award Tickets.|
|JetBlue||250 to 200 plus excise tax||JetBlue points offer the most value when cheap ticket prices are available and when award taxes are high relative to the overall cost of the ticket (more details can be found here). The JetBlue Plus Card and the JetBlue Business Card offer a 10% rebate on awards, so you can get more value by holding one of these cards.|
|Marriott Bonvoy||1 to 1||5th Night Free awards. Opportunities to get outsized value exist but can be hard to find.|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||1 to 1||Best use is probably for flights on El Al with no fuel surcharges. Also useful for short AA flights. Qantas offers distance based award charts similar to Cathay Pacific. Both are OneWorld Alliance members. I recommend comparing award prices across both programs before transferring to either. Qantas offers round the world business class awards for only 280,000 points (but with many restrictions)|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1 to 1||Use to book Singapore Airlines First Class awards (generally reserved for their own members), Alaska Airlines economy awards, or for Star Alliance awards (including United Airlines).|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1 to 1||Virgin Atlantic offers a few great sweet spot awards including ANA first class between the US and Japan for as low as 55K points one-way; and US to Europe on Delta One business class for 50K points one-way. See: Best uses for Virgin Atlantic points (Sweet Spot Spotlight).|
Current Partner Transfer Bonuses
Here are the currently available transfer bonuses from Amex Membership Rewards (this table will update automatically when new offers are found):
|Transfer Bonus Details||End Date|
The best way to get cash back is to add the American Express Platinum Card for Schwab to your credit card portfolio. This card offers a benefit called “Invest with Rewards.” This allows the cardholder to deposit Membership Rewards points into a Schwab account at a value of 1.1 cents per point. For example, 50,000 points becomes $550.
Considering the fact that there are so many ways to earn lots of Membership Rewards points, the ability to cash out at 1.1 cents per point isn’t too bad.
Note that the Morgan Stanley Platinum card also offers Invest with Rewards but only at a value of 1 cent per point.
Amex Business Checking is another way to cash out Membership Rewards, but there is a bit of a catch, though. The standard rate is only 0.8 cents per point, which is something no one should consider doing. There is an increased rate of 1 cent per point possible, but in order to get it, you must also hold a Business Platinum card (and the $695 annual fee that comes with it). Also, that improved rate is limited to a maximum of 1,000,000 points redeemed per year while the standard rate of 0.8 cents per point is unlimited.
You can also redeem points for gift cards or merchandise. At most, with this approach you’ll get 1 cent per point value, but usually you’ll get quite a bit less.
You can also use points to pay some merchants directly (Amazon.com, for example). Don’t do this. These options offer very poor value. Further, they may compromise the security of your account (i.e. if someone hacks into your Amazon account, they might spend your Membership Rewards points – causing you a headache in getting your points reinstated).
Amex Membership Rewards Travel Sweet Spots
- Domestic US Flights
- Caribbean / Latin America
- Australia / New Zealand / Oceania
- Round the world ticket
- Hotel Partners
Managing Membership Rewards
Amex automatically pools all of your points together. When you earn points with different cards, the point total shown when viewing either card is the total across cards.
Unlike Chase and Citibank, Amex doesn’t allow members to move points from one person’s account to another. That said, it is possible to transfer one person’s points to another person’s loyalty program account. The key is that the person who receives the points must be an authorized user or employee on the other person’s account. For example, my wife can transfer Membership Rewards points to my Virgin Atlantic account as long as I’m an authorized user (or employee) on any of her Membership Rewards cards.
In order to use this method to share points, the authorized user card must be active for 90 days before it will unlock the ability to transfer your points to the authorized user’s loyalty program account.
How to Preserve a Deceased Person’s Points
If a person with Amex Membership Rewards points dies, the executor of the estate or an authorized account manager can request to transfer their Membership Rewards points to another person or to redeem points in any other way (e.g. transfer to loyalty program, redeem for gift cards, etc.). Full details can be found here.
Thankfully, it is very easy to keep Amex Membership Rewards points alive. Simply keep any Membership Rewards card open. For example, if you are about to close your one and only Membership Rewards card, then open another Membership Rewards card account first in order to preserve your points. Amex offers some no-fee Membership Rewards cards, such as the Blue Business Plus and the Amex Everyday, so this shouldn’t be much of a burden.