American Express Membership Rewards is one of the most popular credit card reward currencies around. American Express offers several different cards, which reward spend with Membership Rewards points. This article looks at the best ways to spend these points – should you redeem for cash or online shopping, or look for better value by transferring them to another program?
Redeeming American Express Rewards points – several options
As with most financial reward schemes, there are several ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points. The easiest way to use them is to redeem for fixed value within the Membership Rewards scheme. But, better value can be achieved by transferring the points elsewhere.
In summary, in roughly increasing order of value, the main options for using points are:
- Redeem points for a statement credit
- Use points for online purchases or gift cards
- Use points to bid for airline upgrades
- Transfer points to an airline or hotel loyalty program
Redeeming points for statement credit
American Express do not offer conversion of points to direct cashback, as happens with Chase Ultimate Rewards, for example. Instead, they allow offsetting of a statement entry using Membership Rewards points. This is flexible, as points can be used for most purchases, but the value is not great, at 0.6 cents per point. Still, it sets a minimum level you should expect to receive for your points.
Using points for online shopping
This is another fixed value option, but also not the best value use of points. Membership Rewards offers an online shopping portal, with a wide variety of products. Items can be purchased through the portal via a range of retailers and paid for using points. There are often bonus offers with reductions in the number of points needed (usually 15-25%).
It is also possible to pay at the checkout using points with a number of retailers (including Amazon, Expedia, Best Buy, Walmart and Ticketmaster). Many retailers offer gift cards that can be paid for with points. This gives plenty of opportunity to use points!
The value of points using all these methods is generally between 0.5 and one cent per point. Staying flexible and looking for value at the upper end of this range is about the best fixed value redemption rate you will get.
You can also book travel through the American Express travel portal, but the value obtained here is generally only 0.7 cents per point. Those that use Chase Ultimate Rewards may be surprised by this. The value through their travel booking portal is at least one cent per point, and up to 1.5 cents per point if you hold the excellent Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
Use points to bid for airline upgrades
This is a new option that American Express added in May 2019. Through a partnership with Plusgrade, American Express offers the opportunity to bid for cabin upgrades with 21 airlines. Note that these are different to the airlines with points transfers options in place. The following airlines are included:
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air Mauritius
- Caribbean Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- Fiji Airways
- Gulf Air
- Kenya Airways
- Malaysia Airlines
- Silk Air
- Singapore Airlines
- TAP Portugal
Upgrades of cash tickets by one cabin are possible. There are of course some exceptions, but it is easy to check upgrade options for any ticket through the Membership Rewards site.
This operates in the same way as other upgrade bidding systems. A minimum bid for any ticket will be set by the airline, along with suggested higher bids for better success. Once you have made a bid, you will be notified closer to departure whether it is successful.
This system appears to operate on a fixed value basis of one cent per point. Suggested amounts are shown in Membership Rewards points, along with the cash equivalent at this rate. Of course, you may be getting better value compared to the cost of a cash ticket in the upgraded cabin. And what you are prepared to pay depends very much on individual preferences!
Transfer points to airline or hotel programs
Transferring your Rewards Points to another points program is the best way to get value at over one cent per point. American Express has transfer partnerships with 18 airlines and three hotel loyalty programs – more than the other main financial rewards programs.
Transferring points opens up all the award redemption opportunities with these programs. Used carefully, the value here can be way in excess of one cent per point. This is the best way to maximize points value, especially for those that fly regularly.
Most of the airline partners offer points transfer at a 1:1 ratio (many in multiples of 1,000 points only). Exceptions include AeroMexico (1000 points for 1600 Premier points), El Al Frequent Flyer Club (1000 points for 20 Matmid points) and JetBlue (250 points for 200 TrueBlue points).
Hotel transfer partners are:
- Hilton Honors (1:2 transfer ratio)
- Marriott Bonvoy (1:1 transfer ratio)
- Choice Privileges (1:1 transfer ratio)
There are many possibilities here – for some more detail on some of the airline programs best deals see our loyalty guides.
Some of our favorite options possible with transfer of American Express Rewards points include:
Fly in luxury with Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is one of our favorite airline loyalty programs – not least as it is the only way to book reward flights in their excellent First Class Suites. As a 1:1 transfer partner you can book these starting at 132,000 points for New York to Singapore in First Class.
Fly between Europe and US with Iberia
There are many options possible for flights between Europe and the US, but some of the best value is with Iberia. Booked through their own program, rates in Business Class start at 85,000 Avios round trip on off peak dates.
Use British Airways Avios for short haul international flights
British Airways Executive Club is another program offering good value in certain areas. Flights are priced by distance, with short flights with any Oneworld partner starting at 6,000 Avios. This can work out excellent value for international routes (especially in regions such as Asia and South America where these are typically quite expensive), or for last minute domestic flights in the US.
Transfer points to Hilton Honors
Of the hotel transfer options, Hilton Honors is one of our favorites. Not many other programs offer transfer here, so this can be a good opportunity. There are many ways to use points for hotels, but some of the best value are with expensive or luxury properties. Hilton Honors offers variable points pricing depending on room rates, but caps this at a certain level for each property. For elite members they also offer one night free when booking four nights with points.
There is great value in the American Express Membership Rewards program, but you may have to look a little further than with other programs.
For fixed value points redeeming or shopping you can get one cent per point, but many of the easier options offer less than this. This is noticeably lower than other programs, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards where fixed price exchange is up to 1.5 cents per point.
Transferring to other loyalty programs is the way to get better value. American Express Membership Rewards is one of the best for this. It has the most transfer partners of the main financial rewards programs, and many transfers are at a great 1:1 ratio. There is a wide range of partners, opening up some excellent redemption options, including US based carriers for easy domestic US flights.