Best ways to use your Amex Membership Rewards points
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If you’re a free-travel junkie, it’s hard to go wrong with Amex Membership Rewards points.
It’s easy to earn Amex points with cards like the American Express®️ Green Card, which currently offers a bonus of 30,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first three months of account opening. The card also has a slew of benefits, which you can learn more about from out Amex Green card review.
You can earn Amex points with the following cards:
|Card||Welcome bonus & minimum spending requirements|
|The Business Platinum Card® from American Express||Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership.|
|American Express®️ Green Card||Earn 30,000 Amex Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.|
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||Earn up to $300 when you make eligible purchases with Dell Technologies, DocuSign and FedEx within the first three months of Card Membership (up to $100 per merchant, in the form of statement credits). This offer will run through November 4, 2020|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||60,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. Terms Apply.|
|American Express® Gold Card||35,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening. Terms Apply.|
|American Express® Business Gold Card||Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first three months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.|
|Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express||15,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. Terms Apply.|
|Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express||10,000 Amex Membership Rewards® points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account. Terms Apply.|
How to use Amex Membership Rewards points
Once you’ve setup an American Express account, there are two main avenues for redeeming your points. Remember, Amex points don’t expire as long as you keep at least one Membership Rewards card open.
Transfer points to partners
Before you transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to your loyalty accounts, you’ll need to link your airline or hotel account. This only takes a few minutes. We recommend linking all of your airline and hotel loyalty accounts, even if you don’t have immediate plans to transfer points. Because sometimes it can take a day or two to verify your accounts. So by linking your accounts sooner rather than later, you’ll be ready to transfer points when the time comes.
Here’s how you can link your accounts.
First, log-in to your Amex account. On the account summary page of any of your Amex Membership Rewards cards, you’ll see your total points. Underneath the points balance, click “Explore Rewards.”
On the next screen, click “Transfer Points” and then “View All.”
Step 2. Select program to link
Next, you can select from any of the many Amex transfer partners. As you can see, I’ve already linked my British Airways account.
Here’s a look at the transfer ratios and estimated transfer times for each of the airline partners.
|Airline||Transfer Ratio||Estimated Transfer Time|
|Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles)||1:1||48 Hours|
|Flying Blue (Air France / KLM)||1:1||Instant|
|Singapore Airlines||1:1||Up to 24 hours|
And this table references the estimated transfer times for each hotel partner.
|Hotel||Transfer Ratio||Estimated Transfer Time|
Step 3. Enter loyalty account information
The next step is to verify your Amex account by entering your credit card information. If you have multiple Amex cards, you can just choose one and enter the required details. You can link loyalty accounts in your name or in the name of an authorized cardholder.
At this step, you’ll also enter your airline or hotel loyalty number. This will let Amex know where to transfer the points.
If you don’t have a frequent flyer number, there’s an option at the top of the screen to create a loyalty account with the airline or hotel.
Step 5. Confirm account is linked
You’re ready to begin transferring points. You’ll see a confirmation indicating your airline or hotel account is now linked to your Amex Membership Rewards account.
Transfer Amex Membership Rewards points
After your account is linked and verified, you can begin transferring points. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1. Select airline or hotel to transfer points
On the Amex Membership Rewards page, you can see linked loyaltiy programs under “Your loyalty programs.”
To transfer points, you can click at the bottom of the linked loyalty account.
Step 2. Enter number of points
The next step is to enter the number of points you’d like to transfer to the airline or hotel partner. As an example, I entered 1,000 Amex Membership Rewards points, which will transfer to 1,000 Singapore Airlines miles. Similar to before, you’ll also have to enter your credit card information to verify it’s you.
Keep in mind, after you click “Confirm & Transfer Points,” your points will be debited from your Amex Membership Rewards balance. You will not be able to get them back to your Amex Membership Rewards account.
You may have to verify your Amex account by entering your card’s security information and remember. If you’re transferring points to a U.S. airline, you’ll have to pay an excise fee of 0.06 cents per point, up to a maximum of $99.
Step 3. Confirm your transfer
You’ll get a confirmation message that your points are being transferred to the airline or hotel partner. Remember, the time it takes to transfer to each partner can vary. In this case, Amex transfers to Hilton are instant. You’re ready to book a free hotel stay.
Use Amex Membership Rewards through the Amex travel portal
Redeeming your Amex Membership Rewards points for travel through Amex’s travel site is very straightforward.
Of course, you’ll first need to log-in to your Amex account. Similarly to the above process, you’ll start by clicking “Explore Rewards” on the account summary page.
Step 2. Go to the American Express travel site
From there, select the “Book Travel” tab and click the “Explore Amex Travel” button.
After that, you’ll be redirected to the Amex Travel page.
Once you’re there, click the “Start Booking” button.
Step 3. Search for travel
Once you’ve started the booking process you’ll enter your travel details. Amex’s travel portal works like many other travel search engines. You’ll need to enter information like your desired destination, travel dates, number of travelers, etc.
In this particular example, I’m searching for a flight between Seattle and New York. Once you’ve entered your travel details, click “Search Flights.”
Step 4. Select your desired itinerary
Amex’s travel portal will populate with a number of different options and will display the cash price and the number of Amex Membership Rewards points you’d need for the flight.
From there, you’ll be able to select the flight you want.
Step 5. Complete the booking process
After selecting the flights you want, you’ll be taken through the process of confirming your booking. You’ll be asked to review your flights, enter your personal information, and decide whether or not you want to use your points to purchase the ticket.
When you opt to use Amex Membership Rewards points to purchase travel, you’ll be asked to confirm your Amex card by entering the four numbers on the front and three numbers from the signature panel on the back. This is just for added security. You wouldn’t want anyone stealing those hard-earned rewards.
Again, the process is pretty straightforward and just like with bookings made directly through the airlines, you’ll have 24 hours to cancel your booking for a full refund.
Best ways to use Amex Membership Rewards Points
Once you earn all those points, what’s the best way to use them? That’s for you to decide based on your specific travel goals, but I’ll give you ten of the top ways to squeeze as much value from your points as possible.
Amex Membership Rewards points give you the flexibility you need to fulfill almost any travel goal with Amex transfer partners — 19 airlines and three hotel chains. But that isn’t the only way to get the most out of your rewards.
Avoid blackout dates by paying with points
Amex points value are at least 1 cent each toward airfare when you Pay With Points. Your points can be worth even more with the The Business Platinum Card® from American Express because you’ll get a 35% points rebate on all economy flights booked with your airline of choice (you’ve got to choose a specific airline each year and stick with it until next year) through the Amex travel portal. You’ll get the same rebate on all business class and first class flights booked on any airline through the Amex travel portal. The card comes with a $595 annual fee (see rates and fees).
You’ll also get up to a $200 airline fee credit per calendar year by selecting one airline from the following nine carriers:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- United Airlines
If you take advantage of the 35% Pay With Points rebate, you can get some serious value from your points.You can even use your Amex points for an airline you can’t search on the Amex travel portal, like Southwest, you’ll have to call (800-297-2977) to redeem your points. Check out this post to learn our trick for using your American Express points to book Southwest flights.
Best award flights with Amex Membership Rewards points
Lufthansa first class with LifeMiles
Want to fly one of the world’s best first-class products? Lufthansa first class is very tough award to book (often requiring that you book less than three days in advance, and almost always less than 14 days in advance), but there’s not a less expensive way to do it than with Avianca LifeMiles.
It costs just 87,000 LifeMiles when flying between North America and Europe. Best of all, there are no fuel surcharges when booking with LifeMiles.
If you visit Frankfurt on your first-class experience, you’ll also have access to Lufthansa’s world-renowned First Class Terminal. Yes, that’s right — a whole terminal just for first-class passengers.
Europe in business class with Aeroplan
While Aeroplan does pass on fuel surcharges with some airlines (including, counterintuitively, Air Canada), they don’t with others — and these airlines represent the best value for redeeming Aeroplan miles.
Better yet, it costs only 55,000 miles each way for a business-class award between North America and Western Europe. Airlines you can fly from North America to Europe with low or no fuel surcharges include:
- Air New Zealand (A special fifth-freedom route from Los Angeles to London)
- Brussels Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
Singapore premium cabins with Singapore Airlines miles
If you want to fly in a premium cabin on Singapore Airlines, they are generally best booked with Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. Singapore tends to be somewhat stingy with the availability they release to partners, but fortunately, availability is relatively generous when booking with Singapore Airlines miles.
While there are no fuel surcharges, Singapore award costs reflect the premium product they offer, but it might be worth shelling out the extra miles for an amazing, one-in-a-lifetime experience like Singapore Suites. You can expect to pay the following round-trip prices to fly Singapore Airlines between the West Coast U.S. and Singapore:
- Coach — 70,000 KrisFlyer miles
- Business class — 125,000 KrisFlyer miles
- First class — 222,000 KrisFlyer miles
If you’re flying from the East Coast or Houston, you’ll pay these prices round-trip:
- Coach — 75,000 KrisFlyer miles
- Business class — 140,000 KrisFlyer miles
- First class — 237,000 KrisFlyer miles
Note that prices to other parts of Asia will be different. Likewise, if you plan to fly another Star Alliance airline (like United or Thai Airways) on the same itinerary, different pricing will apply.
Hong Kong (with stopovers) on Cathay Pacific with Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific offers more generous award availability to their own Asia Miles members than booking through partner programs. What’s more, with round-trip itineraries, you can take a free stopover in Hong Kong. This is a complicated award program, but it is rewarding for those who use it.
Cathay Pacific’s program is distance-based, so the amount you have to pay will depend on how far you fly. As a general rule, if you’re flying from the West Coast, your flights will cost:
- Business class — 65,000 Asia Miles each way
- First class — 100,000 Asia Miles each way
And if you’re flying from the East Coast, your flights will cost:
- Business class — 70,000 Asia Miles each way
- First class — 110,000 Asia Miles each way
Delta for coach flights on West Coast routes and to Mexico
While premium cabin award flights are one of the best ways to maximize your Amex Membership Rewards points, economy class flights can represent excellent value as well.
Delta offers award flights for 5,000 Delta miles or less each way on certain West Coast routes. In addition, flights to Mexico can be astonishingly inexpensive — as little as 7,000 Delta each way.
Delta SkyMiles for round-trip flights on Virgin Atlantic
Want to fly Virgin Atlantic’s fantastic Upper Class? You’d pay high fuel surcharges using Virgin Atlantic’s own award program, but for round-trip itineraries using Delta SkyMiles, you won’t pay any fuel surcharges.
London definitely isn’t a cheap award at 86,000 Delta miles each way, but availability can be surprisingly generous from West Coast cities.
British Airways (still!) for short-haul flights within Asia on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines
Even though British Airways has recently devalued its award program, short-haul flights on Cathay Pacific and JAL are still a great deal (especially in coach) because of how expensive flights in the region can be. Fly to Hong Kong or Tokyo using another award program, and use either city as a base to explore Asia using these exceptionally priced award flights.
British Airways has a distance-based award chart, and you’ll pay the following prices for coach flights:
- Flights < 651 miles — 6,000 Avios each way
- 652 to 1,151 miles — 9,000 Avios each way
- 1,152 to 2,000 miles — 11,000 Avios each way
The two lowest distance bands will cover flights within Japan.
ANA round-trip to Europe
If you have ever been to Japan, you’ll know that things there are often more complicated than they need to be. So, it may be no surprise that this isn’t an easy award to book or an easy program to use. If you’re willing to do the work, however, you can get to Europe for an incredibly low 88,000 ANA miles round-trip in business class.
Note that ANA does pass on fuel surcharges, so this award offers the best value when redeeming for flights on United (which doesn’t have fuel surcharges).
Avianca LifeMiles for mixed-cabin award tickets
The Avianca LifeMiles program has a very unusual feature: they often charge considerably less for flights in mixed cabins (where you fly in coach for some segments and in premium cabins for others).
Starting from the US West Coast and flying to Europe? Book a cross-country flight in coach, the transcontinental flight in business class, and your intra-Europe flight in economy class for far less than the 63,000 points a one-way flight would require when flown entirely in premium cabins.
Fly to Japan and back for dirt cheap with ANA
ANA (the largest airline in Japan) is a 1:1 Amex transfer partner, and they have a great award chart if you want to get to Japan. You can fly round-trip in coach from North America to Japan for as little as 40,000 ANA miles per person during the low season. But you’ll pay 50,000 to 55,000 ANA miles per person for a round-trip coach seat during other times of the year (still not bad). Here are the dates for each season:
And the prices for business and first-class are great too, take a look at the award chart for flights between Japan and North America, “C” is business class and “F” is first class:
One thing to note is that with ANA, you can only book award flights for yourself and certain family members and you’ll need to book a round-trip ticket.
Another great option for booking ANA business and first-class awards is with ANA’s partner Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic is also an Amex transfer partner and take a look at what you’ll pay for flights between Japan and the U.S.:
With Virgin Atlantic you’ll pay slightly more for most economy or business-class awards, but first class is an absolute steal. The other factor to consider is how easy Virgin Atlantic miles are to earn because you transfer Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Marriott points to Virgin Atlantic, in addition to Amex points.
Fly to Hawaii using Singapore Airlines miles
Singapore Airlines is a Star Alliance partner with access to great award flights. You can convert Amex points to Singapore Airlines miles at a 1:1 ratio. From the West Coast, you can use Singapore Airlines miles for Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii with prices starting at only 24,000 miles round-trip in coach.
And, if you don’t live on the West Coast, you can still use Singapore Airlines miles to save money on flights to Hawaii with United Airlines for only 35,000 miles round-trip in coach. That might not always be the best deal, but it is 10,000 miles less than what United Airlines charges for the same flight.
Book Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic
The new Delta One Suites are an excellent way to fly in comfort to Europe, but with Delta’s dynamic award pricing it can be nearly impossible to book these seats at a reasonable price. This is where Virgin Atlantic once again comes to the rescue. You can book transatlantic business-class partner awards for only 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles plus taxes and fees.
That’s a steal, keep in mind, you will have to find Delta saver award space which can be difficult outside of Delta’s SkyMiles deals. The other drawback is that Virgin Atlantic charges per segment, so if you can’t fly nonstop you’ll have to pay more.
Another great way to use Virgin Atlantic miles is to book Delta domestic flights. You can book economy domestic flights for 12,500 miles one-way and domestic first class (including transcontinental flights) for 22,500 each way. Because Delta has dynamic pricing sometimes you’ll find flights through Delta that cost less. So these partner prices aren’t always the best deals, but they often are. When you’re ready to book, check out this post for more details on how to search for Delta flights on the Virgin Atlantic website.
Getaway to Tahiti on Air France
Depending on where you want to go in the South Pacific, you’ll have plenty of transfer partner options to get there. You could fly to the South Pacific and beyond using Delta miles (transferred from Amex Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio). But round-trip coach award seats from the U.S. to those destinations would set you back at least 90,000 Amex Membership Rewards points. You can save your Amex points by transferring them to Flying Blue (at a 1:1 ratio) instead.
Currently, you can book a Flying Blue award flight with Air France from Los Angeles to Tahiti starting at only 51,000 Flying Blue miles round-trip.
Transfer to Choice Hotels for award stays overseas
The one area where Amex Membership Rewards points aren’t very strong is for free hotel stays. But Choice Hotels made a small step in the right direction by allowing you to book free nights up to 100 days in advance. And, yes, that is terrible compared to other hotels, but it is an improvement from what they used to allow for non-elite members (just 30 days in advance!).
Choice Hotels probably aren’t going to be your first choice when you’re traveling domestically, but they can be a good deal depending on the country you’re visiting. If you’re traveling to Norway, Sweden, or Japan, you’ll find lots of Choice Hotels located where there aren’t many other options. You should be able to find good deals too.
When I was in Stockholm a few years ago, I stayed at a Choice Hotel for only 8,000 points per night. Any other hotels would have set me back quite a bit more. Likewise, in New Zealand, Choice Hotels are some of the few accommodations you can book with hotel points outside of major cities.
Choice Hotels is a 1:1 transfer partner with Amex Membership Rewards. Award nights cost between 6,000 and 35,000 Choice points (excluding Australia, where they can cost up to 75,000 points per night), but they often have cheaper nightly cash rates. Be sure to compare the cash price for when you want to stay and decide whether it’s better to book with points or just pay cash.
Book American Airlines award flights to Europe at discounted prices
American Airlines isn’t an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner, but several American Airlines partners are. One of the best airlines for booking partner awards on American Airlines to Europe is Etihad Airways.
Etihad has a different award chart for each partner airline, and its prices for American Airlines awards are great. You can book a round-trip flight from North America to Europe in coach in the off-peak season for only 40,000 Etihad miles. Or, you could splurge on a round-trip first class American Airlines flight to Europe for only 125,000 Etihad miles or business-class for only 100,000.
These options are significantly less (20,000 to 45,000 fewer miles) than what you would pay if you used American Airlines miles for the same flight. The challenge if finding American Airlines business or first-class award space to Europe. Also, you’ll need to call to book Etihad partner awards. I’ve called in to book Etihad partner awards in the past and the agents were extremely easy to work with.
Hilton hotels fifth night free
Amex Membership Rewards points transfer to Hilton at a 1:2 ratio. There is no longer a Hilton award chart, but there is a Point Explorer and cheapest hotels in the U.S. go for 10,000 Hilton points per night with hotels overseas you can book for as little as 5,000 Hilton points per night.
Hilton elite members get every fifth night of an award stay free (up to 20 nights or a total of four free nights) and Hilton status is easy to earn because it comes automatically with any Hilton credit card. You can even get top-tier Hilton Diamond status just by having the Hilton Honors Aspire from American Express, this card is loaded with amazing perks. Making it one of the best hotel credit cards, to learn more about it read our Hilton Aspire review.
You can book five nights at a 10,000 Hilton point hotel like the DoubleTree Sighisoara-Cavaler in Romania for only 40,000 Hilton points. Paying only 20,000 Amex Membership Rewards points (10,000 Amex Membership Rewards points x 2 for Hilton transfer) for a five-night stay that could cost $500+ during the summer is a solid deal.
The biggest drawback of this deal is that most of the hotels that are 5,000 Hilton points a night are in either Eastern Europe or scattered throughout Southern Asia. So you’re probably more likely to get more use out of the 10,000-point-per-night locations, which can still be a great deal. Hilton calculates the fifth free night based on the average cost of all five nights.
Take advantage of a transfer bonus
There are regular Amex transfer bonus promotions with their partners. For example, currently there is a 25% transfer bonus to Flying Blue. So for every 1,000 Amex Membership Rewards points transferred, you’d get 1,250 Flying Blue miles. There is also currently a bonus of 15% for Avianca transfers, so some of the deals we’ve already discussed are actually better than advertised. To see an up-to-date list, check out our post on the current Amex transfer bonuses.
And there have been other good transfer bonuses for many of Amex’s airline partners including Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.
Redeeming your points for gift cards is more of a grab bag. While there are no instances of fantastic value, it’s possible to receive slightly above 1 cent per point from certain merchants.
You can redeem your Amex points to offset your purchases on Amazon, but the redemption rate is abysmal. Each point is worth 0.7 cents, which is dramatically less than you’ll receive when redeeming for travel. You can head to this page for more details.
It’s worth noting that Amex will occasionally publish promotions that allow you to get a big discount from Amazon when using Amex points for only part of your bill. We’ve seen targeted deals that give you the opportunity to save $10, 15, even $30 by using just 1 point at checkout, and paying the rest with cash. This is a fantastic use of your points — but paying your Amazon bill with points is normally a horrible idea.
You can cash your Amex points out as a statement credit on your card, but the redemption value is even worse than with Amazon. Points are worth 0.6 cents when redeeming for cash. That’s less than 1/3 of the number in which we estimate Amex points value. If you plan to redeem your points this way, you’re better off using a cashback credit card.
Redeem for merchandise
Amex hosts an online shopping mall with the option of redeeming points for your purchases. Points are worth a staggeringly low 0.5 cents each with this method.
Amex Membership Rewards points give you the flexibility and value you need to book everything from hotels to first-class airfare, so collecting them is a smart move to save on your next trip. Right now the American Express®️ Green Card is offering a 30,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points bonus after you spend $2,000 on purchases on in the first three months from account opening.
If the deal isn’t the right one for you, there are lots of other American Express credit cards you can earn Amex Membership Rewards points with and many of these cards are also on our list of the best credit cards for travel. There are many ways to redeem them, but the biggest potential savings is by transferring them to airline and hotel partners.
What’s your favorite way to redeem Amex points? Let me know in the comments. And subscribe to our newsletter for more tips to using credit card points for free travel.
Caroline Lupini contributed to this post
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.
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