The Complete Guide to American Express Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards is one of the top credit-card loyalty programs, because the points can be used in so many ways. But there are weaknesses, too.

Last Updated: 01/14/2020


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American Express Membership Rewards has more transfer partners than any other major U.S. credit card reward program, making it incredibly versatile. You can find some great deals and transfer bonuses provide a boost, but maximizing your value is trickier than with Chase Ultimate Rewards, our top pick.

What Are Membership Rewards?

Membership Rewards are the loyalty points that American Express gives to holders of a handful of cards—the familiar green, gold and platinum cards, as well as the Blue Business Plus and EveryDay cards. The cards earn varying amounts of points per dollar spent in different categories. The company also issues other cards that don’t earn Membership Rewards.  

Which Cards Earn Membership Rewards

How to Use Membership Rewards

Amex rewards are some of the most flexible credit-card points around. They can be transferred to airline and hotel loyalty programs, used to book travel directly through the Amex portal, exchanged for gift cards, and more.  Amex has a useful tool on its site that shows the point value of different options based on which credit card you have. But it requires that you already have an account, and doesn’t show the value for transferring points to travel partners. 

Here’s an overview of the ways you can use points—we’ll get into more detail below:

  • Transfer points. Move your points into 22 different airline and hotel loyalty programs. Transfer rates vary by partner, but most are 1:1. 
  • Book travel. Buy flights, hotels and holiday packages through American Express Travel, with points worth 0.7 to 1 cent each. You can also use them on Expedia.  
  • Upgrade flights. Bid for better seats on many different airlines.
  • Pay with points. Use your points at online retailers including Amazon, PayPal and Walmart. Each point is worth 0.7 cents.
  • Go shopping. Shop through the Amex Rewards site at more than 20 retailers, including Apple, BestBuy, and Sur La Table.
  • Cover card charges. Use your rewards points for a statement credit. 1 point = 0.6 cents.
  • Gift cards. Choose from 100+ online and brick and mortar retailers. Points are worth around 0.7 cents each.

Transferring to Travel Partners

There are 22 airline and hotel partners for Membership Rewards, including big companies like British Airways and Marriott. That means you can redeem your points in many, many ways. The downside is, if you’re the kind of person who wants to make sure they’re getting the best deal, you’re going to have a lot of open tabs on your browser.

In most cases, the transfers are 1:1, so 10,000 Membership Rewards are worth, say, 10,000 British Airways Avios. (AeroMexico, El Al, and jJetBlue are the exceptions.) There are fees for some transfers; on the flip side, promotional bonuses pop up pretty frequently and can make a big difference. Read about them in the next section.

To make a transfer, you login to your American Express account, go to the Ultimate Rewards portal, link it to your hotel or airline account, and choose the number of points to move. Transfers usually happen within seconds, but they also can’t be reversed—so be sure before you click that button.

Current Amex Membership Rewards transfer partners:

Airlines

  • Aer Lingus Aer Club (1:1)
  • Aeroméxico Club Premier (1:1.6)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (1:1)
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue (1:1)
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia (1:1)
  • ANA Mileage Club (1:1)
  • Avianca LifeMiles (1:1)
  • British Airways Executive Club (1:1)
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (1:1)
  • Delta SkyMiles (1:1)
  • El Al Matmid (1000:20)
  • Emirates Skywards (1:1)
  • Etihad Guest (1:1)
  • Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles (1:1)
  • Iberia Plus (1:1)
  • JetBlue TrueBlue (250:20)
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer (1:1)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (1:1)
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (1:1)

Hotels

  • Choice Privileges (1:1)
  • Hilton Honors (1:2)
  • Marriott Bonvoy (1:1)

Amex Membership Reward Transfer Bonuses

Amex regularly offers bonuses on points transfers to travel partners. They tend to hover between 15% and 30%, but occasionally you’ll see a 50% bonus. They can make your points much more valuable.

An example: In August 2019, Amex offered cardholders a 40% bonus on rewards transferred to British Airways. At the time, you could book an economy flight from Dallas to New York on American Airlines for $149—a pretty good price. If you used points to reserve the flight through BA, an American partner, it would have cost 11,000 Avios. Using the bonus offer, that would be just 8,000 Membership Rewards. You got almost 2 cents of value for every point, a serious boost over more obvious uses.

These are some other recent bonuses:

PromotionTransfer RatioExpiration Date
Jetblue 25% Amex Transfer Bonus250:250Dec 21, 2019
Flying Blue 25% Amex Transfer Bonus1,000:1,250Nov 30, 2019
Avianca 15% Amex Transfer Bonus1,000:1,150Oct 31, 2019
Marriott 30% Amex Transfer Bonus1,000:1,300Oct. 31, 2019

Booking Travel Through the American Express Travel Portal

A simpler way to redeem your points for travel is to use them at American Express Travel, which you can access through your credit card account. You generally get okay value for flights—each point is worth 1 cent—and lousy value for hotel purchases, at 0.7 cents per point.

The portal starts to look pretty good if you have a Platinum or Centurion card, however: you get 35% or 50% of your points back, respectively, on all first- and business-class flights and on one selected airline for coach tickets. You need to have enough points in your account to cover the total. If you do, 35% back translates to 1.54 cents per point in value.

Upgrading Flights

It’s generally gotten harder to score an airline upgrade, but in 2019 Membership Rewards added a new option, letting cardholders use their points to bid for upgrades on 20 different airlines. There’s some overlap with transfer partners, but it’s not exactly the same group—for instance, Aerolineas Argentinas and Gulf Air are among the bidding options, but aren’t transfer partners.

How you booked your original ticket doesn’t matter. To bid for an upgrade, go to your Membership Rewards account, enter your reservation details, and see if your flight is eligible. Then you can use cash, points, or a combination of both to make the airline an offer for a better seat. The airline will say yay or nay—and you can cancel until that point. If the airline accepts, the points will be deducted from your account. If not, you’re back in the tight seats, but no worse off than when you started. 

The current upgrade partners are: 

  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air Mauritius
  • Avianca
  • Caribbean Airlines
  • Ethiopian
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air
  • Icelandair
  • Kenya Airways
  • LATAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Norwegian
  • Qantas
  • SAS
  • Silk Air
  • Singapore Airlines
  • TAP Portugal

Gift Cards and Shopping

Amex lets you use points to buy gift cards from a range of businesses, from Fairmont Hotels to California Pizza Kitchen. That online tool we mentioned gives you the rundown at a glance, so you can easily see where you get the most value. The most you’ll get is 1 cent per point, but in some cases, that’s a better value than booking through American Express Travel. If you want to use points to stay at a Fairmont hotel, for instance, you’re better off buying a gift card and getting 1 cent per point than using the travel portal and getting just 0.7 cents per point. 

There’s a lot less range—and also worse value—when you shop for merchandise with Membership Rewards through Amex. You’ll only get 0.5 cents per point (in other words, 50 cents for 100 points) that way. Give your points to us instead! 

Using Membership Rewards at Checkout

Another convenient but not-so-wise way to use points is at various online retailers, as well as Paypal. You can link your account to pay with points at Amazon, Dell, Grubhub, and about a dozen other sites. Almost all of them offer a value of 0.7 cents per point except (surprisingly) for New York City Taxis, where each point is worth a penny. Oh, and Ticketmaster, always good at squeezing customers: they give you just 0.5 cents per point. 

Statement Credits

This is a terrible use of your points, and is basically only worthwhile if you’re in financial difficulties. You can use Membership Rewards to get a statement credit, but the exchange rate is 0.6 cents per point, almost as bad as Ticketmaster’s. 

Amex Offers Special Promotions

It’s worth noting that every Amex card comes with a program called Amex Offers. It gives cardholders substantial discounts and bonus rewards points on purchases at selected retailers, restaurants, or services. These offers are specifically targeted to individuals and the cards they have—meaning that the more cards you carry, the larger range of promotional offers you’ll receive.

Recent special offers include:

  • HarryandDavid.com: Spend $75 or more and get $20 back
  • Dropbox: Get 40% back on purchases, up to $50
  • Saks.com: Get +1 Membership Rewards Point per dollar spent
  • FreshDirect: Spend $100+, get 2,000 Membership Rewards points

Summary

American Express Membership Rewards are valuable and easy to transfer. They do provide their members with some great offers occasionally—and their international network of transfer partners can’t be beat. However, it can take quite a bit of research to stay on top of all of the different options and promotions.