5 Tips for Redeeming AmEx Membership Rewards Points for Top Value

Using the right transfer partners is the key to making your AmEx points go far.

Tails of British Airways and Iberia airplanes on runway

AmEx is offering a 30 percent bonus on points transferred from Membership Rewards to either British Airways Executive Club or Iberia Plus through August 31, 2023.

Photo by Shutterstock

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There’s such a strong focus on opportunities for earning points and miles nowadays that many forget an equally important other side to points and miles, which is redeeming them. While it’s exciting to bank a new sign-up bonus, that’s the easy part: The hard part is stretching those points to achieve maximum value.

American Express is well-known for rewarding new customers with highly attractive welcome offers that typically include large sums of points. It is also known for excellent earnings rates on select purchase categories, which makes amassing points easy. But what most don’t know is that redeeming AmEx points (officially called Membership Rewards Points) requires a bit of strategy. In many instances, redeeming points for travel can yield exponential value while trading points in for statement credits or using them for shopping can cut their worth in half.

Currently, the relaunched, perk-packed American Express® Green Card (annual fee $150, see rates and fees) comes with a best-ever two-part introductory bonus that includes 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership. Plus, earn 20 percent back on eligible travel and transit purchases made during the first six months of card membership, up to $200 back in the form of a statement credit.

With 60,000 points, it’s entirely possible to reach for the sky and score a business-class ticket to Paris on Air France worth upwards of $3,000—as I have done personally. On the flip side, it’s also possible to trade those 60,000 points for $300 in statement credits—a reality that happens all too often (womp, womp). The difference between $3,000 and $300 is monumental, to say the least. Here, we’ll give you our top five tips for making your points go as far as possible and get you in the lie-flat business-class seat right beside us on that flight to Paris.

1. Transfer to airline and hotel partners for the most lucrative points redemptions

American Express Membership Rewards points are highly regarded since they can be redeemed in numerous ways. They can be used for travel through AmEx Travel, gift cards, shopping, charitable donations, and more. But to get the most from Membership Rewards, plan to use your points by transferring them to 17 airline partners—3 domestic and 14 international—and 3 hotel partners. Think of these transfers as exchanging one currency (Membership Rewards points) for another. A total of 20 transfer partners makes Membership Rewards the best credit card loyalty program overall for transferable points (compared to the likes of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One points, and Citi ThankYou Points).

When using points for travel, expect to get a minimum value of 1 cent per point (though often much more). When using points for shopping, anticipate a fixed return of 0.5 cents per point, 0.6 cents per point for retail shopping through the AmEx portal, and 0.7 cents per point when using points at checkout on Amazon and other online partners, as well as 0.7 cents per point redeeming for gift cards.

With so many airline and hotel chain partners, there’s no need for cardholders to remain loyal to one carrier or hotel brand. They can pick and choose when and where they’d like to transfer their points. Transfers can be done directly through the American Express website, and often they are instantaneous.

2. Note transfer ratios among airline and hotel partners

Most transfers between Membership Rewards and airline and hotel partners are realized at a 1:1 ratio. For airlines, this applies to Aer Lingus AerClub, Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, ANA , Asia Miles, Avianca LifeMiles, British Airways Executive Club, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Iberia Plus, Qantas Frequent Flyer, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. For hotels, this applies to Choice Privileges and Marriott Bonvoy.

There are three exceptions to the 1:1 rule. AmEx points transfer to Aeromexico Club Premier at 1:1.6, to JetBlue True Blue at 1:0.8, and Hilton Honors at 1:2.

3. Transfer during limited-time bonuses

Among AmEx’s partnerships, some are more lucrative than others. From years of experience, the ones that have yielded the most value include Air Canada Aeroplan, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, British Airways Executive Club, Hilton Honors, Iberia Plus, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

Given this, whenever AmEx is offering a transfer bonus with one of these partners—which happens several times a year—I jump on it. For example, from July 1 to August 31, 2023, AmEx is offering a 30 percent bonus on points transferred from Membership Rewards to either British Airways Executive Club or Iberia Plus. That’s a ratio of 1:1.3. I’m a big fan of using Iberia Plus points for my flights to and from South American in business class on LATAM (yes, another partner through Iberia!), so I’m happy to transfer a large sum on speculation. In fact, I was able to book a one-way flight from La Paz, Bolivia, to Miami (via Lima) in business class for 45,000 Iberia Plus points (35,000 AmEx points), which retails for over $4,000.

Similarly, AmEx ran two, 25 percent transfer promotions with Air France/KLM Flying Blue in 2022. Since Paris is always a good idea—and Air France offers business-class rates as low as 70,000 Flying Blue points—you bet I transferred 60,000 points each time to have enough for a round-trip ticket in business class. I am not sure what I enjoyed more—the lie-flat seat, top-shelf champagne, and great cuisine while crossing the Atlantic or the fact that I didn’t pay upwards of $3,000 each way!

4. Consider Amex Travel as an alternative to transfers

If the idea of transferring between programs and understanding the ins and outs of multiple programs feels overwhelming, Amex Travel provides a more straightforward way to use Membership Rewards points. When booking through the American Express Travel portal, points can be redeemed at a rate of 1 cent per point. A $500 hotel room is 50,000 points; a $500 flight, 50,000 points. Easy-peasy.

In some cases, Amex has negotiated lower fares with airlines and makes these rates, called Insider Fares, available with points. So, a flight that retails for $500 may cost only 45,000 points, providing even greater value. That said, you’re not going to get that $3,000 Air France flight for 60,000 points through Amex Travel. Getting such a big prize requires the homework and dedication of sifting through partner opportunities.

5. If looking for cash back, choose an AmEx card that earns cash not points

Membership Rewards points are great for travel redemptions. But they’re weak when it comes to redeeming them for cash back, statement credits, gift cards, and shopping, with redemption rates that drop as low as a half cent per point. If you’re looking to use points for things like cash back, get an AmEx card that rewards you properly in dollars and not Membership Rewards points.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card for American Express ($0 first year and $95 annual fee thereafter, see rates and fees), for example, gives 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 a year (then 1 percent after), 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming services, 3 percent back at U.S. gas stations and transit, and 1 percent cash back on all else. Right now, the card is also courting new cardholders with an intro bonus of a $250 statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first six months.

However, if you are looking to travel like a rock star on a points budget, then stick to an AmEx card that awards Membership Rewards points on purchases and comes with a hefty sign-up bonus after meeting an initial spending requirement. Currently, the American Express® Green Card is offering a best-ever 60,000-point welcome offer plus $200 in statement credits. The American Express® Gold Card (annual fee $250, see rates and fees) is offering a 60,000-point intro bonus after spending $4,000 within the first six months of membership, while The Platinum Card® from American Express (annual fee $695, see rates and fees) has an 80,000-point welcome bonus after spending $8,000 in your first six months of membership.

We’ll see you in business class en route to Paris.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.

Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.
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