Courtesy of American Express.
Earn Membership Rewards points on everyday purchases with cards like the Amex Gold Card and then put them to use for travel and other things when you’re ready.
From credit cards to free travel, there are plenty of ways to maximize Amex points.
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You might already have a stockpile of frequent flier miles with your favorite airline, or hotel points with your chain of choice. But any well-rounded travel rewards strategy should include transferable points, like American Express Membership Rewards, too. Not only can you redeem Amex points for travel and other purchases, but you can also transfer them to over 20 airline and hotel partners, which makes them especially versatile.
Another plus? Credit cards that earn Amex Membership Rewards points have some of the best travel benefits and earning rates around. Some are even posting historically high welcome offers at the moment that are worth considering. So whether you already carry an American Express card or are thinking of opening a new one, here are some of the best ways to earn, redeem, and maximize Amex points.
To earn Amex Membership Rewards points, you’ve got to carry an American Express credit card that participates in the program. Here are the best Amex cards.
Annual fee: $550
Current welcome offer
Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first six months. Plus, earn 10 points per dollar on up to $15,000 in combined purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets in the first six months. This offer is among the highest this card has ever extended and worth up to a potential 225,000 bonus points.
Earn five points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year) as well as on prepaid hotel stays booked on AmexTravel.com. Earn one point per dollar on everything else.
This card is packed with perks, but to pick the most pertinent, cardholders get up to $200 per calendar year toward airline incidental fees (like for checked bags) with a carrier they designate. Along with up to $15 in Uber Cash per month (plus $20 extra in December) that can be used for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders, cardholders can also register by December 31, 2021, for up to 12 months of Uber Eats Pass for free delivery on orders of over $15 from eligible restaurants. (After that, the subscription auto bills unless you take action.)
Cardholders also get up to $100 back once every four years for a Global Entry application (or $85 for TSA PreCheck once every 4.5 years) and enroll for Priority Pass airport lounge access and Gold elite status with both Marriott and Hilton.
Annual fee: $250
Current welcome offer
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first six months. That’s 25,000 points more than usual.
Earn four points per dollar at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, as well as on up to $25,000 per calendar year in spending at U.S. supermarkets (then one point per dollar after that). You can also earn three points per dollar on flights booked either directly with airlines or through AmexTravel.com. It earns one point per dollar on everything else.
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An excellent option for foodies, the Amex Gold Card comes with up to $10 per month ($120 per year) in statement credits on charges from Grubhub, Seamless, and Boxed, as well as participating Shake Shack locations, plus up to $10 per month in Uber Cash. Cardholders who enroll before December 31, 2021, can enjoy Uber Eats Pass, too.
Annual fee: $150
Current welcome offer
Earn 45,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases with your card in the first six months of card membership. That’s 15,000 more points than this card typically proffers.
Earn three Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on dining, travel, and transit, including things like subways and taxis, and one point per dollar on everything else.
Cardholders get up to $100 per calendar year in statement credits toward a Clear application for expedited airport security. They also receive up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year with LoungeBuddy to purchase airport lounge access.
Annual fee: $95
Current welcome offer
Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 on purchases with your card in the first three months.
This card earns three points per dollar on up to $6,000 per year at U.S. supermarkets, three points per dollar at U.S. gas stations, and one per dollar on everything else. However, when you use your card for purchases 30 times or more per billing period, you get a 50 percent bonus on all the points you’ve earned, which is a nice boost.
This card’s main selling points are its excellent earning potential and relatively affordable annual fee, though it does offer some modest rental car insurance and return protection on purchases to keep in mind.
The key to earning the most Amex points is simply picking the credit card that offers the highest bonuses on the types of purchases you tend to make the most. If groceries are your major expense for the foreseeable future, but you typically purchase a lot of airline tickets and hotel stays, then the Amex Platinum Card will be your top earner. But if you’re not ready to commit to that card’s annual fee, the Amex Gold Card is a close runner-up and offers a phenomenal dining category bonus.
On the other hand, if your travel spending is more general and includes things like cruises and vacation packages rather than just airfare and hotels, and you already get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application statement credit through another card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, the Amex Green Card will be best. Finally, if a substantial annual fee is your primary concern, opt for the Amex EveryDay Preferred. It’s less pricey than the others, and you can still max out its grocery and gas bonuses and earn 50 percent more points by hitting that 30-transactions mark monthly.
Aside from getting and using a card that earns Amex points, there are a couple other ways to earn a few bonus Membership Rewards along the way.
American Express has a referral program that allows cardholders to send personalized links with credit card applications to their contacts. When your friend signs up through your link, you can usually earn between 5,000–20,000 points per successful application up to a yearly maximum (usually 55,000 points).
If you log into your Amex account online, you should also see a section on your card homepage listing “Amex Offers.” Many of these are simply discounts at specific merchants: spend $50, get $10 back, and so on. With others, though, you can earn bonus points per dollar (two instead of one, for instance) at some retailers. Or you could score a bundle of bonus points for hitting a spending threshold—earning 7,500 points for making $7,500 in purchases within three months, for example.
Amex points are valuable because of the sheer variety of ways to redeem them.
Don’t want to make too much effort but still ensure a solid return on your spending? The easiest way to redeem Membership Rewards points is through the Amex Travel portal. Points are worth one cent apiece toward flight reservations made there, though only about 0.7 cents each for other types of bookings, such as hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises.
Feeling a little more adventurous? You can take advantage of some tremendous opportunities by transferring American Express Membership Rewards to the program’s 21 airline and hotel partner programs:
There are several excellent options on this list. Without getting granular, here are a couple of specific ways your Amex points can score you outsized travel rewards.
You could transfer Amex points to British Airways Avios and then redeem them for flights on either American Airlines or Alaska Airlines. Due to British Airways’ distance-based redemption chart, you’ll usually need fewer Avios points for otherwise expensive short hops from East Coast hubs to the Caribbean, or from the West Coast to Hawaii than if you were using miles with either of those other carriers’ programs. Avios points are also good for quick but high-priced flights within Australia on Qantas and Asia on Cathay Pacific.
You could convert Amex points into Delta SkyMiles for inexpensive flights on that airline within the United States since it has begun offering flash award sales with prices as low as 2,500 miles each direction. Alternatively, you could transfer your points into Virgin Atlantic Flying Club for some relatively inexpensive redemptions in Delta One business class from the U.S. to Europe (excluding the U.K.)
Thanks to a quirky award chart, ANA has some ridiculously low-priced awards, including just 88,000 miles round-trip for business class between North America and Europe on Star Alliance partners like United, Lufthansa, and Swiss, which is about half what United MileagePlus would charge you. Want to fly Singapore Airlines’ storied business class to Asia? You’ll need miles with the airline’s own KrisFlyer program to book it, which you can transfer from Amex as well.
The possibilities for transfers and redemptions are nearly endless. How you use your points will depend on the specific plans you’d like to make and the programs that can help you do so.
Truth be told, you should probably avoid the following options since you get minimal value from them. But if you have a spare pile of Amex points to burn and want to save a little cash, you can redeem them at unattractively low rates for a variety of other things.
If these types of rewards interest you, you’ll generally be better off using a cash-back card whose rewards are intended for that purpose, like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.
At its heart, American Express Membership Rewards is a travel rewards program. So to make the most of your Amex points, redeem them for travel, either directly through Amex (and specifically for flights) or via the program’s many transfer partners. Depending on the airline or hotel to which you transfer points, and the specific redemptions you make, you can reap some incredible values from Amex points. On the earning side, pick the credit card that accumulates the most points on the purchases you tend to make and whose benefits outweigh the annual fee. Even if your habits change over time, you can always switch to a different Amex card to continue to realize value from the program and its travel rewards.
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.
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