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My favorite credit card currencies are bank points such as American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Rather than being tied to one airline, I can transfer these points to multiple airlines.
How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points
The only way to earn American Express Membership Rewards points is with an American Express credit card. You cannot transfer airline miles or hotel points to American Express Membership Rewards (but you can transfer Amex MR to airlines and hotels).
Not all American Express cards earn Membership Rewards points. For example, the Delta co-branded cards from Amex earn Delta Skymiles, not American Express Membership Rewards points.
Which American Express Cards earn Membership Rewards points?
- Platinum Card from American Express
- American Express Gold Card
- Amex Everyday Credit Card
- Amex EveryDay Preferred
- Blue from American Express
- Business Platinum Card from American Express
- Business Gold Card
- Business Green Rewards Card
- Blue Business Plus Credit Card
The quickest way to earn American Express Membership Rewards points is to open an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points and earn a welcome bonus. You’ll also earn Amex MR points on your everyday spending with these cards. You can also take advantage of bonus offers to earn even more points by enrolling your card in specific Amex offers that match your spending habits.
You can see a current list of the best credit card offers here.
A few notes about American Express Membership Rewards earning cards:
- Although I value American Express Membership Rewards as high as (maybe even a little higher than) Chase Ultimate Rewards points, it is important to get all of the Chase cards you want before opening cards from American Express or other banks. This is due to the 5/24 rule. You can read about the 5/24 rule here.
- Welcome bonuses on American Express cards are once per lifetime per product. This means that if you have previously held any of the above cards, you are not eligible for another bonus on that card no matter how much time has passed.
- American Express waives annual fees on all cards for active military service members. This includes high annual fee cards such as the Platinum Card and the Gold Card.
There are two ways to redeem American Express Membership Rewards points for travel
Amex Membership Rewards points can be used several different ways, including redeeming for travel through their travel booking portal (amextravel.com), but my favorite is to transfer to partners.
- Redeem points at a fixed rate for travel purchases.
- Transfer to airline or hotel partners. Amex Membership Rewards points become airline miles or hotel points. You can redeem them according to the rules and redemption prices of the airline or hotel program to which you transfer.
Please do not use these points to buy gift cards! Or merchandise. Not a good use of points. Another bad redemption is to cash out your Amex points. You can cash them out at a rate of .6 cents per point, which is a terrible value. If you want cash-back type points, there are other credit cards that will give you a better return rate on your spending.
Option 1: Redeeming Amex points at a fixed rate
To do this, you can book travel through amextravel.com and pay with points. The problem is, this is not a great value. If you use points to pay for your flight, your points are worth 1 cent each. So a $300 flight would require 30,000 points. Hotels, cars, and activities are an even worse value. Your points would only be worth .7 cents each.
There is an exception for those who have the Business Platinum Card from American Express. If you book airfare with Amex MR and you have a Business Platinum Card, you will receive 35% of the redeemed points back in certain cases:
- If you book an economy flight on the airline that you selected for your $200
- If you book a business or first class flight on any airline
This ultimately makes your points worth just over 1.5 cents each.
Keep in mind that when you redeem Amex points at amextravel.com, you’ll receive the elite qualifying miles as if this were a paid ticket, so that’s positive.
Using points to cover travel at amextravel.com might make sense when paid fares/rates are low. But for flights with higher fares, especially premium cabin travel, you’re probably better off using transfer partners when possible*.
*The ability to use transfer partners such as Etihad to book flights such as the American Airlines flight to Japan is always subject to availability. Never transfer points to an airline before confirming availability for your date and routes.
Option 2: American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners
This is how we get the most value out of our points.
Our business class flights to Japan last year were valued at about $3500 each way. To redeem Amex points at amextravel.com for a flight valued at $3500, we would have had to redeem 350,000 points per ticket. Instead, we were able to transfer Amex points to Etihad. Then we used those miles to book a flight operated by one of Etihad’s airline partners, American Airlines. For a business class seat from the US to Japan, Etihad only requires 50,000 miles each way per ticket.
So instead of redeeming 350,000 Amex points, we booked the flight by transferring only 50,000 Amex points per ticket to Etihad to book a one way American Airlines flight from DFW to Japan (we used British Airways to book a returning one way flight in economy). If you care about the math, 50,000 points for a $3500 ticket is 7 cents per point. No cash-back type card is going to give you that kind of return.
American Express Membership Rewards has 19 airline transfer partners and 3 hotel transfer partners.
With the exception of three airline partners, all have a transfer ratio of 1:1. American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to El Al at a 1000:20 ratio, JetBlue is a 250:200 ratio, and AeroMexico is a 1:1.6 ratio.
Even if you mostly fly on only one of these airlines, having a card that earns Membership Rewards gives you more flexibility when redeeming. For example, if you only have a Delta co-branded credit card you only earn Delta Skymiles. With Membership Rewards earning cards, you have more options. You can still transfer Membership Rewards to Delta, but in the event that a Delta flight is not available for your dates and destination and/or the redemption price in Skymiles is too high, you will have several other options!
American Express Membership Rewards hotel partners
There are also 3 hotel programs, but it’s usually not a good value to transfer Membership Rewards points to hotel programs. I like to get 2 cents per point or more when redeeming Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points. All 3 of these programs have such inflated redemption charts that 2 cent per point usually isn’t going to be the value.
For example, a category 6 Marriott property would require 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for a standard free night. To get those points, I can transfer 50,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy. To get 2 cents per point out of a redemption that requires 50,000 points, paid rates would need to be $1,000 or more. In rare cases, this may happen. But more than likely, a category 6 property isn’t going to be valued at $1,000 per night.
Amex Membership Rewards partner airline programs also have partners
There are 19 programs to which you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points, but you are not limited to flights operated by these 19 airlines. You can actually use these programs book flights operated by several other airlines.
American Express Membership Rewards’ airline partners are airline loyalty programs. This means that your Membership Rewards points become miles in whichever program you choose to transfer. You can use those miles to book flights according to the rules of the airline program. For the most part, you cannot transfer airline miles to other airlines. Instead, you can redeem miles for flights operated by an airline program’s partner airlines.
Alliances and partnerships are important because they increase your redemption options
Generally, you can use an airline program to book flights operated by any alliance partners. For example, United Airlines is not a partner of American Express Membership Rewards. You cannot transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to United. But you can transfer Amex MR to Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines is in the Star alliance with United, which means you can use Singapore Airlines miles to book flights operated by United. You can indirectly book several airlines with American Express Membership Rewards points.
- There are 3 major world alliances
- Not every airline is in an alliance.
- In addition to alliance partners, some airlines have other non-alliance partnerships.
Here are the 3 major world alliances:
To clarify, there are two types of partners we’re discussing here :
- American Express Rewards transfer partners (airline programs)
- Redemption partners (the airline operating the flight) of the airline program to which you transfer
Example: The loyalty program of American Airlines, AAdvantage, is not a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. But Membership Rewards points do transfer to 5 programs that you can use to book American Airlines flights. Those programs are British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Qantas, and Etihad Guest*.
*Etihad has a non-alliance partnership with American Airlines..
- So the Amex MR transfer partners are the airline programs of British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Etihad
- The redemption partner of these airline programs is going to be American Airlines.
You cannot transfer British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, or Etihad miles to American Airlines. Instead, you can redeem miles in those programs for a flight operated by American Airlines.
Related post: How to book American Airlines flights with Etihad points
The program you use to book the flight determines your award ticket price
You are subject to the redemption prices of the airline with which you are booking, not the airline operating your flight.
For example, if you use British Airways Executive Club Avios (their name for miles) to book a flight operated by American Airlines, British Airways determines your award ticket price, not American Airlines AAdvantage. Or, if you use Etihad miles to book American Airlines flights, the redemption cost is determined by Etihad’s frequent flyer program, not AAdvantage.
This can be a good thing.
Each program has its own way of pricing award tickets. The great thing about American Express Membership Rewards points is that you can choose the partner that results in the lowest redemption cost.
Award tickets are always subject to availability, so do not transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to an airline partner program until you have confirmed availability for your route and dates.
Transfers are permanent. Once you transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to an airline or hotel program, you cannot transfer them back to your Membership Rewards account. For that reason, I suggest waiting until you are absolutely certain your dates and route are available prior to transferring any points. Once points are transferred, they are subject to that airline or hotel’s policies.
Accumulate transferable points like American Express Membership Rewards points rather than airline miles or hotel points
With 3 hotel partners, 19 airline partners, and even more indirect airline partners, you have lots of redemption options if you collect Amex Membership Rewards.
When you use airline and hotel co-branded cards, you are collecting miles with only 1 airline or hotel. For example, if you use only an AAdvantage co-branded credit card, you only earn AAdvantage miles. Those miles cannot be transferred. You can only use AAdvantage to book award flights on AA and AAdvantage partner airlines. This can be a problem for 2 reasons:
- Redemption price
- Award Seat Availability
When you have only AAdvantage miles, you are subject to AAdvantage’s award ticket pricing no matter which airline is operating your flight. Even though AA partner Iberia’s program may have better pricing for Iberia-operated flights, if you’re booking an Iberia flight with AAdvantage miles, AAdvantage determines your price, not Iberia.
If you have American Express Membership Rewards points, you can choose the partner that results in the lowest redemption cost on a case-by-case (flight-by-flight) basis. In other words, you can wait until you are ready to book your flight and then transfer the Amex points based on which partner has the best redemption rate.
Note that Amex points do not transfer to AAdvantage, but there are 5 American Express airline partners that you can use to book American Airlines flights. For example, you can use British Airways Executive Club or Etihad Guest to book American Airlines flights.
If flights are not available and you only have AAdvantage miles, you’re out of luck
If you have Amex Membership Rewards points and there are no American Airlines milesAAver award seats available for your dates and route, you still have options. You can check other American Express Membership Rewards airline transfer partners. There are 19 total, including at least one in each of the major airline alliances in the world.
There is no need to commit to one frequent flyer program if you have American Express Membership Rewards points. If you collect a transferable currency such as Amex Membership Rewards, you can choose the airline program that works best for you each time you are ready to redeem.
Even if you mostly fly on one airline, having a card that earns Membership Rewards gives you more flexibility when redeeming. Co-branded credit cards are great for benefits but for everyday spending, I prefer to use cards that earn transferrable points. Cards that earn Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards are my favorite for everyday spending. Why collect miles or points with just one airline or hotel program when you can collect bank points that you can transfer to multiple programs?!