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American Express Membership Rewards: How to Earn and Redeem

Advertiser disclosure: The Miles Genie has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products.  The Miles Genie and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Editorial disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses, and recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.

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. Click here for more info about Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners and airline options.

Spend your money ice fishing on a frozen lake, not on plane tickets

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?

Personal Cards:

Business Cards:

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. Your Amex offers will show in your online Amex account.

The Platinum Cards (business and personal) often have high welcome bonuses. There is a high annual fee on both, but there are statements credits that may help offset the fee, plus you are earning a large welcome bonus. With a Platinum Card from American Express or the Business Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll receive access to the amazing Amex Centurion lounges (where available), plus get lounge access to airport lounges around the world with a Priority Pass membership.

Personal American Express Membership Rewards earning cards

The Platinum Card from American Express has a welcome bonus of 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. Earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly through airlines or through amextravel.com. There are also lots of benefits and statement credits that help offset the annual fee of $550. Additional benefits and details:  Receive up to $200 of reimbursement on airline incidentals per calendar year, receive up to $200 total in Uber credits annually, receive $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, and up to 100$ total in statement credit for purchases at Saks Fifth avenue annually.  Terms apply, learn more here

The American Express Gold Card has great bonus categories. Earn 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and on travel purchased at amextravel.com, 4 points per dollar at restaurants, and 4 points per dollar at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases annually. The current offer is 35,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. The Gold Card has a lower welcome bonus, but the annual fee is more reasonable ($250). Terms apply.

The American Express Green Card has a welcome bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. This card earns 3 points per dollar on travel purchases and at restaurants. If you want to enroll in CLEAR, you will receive $100 per year in statement credits for a CLEAR membership. Plus, if you apply before 1/15/20, you will receive a $100 credit for any purchase made with Away brand luggage in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $150. Terms apply.

The Amex Everyday Credit Card has no annual fee. The current bonus is 15,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Earn rate is 2 points per dollar on purchases at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year and 2 points per dollar on travel purchased at Amextravel.com. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. Terms apply.

Amex EveryDay Preferred has an annual fee of $95. The offer is 20,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Earn rate is 3 points per dollar on purchases at US Supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year. Also, earn 2 points per dollar at US gas stations and 2 points per dollar on travel purchased at Amextravel.com. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. Terms apply.

Blue from American Express has no annual fee, but if you want a no fee card, you’re better offer with the no fee Amex Everyday credit card. Blue form American Express has no bonus categories except you will earn 2 points per dollar at Amextravel.com. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. There is no welcome offer.

Business American Express cards

If you want a premium business card, the Business Platinum Card from American Express is especially lucrative for those who regularly make large business purchases. It also has the current highest welcome bonus of all Membership Rewards cards (personal or business). You can earn up to 75,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.

The minimum spending requirement is high but if you regularly make large business purchases, the Business Platinum Card from American Express is a great choice for both the welcome offer and the earn rate. The minimum spending requirement is $10,000 in the first 3 months to earn 50,000 bonus points. Then if you spend another $10,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll earn an additional 25,000 points. The annual fee is $595, but the benefits may be worth it. The earn rate is basically the same as the personal Platinum card (5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and on flights and prepaid hotels at amextravel.com, 1 point per dollar on everything else) but there is one exception. Purchases over $5,000 earn 1.5 points per dollar (you can earn up to 1 million additional points each year). Also, you will get the $200 airline incidental reimbursement per calendar year, $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, and airport lounge access benefits that the personal version of this card has. You can also enroll to receive $100 semi-annually for Dell purchases in the US (that’s $200 per year). Terms apply.  Learn how to apply here. 

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card has no annual fee. The earn rate is 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar on the first $50,000 in purchases each year. To be clear, there are no category restrictions, so this is a great card for everyday spending. After the first $50,000, the earn rate drops to 1 point per dollar. Terms apply.

American Express Business Gold Card has an annual fee of $295. The current offer is 35,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. You will earn 4 Membership Rewards points on 2 categories with the most spend each billing cycle. These categories include airfare purchased directly through airlines, advertising purchases in select media (US only), purchases made from select US computer hardware, software, and cloud solutions providers, US gas stations, US restaurants, and US shipping purchases. This applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases. All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. Terms apply.

The Business Green Rewards Card has an annual fee of $95, but it is waived the first year. The current welcome offer is 15,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. The earn rate is 2 points per dollar when booking travel at amextravel.com and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. The no annual fee Blue Business Plus Credit Card may be a more lucrative card thanks to the earn rate. Terms apply.

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 2 ways to book travel:

  1. Redeem points at a fixed rate for travel purchases. 
  2. 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.

how to redeem american express membership rewards points

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.

Amex airline partners 2019 Etihad
We booked business class tickets to Japan on an American Airlines flight by transferring Amex Membership Rewards points to Etihad. Then we used Etihad miles to book the flights.

American Express Membership Rewards has 19 airline transfer partners and 3 hotel transfer partners.  

American Express membership rewards 2019

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 cents per point usually isn’t going to happen very often.

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.

American Express hotel partners 2019
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo is awesome, but Amex points are not the best way to book.

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 of that airline. 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:

Oneworld

Oneworld alliance member airlines 2019

Star Alliance

Star alliance member airlines 2019

Skyteam

SkyTeam member airlines 2019

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 the airline operating the flight (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 miles

Related post: How to book American Airlines flights with British Airways

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 miles to book award flights on AA and AAdvantage partner airlines. This can be a problem for 2 reasons:

  1. Redemption price
  2. Award Seat Availability
Redemption Price

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.

Availability

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.

Final Thoughts

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?!

New to award travel?

If you’re new to award travel, click here for a current list of our favorite travel credit cards. Amex Membership Rewards earning cards are great, but if you are looking for your first card, I suggest starting with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card due to the 5/24 rule. The welcome bonus is worth at least $750 in travel, the annual fee is reasonable, and the rewards are easy to earn and redeem.  Click here for 25 ways to redeem the 60,000 bonus points, many of which are worth well over $1000. With this card, you earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The annual fee is $95, but the welcome offer alone is worth a lot more than that. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred 2019 Best credit card offers

Current offer: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. 

Chase points so you can chase waterfalls

Advertiser disclosure: The Miles Genie has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products.  The Miles Genie and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Comments below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. The comments have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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