My favorite reward currencies are bank points such as American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Rather than being tied to one airline or hotel program, I can transfer these points to multiple airline or hotel partners. American Express Membership Rewards points have been particularly valuable to us for premium cabin long haul flights. For example, we used an Amex transfer partner to book business class flights to Japan (valued at $3500 each) for just 50,000 points each.
How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points
The only way to earn American Express Membership Rewards points is with an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points.
Important: 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.
You cannot transfer airline miles or hotel points to American Express Membership Rewards (but you can transfer Amex MR to airlines and hotels).
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. Also, you can 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.
American Express Membership Rewards earning cards
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 [rates and fees]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.
Unlike typical credit cards, the Gold Card and Platinum Card allow you to carry a balance for certain charges, but not all.
The Platinum Card from American Express welcome bonus is:earn 80,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months. Earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly through airlines or through amextravel.com on up to $500,000 per calendar year. There are also lots of benefits and statement credits that help offset the annual fee of $695 [rates and fees] . Additional benefits and details: Receive up to $200 of reimbursement on airline incidentals per calendar year, receive $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, up to 100$ total in statement credit for purchases at Saks Fifth avenue annually, plus more recently added statement credit opportunities. 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 welcome offer is:earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months. The annual fee is more reasonable than the Platinum Card ($250) [rates and fees]. Also, there are statement credits that help offset the annual fee. See the current offers page for more details. 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 Chase 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.
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:
- Redeem points at a fixed value for travel purchases at Amextravel.com. The fixed value is 1 cent per point for flights and .7 cents per point for hotels and other travel. This means that your redemption total is directly tied to the paid fare or rate of what you’re booking. For example, a flight that costs $500 would require 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards points if you redeem them at Amextravel.com
- Transfer to airline or hotel partners. Amex Membership Rewards points become airline miles or hotel points. You can then redeem them according to the rules and redemption prices of the airline or hotel program to which you transfer. This is how we’re able to squeeze more value than 1 cent per point out of Amex Membership Rewards points.
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.
American Express Membership Rewards has 17 airline transfer partners and 3 hotel transfer partners.
With the exception of 2 airline partners, all have a transfer ratio of 1:1. American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to JetBlue at a 250:200 ratio and AeroMexico at a 1:1.6 ratio.
American Express Membership Rewards hotel partners
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.
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.
Do not transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to an airline or hotel 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, the Amex points are converted to airline miles or hotel points and they are subject to that airline or hotel’s policies.
For example, you can redeem Etihad miles for award flights operated by American Airlines. A business class seat on an American Airlines operated flight between the US and Europe would require 50,000 Etihad miles each way. This is a great redemption price, but this is only possible if the award space exists. You can read more about redeeming Etihad miles for American Airlines flights here.
You would want to make sure the award space exists before transferring Amex points to Etihad. If you transfer 50,000 points to Etihad with the intention of booking an AA flight and the AA flight isn’t available to book with partner miles, you’re stuck with 50,000 Etihad miles. You cannot transfer those Etihad miles back to American Express Membership Rewards. This post explains how to to search for partner award availability on flights operated by American Airlines.
I suggest waiting until you are absolutely certain your dates and route are available prior to transferring any points to any program. Amex points transfer to most partner programs immediately, so there is no reason to transfer in advance.
One more thing to consider before transferring: redemption pricing
Why redeem 98,000 points when you can book the exact same flight for 58,000 points?
Partner programs sometimes have better redemption pricing
For example, with Amex Membership Rewards, you have the option to transfer your points to Delta Skymiles. If you’re trying to book an award flight operated by Delta, the intuitive thing to do would be to transfer Amex points to Delta to book the ticket. But Amex also has other airline partners that have the ability to book Delta award flights. This is subject to availability, but sometimes, booking with a partner program will result in a lower redemption cost.
This flight from Atlanta to Paris is operated by Delta. Below is the redemption price if you were to book with Delta Skymiles. This means you would need to transfer 98,000 Amex points to Delta. Then you can redeem the Delta miles for this flight. 98,000 points for an economy US-Europe ticket is a terrible deal. But another Amex partner has better pricing…
This post was actually written to explain how to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book Delta flights (since Chase does not have a partnership with Delta Skymiles), but it also illustrates the point I’m trying to make here.
Both Chase partners mentioned in the post, AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Cub are also 1:1 transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards. In the examples, you can see that the Delta Skymiles program isn’t the best way to book certain routes. Even though you can transfer Amex points to Delta, transferring them to AirFrance/KLM or Virgin Atlantic instead would result in a much lower redemption price. Here are the prices for this exact same Delta flight:
- Virgin Atlantic-60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points transferred to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- AirFrance/KLM-58,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue
Again, the ability to use a partner such as KLM/AirFrance Flying Blue to book Delta flights is subject to availability, but if the partner award space is there, transferring Amex points to KLM/AirFrance or Virgin Atlantic instead of Delta results in a much better redemption price. Also, Amex has other Delta/Skyteam Alliance partners that can be used to book Delta flights, such as Alitalia, so you should check pricing and availability with other programs as well.
If you have American Express Membership Rewards points, these are the steps to booking award flights with transfer partners:
- Search for availability
- Figure out which airline partner results in the lowest redemption cost
- Transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to the airline program
- Use the airline program to book the ticket
The rest of this post will give step by step instructions for the third step: transfer Amex MR to a partner program.
How to Transfer American Express Membership Rewards Points To Partners
1. Login to your American Express account.
2. If you have multiple cards that earn Amex Membership Rewards, choose the card from which you want to transfer Amex MR.
My account defaults to it, but if yours doesn’t you will need to select the card from the top right corner.
When you scroll down you will see the partners that have not yet been linked under “Select a loyalty program to link”
7. If the program is already linked, click “Transfer points” and skip to step 11. If not, I will link Air Canada to show you how to link a program. First, click on the logo.
I already have an Aeroplan account, but if you do not already have a frequent flyer account with the program to which you want to transfer, you’ll need to go set that airline account up first.
You can only link an airline or hotel program account that matches your name or the account of an authorized user on one of your Amex MR earning cards. In other words, you cannot link a family member unless they are an authorized user. See the sharing miles post for more details.
Click the card holder you wish to link.
Then you will need to choose a card and give the security information for verification purposes. If you have multiple Amex MR earning cards you will have more than one option under “Verify Your Card”. It does not matter which card you select; just make sure the numbers you type in match the card you selected.
You have now linked the airline/hotel account to your Amex account and you have the option to transfer your points.
Type in the number of points, confirm it, check the terms & conditions box, and click “Confirm & Transfer Points”
11. For subsequent transfers, once the account is linked, you’ll click “transfer points” when you get to this page (step 6 above)
Now when I go back to my Membership Rewards transfer page, Air Canada shows up. For future transfers, you’ll click transfer points under the program.
Your airline account will already be linked, so you will not have to to give that number again, but Amex will still ask you to verify security numbers on one of your cards
Type in the number of points, confirm it, give your card info, check the terms & conditions box, and click “Confirm & Transfer Points”
How long does it take for Amex points to transfer to airline or hotel programs?
You may need to log out of your frequent flyer account then log back in to see the miles in your account.
In general, Amex Membership Rewards points transfer immediately to most programs. Here is a list of airlines known to take a little longer:
- Aeromexico Club Premier (may take up to 24 hours)
- ANA Mileage Club (up to 48 hours)
- Avianca Lifemiles (up to 24 hours)
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (48 hours)
- Iberia Plus (up to 48 hours)
- Singapore KrisFlyer (up to 24 hours)
Transfer partners are a great way to redeem Amex points at high values. Here are a few other posts about booking high value tickets with Amex transfer partners:
- British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights
- Etihad miles to book American Airlines flights
- Avianca miles to book Star Alliance flights between the US and Thailand
- Redeeming Amex points for flights to Europe
- Redeem KLM/Virgin Atlantic miles for Delta flights at lower redemption rates than Delta Skymiles
New to award travel?
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, but potentially a lot more than that if you learn how to use transfer partners. The annual fee is reasonable, and the rewards are easy to earn and redeem. Click here for several ways to redeem the bonus points.
Click here for more info about Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners and airline options.
Current offer: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
The annual fee is $95, but the welcome offer alone is worth a lot more than that.
As of August 16, bonus categories and benefits have been added and/or improved!
- Earn 5 points per dollar on travel purchased via Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Earn 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases
- Instead of the old earn rate of 2, you can now earn 3 points per dollar on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout)
- 3 points per dollar on online grocery purchases (this excludes Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
- 3 points per dollar on select streaming services
- Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Also, receive credit of up to $50 annually on hotel stays purchased through Ultimate Rewards. New cardmembers will receive this credit immediately and existing cardmembers will start earning after the next anniversary.
Each anniversary, you’ll receive bonus points equal to 10% of total purchases made the previous year. This excludes any welcome bonus points, so it’s only on points earned from spending.
Amex Rates and Fees:
- American Express Gold Card [rates and fees]
- The Platinum Card from American Express [rates and fees]
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