Getting the Most Out of Your American Express Rewards Points

British Airways

Exchanging American Express Membership Rewards points for British Airways Avios can help you score a cheap international flight. Photo: Mark Harkin

When it comes to earning points and miles, it often pays to focus on flexible, versatile points that can be redeemed in a number of ways. Fortunately, American Express offers its own flexible rewards program that allows consumers to earn travel rewards without being tied down to a specific loyalty program or travel currency. Here’s how it works.

How to Earn Membership Rewards Points

One of the fastest ways to build a stash of Membership Rewards points is to sign up for an American Express credit card that earns these rewards and offers a sign-up bonus. One example is The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN, which doles out a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Membership Rewards after you spend $5,000 on your card within 90 days of account opening. Here are a few of the most important card details:

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN

Using Membership Rewards to Save On Travel

The American Express Membership Rewards program offers a wide range of options when it comes to saving on travel. You can do this one of two ways – either save on travel by booking directly through the American Express website or by transferring your points to one of your favorite hotel or airline loyalty programs. If you opt for the first option, you will experience the following benefits:

  • Using the American Express travel portal is easy: Whether you’re booking flights or hotel stays, booking through the American Express travel portal is as easy as booking with any online search engine.
  • There are no black-out dates: When booking travel directly through the American Express travel portal, you don’t have to worry about finagling your schedule to find award availability. Since it works like a regular travel portal, there are no black-out dates or capacity controls.
  • Get a discount on travel with The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN: Although most Membership Rewards points are worth one cent when redeeming for travel, Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN cardholders get a 30% Airline Bonus when using Membership Rewards® Pay with Points.

Booking travel directly with American Express can be both convenient and lucrative. However, some of the most valuable redemption options become possible if you are willing to transfer your points out of the program and into one of the frequent flyer or hotel loyalty programs they partner with. Your current options consist of these popular programs and corresponding transfer ratios:

Airlines Hotels
Delta SkyMiles – 1:1
AeroMexico – 1:1
Aeroplan – 1:1
MilleMiglia Club – 1:1
ANA – 1:1
Asia Miles – 1:1
British Airways – 1:1
Emirates Skywards – 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines – 1:1
Frontier Airlines – 1:1
Iberia – 1:1
jetBLUE – 2.5:2
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer – 1:1
Virgin America Elevate – 2:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club – 1:1
Air France – 1:1
Choice Privileges Rewards Program – 1:1
Best Western Rewards – 1:1
Hilton HHonors – 1:1.5
Starwood Preferred Guest – 1,000:333

 

If you already belong to any of these programs, you know just how lucrative these options may be. The value will depend heavily on how you ultimately choose to redeem your points, but the following options illustrate just how valuable your points could become after you transfer them:

  • British Airways: Because the British Airways Avios program is distance-based, you can book flights that are 1,150 miles or shorter for just 7,500 Avios per leg. So for example, that means a flight from Chicago to Washington D.C. would only cost you 15,000 Avois round-trip!
  • Starwood Preferred Guest: Even though the transfer ratio isn’t stellar, your Starwood Points can still go far. Since a Category 1 Starwood property costs only 3,000 points per night on weeknights, you could easily parlay 10,000 Starpoints into three free nights.
  • Hawaiian Airlines: With a 1:1 transfer ratio from Membership Rewards, Hawaiian Airlines miles are always a good choice. Book a one-way coach SuperSaver award from North America to Hawaii for only 20,000 miles.

Reward Options If You Don’t Like to Travel

There are plenty of ways to redeem Membership Rewards points that don’t require you to jump out of your comfort zone or leave your home state.

Let’s say you signed up for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN and met all of the requirements in order to earn the 40,000-point sign-up bonus. First of all, you have the option to redeem your Membership Rewards points for around 0.6 cents per point. Not great, but nothing to sneeze at either. In this case, your 40,000 point sign-up bonus would be worth around $240.

If you want to extract more value for your Membership Rewards points, you also have the option to redeem them for gift cards at a normal rate of one cent per point. For example, you can currently score a $25 Home Depot Gift card for 2,500 points, a $25 Staples gift card for 2,500 points, and a $50 Benihana gift card for 5,000 points. Watch out though; you can’t score all gift cards for a penny a point. For example, a $25 American Express gift card will run you 5,000 points, which is not a good value at all.

Beyond gift cards and statement credits, you can also use your Membership Rewards points for merchandise and “shop with points” at online retailers like Amazon.com. These options will never be particularly valuable, however, which is why you should only use them if you can’t think of any other way to redeem your points.

Best Ways to Use American Express Membership Rewards Points

No matter what, there is no “wrong way” or “right way” to redeem your credit card rewards points. It all depends on your personal goals and what you hope to achieve. If you love a good gift card or want to redeem your points for statement credits, there is certainly no shame in doing so. However, your most valuable redemptions will always come in the form of travel rewards, whether that means booking travel directly through the American Express website or transferring your points to a partner hotel or airline program.

So do your homework and make sure you have an idea of how you might redeem your points before you sign up. And don’t forget – the best ways to use Membership Rewards are only possible if you use credit card rewards responsibly. It is never rewarding to end up in debt.

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