Guide to American Express Membership Rewards

Geoff Williams
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Geoff Williams
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Guide to American Express Membership Rewards
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In the 1970s American Express had a famous tagline in its commercials declaring that customers should never leave home without their American Express traveler’s checks. Though the ad campaign may be long gone today and people may not use traveler’s checks the way they once did, the message is still the same: Don’t leave home without your American Express card. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

One of the ways American Express encourages this is by attaching many of their cards to the American Express Membership Rewards program.

But the question is, does the Membership Rewards program really make certain American Express cards “must-haves”? Before we get into all of the program details, let’s break down some of the pros and cons first.

Here are some reasons to love the American Express Membership Rewards program:

  • Many American Express cards with Membership Rewards offer generous welcome offers, as well as great ongoing rewards.
  • Most Membership Rewards cards have strong rewards on dining out and travel purchases, two of the most popular spending categories.
  • These cards usually come with a lot of nice perks, such as, in some cases, an airline fee credit to cover baggage fees or other fees.
  • There are more than a thousand ways to redeem points that you earn. From a movie with friends to a vacation in the Bahamas, points can be redeemed to cover almost any of your purchases.

And now for one big downfall:

Annual fees. If your card has one, it’s never pleasant to pay, and American Express cards sometimes come with hefty ones. The CardNamediscontinued, for example, has a AnnualFees annual fee (See Rates and Fees), but you should only apply for a card with an annual fee if you believe that you’ll spend enough and collect enough perks and discounts to pay for that annual fee.

This card gets users five points on flights booked directly with airlines and prepaid hotels booked via amextravel.com; 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more (that’s an extra half point per dollar, on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more up to a cap); 1.5 points per $1 on eligible purchases with U.S. construction material and hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software and cloud system providers, and shipping providers; 35% of points back when using points to book flights on amextravel.com (up to an annual limit); an annual credit of up to $200 to pay for baggage fees and more with a pre-selected airline; airport lounge access; a statement credit to cover your Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck ($85) application fee; and more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)

When you look at things that way, suddenly the hefty annual fee might not seem so bad. In other words, depending upon your spending habits and travel profile, the American Express Membership Rewards program may be well worth the participating cards’ annual fees.

How does the Membership Rewards program work?

Every time you spend money with an American Express card that offers Membership Rewards, you receive points.

The number of points per dollar spent depends on the card and the category of your spending.

Each point is worth about a penny, sometimes less, and sometimes more (much more, in some cases). And, if you’re new to the world of credit card points, that doesn’t sound like much at all, but it starts to add up to real cash quickly.

As you collect your points, you can redeem them for cash (in the form of a statement credit), but you can also redeem them for other things, including travel, which will ultimately be the most valuable use for your points.

American Express has an Amex Travel portal that you can redeem your points through, but your points may go further if you transfer them to one of American Express’ airline or hotel partners.

You can also redeem your points for gift cards and online shopping but when you do that, you typically get less than a penny per point – whereas with travel, you’ll enjoy at least a penny per point in value. And, really, that’s the bare minimum.

If you redeem your points with American Express’ travel partners, you’ll often double that value – or more. So if you’re traveling any time soon, and you’re earning points through American Express Membership Rewards, redeeming points for travel is usually the smartest strategy.

Do all American Express cards earn Membership Rewards points?

No, not all American Express cards earn Membership Rewards points. Many American Express cards earn cash back.

Both types of credit cards have their advantages, though. If you never, ever travel, or barely ever travel, you probably are better off with a credit card that just makes life simple and offers you cash back. If you are somebody who travels a lot – maybe you think of the airport as your second home, and you stay at hotels so often you’re contemplating starting a blog about the quality of hotel breakfasts – then you should definitely think about getting a travel credit card that offers points.

American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards points are more flexible when it comes to redeeming them, and – here’s the really important part – the rewards points can be worth more than the standard cash from cash back credit cards if you’re strategic about how you redeem them. Also, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but there’s a good chance that your American Express credit card that offers Membership Rewards points has a lot of travel perks (like trip cancellation and interruption service or baggage insurance) that cash-back credit cards usually don’t have.

Which credit cards earn American Express Membership Rewards?

There are a plethora of American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards. Some of our top picks include:

card_name

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Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
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Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

card_name

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Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
bonus_miles_full
Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

card_name

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Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
bonus_miles_full
Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

card_name

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Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
bonus_miles_full
Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

card_name

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Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
bonus_miles_full
Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

Other ways to earn Membership Rewards points

Aside from simply whipping out your American Express card and buying stuff to earn points, there are some other strategies you may want to consider. For instance…

  • You could add an authorized user to your credit card. Obviously, you only want responsible people – probably in your own household – to be an authorized user. But if two or three people in the household are spending money with the card, you’ll earn American Express Membership Rewards points faster.
  • Take advantage of American Express Membership Rewards offers. If you go to the “Amex Offers” tab in your American Express app or on your online account, you’ll see these “Amex Offers.” You know, offers where the copy will read something like “Spend $125, and we’ll give you 300 points!” That’s a hypothetical offer that we made up on our own, but you get the idea. American Express offers may help you get more points, faster. Just make sure you’re spending money on something you need or would buy, anyway.
  • Use Rakuten. While you can use any cash back suite to save money, you’ll actually get points if you use Rakuten, a cash back website and shopping app. You’ll receive one Membership Rewards point for every 1% cash back you earn, and you’ll still earn your regular points through your American Express credit card.

How much are Membership Rewards points worth?

Most cards earn members at least one point for every $1 spent, and then sometimes bonus points in certain spending categories. You can redeem points for cash, gift cards, travel, or “pay with points” online purchases. With that said you should always check the fine print first since American Express has many cards, and they aren’t all the same.

Point values vary depending on what you’re redeeming them for, but values often sit around one cent. If you’re redeeming points for travel, usually one point equals one mile. For example, when booking a flight through American Express travel, 50,000 points can be worth as much as $500. Redeeming points for travel – especially for airline tickets versus hotels or an Uber ride – is typically where you’ll get your best bang for the buck, but you could get even better value when transferring them to an American Express loyalty partner. More on this below.

We should also note that points or credits are usually counted in 1,000-point increments, so you can’t start redeeming your points towards travel until you hit 1,000 of them.

What can you do with Membership Rewards points?

There’s a lot that you can do with American Express Membership Rewards. Some popular options include:

  • Use points for travel. You can book travel through the Amex travel portal or transfer the points to airline and hotel partners. Or rental cars, but we haven’t mentioned that elsewhere because generally, your points will go further if you book a flight or a room.
  • Get a statement credit. You want to pay less on your credit card bill this month? A statement credit is the way to go.
  • You can shop. That is, through the American Express site, you can redeem points at retailers that the credit card partners with.
  • You can redeem points for gift cards.
  • You can donate your points to charity. American Express has a partnership with JustGiving.com, and you can choose among numerous good causes to give your points to. If enough people do this, that can really make a difference for a nonprofit or good cause.

How to redeem Membership Rewards points

Fortunately, redeeming American Express Membership Rewards points isn’t hard. You can use the Amex Mobile app or the American Express website. The first thing you’ll do is check your points balance. Maybe you have, like 17 points, and you won’t be redeeming anything today. Or maybe you’re sitting on a bonanza, and it’s Redeem City for you.

Assuming things look good, you can start choosing your rewards. It’ll be very clear what you can redeem, and you can redeem your points for a variety of items, including…

  • A statement credit (basically, you’re getting cash, albeit it in the form of a lower credit card bill)
  • Travel purchases through the Amex Travel portal
  • You can transfer the points to one of American Express’ airline or hotel partners
  • Points for gift cards and online shopping

There will be instructions on the website to complete your redemption. It’ll be easy, but if you have any questions, you can always call customer service at 1-800-668-2639 (small business cardmembers should call 1-888-721-1046, and corporate cardmembers can call 1-800-716-6661).

Can you redeem Amex points for cash?

Yes. Now, to be technical and extremely literal, you can’t redeem them for cash in the sense that you’ll actually see the green stuff. You won’t redeem the points and then receive an envelope full dollar bills.

But you will see a credit on your American Express statement, which means that your next bill should be lower than it would been otherwise. You’ll be getting cash back – it’s just going to appear on your statement.

That said, your Amex points are worth more when you use them for travel, and so you do want to consider that. But if you’re not going anywhere any time soon, lowering your credit card bill means more cash will be left in your bank account.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners

Are Membership Rewards points transferable? Usually, though not always. For instance, CardName discontinued, which could be described as a rewards card without a lot of bells and whistles, won’t allow you to transfer points to American Express travel partners; however, if your card is eligible, you can transfer your points to select airline and hotel partners. Simply visit the American Express Membership Rewards portal and make the transfer there.

As of this writing, American Express has 17 airline and three hotel loyalty partners. Travel program partners determine how many points, miles or other units are required to get rewards in their frequent traveler programs. The American Express loyalty partners and the point values with each partner are:

American Express Membership Rewards airline partners

  • AerClub (loyalty program of Aer Lingus): 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Avois
  • AeroMexico Club Premier: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,600 Premier Points
  • Aeroplan (Air Canada): 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Aeroplan Miles
  • Air France/KLM: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Flying Blue Award Miles
  • Ana Inspiration of Japan (All Nippon Airways): 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 ANA Mileage Club Miles
  • ASIA MILES: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Asia Miles
  • Avianca LifeMiles: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 LifeMiles
  • British Airways Executive Club: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Avois
  • Delta Skymiles: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 miles
  • Emirates Skywards: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Skywards Miles
  • Etihad Airways: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Etihad Guest Miles
  • Hawaiian Airlines: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 HawaiianMiles
  • Iberia Plus: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Avois
  • True Blue JetBlue (JetBlue Airways): 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 200 TrueBlue points
  • Frequent Flyer (QANTAS Loyalty): 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 500 Qantas Points
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 KrisFlyer Miles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Flying Club miles

American Express Membership Rewards hotel partners

  • Choice Privileges Rewards: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Choice Privileges
  • Hilton Honors: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 2,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Marriott Bonvoy: 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = 1,000 Marriott Bonvoy points

If you travel a lot and have an affinity for a specific airline such as Delta or hotel such as Hilton Hotels & Resorts, you may want to consider getting one of American Express’ co-branded cards that they offer with their travel partners. You won’t be earning American Express Membership Rewards points though – you’d instead benefit from the partner’s loyalty program. Some of our top picks for these co-branded cards include:

card_name

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Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
bonus_miles_full
Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

card_name

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Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
bonus_miles_full
Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

card_name

discontinued_disclaimer
Travel Rewards
Welcome Offer
bonus_miles_full
Rewards
points_per_dollar
Annual Fee
annual_fees
Credit Needed
credit_score_needed

Do Membership Rewards points expire?

Is there a way that points can be taken from you? What happens to them if you close the card account?

Your points don’t expire – generally.

There are three instances through which you could lose your points:

  1. You close the card account with points still left in it.
  2. You return items that you’ve bought with your card. For example: You bought something with your American Express card, earned 50 points, and then returned that item. Goodbye, 50 points.
  3. You’ve been making late payments. If you’ve been collecting points for months or years, don’t worry – they aren’t all gone. But if you make a late payment, you’ll lose the points that you collected during the month that payment was due.

Generally though, if you earn Membership Rewards, you’ll keep them.


To see the rates and fees for the American Express cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: CardName: See Rates and Fees; CardName: See Rates and Fees; CardName: See Rates and Fees; CardName: See Rates and Fees; CardName: See Rates and Fees; CardName: See Rates and Fees; CardName: See Rates and Fees; CardName: See Rates and Fees

author
Geoff Williams
CardRatings Contributor

Geoff is a freelance journalist and has been since the 1990s. He specializes in personal finance and small business issues and has seen his work published with numerous news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney.com, Reuters, The Washington Post and Consumer Reports. He also...Read more

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The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

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