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Guide to American Express® Membership Rewards®

Last Updated, October 21, 2021

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 bonuses, 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 The Business Platinum Card® from American Express , for example, has a $595 ($695 if application is received on or after 1/13/2022) annual fee (see rates and fees; terms apply), 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 in select business categories; 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 Pre✓™ ($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 AMERICAN EXPRESS MEMBERSHIP REWARDS® PROGRAM WORK?

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

For every dollar you spend, you'll earn one point.

Each point is typically worth about a penny, sometimes less, and sometimes more. 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 travel.

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 often receive a penny a point, if you redeem them through Amex Travel.

And then if you redeem your points with American Express's travel partners, you'll often double that - 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 don't always have.

WHICH CARDS EARN AMERICAN EXPRESS MEMBERSHIP REWARDS®?

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

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 Uber savings on rides and Uber Eats purchases in the U.S. annually.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express travel (up to $500,000 spent on these purchases per calendar year) and on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Earn 10x points on eligible purchases, up to $25,000 in combined spending, on your new card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. during your first six months of card membership.
  • Receive an annual $200 airline fee credit with a pre-selected airline and up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (enrollment required).
  • Enjoy complimentary airport lounge access through the Global Lounge Collection®.
  • Take advantage of more than $1,400 worth of benefits during your first year as a cardholder.
  • $695 annual fee
  • Enrollment required for select benefits.
  • Terms apply.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first three months of card membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels booked via amextravel.com.
  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points – that's an extra half point per dollar – on each eligible purchase in select business categories and on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to a cap).
  • Use Membership Rewards® points for all or part of a coach/economy flight with your pre-selected qualifying airline and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year. Receive 35% of your points back when you use points for a business or first class flight on any airline with bookings made on amextravel.com.
  • Enroll to get up to $400 in statement credits annually by getting up to $200 semi-annually for U.S. purchases with Dell.
  • $595 ($695 if application is received on or after 1/13/2022) annual fee
  • Enrollment required for select benefits. 
  • Terms apply.

American Express® Gold Card

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card in the first six months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants including takeout and delivery as well as 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Receive up to a total of $10 in statement credits each month when you use your card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and/or participating Shake Shack locations. This could add up to an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year. Plus, get up to 12 complimentary months of an Uber Eats Pass subscription when you enroll with your Gold Card by 12/31/21.
  • $250 annual fee
  • Enrollment required for select benefits. 
  • Terms apply.

American Express® Business Gold Card

  • Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of opening an account.
  • Get 4X Membership Rewards® on the two select categories where your business spends the most each month (applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these two categories each calendar year).
  • Get 25% of your points back when you use your points for all or part of an eligible flight booked with Amex Travel (amextravel.com), up to 250,000 points back per calendar year. 
  • $295 annual fee
  • Terms apply.

 

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

  • Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
  • Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners (2X applies to the first $50,000 in purchases each year; earn 1X point per $1 thereafter).
  • Enjoy the flexibility to put more purchases on the card and earn rewards when you buy above your credit limit. (The amount you can spend above your credit limit is not unlimited. It adjusts with your use of the card, your payment history, credit record, financial resources known to American Express, and other factors.)
  • Enjoy a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from account opening, then 13.24% - 19.24% Variable.
  • No annual fee
  • Terms apply.

OTHER WAYS TO EARN AMERICAN EXPRESS 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 AMERICAN EXPRESS 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 AMERICAN EXPRESS 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 AMERICAN EXPRESS 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.

ARE AMERICAN EXPRESS MEMBERSHIP REWARDS® POINTS TRANSFERABLE TO OTHER LOYALTY PROGRAMS?

Usually, though not always. For instance, The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express , 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 18 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 LOYALTY 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
  • Millemiglia (Alitalia): 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards® points = 1,000 Alitalia 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 MilesTM
  • 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 LOYALTY 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:

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

  • For a limited time earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • After you spend $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year, you will receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit to inspire your next travel.
  • Earn 2X miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, and at U.S. supermarkets and 1X mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights.
  • Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.
  • Terms apply

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

  • Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you use your new card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.
  • Earn a weekend night reward after you spend $15,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year.
  • Earn 12X Hilton Honors bonus points for each $1 of eligible purchases charged on your card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio; 6X points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; 3X points for all other eligible purchases on your card.
  • $95 annual fee
  • Terms apply.

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

  • For a limited time, earn 125,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points and two Free Award Nights (up to a 50,000-point redemption value for each; resort fees may apply) after making $5,000 in purchases on your new card within the first three months (offer ends 11/3/21).
  • Earn 6X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels; 4X points at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping; and 2X points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive one Free Night Award every year after your card account anniversary. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Annual fee: $125 annual fee
  • Terms apply.

DO AMERICAN EXPRESS 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: American Express® Gold Card: See Rates and Fees; terms apply; American Express® Business Gold Card: See Rates and Fees; terms apply; The Platinum Card® from American Express: See Rates and Fees; terms apply; The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: See Rates and Fees; terms apply; The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: See Rates and Fees; terms apply; Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: See Rates and Fees; terms apply; Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: See Rates and Fees; terms apply; Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: See Rates and Fees; terms apply

Disclaimer: 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.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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