American Express® Membership Rewards®

By , CardRatings contributor

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American Express membership rewardsAmerican Express® Membership Rewards®

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Back in the 1970s, American Express® had a famous tagline in its commercials declaring that customers should never leave home without their American Express® travelers' checks. Though the ad campaign may be long gone today and people may not use travelers' checks the way they once did, American Express®' hope and message is still the same - that you won't leave home without your American Express® credit card, and one of the ways they encourage this is by attaching most of their credit cards to the American Express® Membership Rewards® program.

So is the Membership Rewards® program really a "must-have?" You can be the judge of that, but let's break down the basics first.

American Express® credit cards with Membership Rewards®

Now that you know which American Express® credit cards offer Membership Rewards®, let's take a look at some popular questions that are commonly asked when breaking down the American Express® Membership Rewards® program:

How much are American Express® Membership Rewards® points worth, and what can you redeem them for?

Most cards earn members one point for every dollar spent. You can redeem them for cash, gift cards, travel, or "pay with points" online purchases. With that said you should check the fine print, since American Express® has many cards, and they aren't all the same. But generally, it's one point for every dollar spent.

If you're redeeming the points for travel, usually one point equals one mile, and 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.

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.

Are American Express® Membership Rewards® points transferable to other loyalty programs?

Usually, though not always. For instance, Blue 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 its airline and hotel partners. Simply visit the American Express® Membership Rewards® portal and make the transfer there. As noted, one point often gives you one mile, though a few hotels and airlines may diminish the point value a little. It's best to check with specific airline or hotel partners first to see the point value you'll receive.

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. Those cards, which have the American Express® logo, include:

Which American Express® cards offer the Membership Rewards® program without an annual fee?

There are a few. The Blue from American Express® and Amex EveryDay® Preferred cards both have no annual fees. You also may want to look into The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card if you're a member of the PenFed credit union or a member of the military; it offers competitive rewards and no annual fee. Generally the rule is, if there's no annual fee, the rewards aren't as strong as the cards with an annual fee.

This is also probably a good time to mention, in case you're new to credit cards or just really jazzed about rewards and aren't too familiar with how credit card companies operate: Your credit score needs to be pretty high to get a rewards card. It's hard to nail down a cut-off point, where you can say, "If your score is 700, you have a good shot, but if your score is 699, forget it," because lenders (and their algorithms) consider a lot of different factors when deciding whether or not to grant you a credit card. (In other words, you may have a credit score of 699 and get a great credit card while your neighbor has a credit score of 700 and is rejected for the same card.)

Typically though, most people tend to be in the range of 600 and 750, and if you have a credit score of 700, that's considered good. The higher you go, the better your score and odds of getting a good credit card. If you have an 800 credit score or above, you'll be in "excellent" territory, and may have credit card company executives offering to take you out to dinner if only you'll apply for their card. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.

Since you don't want to hurt your credit unnecessarily (when you apply for a credit card, your score drops a bit), it's best not to apply for a rewards credit card if you have a low or a mediocre score. Instead, try to get that credit score up before applying.

Do Membership Rewards® expire or can I lose them?

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

Wow, a lot of questions there. Let's pick them apart.

Your points don't expire -- generally.

Yeah, that word, "generally."

There are three instances where you could lose your points:

  1. You close the credit card account, and you still have points. Those points are gone.

  2. You return items that you've bought with your card. You bought something with your American Express® card. You got 6 points. You returned the item. Goodbye, 6 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.

But generally, if you earn Membership Rewards® points, you'll keep them.

Pros and Cons of American Express® Membership Rewards®

Let's end with some of the pros and cons of American Express® Membership Rewards®.

The pros:

  • Many American Express® cards with Membership Rewards® offer generous bonuses when you sign up. For instance, the American Express® Gold Card offers 35,000 bonus points (up to $350 value) when you spend $2,000 during the first three months of account membership.

  • All Membership Rewards® cards then to have strong rewards on dining out and travel purchases.

  • These cards usually come with a lot of nice perks, such as an airline fee credit to cover baggage fees.

The cons:

  • Annual fees, of course. If your card has one, it's never pleasant to pay, and American Express® cards sometimes come with hefty ones. The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, for example, has a $595 annual fee (terms apply, See Rates and Fees), but you should only apply for a credit 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 5 points on flights and prepaid hotels, 50 percent more points on purchases of $5,000 or more, 35 percent of points back when using points to book flights, an annual credit of up to $200 to pay for baggage fees, airport lounge access, a statement credit every four years after you apply for Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre✓® ($85), and up to 100,000 bonus Membership Rewards® points once opening a new account. Plus, there are no interest charges associated with this card. When you look at things that way, suddenly the $595 annual fee might not seem so bad.

Depending upon your spending habits and travel profile, the American Express® Membership Rewards® program may be well worth the participating cards' annual fees.

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); American Express® Business Gold Card (See Rates and Fees); The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); The Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates and Fees); Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees); Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (See Rates and Fees); The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express (See Rates and Fees)


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