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Get the Most From Your American Express Membership Rewards

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Get the Most From Your American Express Membership Rewards

I love American Express Membership Rewards points. And I think most frequent travelers would agree with me. The reason is simple: they’re flexible. You can transfer Amex points to 21 different travel partners, including 18 frequent flyer programs.

Why is that a big deal? Not only are they easy to use—there’s sure to be an airline partner that flies to where you want to go and a hotel partner where you want to stay—but it’s also easy to maximize the value of those Amex points by finding great redemptions.

So buckle in, lean back and let me guide you to the best Amex redemptions.

The Best American Express Credit Cards

Before we begin, let’s take a look at how you can earn some of those precious American Express Membership Rewards points. American Express issues about a dozen personal and business cards that are part of the MR program, but my favorites are the EveryDay, Premier Rewards Gold and Platinum cards.

This might be the best American Express credit card. You’ll earn a huge 60,000-point sign-up bonus with the personal version of the Platinum card. The business version of the card offers even more, for a total of 100,000 Amex points. But you have to spend a lot ($25,000 in three months) to get the whole bonus.

While these Amex credit cards have very high annual fees—$550 for the business card and $450 for the personal—the benefits can more than cover the cost if you use them. Which one is better for you depends on your spending habits.

Best-In-Class Benefits

I use my Platinum American Express credit card all the time because of its outstanding perks:

  • Free lounge access, including the excellent Centurion Lounges
  • An annual $200 airline fee credit
  • $200 in Uber rides annually
  • Fee credit for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
  • Elite status with Hilton, Starwood Hotels and various rental car agencies
  • And a lot more!

Go for the Gold

If the price tag is just to high for the Platinum Amex credit cards, the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card is another great choice for earning Amex points. In addition to the 25,000-point sign-up bonus, you’ll earn triple points for airfare and double points at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets.

I supplement my Platinum Amex credit card with the Gold Rewards Amex credit card because of it’s excellent earning categories. While you’ll get 5x points for airfare with the Platinum, it’s hard to beat double points for common spending categories like gas and groceries.

No Fee? No Problem!

The Amex EveryDay card is perfect for anyone who wants to skip annual fees altogether. Whether you’re a beginner just wanting to check out the American Express Membership Rewards program, or an expert who’s looking for a way to add another Amex Membership Rewards credit card to their wallet, you can’t go wrong with the EveryDay card.

If you already have the Gold Rewards card, the EveryDay card probably won’t do you much good. But if you have the Platinum American Express credit card and want to add another way to earn a bonus on spending without any added cost in fees, the EveryDay card offers double points for groceries.

Get a 20% Bonus

The EveryDay card also has a unique bonus. If you make 20 or more purchases on the card in a month,you’ll get 20 percent extra points.

So instead of getting two points per dollar at supermarkets, you’ll get 2.4 points. And all other purchases (which normally earn one point per dollar) will earn 1.2 points. It might not sound like much, but it can add up.

The Most Valuable Ways to Redeem Amex Points: Get Up to 11 Cents Per Point!

Now let’s get to the fun part. Let’s talk about the best ways to use Amex points!

To maximize the value of your American Express rewards, you’re going to want to transfer your points to an airline partner and redeem for free flights.

If you do, you’ll easily get a value of 1.9 cents or more per Amex point. Long-haul, international business class flights typically yield the most value, making it easy to get around 4 cents per point.

I’ve actually gotten 11 cents per point before (more on this fantastic redemption below).

The standard return for a cashback card is one cent per point, so anything over that rate is a pretty good value.

Amex Transfer Partners

American Express Membership Rewards airline partners include: Aeromexico Club Premier, Air Canada Aeroplan , Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Alitalia MilleMiglia, ANA Mileage Club, British Airways Executive Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Delta SkyMiles, El Al Frequent Flyer Club, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles, Iberia Plus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club .

Hotel partners include: Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors and Starwood Preferred Guest

But Which Airlines Offer the Best Values?

That’s a long list of transfer partners and I know it can get a bit overwhelming. But that’s why we like American Express so much; because of all the options. Let’s get into exactly where you should be flying with your points.

Fly Short Haul Using British Airways

British Airways Executive Club uses a distance-based award chart. That can work in your favor when flying on short but expensive flights.

British Airways is part of the oneworld alliance too, which includes Cathay Pacific, Iberia and Qantas, among other carriers. That means you can book flights on those partners through the BA frequent flyer program.

You can use just 4,500 British Airways Avios to book a short flight (under 650 miles) within Australia, Asia or the Caribbean and maximize your cash savings.
For example, you can fly between the Bahamas and Grand Cayman on a British Airways-operated flight. The flight itself is just 467 miles but costs about $500. Instead of paying cash, you could redeeming 4,500 miles (or just 4,000 on off-peak dates) for the same ticket.

That’s a steal resulting in a value of about 11 cents per point!

I personally have redeemed 4,000 points on this route as part of a two-island Caribbean trip earlier this year. It’s a great way to visit more places without spending more.

Fly in Business Class From the U.S. to Spain on Iberia

Iberia Plus is another oneworld, distance-based program that uses Avios. Although the rewards currency is the same as British Airways, the programs themselves are different. It’s good to know when to use one versus the other.

Iberia places its destinations into zones, or bands, based on the distance between city pairs. Chicago and Madrid are 4,202 miles apart. That means that this particular city pair should belong to Band 6. But lucky you, it’s in Band 5 instead.

So, what does this mean for you? We have found a sweet spot for redemptions. You can redeem just 34,000 miles per one way to travel between Chicago and Madrid in business class on off-peak dates.

That’s only a few more miles than it would cost to travel the same route in economy class on many domestic airlines. This is definitely a fantastic deal.

Fly on Air France From Los Angeles to Tahiti

You might not know about a fifth-freedom route that Air France flies between Los Angeles and Papeete, French Polynesia. You can book it with Delta SkyMiles or Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles.

Unfortunately, as of June 1 Flying Blue has revamped its frequent flyer program and, like Delta, has removed its award charts for all destinations. While that can make it harder to know how much various routes cost, it can still work out okay with a little persistence.

That’s because you can still find the cheapest redemption levels for just about any route. And, good news, flying to Tahiti has become a lot cheaper when redeeming airline miles.

If you can find the lowest redemption level, you can book a one-way flight for just 25,500 miles in economy class and for 64,000 miles in business class. The former redemption rates were 30,000 miles for economy seats and 100,000 miles for premium cabin.

I’m definitely going to look into this particular redemption in the future. French Polynesia’s on my bucket list, and this is a great way to get there in business class.

Fly to Japan on ANA in Business Class

All Nippon Airways (ANA) offers a fantastic business class product. You can experience it by taking advantage the program’s unique award chart and choosing to travel during a low season.

If you travel during what’s considered the off-peak season as per ANA—that’s January, February or April—you can redeem just 75,000 miles to travel to Tokyo and back in style from Los Angeles and 80,000 miles from New York City.

It’s hard to beat this deal for a long-haul transpacific flight in a premium cabin!

Fly First Class on Singapore Airlines

Singapore Suites on the wide-body Airbus A380 are an elusive high-end product that I (and many others) want to try. But it is difficult to book.

Don’t dismiss Singapore’s ‘standard’ First Class on a Boeing 777. It’s still fantastic, but also a more realistic option that can be booked with miles.

From amenity kits to pajamas to unlimited Dom Pérignon refills, this luxurious flat-bed seat in the sky makes Singapore Airlines worthy of a five-star rating. It may not be a suite, but it’s still a pretty sweet experience.

If you can find a seat at the lowest, Saver level, you can redeem just 92,000 miles to fly from San Francisco to Hong Kong, or 95,000 miles to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

It may seem like a lot of miles now, but you won’t think so after you experience the luxury of Singapore Airlines.

Less Rewarding Redemption Options

While transferring your American Express rewards points to an airline partner and redeeming for free flights can give you exceptional value, there are other options. And while these aren’t nearly as valuable as free flights, some of them can result in okay value.

I personally wouldn’t redeem for any of these options unless I had no other choice. But your mileage may vary. Sometimes it can be hard to find the right flight through an airline partner.

book your flight through Amex Travel

Book Through Amex Travel

When you book flights or hotels through the American Express Travel rewards site, you can redeem points toward the cost of your trip. Redemption rates vary, but they’re typically 1 cent per point toward flights and 0.7 cents per point toward hotel rooms.

You can get a rate of 1 cent per point—which is the same as 1 percent back—with any cashback credit card. Getting less than that is a really poor value. And with just about any travel credit card that has transferable points, like Amex Membership Rewards cards, you should be getting over a cent per point in value.

While booking through Amex travel opens up a lot of options since you can book with just about any airline or hotel, I’d only use this option if I absolutely had to use points but could not find a decent flight through a transfer partner.

If, however, you have the Business Platinum card, this becomes a better option. With the Amex Business Platinum card in your wallet, you can earn 35 percent of your points redeemed through the Amex site back as a rebate.

This works for economy flights booked on a pre-selected airline of your choice or for business- and first-class flights on any airline booked via the Amex Travel rewards website. In this scenario, each point is worth 1.54 cents, which is a solid value.

Use Amex Points for Statement Credits

Although it is possible to cover your card charges with points, it is not the best redemption opportunity. If you choose to use Amex credit card points as cash back, your points are worth just 0.6 cents apiece.

That’s quite low considering how much value you can get from American Express travel rewards.

Shop at Amazon, Best Buy, Expedia and More

Some retailers that partner with American Express allow you to redeem points toward the cost of merchandise. You can pay with points when shopping at Expedia, Grubhub, Boxed, Staples, Best Buy, Amazon and others.

shop at amazon, best buy and expedia

Depending on the merchant, you can redeem points at a value of 0.7 to 1 cent per point. Although slightly better than using points for statement credits, I still don’t recommend this option.

Free Uber Rides

Amex has made it incredibly easy to redeem points for Uber rides. Just add an eligible American Express card to your Uber account and you can select Use Points as your payment method.

Unfortunately, you’ll only get 1 cent per point in value. You can do much better than that if you transfer and redeem for airfare instead.

Exchange Points for Gift Cards

Again, not the best choice for redeeming, but it is another option. You can buy gift cards with points for popular merchants, such as Whole Foods Market, AMC Theatres, California Pizza Kitchen and Delta Air Lines, to name a few.

You’ll get around 0.5 to 1 cent out of each point.

Shop Through the American Express Rewards Shopping Mall

In addition to redeeming points for merchant gift cards, you can shop directly in the American Express Rewards Shopping Mall. All sorts of retailers and products are there, including popular electronics, home appliances and apparel.

Typically, your points are worth 0.5 cents each, but you can increase your Amex points value to about 0.7 cents during promotions. I do not recommend even considering this option.

Donate Points to Non-Profit Organizations

As an American Express card member, you can donate your points to a good cause. For every 1,000 points you redeem, Amex will give $10 to the charity of your choice. The Amex points value ends up being 1 cent per point, which isn’t great. But if you have some orphan points that cannot be redeemed for a big trip or anything else of value, donating to charity can make sense. It might make you feel good, too.

Bottom Line

Flexible programs like American Express Membership Rewards offer a lot of options for redeeming points. In a way, that makes it harder to find the most valuable redemption opportunities.

The value is there, no doubt about it. But it can be hard to even know where to look sometimes. I hope I’ve help you find at least a few good options for redeeming your Amex points. Whether it’s dream trip to Tahiti, a short hop on British Airways or a business class adventure to Japan, now’s the time to start transferring so you can fly for free.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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