What can you do with Amex Membership Rewards points?

There are a lot of references on Head for Points to American Express Membership Rewards, mainly linked to articles on their charge cards.  It has been a while since I looked at the programme in detail, so I though it was worth updating this overview of the rewards available.

Membership Rewards points are a global currency used by American Express to rewards users of its charge cards. However, it is important to note that the scheme has different partners and different conversion rates in different countries. You may read, for example, that Lufthansa is a Membership Rewards partner, but this is only true if you live in Switzerland! More commonly, you may read that the conversion rate from A to B is 1:2, when for the UK card it is actually 1:1.

How do I earn Membership Rewards points?

You earn Membership Rewards points from Centurion, Platinum, Gold, Green and their equivalent Corporate and Small Business charge cards. The earnings rate is 1 point for every £1 spent on the card. The exceptions is the Gold card – you earn double points on airline transactions and American Express Travel transactions

By far the most popular Membership Rewards card is American Express Preferred Rewards Gold.  This is due to its generous sign-up bonus of 20,000 points and the fact that the first year is FREE.  Heavy travellers can also get good value from American Express Platinum, despite the £450 fee, because of its strong benefits package.  My review of Amex Gold is here and my review of Amex Platinum is here.

(Small business owners may be attracted by the generous sign up offers available for the Business Gold and Business Platinum variants.)

It is important to remember that you must retain an American Express charge card to retain your Membership Rewards points.  If you are planning to cancel your Gold, Green or Platinum card, you will need to empty your MR account.

For simplicity, it is best to empty your MR account before cancelling the card.  Strictly speaking, according to the terms and conditions here, you have 30 days from the day you cancel the card.  Theoretically, the card rules still allow you to transfer your points to someone else when you cancel although it is very very difficult to make Amex agree to this.

Amex Membership Rewards

Where can I spend MR points?

Here are the key links to the Amex website: the UK Membership Rewards home page is here, the UK airline rewards home page is here and the UK hotel rewards page is here.

Here is a summary of the UK airline rewards and which airline grouping each airline is in.

1 Membership Rewards point gets you:

  • 1 Avios (into BA or Iberia)
  • 1 Alitalia mile (Skyteam)
  • 1 Asia Mile (OneWorld
  • 1 Delta mile (Skyteam)
  • 1 Etihad mile (no alliance)
  • 1 Emirates mile (no alliance)
  • 1 Finnair mile (OneWorld)
  • 1 Flying Blue mile (Skyteam)
  • 1 SAS mile (Star Alliance)
  • 1 Singapore Airlines mile (Star Alliance)
  • 1 Virgin Atlantic mile (no alliance)

And here are the hotel rewards, with 1 MR point getting you:

  • 3 Club Carlson points
  • 2 Hilton HHonors points
  • Half a Starwood Preferred Guest point

You can also use Membership Rewards points to book Melia hotels directly.  This is especially useful if visiting Spain.  See this post for details.

You can transfer into Eurostar Frequent Traveller at the ratio of 15 MR points to 1 Eurostar mile.  I wrote an overview on Eurostar and Amex points here.

How do I maximise the value of my points?

There are lots of other reward options – merchandise, store gift cards, travel gift vouchers etc. However, in almost all cases, these are based on a simple formula which gets you no more than 0.5p per point redeemed (eg 10,000 points for a £50 voucher).  Some of the easiest ones to use are Amazon and iTunes gift vouchers.

You can also transfer your Membership Rewards points into Nectar points, at a rate of 1:1.  If you are a Sainsburys, BP, Homebase or Argos shopper, you can swipe your Nectar card at the till and redeem them instantly at – again – a rate of 0.5p per point.  You can also use Nectar points to pay for packages on Expedia.  Some Nectar partners offer more – Photobox is 0.6p per point, for example.

For the truly lazy, you can also redeem your point for a credit against your Amex statement.  This gets you a very poor 0.4p per point, increased to 0.45p per point if you take the credit against ‘travel’ charges (airlines, hotels, car hire etc).

In general, you can get more than 0.5p per MR point by redeeming into an airline or travel programme. Airline miles tend to be worth 0.75p to 1p each, depending on programme and route.

I value Hilton HHonors points at around 0.3p for high-end properties, so that would be 0.6p per MR point.  (The value of Hilton points fell substantially following the February 2013 devaluation.)  Club Carlson needs 70,000 points for their most expensive hotels, so arguably you can easily get 1p per MR point by transferring 23,333 Amex points into that.

You need to be smart and to look carefully at each redemption. Some Starwood and Hilton redemptions can be very poor value – I certainly would not transfer 60,000 MR points for a top-tier Starwood redemption (30,000 SPG points).  Moving 24,000 Amex points for a 12,000 point mid-tier redemption could work well, however.

When should I transfer?

Unless there is a conversion bonus going on, it makes sense to keep your points in Membership Rewards until you need them. This lets you maximise your flexibility. However, in order to speed up a transfer when you do need one, you can ‘link’ your loyalty programmes in advance.

The ‘link’ process allows Amex to confirm that your loyalty account is correct, and knocks a day or two off the time taken for your first transfer to that programme to be processed. You can do this by going into your MR account and doing a dummy booking for the relevant programme.

Once your accounts are linked, a transfer will usually only take 2-3 days at most.  I recently compiled a list of Membership Rewards transfer times with help from Head for Points readers.

Can I transfer to another persons frequent flyer account?

This is a common question.  Until recently, the US Membership Rewards scheme let you transfer to an airline or hotel account in any name.  This has never been the case in the UK.

I have successfully transferred from my Amex account to Nectar and Club Carlson accounts held by someone with a different surname.  Other people have tried it to different schemes and had the transfer cancelled.  There is no harm in trying, though, as the worst that can happen is that the points bounce back to Amex.

What are these conversion bonuses?

American Express will occasionally offer bonus points for transferring to certain partners.  There have not been any during 2015 to date.  British Airways has not taken part in an Amex conversion bonus for two years although Virgin Atlantic is usually taking part.  Club Carlson is also a regular participant.

Etihad Guest ran a 25% conversion bonus recently.  This was not, however, promoted by American Express and you would only have known about it from Etihad’s own website (or from reading Head for Points!).

Bonuses promoted by Amex tend to be targetted to specific members, and you need to ensure you have opted in to receive email and junk mail from Amex or you won’t hear about them.  You must opt-in for EACH Amex card you own.

Conclusion

American Express Membership Rewards points can be very valuable.  They offer FLEXIBILITY – you do not need to commit them to an airline or hotel scheme until it is time to redeem.  You can avoid being caught out by scheme devaluations or changes in travel plans.

The big sign-up bonuses on the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (20,000 points) and American Express Platinum (30,000 points) offer an easy way to get your collection going.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated ‘Credit Cards’ page or use the link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Full list of peak and off-peak Avios redemption dates for BA and Iberia
25 'mystery inspector' vacancies at 'Small Luxury Hotels of the World'!
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Comments

  1. Shame BA have’t been part of a conversation offer for so long.
    Last time I converted to them was at a 100% conversation bonus which was fantastic.

    So my last transfer was to VS when they has a good offer (can’t remember what it was…), although I’m not sure when or what I’m going to do with my 120,000 VS miles.

    Has Hilton ever had a convention bonus offer?

  2. I’ve got a heap of MR sat there, waiting for the right redemption, unfortunately I have 0.5m Avios too; and two companion vouchers. I might be too picky, however with the effective reduction in business class fares it just doesn’t make sense for me (due to taxes) to make use of Avios to travel in the EU.

    If there were a decent hotel conversion I’d take a look for sure, even if they made IHG count towards status it would incentivise me to transfer some of my wife’s into her IHG account!
    The best I’m hoping for are some decent point break redemptions in February when we’re taking the kids to LA; that would make for excellent value!

    Danksy

    • Sorry what I meant to say is that business class sales seem to be quite common at the moment, so this has lowered the price in comparison to the taxes/fees on Avios!

      • Raffles says:

        You can go Amex to Virgin to IHG. That DOES count for status, which is what I did to trigger Spire.

        Even starting from scratch, the 25k bonus for getting Spire means that 75,000 Amex get you 100,000 IHG plus up to 23 months of Spire, depending on when you achieve it. That isn’t bad if you value the status.

        • Of course – I forgot. Slight problem is that I’m spire elite and have 85,000 points. Mrs Danksy is Platinum and has 154,000. Ideally we’d like to both get to platinum elite otherwise when we book hotels next year we wont get the spire elite benefits applied to both of us (unless you know a way around it!)

  3. Amex to SPG to American isn’t bad with the current SPG to American conversion bonus.

    • So 40,000 MR points would work out to 30,000 AA points then ?

      • Yes. Not sure why it isn’t 31,250 (ie 40k Amex = 20k SPG = 25k AA + 25%) but the AA website does say that the 25% is based on the pre-bonus level of SPG points, so you get 30,000.

        That is a one-way to Dubai or Abu Dhabi on BA or Etihad in Business Class.

        • Might be worth transferring them but still a loss of 10,000 points to factor in.

  4. Jonathan says:

    What would people suggest I do with 50,000 MR points from a Gold card that I am now cancelling given I’ve had my first year for free?

  5. Charlie says:

    I have both US and UK AMEX cards and two MR accounts. Can I transfer from my UK account to my US account?

    • Yes. Even better, you get a 56% bonus to reflect the fact that the exchange rate is currently £1 to $1.56. You can only transfer ONCE EVERY 12 MONTHS though.

      If you look at my articles on the International Dollar Card I discuss this more.

      • Does this also apply to Canadian American Express cards? I have a Gold Canadian American Express and UK Amex with 50k and there is currently a 25% transfer bonus to Avios right now that I would like to take up

        • Yes, I believe so.

          • Thanks Rob! They confirmed to me I can do that and points would be upped with Canadian exchange rate…currently £1 = $2. So 50,000 MR points would give me roughly 100,000 MR points in Canada and with the conversation bonus an extra 25,000 MR points. Would you say that is a good plan? Thanks for all your help again

          • It is a good plan AS LONG AS you have checked out the Canadian MR catalogue and you know the exchange rates from the Canadian scheme into the various airlines so you know what you are getting. In the worse case scenario you can move them back!

  6. Afternoon all,

    I’ve 25k of MR points and haven’t transferred any to AVIOS yet. Obviously I’d be kicking myself should BA offer bonus redemption. All the talk on here seems to say it’s unlikely in the UK. Would anyone care to speculate as to why I should hold off just in case?

    Thanks!

    • Because they will transfer within 48 hours when you need them, often 24 hours if you’ve already linked your accounts.

      Why give up the flexibility unnecessarily by moving them? Sods law says that the week after you do, you will find yourself needing to stay somewhere with a perfectly good Radisson you could have got for nothing via a Club Carlson transfer if only you still had the points …..

  7. This post motivated me to link my MR account to my frequent traveller accounts (for quicker future transfers) … about half went through fine on the website … a few that appeared to fail did actually work (my account showed under the “Select from your Registered Transfer Partners” drop down) … and the rest I had to phone up a very helpful chap (presumably in Brighton) to add them.

  8. Possible indication that Avios might be running another devaluation in the UK on collecting points. Just got a U.S. Amex and the MR letter says that of 1st October 250 MR points = 200 Avios.

    • Although it could also mean they’re gradually starting to bring the absurdly generous earning rates in the US into line – still some way to go though given their sign-up bonuses and recurrent conversion bonuses!!

    • No, this is different. The rate is being cut so the official Chase-issued BA cards are more generous.

      • Ok, got it. Cheers for that. That one is next on my list. Any idea if they’re likely to run another 100k intro offer at any point?

  9. Ok, got it. Cheers for that. That one is next on my list. Any idea if they’re likely to run another 100k intro offer at any point?