There are a lot of references on Head for Points to American Express Membership Rewards, mainly linked to articles on their credit cards, but I have never written an overview piece on it.
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 MR 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 MR points?
You earn MR points from Centurion, Platinum, Gold, Green and their equivalent Corporate charge cards. The earnings rate is 1 point for every £1 spent on the card. The exceptions are:
- Gold card – you earn 2 points per £1 on travel spend and foreign spend, and for the first year only supermarket and petrol spend
- Corporate card – depending on the deal your employer has negotiated, you may need to pay the £24 MR annual fee. Corporate and Personal Amex cards can be fed into the same MR account.
Where can I spend MR points?
Here are the key links to the Amex website: the UK Membership Rewards home page is here and the UK airline rewards home 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 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 transfer into Eurostar Frequent Traveller at the ratio of 15 MR points to 1 Eurostar mile.
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 0.5p per point redeemed (eg 10,000 points for a £50 voucher).
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 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 only needs 50,000 points for their most expensive hotel, so arguably you can easily get above 1p per MR point by transferring into that.
You need to be smart and to look carefully at each redemption. Some Starwood and Hilton redemptions can be very poor value, for example – I certainly would not transfer 60,000 MR points for a top-tier Starwood redemption (30,000 SPG points).
When should I transfer?
Unless there is a conversion bonus going on, it makes more sense to keep your points in MR 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 about a week off the time taken for your first transfer to that programme to be processed (it usually takes a few days once accounts are linked). You can do this by going into your MR account and doing a dummy booking for the relevant programme.
What are these conversion bonuses?
Amex will occasionally offer bonus points for transferring to certain partners. Avios is the main one, with an offer of 30% to 100% coming along fairly regularly of late.
These 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.
In general, you only see conversion bonuses for Avios and, to a lesser extent, Virgin Atlantic. Etihad has also done some this year, and Club Carlson did a targetted one, but these are both new partners / programmes and may not repeat long-term.