What can you do with Amex Membership Rewards points?

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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.  It will help you answer the question ‘What can you do with Membership Rewards points?‘.

This is very much an article for beginners who have not yet, or who have only just, applied for their first Membership Rewards-earning card.  This is usually American Express Preferred Rewards Gold which I regard as the best starter card for a miles and points beginner as I explained here.

What are Membership Rewards points?

Membership Rewards points are a global currency used by American Express to rewards users of its charge cards and selected credit cards.

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.

There is also the Amex Rewards Credit Card – this is the only ‘free for life’ U.K. card which earns points.

The earnings rate is 1 point for every £1 spent on the card.  The exception is the Gold card – you earn double points on airline transactions and on foreign spend – and on all cards for 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 to stop paying annual fees, 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.

There is an alternative.  Getting the free Amex Rewards Credit Card lets you cancel your fee paying card and keep your points alive.  I explained more about how that works in this article.

How does Membership Rewards work

Where can I spend Membership Rewards points?

Here are the key links to the American Express 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 Membership Rewards point getting you:

  • 3 Radisson Rewards points
  • 2 Hilton Honors points
  • Half a Starwood Preferred Guest point
  • 1.5 Mariott Rewards points (as SPG points convert to Marriott at 1:3)

You can transfer into Club Eurostar 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 Membership Rewards 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 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.  It is occasionally possible to get more than 0.5p of value from Nectar – you need to keep an eye on our Shopper Points website for details.

For the truly lazy, you can also redeem your points for a credit against your Amex statement.  This gets you a poor 0.45p per point.

In general, you can get FAR 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 Honors points at around 0.33p so that would be 0.66p per MR point.  Radisson Rewards 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 my Membership Rewards points?

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.

Are there conversion bonuses?

We have not seen any UK airline conversion bonuses for the last three years.

My understanding is that American Express has been trying to reduce the number of people who redeem for airline miles, as these are substantially more expensive than ‘0.5p per point’ gift card redemptions.

Conclusion

American Express Membership Rewards points can be very valuable.  The key thing is that 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 airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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Comments

  1. Paul Morris says:

    Is there any hint of membership rewards increased exchange rate to avios coming back anytime soon, seems to have been an age since the last one.

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