Starting tomorrow, I am re-running our series of credit card reviews. These cover all of the core UK credit and charge cards which offer travel rewards.
As the first four reviews cover cards which earn American Express Membership Rewards points, I wanted to run this article first to set the scene and to allow me to link back to it.
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 reward 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 good sign-up bonus of 10,000 points and the fact that the first year is FREE. Heavy travellers can also get value from American Express Platinum, despite the £575 fee, because of its strong benefits package.
It is important to remember that you must retain an American Express charge or credit card which earns Membership Rewards points 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 Membership Rewards terms and conditions here (p18+), you have 30 days from the day you cancel the card.
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
- 1.5 Mariott Bonvoy points
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 other reward options – store gift cards and travel gift vouchers etc. The list got a lot shorter in 2019 when American Express removed all ‘physical goods’ redemptions – it is no longer possible to redeem for a toaster!
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. 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 of good redemption promotions.
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. I value airline miles – very conservatively – at 0.75p to 1p each, depending on programme and route but it isn’t hard to beat this.
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. I tend to value Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.5p per point, which means you’re getting 0.75p per Membership Rewards points. You can do substantially better than this if you need a hotel room on a peak date in a peak city.
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 – and the answer is ‘No’. 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.
It is possible, if you are transferring to someone with the same surname, it will work with some partners who only verify the account surnames match.
Are there conversion bonuses?
We have not seen any UK airline conversion bonuses for the last few 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.
There have been two 50% Hilton Honors transfer bonuses in the last 12 months. The first was narrowly targetted but the recent one seemed to be open to all.
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.