What can you do with your American Express Membership Rewards points?

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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.

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 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.

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
  • 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.

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 (10,000 points) and The Platinum Card (30,000 points) offer an easy way to get your collection going.

BOOK NOW: 175 new IHG PointBreaks hotels bookable for just 5,000 to 15,000 points!
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Comments

  1. 31 October – last day to transfer to Hilton with 50% bonus.

    • letBAgonesbe says:

      Keep in mind that bonus points take 8 weeks to come through!

      • “Up to 8 weeks”

        My guess is they’ll processes them all in one big batch in a week or two – which would be 8 weeks for the people who transferred at the beginning of the promotion, but much less for people transferring now.

        Of course, you have no right to complain if they really do take 8 weeks…

        • Mr(s) Entitled says:

          I’ll be interested in the feedback on this one once complete. I waited over 20wks last year. My results may not be typical but I’d like to hear some more positive experiences before I try again should the offer return in 2020.

  2. KBuffett says:

    OT – Does anyone know about PayPal’s new debit card? Apparently 0.5% cash back with no limit.

    • It’s a Business card and only available to businesses – because that triggers the higher swipe fee which allows Paypal to repay that.

      • Czechoslovakia says:

        Given the imminent demise of the CoT debit card (14 Dec touted), could this be suitable replacement for HMRC? No avios, and taxable return understood, but better than nowt? TIA

        • roberto says:

          Talking of the Capital on Tap card , does anybody ( Rob?) know what this new incarnation will be? I solely bought in for the HMRC angle and if that’s now off the table I will be looking at walking away and endevouring to get some of my money back.

          I did get an email stating that the card “Is changing for the better” but I somehow doubt that. It did say that the new product is a visa Corporate Credit Card rather than a Mastercard Business Credit Card but its rather thin on the details. Smoke and Mirrors comes to mind.

          • RussellH says:

            Of course they say ” the card is changing for the better”. They would!
            It would be nice, though, at least once, to see some accurate marketing guff:-

            maybe “We are a tiny little bit sorry, but we do not make enough profit on your credit card under the current terms and conditions. So, as from 1 May 2020 we are halving the number of XYZ Rewards points you earn to 1 point per £2. We shall also be levying an annual charge of £25 from that date. Please note that this charge will not earn any Rewards Points. Thank you for continuing to be a valued XYZ Rewards Credit Card member.”

  3. Jessiefan says:

    Where are the details of the 50% bonus to Hilton, I’ve not seen any emails or account offers for this

    • roberto says:

      Start enjoying the benefits at Hilton
      Between 11 September and 31 October 2019, you can enjoy 3 Hilton Honors Points for each Membership Rewards point, when you transfer 1,000 or more. That’s 50% higher than the usual rate for transfers.
      Please note that your points will be transferred to your Hilton Honors account within five working days and your additional Bonus Points can take up to eight weeks to transfer. Terms and Conditions apply.

      • roberto says:

        and the terms and conditions :-

        Minimum transfer is 1,000 Membership Rewards points. Redeem for this exclusive offer from 12:00am BST on 11 September 2019 to 11:59pm on 31 October 2019. Please note that your points will be transferred to your Hilton Honors account within 5 working days. Please allow up to eight weeks for the additional Hilton Honors Bonus Points to be awarded. Hilton Honors Bonus Points do not count towards elite tier qualification. You must be enrolled in Hilton Honors in order to participate in this offer, visit americanexpress.co.uk/benefitstatus to enroll. American Express is not responsible for availability, accommodations or any other rewards in the Hilton Honors program. Once you have transferred Membership Rewards points, they become subject to the Terms and Conditions of the Hilton Honors programme and cannot be transferred back to your Membership Rewards programme account. All Hampton by Hilton™ hotels in the Republic of China are excluded from the Hilton Honors programme. See Hilton Honors Terms and Conditions for details. This offer is non-transferable and may not be combined with other offers. American Express in its sole discretion reserves the right to alter and or terminate these offers at any time. To be eligible to receive these offers, all Card accounts linked to an enrollee’s Membership Rewards programme account must not be canceled, past due or have a return payment at the time of point redemption.

    • It may have been targeted.

      • Matthew says:

        I got told it wasn’t available on my MR account so I agree it’s prob targeted.

  4. Charlieface says:

    Rob, not sure if you knew about this but also available at the moment is United via Raddisson with 90% bonus, which gives an Amex transfer rate of about 1:0.55, not great but interesting nonetheless.

  5. OT – is it possible to add a companion voucher retrospectively to a booking? Need to book some flights soon but won’t have earned the companion voucher for another couple of months.

    • roberto says:

      No

      • Thanks. Is it possible to instead book the return leg on a separate booking and then phone at a later date to combine and add the companion voucher then? Booking things 355 days in advance so would normally need to phone to book the return anyway.

        • You can book the outbound with companion voucher and then phone when the return legs become available and add them to your booking over the phone.

  6. For anyone new to MRs, I think it’s worth pointing out that the minimum transfer to Avios or Virgin is 1000, and transfers are then in increments of 500.

    If you are closing a MR account and have a few hundred orphaned points after transferring out to airlines, you can transfer to Hilton in increments of 50 with a minimum of 200. Anything left (up to 49) can go to Nectar (no minimum).

    • PhilfromLondon says:

      I simply asked the agent if he was prepared to round up
      I was on 450 or so
      He checked with his supervisor and kindly did so.

    • RussellH says:

      Or you could move 48 of the 49 points to Radisson, leaving just one for Nectar.

      • Why on earth does it have to be a multiple of 3 when transferring to Radisson?

        I’m convinced that whoever coded that must have thought that points transfer at a rate of 1 Radisson point per 3 MR points rather than the other way round!

  7. Stoneman says:

    OT:

    As a silver, can I still check luggae if I purchase a BA economy basic ticket?

    Cheers,

    • No, you don’t get any hold baggage. You will get free seat selection though.

    • I bought an American Airlines basic economy ticket with a BA flight number and as a silver I got both free seat selection (the main cabin extra and preferred seats were free and the standard ones were $29 for some reason) and I had the option of checking up to 2 bags for free at check in.

      This isn’t how it is supposed to be but it’s how it worked out for me

      • Different airlines, different rules. OneWorld Sapphire passengers get status perks on AA that AA’s own status passengers don’t get.

        Only “loophole” is that BA will almost always let you check in a cabin size bag for free if HBO – either they text you with a “your flight is really busy” message or you just ask at the desk. Handy if, say, someone gives you a really good bottle of wine and you don’t want to give it up.

  8. s Schneck says:

    Is there anyway to use MR points on SWISS?

  9. Adam Brown says:

    Sorry for the OT post but I am after some advice. I have a small pot of IHG points to use up and wondered if anyone had any suggestions of a good use. I have around 150k points and am not fussy about where I use them but need somewhere that can take 3 people (My wife, my daughter aged 10 and I) whenever I have looked anywhere the only place I can find that will take more than 2 is a Holiday Inn Express with rooms for 3 at Crowne Plazas or Intercontinentals that sleep 3 not available for Points.
    Anyone know of somewhere nice that will allow a room to sleep three on points.
    Thanks

    • Where are you looking? Your best bet may be the US where it’s very common for hotel rooms to have 2 double beds, or a double plus sofa bed. The other option would be to contact a particular hotel and ask if they can put a rollaway bed in a standard double room; unless your 10 year old is very tall indeed this should be fine for her!

    • Just book a room for 2, and then either call the hotel to arrange something for your child, or do it at check-in (child was not planning to come along the trip but then changed mind). They won’t turn you away – you may have to pay something for your child.

      • Or just all sleep in the same bed…. they are normally plenty big enough. If just one of you checks in they will really never know, and even when I have checked in with an extra child nobody have ever said anything. Breakfast shouldn’t be an issue as kids eat free anyway (or just go somewhere else to have breakfast to be really safe).

      • Charlieface says:

        +1
        I always do this. The hotels often don’t load the rooms as taking 3 people even if the description says they do.

        • This is usually for fire regulations though as the fire service sets a maximum occupancy figure for the building.

          The only exception I find is with Amex FHR, where Amex often messes up the kids loading completely. You find a hotel which will take a kid if you book direct but Amex will not allow it, even when the actual rate description on the Amex site says ‘sleeps 3/4’!

    • If you’re not in London, the CPs Kings Cross and Docklands fit 3 I believe. Otherwise, roughly where do you want to go?

      • Quite a few Hilton and IHG’s in London take 3. You need to do a search just for ‘London’ / points booking / 3 people and they come up if available.

        It’s a bigger problem in smaller places where there are only a couple of potential hotels.

        • Adam Brown says:

          Not at all fussed where to go, I would prefer somewhere a bit further from London and ideally not a Holiday Inn (Had several bad trips to Holiday Inns this year)

          At the moment I have been searching across Europe but to very little avail – as I say HI-EXs come up everywhere but nothing from the higher rated hotels. I assume IHG never have suites available for Points?

          • The two Regents in Berlin and Tivat sleep 3 but I’m not sure it’s great value.

  10. Currently 8 months into my 2 year hiatus from MR cards and it already feels like it’s dragging on forever! The only consolation is that all my Amex spend has gone on my SPG and two very nice redemptions ( 5 nights at the Grand Cayman Westin resort and 2 at the Langley booked for 2020). BA Amex year starts again in December as well so I can at least get on with earning another 2 4 1.

    • memesweeper says:

      +1

      I cashed out for SPG and it’s been great!

      • Lady London says:

        Shall we look forward to your reporting on your “cashing out” in Jordan following your return, @memesweeper? 🙂

    • Harry T says:

      What’s your current plan, Anna? I’m trying to decide what’s next after I cancel my Platinum (got the upgrade bonus) and BAPP (got the sign up bonus and my first 241). Just got a Gold card for the offers and to keep my MR alive.

      Also, any advice for a good destination to use a 241 for – you always seem to pick great redemptions.

  11. happeemonkee says:

    O/T Courtesy of the Virgin Flying Club part of Flyertalk there is a website similar to Rewardflightfinder that is showing Flying Club award availability along with Avios. Might be useful until Tim gets the Virgin award search functionability back

    http://www.seatspy.com

    • Although their tool is in beta and works from what I have tried, I do find it interesting that SeatSpy have chosen not to comply with data protection legislation, with no privacy notice or cookie policy on their site……

    • Met these guys a few weeks ago. Interesting concept – we might do something with them.

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