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What can you do with American Express Membership Rewards points?

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Who are the UK American Express Membership Rewards partners?

Today I wanted to do one of our occasional ‘first principles’ articles where we look at a topic that is regularly discussed on Head for Points but which, if you are a new reader, you might not fully understand.

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.

Amex Gold currently comes with a very generous bonus of 20,000 Membership Rewards points and is free for the first year.

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 American Express 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’ UK 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 20,000 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 Membership Rewards account.

For simplicity, it is best to transfer your points before cancelling the card.  Strictly speaking, according to the Membership Rewards terms and conditions here (p20), 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 keeps your Membership Rewards points alive as I explained here.

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 Qantas Point (oneworld)
  • 1 SAS mile (Star Alliance)
  • 1 Singapore Airlines mile (Star Alliance)
  • 1 Virgin Point (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 Membership Rewards points to 1 Eurostar point.  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.

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.

However …..

NEVER redeem for less than 0.8p per point of value

In January 2021, Avios formed a partnership with Nectar.  1 Avios point is now worth 1.6 Nectar points when you transfer them via this page of ba.com.

This had an interesting side effect.  Since 1 Membership Rewards point = 1 Avios, and since 1 Avios = 1.6 Nectar points, and since 1 Nectar point = 0.5p, your Membership Rewards points are now worth a GUARANTEED minimum of 0.8p.

All you need to do is transfer them from Amex to Avios and on to Nectar.  You can spend the Nectar points in Sainsbury’s, Argos or on eBay.

Because you can get 0.8p per point via this route, there is NO REASON AT ALL to redeem your Membership Rewards points for gift cards or statement credit where you get 0.5p per point at best.

You can beat 0.8p, however

In general, you can get more than 0.8p per Membership Rewards point by redeeming into an airline or travel programme.  I value airline miles – very conservatively – at 0.8p to 1p each depending on programme and route, but it isn’t hard to beat this.

Radisson Rewards transfers should also get you more than 0.8p per Membership Rewards points transferred, due to the generous 1:3 conversion rate.

Hilton Honors points and Marriott Bonvoy points are now less interesting as transfer options.

I value Hilton Honors points at around 0.33p so that would be 0.66p per Membership Rewards point based on the 1:2 transfer rate.  I value Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.5p, which means you are getting 0.75p per Membership Rewards point.  Both of these are worse than taking the Nectar redemption route.

However, you can do substantially better than this if you need a hotel room on a peak date in a peak city.  It can still be worth transferring Membership Rewards points across but only if you have identified a redemption where you know you will beat 0.8p per Amex point.

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 Membership Rewards 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 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 that the account surnames match.

Are there conversion bonuses?

We have not seen any UK airline conversion bonuses for the last few years.  Etihad and Singapore Airlines have done ‘unofficial’ transfer bonuses recently, ie ones which are not promoted by Amex directly and are only advertised by the airline.

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 other options.

There have been modest Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy transfer bonuses in the last 18 months, so they may be making a comeback.

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 new January 2021 option of redeeming to Nectar points, routing via Avios, puts a floor value of 0.8p on your points which is great news.

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

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

Amex Reward Credit Card ARCC

American Express Rewards

The only ‘free for life’ Amex card which earns Membership Rewards Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Comments (40)

  • Ian says:

    The exchange rate with the USD makes transfers to Singapore Airlines via the USD Green Amex look tempting at the moment.

    • Alan says:

      Was even more appealing a few years ago 😉 I’ve closed mine now, couldn’t justify the fee to keep it open.

  • Marcus says:

    The German version of the Gold Card currently offers 40000 MR points for both referee and new cardholder for 3000 Euro spend within 6 months.

    These transfer into 32000 Avios. Other transfer conversio rates are much poorer.

  • Andrew says:

    Would be good to see the double value promotion in cashing in MR points on Platinum come back again – save me having to transfer to nectar via BA and spend at Sainsbury’s – I prefer M&S!

    • Genghis says:

      Spend your Nectar at M&S indirectly! How many times…

      • Andrew says:

        Still don’t see how I can do that? Viking says it excludes gift cards when redeeming nectar points.

      • Harry T says:

        Use Nectar points to pay for M&S gift cards at Sainsbury’s, presumably

        • Andrew says:

          People were saying that wasn’t possible either. But clearly there must be a way, but it’s being kept a secret!

          • Ian says:

            I’d imagine you buy some shopping alongside your M&S gift card. I doubt Sainsbury’s checkout IT is smart enough.

            Failing that buy M&S gift cards on eBay

          • Rob says:

            MyMail has a route into M&S doesn’t it? I need it explaining to me ….

          • Ian says:

            I believe the MyMail M&S gift cards purchased with nectar points can only be used on non-food items (at least in theory)

          • Andrew says:

            I think we all need Genghis to explain it to us.

          • RussellH says:

            Correct – MyMail M&S gift cards purchased with nectar points can only be used on non-food items, according to Ts+Cs. 1000 Nectar for £5, which would be a good deal if you wanted non-food.
            Before MyMail went to Nectar you could get a gift card that was valid for food too.

  • Marco says:

    But what can you do with Nectar points other than buying at Sainsbury’s..?
    What’s the best way to transfer MR points to cash at the higher rate other than statement credit and gift cards (if these are not convenient?

    • Alan says:

      You can also use them at Argos or eBay…

    • Rob says:

      Buy things at Argos and eBay, whch covers just about everything a human could possibly want 🙂

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      I guess they dont sell JL / amazon giftcards?

      • Rob says:

        The question is what would you buy with the cash that Sainsbury’s, Argos and in particular eBay don’t sell?

        The easiest way to turn it into cash is to use the Nectar points for eBay credit and then set up a 2nd eBay account and sell something to yourself on a ‘£1 fees’ weekend.

        • cinereus says:

          You will still pay PayPal fees though.

        • Anuj says:

          You pay 2.9% to paypal on the selling account unless you’ve been moved to the eBay managed payments system. So you’d lose money doing that.

        • Cormac says:

          I note that Nectar points can be redeemed with Eurostar, with a minimum £10 redemption, does not appear to incur any fees, and can be done online.

          A standard return by converting to Club Eurostar is 15,000 MR points plus £32, at 0.8p per MR point that would be equivalent to spending £152 (£120 nectar + £32 cash) for a return ticket.

          Many standard return tickets cost less than this, and in a majority of cases it would better value is achieved by converting MR points to Avios then Nectar to buy Eurostar tickets and paying the cash value.

          Before Eurostar introduced a redemption charge of £32 there was a marginal case to redeem MR points for Club Eurostar, but there really is not much of a case now.

  • NFH says:

    GBP MR points disappointingly translate into travel loyalty schemes at the same rate as USD MR points. For example, having spent USD 1000 on a USD Amex card, you can convert to 1000 Avios. But having spent GBP 1000, which is 40% more expenditure, you will still get only 1000 Avios. Therefore if you have a USD-denominated Amex card (either a UK-issued International Dollar Card or a US-issued Amex card), then it makes sense to transfer MR points from your GBP MR account to your USD MR account at the prevailing GBP/USD FX rate before transferring to an travel loyalty scheme. This will currently give you 40% more travel loyalty points (e.g. Avios).

    • Ian says:

      It’s not a 1 to 1 transfer rate to Avios though is it?

      This works for Singapore Airlines though

      • NFH says:

        1 USD MR point = 1 Avios
        1 GBP MR point = 1 Avios

        But you spend 40% more to earn each GBP MR point, so it’s very poor value to transfer from GBP MR points directly to Avios or to any other travel loyalty scheme. You should always transfer first from GBP MR points to USD MR points. Currently 1 GBP MR point = 1.4 USD MR points. So you will get 40% more Avios.

        See this old thread, which still holds true: https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/british-airways-executive-club/1181768-how-get-1-5-ba-miles-per-amex-uk-membership-rewards-point.html

        • Ian says:

          But you can only transfer UK MR points to the USD Amex issued by Brighton, which doesn’t offer 1 to 1 to Avios does it?

          • NFH says:

            I believe that you can transfer MR points between any two MR accounts globally. There might be a limit of one transaction per year, and I believe it is processed by a back office in Argentina.

          • Ian says:

            I have the ICC USD Amex issued out of Brighton which I used for transfers to Singapore Airlines. But the transfer rate to Avios from that is 3 to 2.

            To open a US Amex you’d need an address in the US and I imagine some US credit history?

          • NFH says:

            It seems that Amex UK changed it for the ICC, no doubt because many people were transferring MR points via an ICC to get around the poor conversion rate from GBP MR accounts. But my free US-issued Amex card transfers to Avios at 1:1. I got it 10 years ago on the strength of my UK Platinum card. They even copied my member-since date, which created a US credit history showing misleadingly that I have had the account since my member-since date.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    Rob I’m not sure your 0.8p works out, yes it does in fig
    But in reality of shopping (my daughter says)
    She buys fixed goods from Tesco every fortnight, buds, bottle wine ect
    or did, she went over to Sainsburys at start (Avios)
    She tells me Buds cost 50p more wine is 50p more Dettol £1 more plus nearly all she gets are a few pence or in some cases £1 more expensive
    does that throw the 0.8p off in some way ?

    • Rob says:

      Not based on this unscientific survey, no 🙂

    • Genghis says:

      Agreed for spending in Sainsburys directly. But things in Argos (and other indirect retailers) often cost the same as other places.

    • Russ says:

      I don’t think too many Waitrose shoppers moved their shopping to Sainsbury’s. Were they trying to gain this market?

      • Bobri says:

        I tried to, but in London Sainsbury’s is the same price or more expensive for the branded goods that I buy and the quality of fruit and veg is waay worse to consider buying again after the first try

      • Louie says:

        My sister has…..

  • kristin says:

    Does anyone have the list of which transfer partners only match surnames? Will be relocating to the US soon and trying to decide if it’s better to transfer MR points in both my and my husband’s name to partners or open US Amex cards before we close UK cards.

    • Rob says:

      Nectar and Radisson used to do no checks, first or last name. Things may have changed of course.

    • Louie says:

      As NFH has explained above, you would do better to open US cards and then transfer your UK MR points to your US account.

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