How to keep your Membership Rewards

Note: American Express is a Frequent Miler advertiser. Please see our Advertiser Disclosure.

American Express’ Membership Rewards program is one of the best flexible points programs for frequent travelers because they offer a large list of airline transfer partners:

AeroMexico

Aeroplan

Air France KLM

Alitalia

All Nippon Airways

Asia Miles

British Airways

Delta Air Lines

EL AL Israel Airlines

Emirates

Frontier Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines

Iberia

JetBlue Airways®

Singapore Airlines

Virgin America

Virgin Atlantic Airways

They also have hotel transfer partners, but these typically do not offer as much value as airlines:

Best Western International, Inc.

Choice Privileges®

Hilton HHonors®

Starwood Preferred Guest

 

Often, people accumulate lots of Membership Rewards points from credit card signup offers.  For example, last year my wife signed up for the Platinum card to get in on a short-lived 100,000 point offer.  And, I signed up for both the Platinum Mercedes-Benz card (50K offer) and the Premier Rewards Gold card (50K offer at the time).  Now, the annual fees for all of these cards are coming due.  I don’t really want to pay for any of them, but I also don’t want to lose my Membership Rewards points.  In order to keep our points, we would each need to have at least one card that earns Membership Rewards points.

So, what should I do?

I can think of three viable options to avoid the annual fees: 1) Signup for new Membership Rewards offer and cancel old; 2) Call to cancel and hope for a good retention offer; 3) Transfer points out of Membership Rewards.  Each of these options has its pros and cons.  Let’s look at each:

1) Signup for new offer and cancel old

For most people, this is probably the best approach.  The idea is to find a new signup offer that you qualify for so as to get a new bonus and ensure that your points stay active, and then cancel the old card who’s annual fee has come due.  The problem with this approach is that most signup offers come with rules saying that you can’t get the bonus if you’ve had the same card within a year or a similar card in the past 90 days.  If you have your own business, a good way to circumvent this is to swap between a business and a personal card each year.  I’ll cover the current rules of each Membership Rewards card below.

2) Call to cancel and hope for a good retention offer

Sometimes when you call to cancel a card you’ll be offered perks that make it worth keeping and paying the annual fee.  Be ready with a backup plan in case they don’t offer you anything!

3) Transfer points out of Membership Rewards

Once you transfer miles out of the Membership Rewards program, you can’t get them back.  So make sure you’ll really use those miles before you transfer!  Also, keep in mind that Amex often offers transfer bonuses to select partners.  If they happen to have an offer in-play that works for you, then that could be a good time to make the transfer.  Personally, though, I prefer to keep my options open as long as possible by keeping points in the Membership Rewards program until I need them.

Membership Rewards card options

There are quite a few cards that offer Membership Rewards points.  As long as you have one active, you can keep all of your Membership Rewards points alive.  Shown below are the current personal and business cards available, current best signup bonus, annual fee, and the stated rules regarding qualification for the current bonus.

Personal cards:

Card

Current Bonus

First Year Fee / Ongoing Fee

Signup bonus rules

Platinum Mercedes-Benz 50K $475 Welcome bonus not available to applicants who have had a Platinum Card within the last 12 months or any Consumer ZYNC®**, Green or Gold Card account within the last 90 days.
Platinum* 25K 40K
$450 Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months or any Consumer ZYNC®, Green or Gold Card account within the last 90 days.
Premier Rewards Gold 25K No annual fee/ $195 This offer is also not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months or any other Consumer ZYNC®, Green or Gold Card or Platinum Card® account within the last 90 days.
Gold N/A No annual fee / $125 No current signup bonus so rules are unknown.
Green N/A No annual fee / $95 No current signup bonus so rules are unknown.
Mercedes-Benz 10K $95 This offer is also not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.
Blue 10K No annual fee This offer is also not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months or any other Consumer Blue from American Express® Card account within the last 90 days.

* There are a few branded variations of the Platinum card as well, such as one from Morgan Stanley
** The ZYNC card is no longer available to new applicants.

Business cards:

Card

Current Bonus

First Year Fee / Ongoing Fee

Signup bonus rules

Business Platinum 25K (offer no longer available)
$450 Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product or any other Business Gold or Green Card account within the last 12 months.
Enhanced Business Rewards Gold 30K No annual fee / $175 Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months or any other Business Gold, Green or Platinum Card® within the last 12 months.
Business Green Rewards 5K No annual fee / $95 Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product or any other Business Green, Gold or Platinum Card® account within the last 12 months.

Amex Blue for Business (signup offer temporarily expired)

Update: This offer is expired.

10K No annual fee Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.

 

Note that the personal card rules do not apply to business cards and vice versa.  For example, if you currently have a personal Platinum card, you can still get a business card (and its bonus) even if it says that the offer is not available to those who have had the Platinum card within the last 12 months.

Update: This offer has expired.

Of all of the options above that offer signup bonuses, the Blue for Business card appears to be the least restrictive.  As long as you haven’t had that exact card within the past 12 months, you can qualify for the 10K signup bonus.  In my opinion, the great thing about this card is that it has no annual fee and it actually has a pretty good earning rate: 1 point per dollar plus a 30% annual bonus makes this a 1.3 point per dollar card.  Also note that having this card doesn’t preclude you from earning signup bonuses with any other cards.  The downside of this card (and the personal Blue card) is that if you do not have any of the other cards, you cannot transfer Membership Rewards points to airline or hotel programs.  However, either card would be fine for keeping your points alive until you do get a new premium card.

Four credit-card limit

American Express limits cardholders to four credit card accounts across both personal and business cards.  Most of the Membership Rewards cards, though, are charge cards, not credit cards (meaning that they have to be paid in full each month).  Charge cards are not subject to the four card limit.  However, both of the no annual fee cards (Bue and Blue for Business) are credit cards.  So, even though these cards would be great to keep around to ensure that your points never disappear, they will take up a slot in your four card limit.  This is just something to keep in mind.

Will I really lose my points?

In my experience, if you cancel your only Membership Rewards card, any points  you have remaining will appear to be lost, but they’ll reappear if you signup for a new Membership Rewards card within a short period of time.  One reader was told that he had 90 days to get his points reinstated this way.  I don’t know if that 90 day number is still true, so I wouldn’t bank on it.  Personally, my goal will be to always have a Membership Rewards card in-hand before cancelling my other remaining cards.

What to do?

Hopefully the information presented above will help you form a plan for how to keep your points.  If not, feel free to ask me advice either through email (frequentmiler at gmail) or via the comments below.  If you decide to signup for a new card, note that most of the cards shown above are on my Best Credit Card Offers page (I do earn an affiliate commission for some of these cards if you use my links).  As for my wife and I, we’ll sign up for new cards.  That way we’ll earn new bonuses and keep our points alive.  I just haven’t yet decided which new cards we’ll get..

I should point out another option that might be of use to a few.  If you have a friend who needs miles that can be transferred from Membership Rewards, then it might be possible to work out a trade.  Give your friend those miles by trading in your Membership Rewards points and, in exchange, get something of equal value back.  Milenomics discusses this idea briefly in this post.  Look for the section titled “Interesting Trades Accepted”.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Pingbacks

  1. […] American Express, for the past two years or so, has had a fairly simple rule: you can’t earn a signup bonus if you’ve had the same card within the past 12 months.  Where the rule was complicated was with cards in the same “product line”.  For example, Platinum and Gold cards are considered part of the same line.  Rues about getting a new card bonus were often based on whether or not you’ve had other cards in the same product line in the past 90 days or 1 year (rules vary by card).   You can see examples of these rules in the tables of the post “How to keep your Membership Rewards”. […]

Comments

  1. Good morning Greg, I have around 48,000 MR points left from the Plat MB card and am waiting for a decent transfer bonus (preferably to BA) to transfer most of my MR points. If MR to SPG was 2:1 instead of 3:1, I would jump all over that.

  2. This is a timely post considering I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my AMEX cards. I have an AMEX Platinum Business card I signed up for last year that is coming due in April. I have a personal PRG card that I have had for several years. I was hoping to sign up for a personal AMEX Platinum and cancel the Bus Platinum; however, I’m not clear if I can get a personal Platinum with a bonus while I have the personal PRG card. Do you know if the Platinum bonus is not available if you currently HAVE a Gold card? Or only if you have signed up for a bonus with a Gold card within the last 12 months?

    • The rules as stated in this post have to do with when you cancelled the other card. So, you would have to cancel your PRG card and wait 91 days before applying for the personal Platinum card.

  3. Gregg
    The best way to do this is to get a Blue for business card; forget about the bonus and just keep it for life. No fee, points stay alive. When you get a Gold or Plat for the bonus, they can be transferred.
    .
    Since now you are subject to the 4 card limit (did not exist for us grandfathered folks before 2008), one can have a Hilton Surpass (75$ for Gold and Priority Pass), a Starwood card (either one for 65$) and a Delta Plat Card (145$ for the 20k MQM) and still be OK.
    .
    When you hit the bonuses with the charge cards, you never lose the MR points when the year is up. And you just have to hit the Charge card bonuses every 2 years, e.g., 2014 Personal Platinum for a year (keep till March 2015 and get airline fee reimbursed twice). Start business Platinum April 2015; keep till March 2016 (same reason), open Gold PRG April-May 2016 etc etc. and on
    You can always have a Plat or Gold Amex card and if you wait for the better bonuses, you can get 50k each year reliably.

    • Well, I currently have two Delta cards, a Hilton card, and hope to get an SPG card in August if/when the bonus goes up to 30K again. I do plan to phase out one of my Delta cards, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I also have the “old” Blue Cash card, which is a keeper. So, the 4 card limit is a real issue for me. In the long term I’d be willing to give up the Hilton and one Delta card, though, so eventually I could get the Blue for business

  4. Option 4:

    I think this is often the best option if you don’t want a new card that earns MR but there are no transfer bonuses at the moment when you need to cancel.

    Hold the card and pay the annual fee in hopes of a transfer bonus. When one comes, transfer your points and cancel the card. You will receive a pro-rated refund of your annual fee in my experience.

    This has a small out of pocket cost that is swamped by the extra miles from the transfer bonus as you long as you have any decent sized MR stash.

  5. What do the points transfer to in Regards to Mandarin Oriental? I was under the impression they didn’t have a points program

  6. Slomo63- you can not get a platinum card bonus while currently having a gold card or having had one in the past (I believe) 24 months.

    Last January I got approved for the 100K Platinum card. I had cancelled the Gold months prior to this. I was told by numerous Amex reps that I qualified for the bonus but had to make numerous calls and send in a couple of letters before luckily getting the points awarded to my account. Others in a similar situation weren’t as fortunate as I was.

    I wrote a post about it: http://michaelwtravels.boardingarea.com/2013/05/amex-does-right-thing-i-got-my-100000/#sthash.RwFj4XY5.dpbs

    I agree with MileValue’s option 4, that is what I am doing. I called last week about my upcoming Platinum fee and will wait it ou for a little while, hoping for a decent xfer bonus.

  7. Good post. Quick question. I have a platinum (personal) that I do not plan to renew. I’d like to switch to the PR Gold (personal) but will need to wait 90 days to receive $25K points (and will likely wait longer for a 50K offer). Would my best bet be to add a MB personal card (not platinum), so that the 10K points offset the $95 fee and to keep my MR points until I am eligible for the PR Gold? Other recommendations? I do not put enough spend on my platinum to receive a retention offer and do not want to burn my MR points at this time. Many thanks.

  8. Similar question to Slomo — I have had personal platinum for many years and wonder if I can get bonus for PRG. I hear reports that suggest others have gotten it, though the terms as written suggest that i won’t. Also, I understand that the “member since” date will transfer over from the old card to the new. But does the credit history as well, such that my average age of accounts won’t be affected? I had the plat for 20 years and it was my only card before I got in this game — the others are all less than two years old, so I’m worried about the credit impact, but no longer find the card worthwhile w/o AA lounge access.

    • According to the rules, you will have to wait 91 days after cancelling your Platinum card before you can qualify for the PRG bonus. If you decide to go that route, I’d recommend getting the no fee Blue card first so as to keep your Membership Rewards points intact. I think this will preserve your credit history, age of accounts, etc, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

  9. I’m in the same boat as you and your wife. Luckily my husband and I got mailers with targeted for Amex promos for Amex PRG business cards over the weekend; I got 75k miles and he got 50k.

    Check your mailbox 🙂

  10. I currently have a personal Gold Membership card that is about to start its second year next month. In addition to this, I received both SPGs last September and Amex Hilton card last month.
    Unless I am out of luck, I was told that there’s no retention bonus available since ‘you received 50K bonus last year which was free of charge anyway and now you have to pay an annual fee’. In case of Hilton card my strategy is simple as I may upgrade it in January 2015 in order to get an additional bonus.
    There is an alternative when someone has a business version of Membership Rewards card, i.e. https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openplatinum/benefit.do?benefitTemplate=template_a&benefitId=open.platinumupdates which most likely I’d apply for this card for my wife.
    Am I disqualified from other products (besides Mercedes) due to number of cards? It looks like, every time I try to click a link with a better offer, computers I use to log in to my Amex profile remember what I currently possess.

    • Thanks Robert, that’s a helpful link! The reason you don’t see the offers is that Amex has stored cookies within your browser letting it know which cards you already have. This is a problem because it doesn’t seem to know when you’re a different person (i.e. when multiple people use the same computer/browser) or when you’ve cancelled a card a while ago. An easy fix is to clear cookies or open your browser in private or incognito mode.

  11. Does it raise any red flags if you get a first year annual fee waived card and then cancel it after say six months, rather than waiting a full year in order to start the 90 day clock for the next card? Are points ever clawed back?

  12. RE Discover:

    When I logged in to discover yesterday to see if I had the Boost Mobile deal (mine was for only $30), I saw they’re offering me $250 if I spend $1500 a month from March (or April, can’t remember) for 5 months.

    Discover rules – the amount of cashback I get from this card is awesome, and now they’re giving me $250 – what could be considered a decent signup bonus – just to use the card!

  13. I am a bit of a rookie at this but one thing I am looking into that may work for some is applying to the membership rewards for doing foreign currency wires through amex. This is an indepth application process and ONLY for real businesses that make payments to other countries on a relatively frequent basis.

    Also a question can you get a bonus for gold personal card with a 9 month only personal platinum?

  14. Perfect timing for me as well! I have a gold PR personal. the annual fee is due probably in March and I have 46k MR points. I would like to get 3 award tix to Europe for summer of 2015. I used up most of my UR/United points for a december trip, I have a ton of US Airways/American/BA points but don’t want to pay the fees. And I have just enough Delta points (with the potential to add those 46k MR points) for 3 in economy for Europe. Am I crazy in still trying to use skypesos to go to Europe? will I find availability at all for summer 2015? Thanks!

  15. I got in on the Platinum 100K deal that was offered at the very end of 2012. My annual fee is now coming due this month. Is it true that you have (60? 90?) days to pay the annual fee, thus delaying the decision on what to do with my MR points? (I’m kicking myself for not taking advantage of the Avios bonuses that were available last year).r

  16. I have the PRG coming due next month (166k MR). I also have a BRG card due in October. Will my points automatically stay as long as I have the BRG without me doing any kind of “transfer?” They are both in the same online account.

    Also, I’m trying to hit the 30k spend bonus next month so that I can then call to cancel/fish for retention bonus. I was hoping I might be offered a decent upgrade to platinum offer. Has anyone got anything better than 25k points?

  17. My question is using SPG as a temporary ‘storage’. Can points transferred in to SPG be transferred out, say to one of their many airline partners?

    Also, can MR be transferred to a family member like UR?

  18. I think the chart should be updated to reflect that the blue cards get you into the MR Express program, not the full MR program. You imply the limitation in your writeup, but I think it would be helpful to actually name the program.

  19. No 4 card limit here. I had 6 last January (AMEX Plat, DL Reserve, Costco Personal, Costco Biz, Simply Cash Biz, Corporate Gold) when they declined me for Biz SPG, stating that I had hit a maximum card limit. My understanding is it’s YMMV based on credit history.

    • Hmmm, I was under the impression that 4 cards was a hard rule unless you were grandfathered in. That is, if you had more than 4 cards before the rule was implemented, you can keep them. I’d be interested to see what happened if you cancelled one card and then applied for a new one. My bet is that they would deny you again.

  20. Thanks for the 4 card limit rule…..that is important info to know……….question is does a business account that ultimately references your ssn count toward the 4 limit????……..

    On another front the decision to keep or cancel has shifted dramatically as FM has taught us all about statement credits and keeping multiple browsers open to get them all…….seeing that I have $300 in statement credits on the Mercedes card in 60 days the $450 fee is not looking so bad after all……I just added the tracking of statement credits to my frequent flyer spreadsheet so that should/will affect my churn activity……….

  21. I have two (probably stupid) questions – first, can MR points be redeemed for third party gift cards for those of us that are addicted to cash back rather than travel? Second, can you explain to me what was so hot about the 100k platinum offer last year, noting that the annual fee of $450 is not waived the first year? Net $550 bonus is no better than the recent CSP offer, which also offers higher redemption value for travel.

    • Neither are stupid questions.
      1) Yes, MR points can be redeemed for gift cards. I don’t think you get as much as 1 cent per point, but honestly I haven’t paid much attention to that because I can usually get much more than 1 cent per point value by using the points towards flight awards.
      2) Well, first, as I said in response to question 1, MR points can be worth much more than a penny each (for travelers). Second, the Platinum card gives you $200 in statement credits per calendar year (for airline fees) which can be turned into $400 cash back from one signup if you know how. So the total first year cost for the 100K Platinum can be as low as $50 (or even lower if you take advantage of other valuable perks).

  22. Great info. Thanks!
    I have question about getting targeted offer from Amex. I choose to go paperless to cut the paper mail clutter. Now I am thinking maybe I should switch to paper? Or do they offer targeted offer through email?

  23. FM, I am a little confused about the 90 day rule you specified:
    “Welcome bonus not available to applicants who have had a Platinum Card within the last 12 months or any Consumer ZYNC®**, Green or Gold Card account within the last 90 days.”

    I currently have PRG and want to cancel it then apply for Plat MB for the 50K bonus. I have gone through your link and read thru the terms for Plat MB, but I did not find any words saying I cannot get the bonus if I have PRG in the past 90 days. I only see that I cannot currently hold a Plat card which I dont.

    Could you point me to where you found the term? And maybe they changed it recently?

    Thanks!

  24. So I called them some 3 weeks ago and found out that I could actually upgrade my gold card to a platinum personal version with 50K bonus points and an annual fee. Last week however, during another phone call I was offered a retention bonus of 15K membership points on the spot, which appeared the day after, plus another 5K points after spending $5K within 3 months. In the meantime I was hoping the upgrade offer would still exist but today it was not available at all,even though I earlier was told it was valid until May 26.
    Ps. Two days ago I applied for business gold card that offered 60K membership points and was approved immediately, thus I may just close the first card within a few weeks.

  25. Apologies for posting such a dated post. I don’t know if this conversation is still open. But if so …
    I have read on other frequent flier blogs that amex will only offer a bonus once per card per person. Apply for the same card again, as I did with the Amex Delta Skymiles card, and you will not get the bonus, even if it is more that 12 months. (You will, however, still get the card.) The exception, I have read, is for Amex Business cards.

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