Amex Membership Rewards Overview
In other sections of Tips & Tricks, we have explored Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program and Starwood’s Preferred Guest (SPG) program. In this resource we will look at another huge flexible points program for travelers: American Express’ Membership Rewards.
The best way to earn Membership Rewards points is through credit card sign-up offers. American Express has a large assortment of Membership Rewards cards and it’s possible to earn sign-up bonuses on each one. Membership Rewards cards for individuals include: Platinum card, Premier Rewards Gold Card, Green Card, Gold Card, Blue, Everyday, and Everyday Preferred. Membership Rewards cards for small businesses include: Business Platinum card, Business Gold Rewards card, Business Green card, and the Business Membership Rewards card.
Look for sign-up offers of 25,000 points or more for these cards. Often the best offers are targeted (i.e. you’ll get an offer in the mail), but sometimes they’re available to everyone (in which case I’ll let you know via a Quick Deal). As always, you can find the best public offers on my “Best Credit Card Offers” page.
Credit Card Spend
Another way to earn points is through credit card spend. Many Membership Rewards cards offer a boring 1 point per dollar for all purchases (or 2 points per dollar for travel booked through their website) but there are opportunities for category and spend bonuses.
Two excellent options are the Premier Rewards Gold card and the Business Gold Rewards card. The Premier Rewards Gold offers 3X points for airfare purchases and 2X for gas, groceries & dining. The Business Gold card has five bonus categories: airfare, advertising, gas stations, shipping & computer hardware. You get to choose which one of those categories earns 3X while the other four categories earn 2X.
Perhaps the most powerful bonus opportunities are with the Everyday (no AF) and Everyday Preferred ($95 AF) cards. Everyday offers 2X for groceries up to $6K per year, and Everyday Preferred offers 3X for groceries up to $6K per year and 2X for gas. In addition, each card offers a bonus for using the card frequently. If you use the Everyday card for 20 or more purchases in a billing period, you’ll earn a 20% bonus on points earned. With the Everyday Preferred, you earn a 50% bonus if you make 30 or more purchases in a billing period.
Membership Rewards points can be used to buy merchandise or to book travel, but in either case you will most often get less than 1 cent per point value. A better (but not great) use is to redeem points for merchant gift cards where you’ll usually get exactly 1 cent per point value. The best use of points, though, is to transfer them to airline miles. Membership Rewards points can be transferred to Delta, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles, British Airways, El Al, Air France, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia Plus, jetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Virgin America, and Virgin Atlantic. Even better, American Express often offers transfer bonuses between 30% and 50% that can stretch your points much further.
In general, unless a good transfer bonus is available, you’re better off keeping Membership Rewards points in your account until you have a specific airline award in mind. Membership Rewards points usually transfer instantly so it’s possible to look for available awards before you convert points to miles. Also note that you can transfer points to a different person’s mileage account if they are an authorized user on your account. This can be a great benefit for a friend or relative who has miles, but needs some more for a specific award.
The best way to earn Membership Rewards is through credit card sign-up offers. The best use of points is to transfer to airline programs, especially when American Express offers transfer bonuses. Overall, the Membership Rewards program is a great program for travelers who transfer points to airline programs, but it’s a poor choice for earning other types of rewards.
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