Amex offers a huge slew of cards that earn Amex Membership Rewards points. In fact, at the time of this writing our Best Offers Page shows 13 distinct Membership Rewards earning cards. Membership Rewards points can be redeemed for many things such as merchandise, travel, statement credits, and more, but for most of us, the single best use for points is to transfer them to airline miles for high value award flights.
Other good uses for Membership Rewards points
Pay with points for flights: Those with the Business Platinum card also have the option to pay for airfare with points and get a 35% rebate for coach tickets with your preferred airline or business/first class tickets with any airline. That works out to a respectable per-point value of just over 1.5 cents per point.
Cash out: Those with the Schwab Platinum card have the option to move points into an investment account at a value of 1.25 cents per point. For those who prefer cash over travel rewards, this is a great way to cash out your points.
Buying Membership Rewards points
If you don’t have enough Membership Rewards points for an award, you can buy the points you need. Just like Citibank, Amex charges $25 per 1,000 points (2.5 cents per point). Here are the rules for buying points (found here: select tab “Getting Points,” then scroll to “3. Buying Points”):
- You can buy points only when you are in the process of using points for a reward and don’t have enough.
- You can buy up to either 100,000 or 500,000 points (depending on your Card) per calendar year
- You can buy points in 1,000-point increments at a rate of 1,000 points for $25
- You can only buy points for your own program account.
All currently available Membership Rewards cards have a 500K calendar year limit to purchase points. Of those that have the lower 100K limit, the only one that many readers are likely to have is the Blue for Business® Credit Card (other 100K limited cards are: Blue for Students Card, Some Blue from American Express Cards, Business Management Account, Optima Cards, Platinum Business Credit Card, ZYNC Card).
Cards with 500K limits include, but are not limited to: Amex Everyday, Amex Everyday Preferred, all Gold charge cards (such as Premier Rewards Gold and Business Gold Rewards) , all Platinum charge cards including the Business Platinum charge card, all Green charge cards, Blue Business Plus Credit Card, and more.
One situation in which it may make sense to buy points is to indirectly buy airline miles. In general I don’t recommend purchasing airline miles, but if you have an immediate need for miles for a high value award, it can make sense.
Most airline loyalty programs charge 3 to 3.5 cents per mile to purchase miles outright. As a result, purchasing Amex Membership Rewards can potentially save you a lot of money.
On our Amex Transfer Partners Page, we currently list the following programs as the best transfer partners (sorted alphabetically):
- Aeroplan/Air Canada
- Air France KLM Flying Blue
- All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
- British Airways Executive Club (also Iberia Plus)
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Delta Air Lines SkyMiles
- Etihad Guest
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Delta: For transfers to US airlines, Amex charges an excise tax offset fee of $0.0006 per point (with maximum fee of $99). As a result, if you transfer 165,000 or fewer purchased Membership Rewards points to Delta, you’ll pay the equivalent of 2.56 cents per mile.
Each of the above programs has sweet spot awards, usually on partner airlines. But even if you need to purchase miles to top up an award, buying through Amex Membership Rewards only makes sense if the regular direct purchase price for the miles is more than 2.5 cents each.
Here are the purchase prices I found via a quick survey:
- Aeroplan/Air Canada: 3 cents per mile to complete a booking according to this post.
- Air France Flying Blue: 2.75 EUR per mile (= 3.4 cents per mile USD at the time of this writing)
- All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club: ANA does not appear to offer the option to buy miles directly.
- British Airways Executive Club: 2.775 to 5.3 cents per mile depending upon how many you buy.
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 3 to 3.25 cents per mile according to this post.
- Delta Air Lines SkyMiles: 3.5 cents per mile
- Etihad Airways: 2 cents per mile
- Singapore Airlines: 4 cents per mile
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: 2.7 cents per mile plus $25 handling fee.
Based on the above findings, it can make sense to buy Amex Membership Rewards points when you need the following types of miles:
- Aeroplan: Save .5 cents per mile
- Air France: Save .9 cents per mile
- ANA: (No listed savings since ANA doesn’t sell miles directly)
- British Airways: Save .225 cents per mile or more
- Cathay Pacific: Save .5 to .75 cents per mile
- Delta: Save .94 cents per mile
- Singapore: Save 1.5 cents per mile
- Virgin Atlantic: Save .2 cents per mile + $25 handling fee
How long does the transfer take?
In most cases I only recommend buying miles if you have an immediate need for those miles. And so, if your need is immediate, you’d want the points transferred from Amex Membership Rewards to appear as quickly as possible.
According to One Mile at a Time, here are the transfer times for the programs that I listed as good candidates for buying miles through the Amex Membership Rewards program:
- Aeroplan: Instant
- Air France: Instant
- ANA: ~ 2 to 3 days
- British Airways: Instant
- Cathay Pacific: ~ 1 day
- Delta: Instant
- Singapore: ~ 12 to 24 hours
- Virgin Atlantic: ~ 1 to 2 days
The value of buying miles indirectly through Membership Rewards increases when Amex offers transfer bonuses. You can find all current transfer bonuses here: Current Point Transfer Bonuses. At the time of this writing there aren’t any, but that could change at any moment. In the recent past we’ve seen transfer bonuses to three of the programs on the above list: Aeroplan, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. With a 25% transfer bonus, the price per mile for purchasing through Amex Membership Rewards points drops from 2.5 cents to 2 cents per mile.
In general I don’t recommend purchasing airline miles, even at a discount, but if you have an immediate need for miles for a high value award, it can make sense. If you have a current Membership Rewards card, you can buy miles indirectly through the Amex Membership Rewards program at a cost of only 2.5 cents per mile (or less when transfer bonuses are in effect). The best airline programs for these indirect mileage purchases, in my opinion, are: Aeroplan, Air France, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic.
For a similar analysis of the Citi ThankYou Rewards program, see: Buy miles via ThankYou Rewards. I plan to follow-up this post with options for indirectly purchasing airline miles through SPG and Marriott. Stay tuned.