Amex Membership Rewards Guide (2021) | Thrifty Traveler
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Amex Membership Rewards Points: A Guide to Earning & Burning in 2021

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In the hierarchy of points and miles that can help fuel your travels, American Express Membership Rewards® points are arguably at – or certainly near – the top of the list.

From booking flights and hotels through Amex Travel to the ability to send points directly to more than 20 different airlines and hotels that are Amex transfer partners, these points offer almost unparalleled flexibility and value to travelers looking to use points to fly or stay somewhere free – or nearly free. And despite an all-out arms race with other major banks like Chase, Citi, and even Capital One, American Express has continually evolved and made Membership Rewards points – and the credit cards that earn them –  even more valuable over the years.

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the Amex Membership Rewards points program, including how to earn points, use them for maximum value, and all the little nuances you should be aware of along the way.

 

How to Earn American Express Membership Rewards Points

By far the easiest and best way to earn Amex Membership Rewards points is by taking advantage of the welcome bonus offers and continuing to spend on the suite of credit cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points.

Keep in mind: This is specifically about Amex’s collection of independent credit cards, not co-branded Amex cards like the suite of Delta SkyMiles American Credit Cards or even Hilton Honors American Express cards. Those cards only earn Delta SkyMiles or Hilton Honors points, respectively.

Instead, you want the far more versatile Membership Rewards cards. And whether you are looking for a personal or business card, there is no shortage of cards that earn these valuable points.

 

Credit Cards That Earn American Express Membership Rewards Points

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The top dog when it comes to credit cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points is without question the Platinum Card® from American Express. The card provides an exhaustive list of both travel and lifestyle benefits which push the card’s annual fee to $695 each year (see rates & fees).

Here;’s the full list of the card’s benefits.

  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership – but check to see if you qualify for a 150,000-point bonus via CardMatch!
  • Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first six months of card membership.
  • Earn 5x Membership Rewards Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 spent each year).
  • Earn 5x Membership Rewards Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times.
  • Access to 40+ Centurion Lounge and Centurion Studio locations worldwide, plus other lounges in the Amex Global Lounge Collection like Airspace Lounges, Plaza Premium, and others
  • Get access to the Delta Sky Club when you are flying with Delta Air Lines.
  • Get a Priority Pass Select Membership for access to 1,000 plus more lounges worldwide
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually.
  • $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships.
  • $179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
  • $695 Annual Fee (see rates & fees)

 

amex platinum card which earns Membership Rewards

 

Click Here to learn more about the Platinum Card from American Express. 

 

Own a small business, or are you eligible to open a small business credit card? American Express also has a business version of the Platinum Card. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express offers many of the same benefits as the personal card, but also has a number of small business-focused benefits. The annual fee is $595 each year, though that increases to $695 for applications received on/after Jan. 13, 2022 (see rates & fees).

 

Business Platinum Card from American
Click Here to learn more about the Business Platinum Card from American Express. 

 

American Express® Gold Card

Next on the list is the American Express® Gold Card. While the card doesn’t offer nearly as many benefits as the Platinum Card, it’s a great mix of value and a much more palatable annual fee of only $250 (see rates & fees). You won’t find a better all-around credit card to keep piling up points on your everyday spending.

Here’s the full list of the card’s benefits.

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first six months.
  • Earn 4x Membership Rewards Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and earn 4x Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1x).
  • Earn 3x Membership Rewards Points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations.
  • $250 Annual Fee (see rates & fees)

 

amex gold card which earns Membership Rewards

 

Click Here to learn more about the American Express Gold Card.

 

Like the Platinum Card, there is also has a business version of the Gold Card. The American Express® Business Gold Card offers many of the same benefits as the personal card, but also has a number of small business-focused benefits.

But unlike the Platinum Card, the annual fee on the Business Gold Card is higher than the personal Gold card at $295 each year (see rates & fees).

 

business gold card which earns Membership Rewards

 

Click Here to learn more about the American Express Business Gold Card. 

 

American Express® Green Card

Then there is the American Express® Green Card. Once again, the benefits are not as fruitful as they are on either the Platinum or the Gold Card. But with fewer benefits comes a smaller annual fee of only $150 each year.

See below for a full listing of the card’s benefits.

  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first six months.
  • Earn 3x Membership Rewards Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 3x Membership Rewards Points on transit, including trains, buses, ferries, subway, and more.
  • Earn 3x Membership Rewards Points on travel, including airfare, hotels, cruises, tours, car rentals, and more.
  • $100 CLEAR® Credit: Use your card and get up to $100 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
  • $100 Credit for Lounge Access: Use your card to purchase lounge access through LoungeBuddy and receive up to $100 in statement credits each year.
  • $150 Annual Fee

 

amex green card which earns membership rewards

 

Click Here to learn more about the American Express Green Card. 

 

All information about The American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by Thrifty Traveler.

Read More: Amex Green, Gold & Platinum Cards: Which is Right for You? 

 

Amex EveryDay® and Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Cards

Another option for earning American Express Membership Rewards points is the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, and the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card. 

While neither card offers much in terms of a welcome bonus offer, both cards get more valuable the more you use them. On the EveryDay Preferred Card, you can earn 50% extra points when you use your card 30 or more times in a billing period.

And with the no annual fee Amex EveryDay card, you can earn 20% extra points by using your card 20 or more times in a billing period.

 

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

Perhaps one of the most underrated credit cards out there is the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. On top of the welcome bonus offer, the card earns 2x Membership Rewards points on all purchases on up to $50,000 spent each calendar year (then 1x). The best part? The Blue Business Plus card does not have an annual fee (see rates & fees).

 

blue business plus card earns membership rewards

 

Click Here to learn more about the Blue Business Plus Card from American Express.

 

Earn Membership Rewards Points Shopping with Rakuten

Unlike Chase Ultimate Rewards which has its own Shop Through Chase shopping portal, American Express doesn’t have its own shopping portal that allows you to earn bonus Membership Rewards points for shopping online. But there’s a great workaround to pile up more points on your shopping.

Back in 2019, American Express teamed up with Rakuten to provide an option to earn Membership Rewards points instead of cashback for clicking through the Rakuten portal on your way to make an online purchase.

 

membership rewards rakuten

 

Rakuten is among the best online shopping portals out there. It lets you earn additional cashback – or Membership Rewards – by first clicking through Rakuten on the way to the website of thousands of retailers. It occasionally offers huge signup bonuses for first-time users as well as elevated bonuses at hundreds of retailers.

 

rakuten retailers where you can earn membership rewards

 

If you elect to earn Membership Rewards points instead of cashback, you’ll earn one Membership Rewards point for each percentage point of cashback offered. So let’s say you’re shopping at the Apple Store, where you’d typically earn 2% cashback. That’d be 2x Membership Rewards points per dollar instead.

 

Earn Membership Rewards Through Personal Referrals

Another great opportunity to earn Membership Rewards points comes from referring your card to friends and family members. Many times, the offers you can send a friend or family member are better than the offers that are publicly available, making it a win-win for both parties.

 

you can earn membership rewards by referring your card

 

Just beware, American Express started taxing points earned through personal referrals back in 2019. Each card will allow you to earn 55,000 points each year through personal referrals, and Amex will tax those at one cent each. That means, come tax time, you would receive a 1099-MISC form for $550 if you max out on those referrals.

 

What are Membership Rewards Points Worth?

American Express does not officially publish a valuation. Exactly what these points are worth is in the eye of beholder – and how they put them to use.

On the extreme conservative side, American Express Membership Rewards points are worth at least one cent each. So if you had 100,000 points, for example, they would be worth at least $1,000 towards travel.

But thanks to the stable of American Express Membership Rewards travel transfer partners, you can do much, much better than that. In fact, some of the best transfer partners will allow you to get two cents – or much more – for each of your points. It just depends on how you use them.

So let’s dive into the basics on how to use Membership Rewards.

 

How to Use Amex Membership Rewards Points

When it comes to using Membership Rewards points, you’ll have a handful of options at your disposal. But we’re a travel website, so let’s get the obvious out of the way: Using them for travel experiences will give you the best return on them by far.

 

use Membership Rewards

 

For example, while it is possible to redeem your points for charges, or even gift cards, many of those redemptions are at a very poor value in comparison. When it comes to gift cards, the value of your points will change depending on the gift card you are looking at.

For example, you can redeem points for a Home Depot gift card, getting one cent apiece for your points. That means 2,500 points would get you a $25 gift card.

 

Membership Rewards

 

But that value drops dramatically if you are looking at a Best Buy gift card.

 

Membership Rewards

 

So here’s the bottom line: Use Membership Rewards for travel. Doing so will simply give you the best value out of your points.

When you are using them for travel, you have a few different options.

 

Book Travel Through the Amex Travel Portal

When booking travel with Membership Rewards points, the first and perhaps easiest is to use the Amex Travel portal. Through Amex travel, you’ll have the ability to book flights, hotels, rental cars, and even cruises.

When you do, your points will be worth one cent each. That means 100,000 Membership Rewards points would get you $1,000 towards travel.

 

use membership rewards in amex travel

 

That’s true unless you hold either the Business Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Business Gold Card. If you hold the Business Platinum Card, you’ll get a 35% points rebate when you book economy flights on one selected airline each year – or on any airline if you book a business or first class ticket. You can earn up to 500,000 points each year through these rebates.

With the Business Gold Card, you’ll get a 25% points rebate when you book economy flights on one selected airline each year – or on any airline flying first or business class. You can earn up to 250,000 points back each year.

Read more: Our Favorite Benefit of the Amex Business Platinum Card. 

 

Membership Rewards

 

Amex International Airline Program

Another feature to be aware of with Amex Travel is the Amex International Airline Program (IAP). It’s an exclusive benefit available to both Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders that allows you to get exclusive savings on select airlines when you book your airfare through the American Express travel portal.

But it’s only valid for international itineraries booked in first class, business class, and premium economy. There are no additional savings here when flying economy.

 

save membership rewards with the international airline program

 

American Express claims that the average savings are $150 on premium economy, $300 in business class, and $600 on international first-class round trip fares. In practice, we’ve seen these numbers vary depending on the routing, fare class, and the airline.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About the Amex International Airline Program.

 

Transfer Membership Rewards Points to Partner Airlines & Hotels

The next – and perhaps best – way to use Membership Rewards points is by transferring them to partner airline and hotel programs. Just like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and even Capital One Venture Miles, you can transfer Amex points directly into your account with certain airlines and hotels.

Read more: Amex Transfer Partners: How & Where to Transfer Membership Rewards Points

Scope out the full list of transfer partners, and you’ll see there are plenty of options to send your points.

 

Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners

 

ProgramTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Aer Lingus1:1N/A
AeroMexico1:1.62-12 days
Air Canada Aeroplan1:1Instant
Air France/KLM1:1Instant
Alitalia1:1Instant
ANA1:11-2 days
Avianca1:1Instant
British Airways1:1Instant
Cathay Pacific1:11-7 days
Delta1:1Instant
El Al50:1Instant
Emirates1:1Instant
Etihad1:1Instant
Hawaiian1:1Instant
Iberia1:11-3 days
JetBlue1.25:1Instant
Qantas1:1Instant
Singapore1:112-48 hours
Virgin Atlantic1:1Instant

As you can see, your Membership Rewards points will transfer to many airlines instantly. That means as soon as you complete the transfer from your Amex account, they should arrive in your airline frequent flyer account.

That said, some transfer partners like Singapore, Cathay Pacific, ANA, Iberia, and more will take anywhere from 12 hours to 12 days.

And while the majority of airline transfer partners will transfer on a 1:1 basis – meaning 1 Amex point will equal 1 airline mile – that’s not the case for every one of them.

 

Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners

On the hotel side of things, you’ll have three options. Hilton, Marriott and Choice hotels.

Choice and Marriott will transfer at a ratio of 1:1 while Hilton transfers are a rate of 1:2. That means for every 1 Amex point transferred, you’ll receive 2 Hilton Honors points.

ProgramTransfer RatioTransfer Time
Choice Privileges1:1Instant
Hilton Honors1:2Instant
Marriott Bonvoy1:1Instant

While it’s possible to transfer Amex points to hotels, you’ll almost always do better by focusing on transferring points to airlines. In our minds, 50,000 Singapore or ANA miles are worth far more than 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors points.

 

The Best Membership Rewards Points Redemptions

There is no shortage of ways to actually use Membership Rewards points. But not all redemptions are created equal. Depending on how you use them, the value will vary wildly.

For example, you could book a $1,000 flight in economy with 100,000 Amex points by using the Amex travel portal. Or you could transfer just 110,000 points to Virgin Atlantic and use those points to book a first class flight to Tokyo and back on All Nippon Airways that would normally cost $20,000 or more.

 

ana first class cabin

 

Those are two ends of the extreme. Case in point: Travel redemptions like these is where the most value lies.

Rear our post on the 8 Best Ways to Redeem Membership Rewards Points for Maximum Value.

 

Important Restrictions on Getting American Express Credit Cards

Every bank sets its own rules and restrictions around credit card applications. Chase has the dreaded 5/24 rule, which bars you from getting approved for a new Chase credit card if you’ve opened five or more cards in a 24 month period from any bank – not just Chase.

American Express doesn’t have that same rule, so you don’t need to worry about it when it comes to American Express Membership Rewards credit cards. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all to get any Amex card you want. Here’s a snippet from the terms of Amex’s card applications:

Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this or previous versions of this Card. We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”

Essentially that means if you have had a specific American Express card in the past, you will not be eligible to earn the bonus on that same card. Generally, this Amex restriction will follow you for about seven years after you close a card. After that, data points suggest that Amex allows you to apply for that card again – and be eligible to earn the welcome offer bonus, too.

 

Amex Gold vs Platinum membership rewards

 

But there’s more to it than that. If Amex determines you have a pattern of opening credit cards, earning a bonus, and closing that account afterward, it could make you ineligible to earn a welcome bonus on a new card. So while Amex isn’t looking at your credit card history with other banks, they will factor in which Amex cards you have had previously, and what you have done with the Amex cards you already have … regardless of whether or not you earned the welcome offer bonus on them.

So what does this all mean? You can get all of the Membership Rewards credit cards at least once and earn a big welcome bonus on them.

Watch for the Amex Welcome Offer Pop-Up

These rules may all sound confusing. But the bottom line is that if you think you might be eligible, the best thing to do is try and apply.

Here’s why: American Express implemented a tool a few years ago that stops you from submitting an application if you are not eligible for the bonus.

All you need to do is fill out the application as normal and click “Agree and Submit Application.” After a few seconds, if you are not eligible to earn the bonus on that card, American Express will let you know with a pop-up like this:

 

Membership Rewards welcome offer tool

 

Better yet, they will give you the chance to cancel your application before pulling your credit score and processing the application. If you don’t receive the pop-up, you should be good to go and eligible to receive the welcome offer bonus on whatever card you are applying for.

 

Do Amex Membership Rewards Points Expire?

As long as you have an active card that earns Membership Rewards points, your points will never expire. Even if the points you have were earned from a different credit card than you currently have open, you should have nothing to worry about.

But if you decide to cancel a card that earns Membership Rewards, make sure you have a plan for your points. If you only have one card open, canceling that card will immediately forfeit all of your points in your Membership Rewards account.

The best option in this scenario is to transfer your points to one of the airline or hotel partners – or use the points up in a different way – before you close your account.

Related reading: Want to Cancel a Credit Card? Ask Yourself These Questions

 

Can You Transfer Membership Rewards Points to Other Members?

American Express does not allow points transfers between two different accounts. Whether it’s a spouse, family member, or friend, you can’t transfer points between two Membership Rewards accounts – even if both users live at the same address.

Instead, you’re allowed to transfer Membership Rewards points directly to another user’s frequent flyer account – so long as that person is an authorized user on your account.

 

open the american express platinum to earn membership rewards

 

That makes it fairly easy to pool points together to book travel, but it’s still the most restrictive of all the flexible points programs when it comes to this topic. And remember: You can always transfer points into your own airline account and book travel for somebody else.

Read more: Can You Transfer Credit Card Points to Another Person’s Account?

 

Bottom Line

There is a lot to learn about American Express Membership Rewards points.

If you play your cards right, they can be some of the most valuable credit card points out there when it comes time to book cheap travel.

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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