Getting the most value from American Express Membership Rewards

American Express Membership Rewards points are among the most valuable and versatile points you can collect, largely because they are transferable to so many partner airline programs. There are several low value uses of Membership Rewards points such as using points to offset charges, shopping on Amazon, and redeeming for gift cards; but all of these uses will net you less than 1 cent per point which is a terrible value. As with any transferable points currency, you will get the best value by transferring your points to one of their partner airline or hotel programs and redeeming them for sweet spots within those programs. However, it is almost always a good idea to store your points with American Express until you are willing to actually book a reservation with one of their partners. This is because each individual program is subject to unannounced devaluations, and by keeping your points with American Express, it shields your points from unexpectedly losing value.

Regardless of the partner airline or hotel to which you intend to transfer your Membership Rewards points, an extremely valuable perk to look for with Membership Rewards points is a transfer bonus. American Express often offers a bonus of 10-40% when transferring Membership Rewards points to a specific partner program. Many transfer options present a good value even at a 1:1 ratio, so if you are able to get an even better ratio through a transfer bonus you can get some absolutely remarkable value.

Credit Cards that earn Membership Rewards Points

The Platinum Card from American Express
The Business Platinum Card from American Express
American Express Gold Card
American Express Business Gold Card
The Amex Everyday Credit Card from American Express
The Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card from American Express
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express

There are many credit cards issued by American Express that earn Membership Rewards points, but the seven listed above are the most common and the ones that have the most accessible bonus categories for most people. By making use of the sign-up bonus on one or more of these cards and then making sure that your spend goes into the proper category to earn 2-5x more points, you will start to accumulate American Express Membership Rewards points very quickly.

  • Highest Value

  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue

    The Flying Blue program is a great transfer option for travelers looking to stretch their miles as far as possible by flying Economy Class. By taking advantage of Promo Awards and sweet spots such as flying from the US to Central America or the Caribbean on Delta, you can stretch your points as far as they’ll go by transferring to Flying Blue.

  • Avianca LifeMiles

    Avianca is American Express’ newest transfer partner, and a welcome addition to its existing lineup. Avianca’s claim to fame is its incredibly reasonable First Class award prices on its fellow Star Alliance partners coupled with the fact that it never charges surcharges. This in addition to their extremely cheap award prices for domestic travel in the US on United Airlines makes Avianca an incredibly high value Membership Rewards transfer partner.

  • British Airways Avios

    British Airways is unlike most airlines in that it uses a distance based award chart rather than a region based chart. This means that if you are flying on a nonstop, short-haul flight, you will often get great value by booking with British Airways Avios over most other programs.

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

    One excellent use of Cathay Pacific miles is booking a trip with loads of stopovers. Cathay Pacific allows up to 5 stopovers on one itinerary and also uses a distance based chart. This means that the number of points that a ticket costs is determined by the aggregate number of miles of each segment of your journey. So as long as you don’t go too far out of the way for your stopovers, you can get up to 5 flights for the price of 1.

  • Delta Airlines SkyMiles

    The Skymiles program has been devalued heavily in recent years, but there are still some redemption options that make it a worthwhile transfer option for American Express points. They are still a great option for flying from the US to Europe without fuel surcharges, and if you are searching during off-peak dates, you can often find extremely cheap award rates thanks to their variable award chart.

  • Etihad Airways Guest

    Etihad can be a valuable transfer partner simply because they do not belong to any alliance and therefore they have some unconventional partners that are otherwise hard to access. However, the most common usage of Etihad Guest miles for US based travelers is for award travel on American Airlines. This is because Etihad still charges the same number of points for most routes that American charged before their massive devaluation in 2016. In most cases this represents about a 30% discount over what American Airlines would charge on the same route, such as 20,000 miles to Europe or Southern South America.

  • Iberia Plus

    Iberia Plus uses a distance based award chart just like British Airways does, however, they combine your total distance traveled when calculating an award price while British Airways calculates an award price for each segment. This means that if you are flying on a shorter route, but not non-stop, Iberia will often provide better value than British Airways.

  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

    Singapore Airlines is a Star Alliance carrier that has very competitive and often even industry leading award prices on many routes. So if you are looking to make use of one of these sweet spots such as flying Singapore Suites or flying from the US to Hawaii, Singapore Airlines Krisflyer is a great option for transferring your American Express Membership Rewards points.

  • Average Value

  • Air Canada Aeroplan

    Air Canada is another Star Alliance carrier who charges fairly similar award rates to what most Star Alliance partners such as United Airlines would charge. There are some routes that are a few thousand miles cheaper than what United would charge and others that are more expensive, but Air Canada does impose surcharges on many flights. Overall this makes United safer than Air Canada, but you can still get good value if you are willing to find specific routes that are cheaper than United and don’t come with surcharges.

  • ANA Mileage Club

    Unfortunately, ANA does impose surcharges on all Star Alliance partners’ flights, which is why is falls in the average redemption category. However, there are still a few amazing redemption opportunities to find if you are willing to jump through a few hoops. For example, flying to Japan off-peak on ANA metal for only 40,000 miles roundtrip in Economy.

  • JetBlue TrueBlue

    JetBlue charges award prices based on the cash price of the ticket. This means that however you choose to redeem JetBlue miles, you will always get about 1.4 cents/mile. The catch with JetBlue is that Amex does not offer a 1:1 transfer ratio but rather a 250:200 ratio. This means that your point value is even lower than 1.4 once you factor in the transfer. If you are dead set on transferring points to redeem on JetBlue, you will get better value from transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points instead; but neither option represents great value.

  • Qantas Airways Frequent Flyer

    In general, Qantas’ award rates tend to be on the higher side which makes it a bad place to store your points long term. However, there are a few niche opportunities that can provide some value if you are willing to work for them. For example, Qantas has some unique partner airlines that are otherwise hard to access like Air Vanuatu and Air Niugini. Cash prices on these airlines tend to be very high, so the ability to redeem Qantas miles instead could be useful. Since Qantas has a distance based chart, you will usually get the best value when redeeming for shorter flights.

  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

    Unfortunately, most Virgin Atlantic redemptions usually come with astronomical surcharges which often make the redemption not worth it. This is why it is in the average section. However, the program does have a few sweet spots without surcharges such as flying First Class from the US to Japan on ANA. If you want to take advantage of one of these opportunities, you can still get phenomenal value from transferring Membership Rewards Points.

  • Lowest Value

  • Aeromexico Club Premier

    Aeromexico’s award prices are simply way too high to be competitive even when you factor in the 1:1.6 transfer ratio from American Express. The most competitive price is for award tickets from the US to Mexico, but even that comes out to about industry standard after the transfer bonus. You will be better served by using another SkyTeam program.

  • Alitalia Millemiglia

    Alitalia charges astronomical fuel charges on almost all routes and their miles are constantly and severely devalued. This along with the constant threat of the entire airline going bankrupt means it is not a good transfer option.

  • El Al Matmid Club

    The transfer ratio from American Express to El Al is 1000:20, and El Al’s award prices are higher than average to begin with. There is no reason to transfer to this program.

  • Emirates Skywards

    Emirates uses a different award chart for each one of its partner airlines. In general award prices tend to be quite high, but there one or two minor sweet spots to find if you are willing to do your research. They are however very specific and very difficult to redeem, so usually not worth it.

  • Hawaiian Airlines Hawaiian Miles

    In general Hawaiian’s award prices are too high to be of much use; but in very specific cases such as flying First class from Hawaii to the South Pacific you can still find some value.

  • Choice Privileges Awards

    If you can find award availability, you can sometimes get pretty good value for redeeming at Choice properties where the cash rate would be quite high. However, it is extremely difficult to find any award availability at all.

  • Hilton HHonors

    Even with the 1:1.5 transfer ratio from Membership Rewards points, redemptions with Hilton points tend to cost so many points that it’s still not a great deal. The one exception would be category 1 Hilton properties; but the cash rate at these properties is often low enough that your cent per point ratio would still be under 2 cents/point.