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The American Express Membership Rewards program offers credit card users a lot of flexibility for how they can use their points. However, most of its redemption options don’t provide much value, so you need to be a little savvy to maximize your rewards.

If you’re considering a card that earns Membership Rewards or you already have one and want to learn more about your options, here’s everything you need to know.

Program Overview and History

The American Express Membership Rewards program was launched in 1991 and initially called Membership Miles. According to American Express, it’s the world’s largest credit card rewards program.

You can earn Membership Rewards points with any of these 9 personal and business credit cards:

You can redeem Membership Rewards points in a number of ways, but the maximum value per point is 1 cent if you redeem directly with American Express. If you want somewhat more value than that, though, it’s possible if you transfer your points to one of Amex’s airline or hotel partners.

Type of rewards currency Flexible
Investopedia's point value 1.19 cents
Redemption options Statement credits, online shopping, gift cards, travel, merchandise, transfers to other rewards programs
Minimum redemption amount Varies
Travel redemption bonuses None
Points expiration None
Can you pool points? Points earned from all of your Membership Rewards credit cards are pooled automatically. You can’t, however, pool points with another cardholder
Transfer options All Membership Rewards credit cards allow you to transfer points to 22 airlines and hotel brands
Best used for
  • Flexible redemption options

  • High-value travel redemptions through point transfers

Keep in mind that to get approved for a credit card in the Membership Rewards program, you typically need to have good or excellent credit, which starts at a FICO score of 670.

Also, American Express allows only one welcome offer per card per lifetime. So if you’ve had one of its cards in the past, earned the welcome offer, and later dropped the card, you won’t be eligible for the offer again if you apply a second time.

How to Earn Membership Rewards Points

There are plenty of ways to earn Membership Rewards points, but some cards offer the potential to rack up more rewards than others. Here’s how you can earn:

  • Welcome offers
  • Everyday spending
  • Amex Offers
  • Referral bonuses
  • Limited-time offers

Welcome Offers

Most cards in the Membership Rewards program come with a welcome offer, but not all of them do. If you get approved for a card that comes with a welcome offer, you typically need to spend a certain amount to earn it.

Credit Card Welcome Offer
American Express Blue Business Cash Earn up to $300 in statement credits - on eligible purchases made during the first 3 months of account membership of up to $100 at each of the following merchants: Dell, Docusign and FedEx - for approved applications received on or before 11/04/2020.
American Express Green Card Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months
American Express Gold Card Earn 35,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Amex EveryDay Credit Card Earn 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months
The Platinum Card Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Blue Business Plus Card Earn up to $300 in statement credits - on eligible purchases made during the first 3 months of account membership of up to $100 at each of the following merchants: Dell, Docusign and FedEx - for approved applications received on or before 11/04/2020.
Business Green Rewards Card Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
American Express Business Gold Card Earn 35,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Business Platinum Card Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months

Everyday Spending

While not all Membership Rewards credit cards provide a welcome offer, all of them come with a rewards program for your everyday spending. The rewards rates and bonus categories vary from card to card. 

Credit Card Rewards Rates
Blue from American Express Earn 1 point per dollar on all of your purchases
American Express Green Card Earn 3 points per dollar on restaurants, transit, and travel, and 1 point per dollar on everything else
American Express Gold Card Earn 4 points per dollar at restaurants and on up to $25,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and through Amex Travel, and 1 point per dollar on everything else, up to 1 million bonus points each year
Amex EveryDay Credit Card Earn 2 points per dollar on up to $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Also, get 20% extra points when you use your card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period
Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card Earn 3 points per dollar on up to $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, 2 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Also, get 50% extra points when you use your card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period
The Platinum Card Earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and through Amex Travel, and also on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel. All other purchases will get you 1 point per dollar
Blue Business Plus Card Earn 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent annually, then 1 point per dollar after that
Business Green Rewards Card Earn 2 points per dollar on eligible purchases through Amex Travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else
American Express Business Gold Card Earn 4 points per dollar on two select categories where you spend the most every month, up to $150,000 annually in combined spend. All other purchases will get you 1 point per dollar
Business Platinum Card Earn 5 points per dollar on flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Purchases of $5,000 or more will earn 50% more points

To maximize your rewards with the Membership Rewards program, take some time to consider how much you spend and in which categories. This can help you determine which card will give you the most rewards for your everyday spending without requiring you to change your shopping habits.

It may also make sense to apply for more than one card in the program. For example, the American Express Gold Card offers excellent rewards at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, but it’s likely that most of your purchases will only give you 1 point per dollar. And, if you own a small business and have business expenses, you could pair the American Express Gold Card with the Blue Business Plus Card and use the latter for all of your purchases that don’t give you bonus rewards with the Gold Card, you can ensure that you’ll always get at least 2 points per dollar on your spending.

And remember, no matter how many Membership Rewards credit cards you have, Amex pools your points from all of them automatically, so you don’t have to worry about moving points around to make sure you have enough to redeem.

Amex Offers

All American Express credit cards are eligible for the Amex Offers program, which allows you to add certain deals with a variety of merchants—including shopping, travel, and dining—to your card.

Once you’ve added the offer to your card and made an eligible purchase, you can get either a statement credit or bonus Membership Rewards points.
Bonus points typically come in the form of additional points per dollar spent at certain merchants.

Referral Bonuses

Most American Express credit cards allow you to earn bonus points when you refer a friend to apply for the card and they get approved. For example, you may get 15,000 bonus points for each friend you refer to apply for the Blue Business Plus Card, and who gets approved, up to 55,000 points per year.

Your friend may also get bonus points when they apply through your referral link and meet certain spending requirements. However, you can only view bonus information for a specific card via Amex’s Refer a Friend page if you have that card. Also, bonuses are subject to change.  

Limited-time Offers

From time to time, American Express may send you an offer via email for the chance to earn bonus points. For example, you may get bonus points for adding authorized users to your account and having them spend a certain amount within a set period—similar to your card’s welcome offer. Some limited time offers are posted online for new applicants as well. For example, the American Express Blue Business Cash Card and the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express are both offering a bonus offer of up to $300 in statement credits - on eligible purchases made during the first 3 months of account membership of up to $100 at each of the following merchants: Dell, Docusign and FedEx - for approved applications received on or before 11/04/2020.

How to Redeem Membership Rewards Points

One of the program’s strongest features is its flexibility with redemption options. That said, most of these redemption options will give you less than 1 cent per point in value—a figure that’s a standard minimum for many credit card rewards programs.

Redemption options include:

  • Statement credits
  • Online shopping
  • Gift cards
  • Travel
  • Merchandise
  • Transfers to other rewards programs

Statement Credits

If you want to get a statement credit for one of the charges you’ve made on your card, you can do so at a rate of 0.6 cents per point.

Online Shopping

You can use your Membership Rewards points to pay for online purchases with a number of retailers at a rate of 0.5 cents to 1 cent per point, depending on the merchant. Options include:

  • Amazon: 0.7 cents per point
  • Best Buy: 0.7 cents per point
  • Boxed: 0.7 cents per point
  • Dell.com: 0.7 cents per point
  • Grubhub: 0.7 cents per point
  • JustGiving: 0.7 cents per point
  • Newegg: 0.7 cents per point
  • NYC Taxi: 1 cent per point
  • PayPal: 0.7 cents per point
  • Rite Aid: 0.7 cents per point
  • Saks Fifth Avenue: 0.7 cents per point
  • Staples: 0.7 cents per point
  • Ticketmaster: 0.5 cents per point
  • Walmart: 0.7 cents per point

Gift Cards

Cardholders can redeem Membership Rewards points for gift cards good at a long list of travel, dining, and shopping retailers. Values can vary by retailer, but they typically range from 0.5 cents to 1 cent per point.

Travel

You can use your points to book travel through Amex Travel, which functions similarly to discount travel websites like Expedia and Orbitz. The value of your points can range from 0.7 cents to 1 cent apiece, depending on the type of travel you’re booking:

  • Flights and flight upgrades: 1 cent per point
  • Fine Hotels & Resorts collection bookings: 1 cent per point
  • Other prepaid hotels: 0.7 cents per point
  • Cruises: 0.7 cents per point
  • Expedia.com bookings: 0.7 cents per point
  • Plan vacations: 0.7 cents per point

If you have the Business Platinum Card and use your points to cover the cost of some or all of an eligible flight, you’ll get 35% of those points back, up to 500,000 points per calendar year.

In other words, if you use 100,000 points to pay for a $1,000 flight, you’ll get 35,000 points back, effectively reducing your redemption to 65,000 points. That gives you a redemption rate of 1.54 cents per point.

Merchandise

If you want to use your points to buy merchandise through the Membership Rewards website, you’ll typically get just 0.5 cents per point on those redemptions.

Transfers to Other Rewards Programs

American Express partners with 22 airlines and hotel chains, allowing you to transfer your points to each. Most transfers are at a 1:1 ratio, but some offer more or less than that. Here’s a breakdown of the partners and how many points or miles you’ll get when you transfer Membership Rewards points.

Transfer Partner Transfer Ratio
Aer Lingus AerClub 1:1
Air Canada Aeroplan 1:1.6
Air France / KLM Flying Blue 1:1
Alitalia MilleMiglia 1:1
ANA Mileage Club 1:1
Avianca LifeMiles 1:1
British Airways Executive Club 1:1
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles 1:1
Delta SkyMiles 1:1
El Al Israel Airlines Frequent Flyer Club 1:0.02
Emirates Skywards 1:1
Etihad Guest 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
Iberia Plus 1:1
JetBlue TrueBlue 1:0.8
Qantas Frequent Flyer 1:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 1:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 1:1
Choice Privileges Rewards 1:1
Hilton Honors 1:2
Marriott Bonvoy 1:1

From time to time, Amex may offer promotions, giving you extra points or miles with a particular partner airline or hotel chain. In late 2019, for instance, you could get 30% more miles with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, so if you transferred 1,000 points, you’d get 1,300 points.

Each time you transfer points to a frequent flyer program with a U.S. airline, American Express charges an excise tax offset fee of $0.0006 per point, up to a maximum fee of $99. So if you transfer 100,000 points, the fee would be $60.

You can pay that fee out of pocket or, if you’re given the option, use your points to cover the cost at a rate of 0.5 cents per point.

Transferring your points doesn’t guarantee you’ll get more than 1 cent per point in value, but the potential is there. In particular, it’s often possible to exceed that baseline with international first- and business-class flights.

Maximizing your points this way can be time-consuming, and it requires a lot of research. Both airlines and hotel loyalty programs have dynamic pricing, which means that the value of your points or miles can vary with each redemption. So to get the most value from your rewards, you may have to compare several different itineraries to find the best one.

If you don’t have the time or desire to do all of this, Investopedia has done the research for you. We’ve found the best redemption options in the loyalty programs below:

  • Air Canada: 2.16 cents per mile
  • Air France / KLM: 1.6 cents per mile
  • Avianca Airlines: 2.16 cents per mile
  • British Airways: 2.1 cents per mile
  • Delta Air Lines: 1.6 cents per mile
  • Hawaiian Airlines: 1.23 cents per mile
  • JetBlue Airways: 1.3 cents per point
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways: 1.6 cents per mile
  • Marriott: 1.43 cents per point

If you transfer your points to one of these partners, chances are you can get more than 1 cent per point without doing too much research.

The Bottom Line on American Express Membership Rewards Points

The American Express Membership Rewards program offers a lot of flexibility, but, unfortunately, you lose some value if you don’t choose your redemptions carefully. If you want to redeem directly with Amex, you’ll get the most value when you use your points to buy gift cards with certain merchants, book flights through American Express, or book hotels in the Fine Hotels & Resorts portfolio.

If you want to maximize the value of your points, however, your best bet is to transfer them to one of Amex’s airline or hotel transfer partners. Just keep in mind that you may need to do some research to make sure you’re getting enough value to make it worth it.

If you want to go all-in on Membership Rewards, sign up for more than one of the program’s credit cards. That way, you can always make sure you get maximum value on your everyday spending.

The Membership Rewards program isn’t the only one of its kind. Chase Ultimate Rewards also offers ample flexibility and provides more value with redemptions than Amex does. Also, the Citi ThankYou Rewards program has comparable flexibility as well as similar point values to the Membership Rewards program.