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American Express Membership Rewards® points are among the most flexible credit card rewards you can earn, but valuable redemption options aren't quite as plentiful compared to similar transferable rewards programs.

That's not to say you can't squeeze a lot of value out of Amex points if you know what you're doing. While it's best to avoid cash-back rewards, some gift cards, statement credits and shopping, some options can help you make the most of your Membership Rewards.

1. Take Advantage of Bonus Transfer Offers

Air France

Amex often runs promotions where you can get bonus points or miles when you transfer your Amex points to one of the card issuer's airline or hotel partners. Say for example that you can get 1,250 miles for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points you transfer to a specific bonus partner instead of the usual 1,000 miles. Let's also value this bonus partner at an average value of 1.2 cents apiece.

Your Amex points, when redeeming directly with American Express are worth 1 cent per mile, so instead of getting $10 in value from those 1,000 points, you could get $15 or more by transferring to a bonus partner.

Have an idea of how you're going to use your transferred rewards before you move them. Transferring your hard-earned points to an international airline without a plan could result in your rewards collecting dust and ultimately expiring if you're not careful. Depending on which airline is running the promotion, take some time to research your options to get an idea of how you can maximize the value of your rewards.

Some partners don't give you a 1:1 transfer ratio to start. Also, while some partners may offer a transfer bonus, you'll want to do some research on the partner airline or hotel brand to understand what the points or miles are worth so you know you're getting a good deal.

2. Book International First Class Tickets on American Airlines via Etihad

American Airlines isn't an American Express transfer partner, but through various alliances and partnerships, you can use your Amex points to book U.S.-based and international American Airlines flights.

One great way to do that is by transferring your Amex points to Etihad Guest. The United Arab Emirates-based airline provides an award chart on its website for international American Airlines flights departing from North America.

While you can book economy, you can generally get a lot more value by booking first class or business class. If you were to try to book directly with American Airlines, you can expect a much higher bill.

3. Book a Business Class Trip to Japan With ANA Miles

views of Mt. Fuji in Japan

All Nippon Airways is headquartered in Japan and offers decent award flights from North America, particularly during the low season, which can vary by year, but it's generally most of January and all of February, as well as most of April.

During this time, you could book a business class ticket to Japan for just 75,000 miles round-trip, according to ANA's mileage chart. Alternatively, you can book economy for 40,000 miles, economy plus for 62,000 miles or first class for 150,000 miles. The Room business class on ANA offers extra wide, lie-flat seats and plenty of privacy. 

Even if you'd rather travel to Japan during the regular season or high season, the most you'll pay is 90,000 miles for a business class ticket. You can also use ANA miles to fly to other destinations in Asia, though the number of miles will go up depending on where you want to travel.

4. Book Short-Haul Flights With Multiple Airlines

American Express doesn't partner with a lot of domestic airlines, but as with the American Airlines international first-class trick through Etihad, it's possible to do the same with short-haul flights within the U.S.

Delta Air Lines

Amex Membership Rewards points can be transferred to Delta SkyMiles, which could offer domestic short-haul flights for as little as 9,000 miles round trip, though it may be more these days.

Delta Air Lines also sometimes runs international business class deals with its Delta One product, but you'll generally get the most out of your SkyMiles on these short-haul domestic deals. 

British Airways

Another way to get a great deal on short-haul flights within the U.S. is by booking Alaska Airlines and American Airlines flights via the British Airways Avios.

For flights between 651 and 1,151 miles, you may be able to book a round-trip flight for as little as 15,000 Avios using the airline's distance-based award chart.


Avianca is a Colombian airline, but it's a member of the Star Alliance, which means you can use your LifeMiles to book domestic flights on United Airlines.

Domestic flights in the U.S. start at 7,500 LifeMiles each way, so you're looking at the same cost for a round-trip flight as Alaska Airlines or American Airlines via British Airways. In some cases, Avianca will offer a discounted rate, allowing you to save.

5. Book Cheap Hotels With Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and Choice Privileges

Marriott vacation destination

You're generally not going to maximize the value of your Membership Rewards by transferring them to one of Amex's hotel partners. But, sometimes it's not about getting as much value as possible—sometimes it's simply about getting your travel paid for.

If you don't have a hotel rewards credit card, it may be worth it to use your American Express points to book a hotel at some of the lower category options with Marriott or Choice Privileges. It's not going to be a first-class experience, but it can do the job. 

Marriott does not have an award chart, but it often runs promotions, such as the stay for five nights, pay for four. You can also use points towards food and beverage, room upgrades, spa treatments, and more.

With Choice Privileges, rewards nights start at 8,000 points apiece, and you can even go as low as 6,000 points if you want to mix rewards with cash.

Hilton also doesn't have an award chart, but you may snag a hotel for as little as 5,000 points per night by using its Points Explorer tool. And because you can get 2,000 Hilton Honors points for 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you'd only need to transfer 5,000 Amex points for a two-night stay. 

6. Book a Flight in Emirates First Class

The Emirates first-class experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many travelers, and it's possible to do it with Membership Rewards points.

Privacy doors, fine dining at your leisure, an onboard shower and a lounge bar are all available in the Emirates A380 first class. If you're traveling via one of the airline's Boeing 777, the first-class suite is fully enclosed, complete with your own temperate controls, mood lighting, virtual windows and soft leather seats. In other words, it's an experience you'll never forget. 

There's no award chart for Emirates first class or any of its other cabins. But the airline does have a miles calculator to give you an idea of how many Skywards miles you'll need. 

For an Emirates first-class ticket from JFK International Airport to Dubai, it's a cool 327,000 miles. For many cardholders with a Membership Rewards-earning credit card, that's going to take a while to amass. But again, the once-in-a-lifetime experience can be well worth the time and effort.

If you want a cheaper option, economy tickets from JFK International Airport to Dubai start around 72,500 miles.

7. Leverage Virgin Atlantic Partnerships to Fly to Europe or Japan

woman sleeping on Delta flight in Delta One
Delta One

Virgin Atlantic has some of the best deals around with its partners. For example, you can fly nonstop from the U.S. to Europe in Delta One, which is the business class for Delta Air Lines. 

Delta's business class comes with a dedicated flight attendant, flat-bed seats, chef-curated meals, fine wine and other alcoholic beverages and other luxury amenities. 

The cost for a Delta business class flight when you book with Delta can cost you hundreds of thousands of miles. But if you transfer your Amex points to Virgin Atlantic, you can get it for a cool 50,000 miles.

You can also take advantage of Virgin Atlantic's partnership with ANA Mileage Club to snag inexpensive award flights to and from and throughout Asia. 

For example, a round-trip ticket from the western U.S. to Japan or Australia costs 60,000 miles in economy, 90,000 miles in business class and 145,000 miles in first class. If you were to pay for business class or first class on ANA out of pocket, the ticket can sometimes cost upward of $10,000.

And once you're in Japan, you can get domestic economy flights for 15,000 miles round-trip and flights to other Asian countries for as little as 18,000 miles in economy, 35,000 miles in business class and 50,000 miles in first class.

8. Use Other Redemption Options As Needed

It's important to look for ways to get as much value out of your Membership Rewards as possible. But the point of rewards is to use them for your benefit, and sometimes that means redeeming points for something that works for you, even if you're not flying business class or first class around the world.

For example, you can get many gift cards with your American Express Membership Rewards at a rate of up to 1 cent per point. That said, gift cards go for as little as 0.5 cents per point, so avoid those subpar options.

You can also book travel directly with American Express, including flight and hotel packages, cruises, rental cars and more. However, you'll often only get 1 cent per point on flights, flight upgrades and hotel stays with Fine Hotels and Resorts.

How to Maximize Earning Membership Rewards Points

American Express has several Membership Rewards points-earning cards, but you'll want to be strategic about which cards you get and how to use them. 

For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express is a great one to have if you want to go all-in on Membership Rewards, particularly because it's rich in top-tier perks that can elevate your travel experience.

But while you'll earn 5x points per dollar on flights booked with airlines and through Amex Travel and on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, other purchases will net you just 1 point per dollar. The card has a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees), but you may be able to make up for it with the benefits. (Enrollment is required for select benefits and terms apply.)

So, you may want to pair the American Express Platinum Card with at least one other Membership Rewards card. The American Express® Gold Card is an excellent choice, offering 4x points per dollar at restaurants worldwide and on up to $25,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, and 3x points per dollar on flights booked with airlines and through Amex Travel. The card's $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) can be made up for with its dining credit and other benefits. Enrollment is required for select benefits and terms apply.

The Bottom Line

American Express cards offer a lot of value, especially if you enjoy traveling, but maximizing the value of your Membership Rewards points can take a good amount of research. 

While we've laid out some of the ways to use your Membership Rewards, take your time to consider other options, particularly through transfer partners for up-to-date opportunities.

And while business class and first-class flights are generally the most valuable redemption options, don't be afraid to use your American Express Membership Rewards for less valuable options if they fit your needs.

Featured photo courtesy of Delta One


Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer and credit card expert. He has a degree in finance from Brigham Young University and worked in financial planning, banking and auto finance before writing full-time for NerdWallet and Student Loan Hero. Ben is now a full-time freelance writer and enjoys traveling and spending time with his two kids. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Money, Success and Slickdeals.