American Express Membership Rewards points are among the most flexible credit card rewards that 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, there are still some options that can help you make the most of your Membership Rewards.
1. Take Advantage of Bonus Transfer Offers
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.
Let’s say for instance, you can get 1,250 miles for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points you transfer at 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.
The most you can get when redeeming Amex points directly with American Express is 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.
Of course, you’ll want to 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.
Note that 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 Express isn’t an American Express transfer partner — in fact, it’s not a transfer partner of any of the major transferable points programs, though it has allowed transfers from Citi ThankYou points in the past.
But through various alliances and partnerships, you can still use your Amex points to book U.S.-based and international American Airlines flights.
One of the best ways 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
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 new 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 offers domestic short-haul flights for as little as 9,000 miles round-trip.
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.
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
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.
Earlier in 2022, Marriott did away with its award chart to make way for dynamic pricing on award stays. But at least through the end of 2022, you can still book some category 1 hotels for as little as 5,000 points during off-peak times. Standard rates for these properties aren’t much higher at 7,500 points.
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.
And with Hilton, you can snag a category 1 hotel for as little as 5,000 points per night. 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 272,500 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 at 82,500 miles.
7. Do a Marathon in Comfort on the World’s Longest Flight
Currently, the world’s longest flight goes between New York City and Singapore, a whopping 9,537 miles. Even in the comfort of Singapore Airlines first class, the almost 19-hour flight can be a bit taxing, but if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it in style, right?
The long-haul route features the airline’s new A380 first-class suites, which feature a reclinable swivel full-grain leather seat, a bed, a 32-inch touchscreen TV paired with noise-canceling headphones, a sliding door for full privacy, fine dining, spacious bathrooms and more. There’s even an option for a larger bed if you’re traveling with a loved one.
If you’re lucky enough to snag a Saver ticket, the flight costs 264,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles, which may sound like a steal considering what you’re getting in return.
While the airline’s business class isn’t as luxurious, you’ll still get a lie-flat seat, world-class meals and other amenities. A business-class saver award will cost you just 198,000 KrisFlyer miles, but if you have the option to pick between the two, we recommend first class.
Like the Emirates first-class flight, this one may be worth saving up for as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
8. Explore the World through Aeromexico and SkyTeam Partners
The SkyTeam alliance offers a unique opportunity with its Go Round the World award ticket. It allows you to travel to up to 15 different destinations before returning to your country (it doesn’t have to be the same airport). There are a few catches, though:
- You must have at least two stopovers.
- Your itinerary needs to have one transatlantic flight, one transpacific flight and one flight between area 2 and area 3 (Europe/Africa/Middle East and Asia/Oceania)
- Your entire trip can be anywhere between 10 days and a full year.
- You must travel in one direction, either east to west or west to east, though you can backtrack on the same continent.
SkyTeam features a number of airlines, including Delta SkyMiles, Air France and KLM Flying Blue and many more. But your best bet to get a deal on the ticket is through Aeromexico.
According to the airline, you can snag a Go Round the World ticket in economy for 224,000 Club Premier points, which is impressive, especially if you can maximize the number of stopovers. For a business class ticket, the cost is 352,000 points.
Because you’d be traveling on different airlines, you’ll want to take a look at what each airline’s business class offering looks like. But if you’re planning on maximizing the Go Round the World ticket, your best bet is to go for the business class option.
9. Leverage Virgin Atlantic Partnerships to Fly to Europe or Japan
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 110,000 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 upwards 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.
10. Utilize 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 credit card 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. Some of the best options include Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Benihana, Ruth’s Chris, Adidas and Neiman Marcus. That said, some 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 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 credit 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 5 Amex points per dollar on flights booked with airlines and through Amex Travel and on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, all other purchases will net you just 1 point per dollar. The card has a $695 annual fee, but you can easily make up for it with the benefits.
So, you’ll want to pair the American Express Platinum Card with at least one other Membership Rewards® credit card. The American Express® Gold Card is an excellent choice, offering 4 Membership Rewards® points per dollar at restaurants and on up to $25,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, and 3 Membership Rewards® points per dollar on flights booked with airlines and through Amex Travel. The card’s $250 annual fee can be made up for with its Uber Cash, dining credit and other benefits.
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 best ways to use your Membership Rewards®, take your time to consider other options, particularly through transfer partners like Air Canada Aeroplan, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, British Airways Avios and more 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.
If you’re thinking about getting one or more American Express cards, consider using the card issuer’s tool to see if you’re pre-qualified before you submit an application. And make sure you can get enough value to outpace each card’s annual fee.
Featured photo courtesy of Delta