Note: This article is updated on a regular basis to reflect changes to the Membership Rewards program.
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What are Membership Rewards?Membership Rewards® is basically the fancy name for Amex points, or the "in-house" points currency for American Express. These points are some of the most valuable in the points & miles world due to their flexibility and the fact that they are arguably some of the easiest points to earn and use.
How to earn Membership Rewards (MR) points
1. Credit Card Spending
Generally speaking, MR points are earned by spending money on the following Amex credit cards:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business Platinum Card® from American Express
- American Express® Gold Card
- American Express® Business Gold Card
- Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
- Business Green Rewards Card
- Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
- American Express® Green Card
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
Depending on which card you have and which type of purchase you are making, you will earn a varying number of points. For example, if you use the Amex Gold card at U.S. supermarkets you will earn 4 MR points per dollar spent. If you use the Platinum Card to book flights (either in the Amex travel portal or directly with an airline), you'll earn 5 points per dollar spent. Learning about these multipliers and maximizing them is one of the fastest and easiest ways to earn points quickly.
2. Credit Card Welcome Offers
Amex Credit Cards always come with some kind of offer after approving you for a card. These Welcome Offers can be structured in a variety of ways but will typically offer a combination of points and statement credits in exchange for spending a certain amount of money on the card within a specific period. A quick example from Spring 2022 is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card that offers 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months (rates & fees).
We keep up-to-date info about current Credit Card welcome offers on our Top Credit Cards page, so check there for our recommendations and the latest deals.
Few people are aware of this, but Rakuten (one of the world's biggest shopping portals) offers MR points as an alternative to cash back. At the time of this writing, it is the ONLY shopping portal that offers this option.
Using shopping portals is an excellent way to earn easy cash back or points for no additional cost to you. Pro Tip – never take the cash. There is almost always something offered worth more than cash back.
2. Amex Offers
One of the big draws of American Express is what they call "Amex Offers." Every customer, regardless of which card(s) you have, is eligible for a variety of Amex offers. Most of the time, these offers involve Amex giving you a statement credit in exchange for spending money with a specific vendor.
Some of these offers, however, also offer bonus MR points (or other points) for spending with certain vendors. For example, Amex might offer one extra bonus point per dollar spent at Dell (this is one that comes out fairly frequently). This means that if you typically earn one point per dollar spent here, you will earn two points per dollar, effectively doubling the number of points you can earn.
One thing to keep in mind is that you need to activate Amex offers before making the purchase, otherwise you'll be disappointed when no points or credits show up on your account.
How to Use MR Points
1. Transfer points outside of American Express
If you're looking at getting the highest possible value out of your points (which I hope you are), transferring them to other loyalty programs is by far the best way you can use your MR points.
Unlike the other uses listed below which let you use your points for a maximum of around 1 cent per point, transferring them to partners can easily yield double that, if not more. Given the huge list of transfer partners, you'll never run out of options for how to use these points with various airlines and hotel programs. Here is a list of Amex transfer partners as of July 2022:
It's hard to put a specific number on how much money you can expect to save using this method because not all points are created equal, and the transfer ratios can vary from program to program. We won't get into detail about this here, but feel free to check out our guides on specific loyalty programs to learn more about how much points are worth and how to maximize them.
2. Book travel
Another option for using points that may be a little more accessible than going down the transfer partner rabbit hole is to book travel directly with Amex using points.
You can use MR points to book anything from flights to hotels to car rentals and more. As mentioned earlier, you will typically get about 1 cent per point by using this method with a couple of exceptions. One valuable exception to this is if you own the Business Platinum Card, you can get 35% of your points back as a rebate if you use them to book flights through the Amex portal. Note that this is only for economy flights and only for a single selected airline indicated in your account preferences.
You can also use your points to book hotels, including the Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts® properties. Booking one of these hotels (such as the one below) gives you added benefits like free food & beverage credits, room upgrades, free breakfast, and late checkout. Despite the fancy-sounding name, you can often find cheap hotels in this program - especially when traveling abroad.
Now you might be wondering - can I use this method to book a FareDrop? Unfortunately, the answer is usually no. Unlike most other portals, Amex will only rarely show you the lowest fare class. Since FareDrop gives you the absolute cheapest price for flights, the two don’t always mesh. That’s not to say you can’t find FareDrop prices on the Amex portal, it's just the exception and not the rule. (Did you see the transfer recommendations above? P.S. - If you want to know the simplest way to combine credit card points with FareDrops, check out our guide on how to use Capital One Miles to cover travel purchases)
3. Cash out
We won't spend too much time on the next few options since they offer significantly lower value than the two previous methods.
Depending on which Amex products you have (including different cards, checking and business checking accounts) you can cash out your points for real money at varying rates. The absolute maximum value you can get here is 1.1 cents per point, and that is only if you own the American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab. As discussed above, you can easily get double the value if you play your cards right with transfer partners, so definitely look there first.
4. Offsetting charges and buying merchandise
The lowest-value redemption for your MR points is using them to shop online or offset charges on your Credit Card statement to the tune of roughly .6-.7 cents per point. I would only recommend using points like this if either a.) you're closing your account and need to use them quickly so you don't lose them, or b.) you never want to travel, and all the other use-cases are useless to you (if this describes you then hopefully this blog will change your mind).
American Express Membership Rewards are one of the most valuable points currencies in the travel world. As a beginner in the points and miles world, these points can be your best friend for getting free or cheap travel very quickly and easily.
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