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Want to take an epic trip next year but have no idea where to start or how to pay for it? Redeeming credit card points and miles can be a great way to book flights and hotels to offset the high cost of traveling. American Express has long been a top bank for issuing excellent credit cards with a great rewards program that keeps its customers coming back for more year after year. The Points Guy values American Express Membership Rewards® at 2 cents per point, meaning you can redeem MRs for some seriously luxurious travel for just pennies on the dollar. But how do you earn and use American Express Membership Rewards? In this article, I’m detailing exactly how to earn AmEx MR points and the best ways to redeem them for your next adventure.
Using Points and Miles for Nearly Free Travel
If you’re new around here, I am passionate about traveling more with less money by using points and miles. I earn a TON of points through leveraging credit card welcome bonuses and putting all of my daily spend on credit cards. I have been able to take at least 2x the amount of trips I would normally be able to afford if I were paying cash for my flights and hotels!
Want to travel like me and book flights and hotels using points? I recommend starting with this complete beginner’s guide to travel hacking article. Once you feel comfortable with the steps outlined in that article, head over to this post to determine if a credit card is right for you.
If you have any credit card debt, this strategy is not for you. Focus on paying off that credit card debt and then consider hopping into the points and miles game. In addition, be sure that you can pay off your credit card bills in full every single month. If you can’t, you are paying a large amount of interest, and all this travel no longer becomes nearly free!
Once you’ve learned how to use credit cards to get points and miles and know you can responsibly use credit cards, fill out this survey so I can send you a free recommendation on what credit card is best to meet your travel goals!
How to Earn American Express Membership Reward Points
American Express offers several top notch travel cards that accrue Membership Rewards points. AmEx has long been a favorite for travel hackers and other credit card users because of their valuable rewards program and awesome cards. Chances are you’ve heard of several different AmEx cards or even have a couple in your wallet already!
The Platinum Card® from American Express
If you know anything about credit cards, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the The Platinum Card® from American Express. This is one of the most premium cards on the market that you can apply for without being invited. The AmEx Platinum has a high fee at $695 (Rates & Fees) but many travel hackers say the benefits that come with the card are more than worth it. You’ll earn 5x on flights booked through the AmEx portal and 1x on everything else. You also get access to Centurion airport Lounges around the world, a Priority Pass membership, and tons of credits to businesses such as Walmart, Uber, and Equinox (enrollment required). The welcome bonus is currently 100,000 MR points but you can sometimes find higher links floating around!
This card is known as a “perks” card, meaning it is great for the benefits but not necessarily for earning a lot of MR points. I recommend pairing the American Express Platinum with the American Express® Gold Card to use the benefits of the Platinum but earn lots of points with the Gold card.
American Express® Gold Card
There is not a human on this planet that can’t benefit from the American Express® Gold card. This card earns a staggering 4x points at restaurants and US supermarkets–one of the highest bonuses in these categories of any other card on the market! If you eat food (which I imagine you do), you stand to earn several thousand points a year off the American Express Gold. The welcome bonus is also a generous 60,000 Membership Reward points! With an annual fee of just $250 (Rates & Fees), you’ll more than make up your annual fee in card benefits.
This card is great for earning a lot of Membership Rewards points but not so great for premium travel perks. I recommend pairing this card with the American Express Platinum if you travel often for things like airport lounge access.
American Express Green Card
For the commuter, the American Express Green card (*not an affiliate link) can be a perfect card that is often overlooked. You’ll earn 3x on transit and travel with the AmEx green card and 3x at restaurants. If you live in a large city or use public transportation often, applying for this card is a no brainer!
All information about the American Express Green card has been collected independently by American Express. American Express Green is no longer available through milevalue.com.
American Express Everyday Preferred
If you’re an AmEx fanatic, the American Express Everyday Preferred (*not an affiliate link) card is definitely one you should have in your wallet. It’s a solid all-around earner with 3x at US supermarkets (up to $6k per year), 3x at gas stations, and 1x on everything else. While the welcome bonus is somewhat low at just 15,000 Membership Rewards points, the $95 annual fee and earning potential in the bonus categories makes this worth holding onto.
All information about the American Express Everyday Preferred card has been collected independently by American Express. American Express Everyday Preferred is no longer available through milevalue.com.
A unique strategy to earn more American Express Membership Rewards points is through utilizing a shopping portal. Rakuten, formerly known as eBates, gives cash back when shopping online at certain retailers. When you create an account and spend at qualifying retailers, you can opt to earn MR points instead of cash back. Every little bit adds up and can add a meaningful amount of points to your stash.
Open a Rakuten account here.
How to Use American Express Membership Reward points for Nearly Free Travel
Should you use the travel portal to book travel?
American Express offers a travel portal in which you can book hotels and flights directly through them using your points (or cash which will earn you extra bonus points). There are some pros but quite a few cons to using the travel portal.
The portal essentially works by charging a rate similar to what Expedia would charge. American Express then converts to a point value at a rate of ~1 cent per dollar. So, most of the time you aren’t getting a good value from your points by redeeming in the portal. You can usually get a better redemption by transferring to another partner. Unless there’s a really good cash fare that makes the points value much less!
When you book through American Express’s portal, you also have to deal with AmEx for any cancellations or changes. This can be easy or difficult depending on what representative you get that day. I usually try to book directly with the airline or hotel.
When should you use the American Express portal to book travel?
American Express can offer good value if you book a trip through the portal and pay cash for it. For the American Express Platinum card, booking flights can earn you 5x points per dollar. So if you were going to pay cash for a flight anyways, you can really rack up the points by going through the portal.
In addition, certain cards have a hotel credit as a benefit of holding the card. For example, the American Express Platinum offers a $200 hotel credit when booking an American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts stay (enrollment required). If you have a hotel stay coming up, you might as well book through the portal to take advantage of this perk!
American Express Transfer Partners
American Express has some of the best transfer partners in the game. You can transfer your Membership Rewards points to the following partners:
Best redemptions using American Express Membership Rewards points
Alright, let’s talk about some specific redemptions you can get with American Express MR points.
Air Canada Aeroplan
Air Canada is one of my favorite places to use points. They have great redemptions and you can sometimes get premium economy for less than the price of economy! Air Canada has some good sweet spots on partner airlines like United as well. I flew Air Canada to Mexico in premium economy and back on United economy for 50k points! The way their award chart is structured makes it less points to fly on a partner airline but don’t let that sway you too far–there are still some really affordable redemptions and I was impressed by the Air Canada product.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue is a great airline to redeem points if you are headed to Europe. Each month, Flying Blue publishes some AMAZING points-only deals for flights from Europe to/from the US and other various countries. I’ve seen flights to France for as little as 11,250 miles in economy! The deals change on the first of each month so keep an eye out for your desired destination!
LifeMiles is an often overlooked program for some of the other bigger airlines, but you can get some awesome value for some routes with Avianca Lifemiles. You can book the coveted Lufthansa first class from the US east coast to Frankfurt for as little as 87,000 miles. Or book a United flight through LifeMiles in Polaris from one US coast to the other for just 25,000 miles. If you’re diligent about checking the LifeMiles site, they occasionally have promo awards like LAX to Beijing for 120,000 miles round trip. These usually need to be booked just 2-3 weeks in advance though, so will require lots of flexibility.
Iberia is a Spanish airline that typically flies through Madrid from the US. They have several routes to Europe and some of the Middle East as well. If you search far enough in advance, you can sometimes snag business class flights from the US to Europe on a partner airline for 36,000 miles!
Cathay Pacific First Class
Known as one of the best first class products in the sky, cash in your Capital One miles to fly on Cathay Pacific’s first class. You can fly from Hong Kong to the US in Cathay Pacific for 110,000 one way using Asia miles!
Emirates SkyRewards or Singapore Krisflyer First Class
Both Singapore and Emirates are partners with Capital One and each offers a top notch first class product. These are often bucket list flights that can cost well over $10,000 per person if paying for the cash fare. Transfer your Capital One miles to Krisflyer miles or Skywards miles to book this luxurious flight with points. The flights will cost you between 90k-120k (maybe more) points for a one way flight but if this is a goal of yours, it’s more than worth it! The awesome thing about both Emirates and Singapore is that most of the other major banks are also transfer partners so you can pool your points.
Virgin Atlantic may not be the most luxurious airline in the sky, but it is a popular choice because it is so dang easy to earn Virgin Atlantic miles. Most of the big banks transfer to Virgin Atlantic. One of the best redemptions you can get is booking Delta One for 50,000 miles through Virgin Atlantic. Search for a flight using the calendar view and if you see availability from the US to Europe for 50k, it’s most likely a Delta flight! Just do a little research–not all planes flying your desired route will have the most up to date Delta One product.
Qantas is an Australian airline that can pack some serious value when searching for award flights. While flying on Qantas metal isn’t necessarily a good deal, you can take advantage of some great partner award charts. For example, fly from the US to Dubai on Emirates for just 90,000 miles round trip. Or get from Miami to the Caribbean for as few as 16,000 Qantas miles!
More Strategies for Earning American Express Membership Rewards points
Want to level up your points and miles game to get even more American Express Membership Rewards points? Recruit a player 2. In the world of points and miles, this is usually a spouse, partner, or (very) close friend that will combine points with you for even more redemptions. Once you hit the minimum spend on your American Express card, you can refer your partner to apply for the same card. They get the welcome bonus and you’ll get several thousand referral points as well!
You can also use shared transfer partners from other large banks to combine points and miles to one airline or hotel. This is useful for a big redemption, like a business class flight or a luxury hotel. The partners that overlap with Capital One are below:
Chase: Air Canada Aeroplan, British Airways, Emirates Skyrewards, Flying Blue, Singapore KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic
Citi: Cathay Pacific, Avianca Lifemiles, Emirates SkyRewards, Etihad Guest, Iberia, Flying Blue, Singapore KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic, Qantas
Capital One: Air Canada Aeroplan, British Airways, Emirates Skyrewards, Flying Blue, Avianca Lifemiles, Singapore KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic, Finn Air, Qantas
American Express Membership Reward points are very valuable. Earning AmEx points and then redeeming them strategically can help you travel for just pennies on the dollar! There are several American Express credit cards perfect for earning points for travel. Many come with awesome benefits like airport lounge access that elevate your travel experience, too. Membership Rewards can be transferred to several different airline and hotel partners and if you are strategic with your redemptions you can fly in first class to Europe or just take a quick flight to the Caribbean for less than 20,000 points! Using points and miles can help you travel for nearly free and knowing the best ways to use American Express points can make it even better!