We began this series with an introduction to the three types of credit card reward programs frequented by travelers: transferable point cards, airline- and hotel-branded cards, and fixed point value cards. Next we’ll dive a little deeper into the first type, transferable point cards. There are five major types of transferable points:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points
  • Capital One Venture Miles
  • Marriott Bonvoy

The subject of today’s article is American Express and its travel reward program known as Membership Rewards. While American Express has stiff competition from Chase and other issuers, it is one of the most powerful earning and redeeming programs for travelers.

Let’s move about the cabin and take a look at the amenities.

Amex Airline & Hotel Partners

American Express Membership Rewards partners with 19 different airlines and three different hotel programs to which points can be transferred.

Airline Partners

Here are the 19 airline partner programs:

All of the transfer ratios are 1 Amex MR point to 1 airline mile except for the following airlines:

  • AeroMexico is 1:1.6
  • El Al is 50:1
  • JetBlue is 1:0.8

Top Tip: Get a visualization of Amex MR airline partners by using this Award Map, a tool we discussed in our article, “Four Invaluable Tools for Booking Flights With Miles & Cash.”

A very important aspect to consider when transferring to airlines is the transfer time. Most transfers are instant, but a few, including transfers to Singapore Airlines and ANA, take longer. What does this mean? If you are booking an award flight and the program does not allow you to place the award tickets on hold, it is possible the award availability could change by the time your points hit the airline account. Truly, this is a risk for any transfer, but more so in such cases.

Award Wallet has a good guide on average transfer times. Lucky at One Mile At A Time keeps an updated list as well.

K2 Insider Info: We’ve often experienced the Amex website or phone agent noting inflated transfer times. No need to worry when they say a particular transfer may take 10 days. Follow the guides above for real-world data.

Transfer Bonuses

Keep an eye out for transfer bonuses. Amex has offered a wide array of bonuses to a number of airline partners in the past. For example, 40% transfer bonuses to British Airways are offered periodically. This means you’d get 1,400 British Airways Avios miles for every 1,000 Amex MR points transferred. Many other airline partners offer transfer bonuses as well. Sarah Page has an in-depth article on the history of Amex transfer bonuses.

Hotel Partners

You also have the option to transfer Amex MR points to three hotel brands – Hilton (1 Amex MR : 2 Hilton), Marriott Bonvoy (1:1), and Choice Hotels (1:1). All of these transfers should process nearly instantly. 

Joseph at Million Mile Secrets has an excellent guide specifically on Amex hotel partners. He also explains how you can indirectly transfer Amex MR to IHG hotels, by first sending your points to Virgin Atlantic.

Don’t worry if the complexities of credit card airline and hotel partners are a little confusing. It takes some time to understand it all.

Top Tip: Amex allows one to transfer their Amex MR to another person’s airline account only if that person is an authorized user on an MR-earning card. In other words, if Katie is the primary card holder, she can transfer to Kevin’s airline account only if Kevin is an authorized user on Katie’s Amex MR card.

Unlock Tremendous Value Via Transfer Partners

Amex has a variety great airline transfer partners, spanning the three major airline alliances–oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance–as well covering some non-allied partners. One of our favorites is the always fabulous ANA. We’ll go into the details regarding ANA in a later article, but here is one example of great value.

We found business class award space for two people round trip Chicago – Tokyo in April 2021, great timing for cherry blossom season:

And the total cost:

Yes, that is the total for round trip, two people. In other words, just 75,000 Amex MR points per person, round trip. Or 37,500 Amex MR points per person, each way for one of the best business class products and service in the world.

By comparison, American Airlines requires 60,000 miles per person each way, while United wants 88,000 miles per person each way.

If one were to purchase this fare, per person at present it would cost:

Which means we are getting a redemption value of 10 cents per Amex MR point!

K2 Insider Info: Award space for ANA business class from New York City tends to be quite limited. Check out other cities with ANA service such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston which generally have more availability.

If you need a guiding hand for airline transfers or would rather leave it to an expert, that is exactly our bread and butter at the MileValue Award Booking Service. We know the ins and outs of credit card and airline partners. We can help you extract maximum value and options for your points.

Travel Portal

While you can transfer your Amex MR points hotel and airlines programs, you can also book flights, hotels, cruises, and more via the Amex Travel portal.

Basically, you run a search as if you were searching on an online travel agency like Expedia:

The search results page will list both the cash cost as well as the cost using Amex MR points. Be sure to use the filters on the results page to best sort the options.

When redeeming your points this way, each point will be worth a different amount.

  • For flights, 1 Amex MR point is worth 1 cent
  • Hotels, 1:0.7
  • Cruises, 1:0.7
  • Vacation packages, 1:0.7
  • The Fine Hotels & Resorts properties, 1:1
    • This is available to Platinum and Business Platinum card holders
  • To upgrade using points, 1:1

When Should I Use The Portal?

While we can transfer Amex MR points directly to airlines, here are a few reasons why you should compare with the travel portal.

It is entirely possible that award space may not available. You may have a specific travel date and the airline partners are not viable. While you may not get the best value by redeeming through the portal, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

**A side note from Sarah Page: Ask yourself if the opportunity cost of using your Membership Rewards this way–at a value of one cent or less–is really worth it. Can you pay cash now and save your points to be used as airline miles, likely at a higher value, later down the line? You’d ultimately be saving more money this way if you don’t have an easy way of replenishing your stash of Membership Rewards for said future trip. Or is it necessary for your cash flow to redeem through the travel portal now? That’s a personal finance question that only you can answer.**

Airfare sales are a good time to book using the portal. Those reduced prices, say the $468 round trip US – Buenos Aires sale recently, are usually reflected in a lower points cost as well.

Buenos Aires, Argentina by K2

For Amex business card holders, there is a stellar rebate available when using Pay with Points through the travel portal. The Business Platinum Card from American Express offers a 35% rebate when booking business or first class tickets. And this also applies to one airline of your choice for economy tickets. Amex Business Gold card holders receive a 25% rebate.

A big perk of booking with points through the portal is that the ticket is treated as a revenue (e.g. cash) fare. That means you will earn miles for your ticket. Be sure to include your respective frequent flyer number on your reservation. We like to use Where to Credit to help determine the best airline program to credit mileage earning to.

For even more details on the Amex Travel portal, Anya Kartashova, one of our favorite writers who also has an amazing Instagram, has an excellent guide at 10xTravel.

Spend Bonus Categories

Pay attention to the varying bonuses for spend in specific categories across the Membership Rewards portfolio. Common categories include travel, gas, and dining.

For example, Amex’s premium travel card, the Platinum Card from American Express, offers five Amex MR points per dollar spent on flights booked directly through an airline or through Amex’s Travel portal. If you buy, say, a $1,000 airline ticket, you’ll earn 5,000 Amex MR points.

Another common category is grocery spend. In the Amex MR portfolio, the Amex Gold Card offers four MR points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 in purchases per year, in addition to other benefits. The Amex EveryDay Preferred card earns three MR points per dollar at supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year, and has a smaller annual fee than the Gold card.

One big consideration for planning out your own credit card portfolio is the categories where you spend the most money. Sarah Page, the owner of MileValue, is an expert in this area and offers personalized consultations. Click here for more information and to refine your credit card and points earning strategy.

Planning out your credit card strategy is also especially recommended for planning a big trip. You can get the right cards for your spend and to maximize the best airline options.

Top Tip: Amex has several credit card application rules (not published by Amex, but anecdotal). A big one is the 2/90 Rule: You can open two Amex cards every 90 day period. Another is that you can only hold up to four or five Amex cards–charge and credit cards considered separately for this rule–at the same time. Sarah Page will also help you navigate such rules through her consultation service.

Final Approach

With 19 airline partners, three hotel partners, the travel portal, and a large portfolio of credit cards offering a huge array of spend bonuses and perks, American Express is one of the premier and most powerful transferable points programs.

It’s worth mentioning that as a result of COVID-19, Amex has added some additional spending bonuses to various cards. This includes $20 monthly credits for streaming services or US wireless phone services through December 2020 for Platinum card holders. Gilbert at God Save the Points has the details. Additionally, at the time of writing, Amex is starting to roll out some annual fee credits. Dave at MilesTalk reports so far six cards are confirmed to receive a credit, including $200 for the Business Platinum. Amex is undoubtedly leading the charge among all credit card issuers in this respect.

While there are also other ways to redeem Amex MR points, such as gift cards, the redemption values are much lower. Airline and hotel transfers are generally the best ways to get the most value and do keep in mind to check the Amex Travel portal as well.

Have you made a redemption using Amex MR? Please share in the comments below!

Cheers and transfer on.

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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