American Express aptly operates its credit card rewards program under the brand name of Membership Rewards. This program features several of the most prominent cards currently on the market – the Amex Platinum Card, for example – but does not actually include all of the rewards cards offered by Amex, as you’ll see below.
Unlike most rewards programs, Amex’s Membership Rewards is also broken down into three distinct tiers:
- Membership Rewards First
- Membership Rewards (Regular)
- Membership Rewards Express
Membership First ranks at the top, retaining the most exclusivity and offering the most benefits, while Membership Rewards Express ranks at the bottom, providing the most basic and introductory benefits. However, all three tiers operate on the same points system for earning and redeeming rewards. Allowing cardholders to earn points with each dollar spent, Membership Rewards enables its customers to redeem for a wide variety of perks, ranging from travel accommodations and gift cards to rides with the popular car service Uber.
In this article, we will provide an in-depth review of Amex’s rewards program in order to help you earn maximum value in terms of both earning and redemption.
Cards Eligible for the Membership Rewards Program:
Keep in mind that American Express has three tiers of rewards programs for its cards. We have details on those tiers in the next section. Additionally, some cards are automatically included in the program while others must be manually enrolled, and some charge annual fees to enroll in the program while others offer free sign-up.
|Card Name||Automatically Enrolled?||Fee to Enroll?|
|Membership Rewards First|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Yes||No|
|The Business Platinum Card® from American Express||Yes||No|
|Corporate Platinum Card®||Maybe||No|
|Business Centurion® Card||Yes||No|
|Corporate Centurion® Card||Maybe||No|
|Membership Rewards (Regular)|
|The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express||Yes||No|
|Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card||Yes||No|
|American Express® Gold Card||Yes||No|
|American Express® Green Card||Yes||No|
|American Express® Rewards Plus Gold Card||Yes||No|
|American Express® Corporate Green Card||No||$90|
|American Express® Business Gold Card||Yes||No|
|Business Green Rewards Card from American Express||Yes||No|
|American Express® Corporate Gold Card||No||$40|
|Membership Rewards Express|
|Blue from American Express® Card||Yes||No|
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||Maybe||No|
A Closer Look at the Membership Rewards Tiers
Membership Rewards is broken down into three tiers that dictate what perks you have access to. However, if you have more than one card in the Membership Rewards program, all your cards will gain access to the tier of the best card. For example, if you own the Blue Business Plus Credit Card as well as the Platinum Card®, both your cards will have access to the perks of the Membership Rewards First program.
These are some of the biggest differences among them:
|Tier||Access to Transfer Partners||Concierge Service||Points Purchase Limit||Free Gifts From High-End Retailers||Premium Travel Perks|
|Membership Rewards First||Yes||Yes||500,000 Points||Yes||Yes|
|Membership Rewards||Yes||No||500,000 Points||No||No|
|Membership Rewards Express||No||No||100,000 Points||No||No|
Point Transfer Eligibility – This useful feature enables cardholders to transfer their points into the external loyalty programs of other select companies in order to redeem miles or points directly though them.
Concierge Service – Think of Amex’s concierge service as your personal secretary and customer service representative meshed into one. You can ask them to book your travel plans, make your dinner reservations, or deliver a bouquet of flowers to your spouse on Valentine’s Day. There have even been stories of people using this service for help on crossword puzzles – we aren’t kidding.
Points Purchase Limit – These are the limits on how many Membership Rewards points you can purchase (points can be purchased at a rate of 2.5 cents per 1 point, which is a money-losing proposition when you consider redemption values).
Free Gifts From High-End Retailers – These include products, certificates and samples from designer brands.
Premium Travel Perks – These can include free hotel room upgrades, complimentary breakfasts, late checkouts – and best of all, a free companion ticket whenever you purchase a full-priced international flight in business or first class.
How To Maximize Your Membership Rewards Earnings
All American Express credit cards participating in the Membership Rewards program give you at least one point in return for every dollar spent, regardless of the way you use your card. Supplementary to this basic rate, however, are other measures you can take to boost your rewards earnings. Since there is no maximum limit on the amount of points you are able to earn, indulging in these measures could very well be the difference between earning a one-night hotel stay versus a an exotic week-long vacation:
- Selecting the Right Card & Using It Properly: Certain Amex cards give out bonus points for signing up and/or adding an authorized user within a designated period of time. Select cards provide higher earning rates in specific expense categories as well.
Furthermore, if you own an ‘OPEN’ card (any Amex card with the word ‘Business’ in its name is considered an ‘OPEN’ card), you can earn up to 4X the points per dollar spent (or receive up to a 10% discount) when shopping at select partners. These partners include some of the biggest names around, such as Park Hyatt, Hertz, FedEx and HP Home & Home Office Store. For example, look at the picture below:
- Booking through the “Pay With Points” Travel Tool: Take advantage of the program’s internal booking tool for flights, car rentals and hotel accommodations as every dollar spent there yields 2X the earnings. The prices are in line with those charged by Expedia as well.
- Riding With Uber: Replacing your regular taxi rides with Uber gives you 2X the points.
Other Earning Perks:
- Linking Accounts: You can link your different Amex credit cards together to combine points free of charge, provided that that they are all eligible for the Membership Rewards program.
- No Minimum Spending Requirement: There is no minimum threshold for the amount you need to spend on your card in order to begin earning points.
- No Rotating Categories: None of the Amex cards participating in the Membership Rewards program have rotating categories, meaning that you don’t have to worry about signing up in order to earn points in a bonus category.
- No Expiration Date: Your Membership Rewards points never expire as long as your account remains in good standing.
Earning Restrictions to Watch Out For:
- Manual Enrollment: Given that some cards are not automatically enrolled in the Membership Rewards program, you may have to manually enroll on your own.
- Rewards Vary By Amount Spent: Certain Amex cards, like the Everyday Preferred Card, have varied earning rates contingent on how much money is spent.
- Points Can Be Confiscated: Amex’s fine print dictates that making a late payment results in your “forfeiting” points. In other words, if you fail to pay the amount due by the end date of the next billing period, all the points you earned during the period covered by the statement will be lost. However, you can reinstate your points by returning your card to good standing and paying a $35 fee.
How to Redeem Membership Rewards For Maximum Value
The Membership Rewards program is flexible given the diversity of redemption options that are offered. However, the question everyone wants answered is: Which redemption option provides the most value per point? We crunched the numbers and the answer is ultimately simple: stick with travel and gift cards and stay away from everything else.
How Much are Membership Rewards Points Worth?
The table below displays a more detailed breakdown of the various rewards redemption options that are available and their corresponding monetary value.
|Redemption Options||Dollar Cost||Points Needed||Points Valuation|
|“Pay With Points” Travel|
|Car Rental||$100.00||10,000||1 cent|
|“Pay With Points” Merchandise|
|$50 Item||$49.00||9,800||0.5 cents|
|$100 Item||$99.99||19,998||0.5 cents|
|$200 Item||$199.99||39,998||0.5 cents|
|$300 Item||$300.00||60,000||0.5 cents|
|Statement Credit||$100.00||167,000||0.6 cents|
|$25 Home Depot Card||$25.00||2,500||1 cent|
|$25 Staples Card||$25.00||2,500||1 cent|
|“Shop With Points” at Amazon.com||$27.52||3,931||0.70 cents|
|$10 Charity Donation||$10.00||1,000||1 cent|
|Delta SkyMiles*||$304.79||20,000||0.95 cents|
|Hotel Average (Hilton/Best Western)*||$632.17||75,000||1.05 cents|
|Paying Taxes||$100.00||20,000||0.5 cents|
* These options involve transferring Membership Rewards points into external loyalty programs, which cannot be done with Membership Rewards Express.
Other Redemption Perks:
- No Date Restrictions & Fair Travel Prices: There aren’t any restrictions or blackout dates when you plan your travel with the “Pay With Points” booking tool. Additionally, although there are slight variations, the flights, hotels, car rentals and other travel-related amenities offered in the booking tool are generally the same price as other travel booking websites.
- Extra Deals on Merchandise: You may be able to get a free gift card when buying merchandise using “Pay with Points.” For example, Best Buy is offering a $25 gift card with a qualifying purchase. However, this isn’t much compensation given that the point values are so low when redeeming through this option.
Redemption Restrictions to Watch Out For:
Minimum Threshold: Several redemption options have a minimum points requirement. For example, you need at least 1,000 points to redeem for statement credit and at least 5,000 points for a Coach gift card. Different gift cards have their own minimum points requirement, as you can see below:
- Restrictions on Items: When you redeem through “Shop With Points” at Amazon.com (not to be confused with “Pay With Points” Merchandise), there are limitations on the items you are able to buy with your points – Amazon Kindle downloads, MP3s, games and software downloads are not offered, for example.
- Limitations on Statement Credit: Most credit cards apply statement credits to your account in full, perhaps even taking you into a negative balance if you owe relatively little to begin with. With Membership Rewards, however, you can only use your points to offset specific charges that appear on your current statement – and furthermore, you cannot apply points to part of the value of a charge.
In other words, you may not be able to redeem all of your points at one time if the amount does not match up perfectly with your purchase history. This can be especially problematic for cardholders who wish to redeem their accrued points and close their account in order to avoid the annual fee that many Amex cards charge.
Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
Membership Rewards boasts one of the most extensive networks of transfer partners out there, enabling participants in the Membership Rewards and Membership Rewards First segments to transfer points into the loyalty programs of 21 other companies and book their travel accommodations directly through them. While Membership Rewards Express cards are not eligible for transfers, cardholders would be able to participate if they also have a card in one of the other two tiers.
It’s also important to note that transfers must be completed in 1,000 point increments, unless otherwise noted in the table below. Additionally, transfers to U.S. airlines also incur a fee of $6 per 10,000 points (though the maximum fee is $99 and it can be paid using points).
|Membership Rewards Transfer Partners||Transfer Ratio|
|2.5:2 (in 250 point increments)|
|2:1 (in 200 point increments)|
The Pros & Cons of Membership Rewards
Now that we’ve examined the Membership Rewards program in detail, it’s time to evaluate its chief strengths and weaknesses, as well as the “fluff” features you should ignore.
- Numerous Transfer Partners– American Express immensely boosts the versatility of its program by enabling you to transfer your points into 21 external loyalty programs. One of them is Starwood Preferred Guest, which has 31 airline transfer partners of its own (resulting in more than 115 individual airline carriers, given that some of the partners are airline alliances that include several different carriers).
- No Overall Earning Cap, Expiration Date or Minimum Threshold– Membership Rewards points have no expiration date, maximum earning ceiling or minimum amount needed to spend in order to begin earning points.
- Bonus Points for ‘OPEN’ Cards– ‘OPEN’ cards can earn up to 4X the points when shopping at select partners.
- Limitations on Travel– When redeeming for travel, you must either use the “Pay With Points” booking tool or transfer your points into an external loyalty program. The flexibility of Membership Rewards’ travel booking therefore pales in comparison to other credit cards which allow you to apply your points irrespective of the way you booked your travel plans (your points cancel out the purchase amount when it posts to your credit card statement). In addition to this, to earn 2X the points with Amex’s internal booking tool, one must purchase flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruise reservations or American Express packages. In other words, if you solely use the tool to book a rental car, you will only earn one point per dollar spent.
- “Forfeiting” Points– Amex’s strict regulations render it very easy for one to lose points by accidentally making a late payment, even if it’s just once.
- Restrictions on Transferring Points– Points can only be transferred to yourself, and only within the Membership Rewards program or to select external loyalty programs (certain cards only). Transferring points to friends, your spouse, Amex cards outside the Membership Rewards program or any unlisted loyalty programs is prohibited.
- No Cash Back Options– The program doesn’t offer any credit cards that allow you to truly earn cash back. Furthermore, when redeeming points for cash, you must use a statement credit, which cannot be applied to partial charges. This option also yields a redemption rate of 0.6 cents per point, which is 40% lower than the Membership Rewards program’s top redemption options (namely, gift cards and travel).
- Merchandise is Overpriced– Points used with the “Pay With Points” Merchandise option only offer a valuation of 0.5 cents. Instead, use your points to redeem for gift cards (if they have one for the merchant you desire) at a valuation of 1 cent and then purchase your item via that method.
- Purchasing Points– Though it initially appears rather intriguing that you can “purchase” Membership Rewards points, do not do this. Paying $25 for 1,000 points translates into paying 2.5 cents per point. Given that none of the redemption options yield much higher than 1 cent per point, you’re essentially paying 2.5 cents to get ≤1 cent in return. Thus, not only are you losing the flexibility of cash, you’re also getting less value for what you initially paid.
- Paying Taxes with Points – Since federal taxes are a mandatory expense, this seems like the best way to use your Membership Rewards points, right? Well, not really. The relatively new option that allows you to pay taxes using your points is actually a poor deal as it only yields 0.5 cents per point. Thus, we recommend that you avoid this option and explore other means of paying your taxes.
Where Does Membership Rewards Rank?
WalletHub scored the primary rewards programs of the largest issuers based on a standardized grading methodology in order to provide a basis for comparison. Membership Rewards ranked 8th for consumer credit card rewards programs and 4th for business credit card rewards programs. Take a look at our graphs below to see how Amex stacked up against the competition.
For Consumer Cards:
Consumer Credit Card Rewards Program Rankings
For Business Cards
Business Credit Card Rewards Program Rankings