—Aw, nerds! Looks like the American Express Platinum offer mentioned here is temporarily unavailable.
If you use your American Express rewards points right, you can get a value of 1 cent per point or better. But if you choose the wrong option, you’ll see your rewards rate slashed. NerdWallet crunched the numbers to give you the best ways to earn and use your AmEx rewards.
Popular Redemption Options
- Travel rewards: You can transfer your points to airline and hotel loyalty programs, usually at the rate of 1 Membership Rewards Point to 1 airline mile or hotel point, for a valuation of 1 cent per point. Still, redemption rates vary by partner, so you’ll need to do the calculation for yourself.
- Gift cards: Redeem as few as 1,000 points for a $10 gift certificate, for 1 cent per point (full value). Since you can redeem a small number of points, and get cards for a variety of stores, we deem this option equivalent to cash. (You can also redeem 200 points for a $2 Farmville credit. Can, not should.)
Bad Redemption Options
- Amazon Pay with Points: AmEx lets you use your MR points at checkout when you go to Amazon.com, but you can’t exchange your points at the full value. The example listed on Amazon’s website shows 9,210 points for $64.47, which works out to 0.7 cents to the dollar, lower than usual.
- Offsetting a charge: To be fair, we don’t have the data to write off this option. You need to log in to see how many points it’ll take to offset a charge in a given category, but these redemption options tend to be substandard. Anyone with an AmEx card have solid numbers?
- shopAmex: Same deal here – you presumably get a discount when you redeem through AmEx’s storefront, but you need to log in to see the numbers. We can tell you that the undiscounted point price is pretty pathetic: 5,000 points for a $25 Apple gift card, for example, which yields 0.5 cents per point.
- Merchandise: It’s not worth it. You usually get a value of less than 1 cent per point, though it fluctuates depending on what you buy. You’re much better off getting a gift card at full value than buying from the MR merchandise section. Our estimated value? Anywhere from 0.5 to 0.9 cents per point.
- Travel Pay with Points: Different lyrics, same song. If you book travel through AmEx, you get a lower rewards rate. Plus, you can’t take advantage of discount sites like Kayak or Orbitz, so you’re trusting your savings to a company that has no incentive to give you the best deal. Exception: If you have an American Express Blue Sky card, you get bonus points (2x on the Everyday, 3x on the Preferred) when you use AmEx’s travel service through December 31, 2011.
Which American Express cards earn Membership Rewards?
|Personal credit cards||Business credit cards|
|Membership Rewards Express||Blue from American Express
ZYNC from Amex
Optima Platinum Card
|Blue for Business
Amex Platinum Business Credit Card (not the Platinum you’re thinking of)
|Membership Rewards||Amex Green
Amex Preferred Rewards Gold
Amex Rewards Plus Gold
Amex Premier Rewards Gold
|Amex Business Gold Rewards Card
Executive Business Card
Amex Executive Corporate Card
Costco Business Card
Business Green Rewards Card
Business Membership Rewards Card (duh)
Amex Corporate Card
|Membership Rewards First||Amex Platinum
Amex Centurion (dream on)
|Amex Business Platinum (the real one)
Amex Corporate Platinum
Other Amex cards and their point programs
- Blue Cash – earns bonus rewards on groceries, gas and department stores, pays out in cash
- Starwood Preferred Guest – 2.3% base rewards rate, pays out in Starpoints
- Amex Gold Delta Skymiles – pays out in Delta Skymiles
- Amex Blue Sky – pays out in Blue Sky Points, redeemable for travel statement credits
Top AmEx credit cards
Check out our blog post of the best American Express credit cards, or see the brief summary of top rewards earners here:
- For hotel stayers: the Starwood American Express gives a crazy-high rewards rate if you redeem for Starwood stays, and if you redeem for airline miles on popular airlines, you get a 1.25% rewards rate, which is better than most airline credit cards.
- For premium travelers: the American Express Platinum comes with a $450 annual fee, but if you can afford it, the card gives perks that more than make up for the fee. Case in point: a $200 airline incidentals credit and airport lounge access worth $400/year.
- For everyday folks: the AmEx Blue Cash Preferred has a very high rewards rate of 6% back on up to $6k spent on groceries a year, unlimited 3% on department stores and gas, and 1% elsewhere. Those categories reward family spending, and as an added perk, you earn cash back, the easiest reward to redeem.
Membership Rewards Tiers
In 2007, American Express split their Membership Rewards program into 3 distinct levels.
For credit cards, there is American Express Membership Rewards Express. This includes the American Express Blue. For charge cards, there are Membership Rewards (Green and Gold) and Membership Rewards First (Platinum and Centurion). A credit card is something that has an APR and is not required to be paid off every month, whereas a charge card requires payment in full each month.
What are the big differences?
- Points Advances, use them before you earn them: American Express allows AMR Express members to advance 5,000 points, AMR members to advance 15,000, and AMR First members to advance 60,000
- Hotels / Airlines: AMR Express points can be redeemed for multi purpose hotel gift cards ranging in value from $25 to $100, at 1 point per 1 cent in value. AMR and AMR first points can actually be transferred to most hotel and airline point programs to “top up” points. In most cases, you can transfer points one for one, but there are quite a few exceptions, like Delta, United, and Starwood. Although to be fair a StarPoint is really worth a lot more than 1 cent.
- You get a fancy dedicated 800 number with MR First. They offer an amazing concierge service. You can call them and ask to send your mom flowers for less than $100 in 3 weeks, or to send a bottle of champagne to your friend Bob’s honeymoon suite at a hotel in Hawaii with a budget of $120, or to book you something in the future requiring a one month advance phone call or early morning wake up such as Per Se, or a tee time.
Membership Rewards is the best point program around. It differs from other programs because you can get 1 to 1 point conversion into many airline programs and hotel programs (1 to 1 point conversion for hotel gift cards with Express). AmEx’s travel rewards actually aren’t trying to screw you over. Alternatively you can redeem for just about any gift card on a 1 cent per point basis starting at 2,500 points.
We disapprove of the tactics that many issuers, such as those from Citi, CapitalOne, and Bank of America, use to make points program redemption options difficult to understand before you sign up for cards – with the intention of tricking cardholders into sub-par programs where it is necessary to rack up 10,000+ point to redeem for rewards at an industry standard rate of 1%. Thankfully, AmEx doesn’t play that game.
Update: One shrewd reader pointed out a major pitfall. You only receive 0.5 cents per point in value if you redeem for cash back or to pay your taxes.