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It’s no secret that American Express has one of the most flexible travel currencies out there — so much so that the redemption choices can seem overwhelming. Cardholders who earn Membership Rewards can book travel through AmEx’s portal or transfer their points to 22 different travel partners.
Here at NerdWallet, our experts have used points to book everything from fancy hotels in Asia to premier class flights. Check out some of the Nerds’ best American Express redemptions to inspire your own future trips, and take advantage of some of those cardholder perks, too.
Note: These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Flying business class overnight to Medellin
Elina Geller, Travel Writer
The redemption: In February 2019, I transferred 35,000 AmEx points to Aeroplan to fly from Buenos Aires to Medellin in business class on Copa Airlines.
Why it was great: There were no direct flights from Buenos Aires to Medellin, so I had a layover in Panama, and the total flight time was almost nine hours. I really wanted to be comfortable, especially since the flight from Buenos Aires to Panama was overnight. I booked it last minute and was able to get away with not paying the $75 close-in booking fee on United. (United has since abandoned this fee on award flights.)
Highlights from the trip: I lived in Medellin for four and a half months. Some highlights include great music, lovely people, lots of opportunities to practice Spanish, a big digital nomad community and great shopping.
Using points to pay for a discounted “cash fare”
Sam Kemmis, Travel Writer
The redemption: I used AmEx Membership Rewards points to book a nonstop round-trip flight from LAX to Loreto, Mexico on Alaska Airlines for 18,000 points (and no fees, since it was booked directly through the portal).
Why it was great: Usually I would transfer Membership Rewards to a partner rather than book directly through the AmEx travel portal, but a few factors made this a good redemption for me:
The price was a "Membership Exclusive," which made it the same cost as a basic economy ticket if I had paid cash. Since I'm MVP Gold with Alaska, buying a non-basic fare meant I was eligible for first-class upgrades, and I got upgraded both ways!
Because the fare was effectively a "cash" fare paid with points, rather than an award fare, I still earned nearly 3,000 redeemable miles with Alaska (and 1,500 elite qualifying miles).
Highlights from the trip: I chose my dates randomly, but it turned out that I was traveling during peak whale watching season. I went on a whale watching excursion and saw five different species of whales, including the largest animal in the world: the blue whale.
Getting upgraded to a corner suite on my honeymoon
Sam Dalton, Engineering
The redemption: I saved up points and switched from American Express® Gold Card to the The Platinum Card® from American Express to get a 50,000-point welcome bonus being offered at the time, which I could then use for a fancy hotel for my honeymoon. It was about 40,000 points for a two-night stay at the Fairmont Jakarta.
Why it was great: Getting upgraded from a regular room to a corner suite at the Fairmont Jakarta was pretty epic. The place had two bathrooms, a living and dining room, and was bigger than our whole house! We used room service for breakfast, which was amazing, and used our room credit for laundry.
Highlights from the trip: One highlight in Jakarta was visiting the natural history museum. They have the skull of one of the earliest proto-human ancestors, between monkeys and humans, that’s called the Hobbit. After Jakarta, we drove west across Java and the trip was beautiful!
Nerd tip: Utilize the American Express Concierge representatives for booking hard-to-get restaurants — including those that are overseas with difficult hours or staff who may not speak English.
Spending one night at the Four Seasons Hotel Macao
Raylene Chew, Product
The redemption: I used my points for the Four Seasons Hotel Macao at Cotai Strip last July. It was just a one-night stay since my boyfriend and I were visiting briefly from Hong Kong, and it cost 30,614 points. I originally booked the Superior Room with one king bed, but upon arrival we were upgraded to the Premier Room (perk of the The Platinum Card® from American Express), which provided almost double the space.
Why it was great: The main highlights from our quick stint in Macau were really the Four Seasons experience with our The Platinum Card® from American Express. We were graciously welcomed at an early check-in of noon instead of 3:00 p.m (with an upgraded room). We were then given a quick tour of some of the amenities and shown to our room where there was a handwritten welcome card, along with tea and fruit from the area. We were also provided a very comprehensive list of the best restaurants and bars to try in Macau. They helped us get reservations at Lai Heen for dinner and let us know how we might make spa reservations for the next day, utilizing the cool $100 property credit perk for The Platinum Card® from American Express cardholders.
Highlights from the trip: We explored the Cotai strip and went to Rua do Cunha (photo above) to try some egg tarts and Turkish ice cream before dinner at Lai Heen. In the morning, we were provided with a full complimentary breakfast (again thanks to an The Platinum Card® from American Express perk) with everything from fresh juice and coffee/tea to pancakes and eggs to dim sum and congee! After the spa that day, we packed our things to check out around 4:00 p.m. We were actually running a bit late to catch the ferry, so the cherry on top of the experience was that the Four Seasons helped us purchase our ferry tickets at the hotel and set us up to be driven to the ferry station with their own Four Seasons chauffeur. They also gave us egg tarts for the road!
Flying to Hawaii with the family
Steve Young, Engineering
The redemption: I got two trans-Pacific flights and one inter-island flight for two adults. It was Oakland to Lihue, Kauai and then on to Kahului, Maui before heading back to Oakland for 98,806 points total on Hawaiian Airlines.
Why it was great: I love Hawaiian Airlines, especially because of the free food and rum punch. With my The Platinum Card® from American Express, I definitely made heavy use of the lounges, too, thanks to the partnership between AmEx and Priority Pass.
Highlights from the trip: It was my first trip with my nephew, who was five months old at the time! I also saw the Na Pali coast of Kauai and snorkeled in the Molokini crater.
Finding extra availability on a flight to Brazil before Carnival
Mauricio Guitron, Marketing
The redemption: I used my points to book premium flights from SFO to Brazil. I purchased a Delta Comfort+ seat on my flight from SFO with a layover in Atlanta for a little north of 100,000 points.
Why it was great: I was having trouble locating Comfort+ seats for both legs of my flight on the Amex portal, so I picked up the phone and called customer service. Within minutes I was on the phone with a real person, who was super helpful in making sure I was able to fly the same section for both legs of my flight to Brazil. She explained there were no more award seats available to Amex, but she went the extra mile to do some research and found available seats on Delta.com. She said I could book through Delta and then call AmEx to get that charge credited with my points, which I did.
Nerd tip: When in doubt, call customer service.
Highlights from the trip: My boyfriend travels often for work, so we try to plan our international vacations around his work trips. With the welcome bonus from my American Express® Green Card, we were able to save a lot of money. We were in Brazil two weeks before Carnival, when a lot of samba bands hold rehearsals that turn into pre-Carnival parties that are free to the public. We stumbled upon one while touring Sao Paulo, and had so much fun with all the locals. It made for a spectacular culturally immersive experience.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card