You got an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points, and the big question you’re facing is, now what? Membership Rewards are some of the most sought-after and versatile points on the market. But without an idea of which direction to go, earning and redeeming them can be a daunting task.
Here you'll find a few of the finer points of what you should do now that you’ve got Membership Rewards coming in.
Set a goal
While earning the points is exciting in and of itself, without a clear goal in mind, earning for the sake of earning won’t get you very far.
Are you the type of person who likes to take luxury vacations, flying in first and business class? Or are you the type of person who wants to get from point A to point B with the least hassle? Membership Rewards can help with both of those.
If travel isn’t your end goal and you’re looking to earn the most cash back possible, that’s also an option. The important thing is to decide what you want out of your Membership Rewards.
Learn how to use the points
Depending on the type of reward you’re seeking, the way that you redeem your points matters. Let’s start with the simplest of the options: cash back.
Membership Rewards can be redeemed via statement credits at a value of 0.6 cent per point any time you want. Just select “cover your charges” from inside your Membership Rewards account, find the charge that you’re looking to offset with points and click the check box.
Travel is a bit more complex, as you have two options for redemption. The first is via the American Express Travel page, and the second is via transfers to travel partners.
American Express Travel has its own dedicated booking page that functions like an online travel agency (similar to Expedia, Orbitz and others). Via this page, you can book a flight using points to offset the cost of the trip.
The same can be done for hotels. When you find a hotel that you like, you can choose to pay either outright with your card or use your points at a value of 1 cent each.
Depending on the type of card you have, there may be certain benefits associated with hotels that have a partnership with American Express. Those will typically be displayed first in the search order.
If you signed up for a Membership Rewards account, chances are that what drew your attention in the first place were the transfer partners for airlines and hotels. Membership Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio for the majority of partners.
Some of these airlines will be new to you, so take the time to do your research. You might find that, depending on your travel patterns, a specific airline makes more sense than others.
» Learn more: The 5 best AmEx transfer partners (and 8 to avoid)
Understand bonus categories
Each card in the American Express portfolio comes with a different earning structure. The American Express® Gold Card comes with 4x points at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants, while the The Platinum Card® from American Express comes with a 5x bonus on airfare purchased directly from the airline. Terms apply.
Depending on the DNA of your specific card, your earning structure varies. By taking advantage of the bonus categories and making sure you use your card for those specific purchases, you can see your Membership Rewards balance grow even faster.
Ignore American Express pop-ups
When you log in to your American Express account, you’ll be presented with a box showing how many points you have, and some distracting messages as well.
They’ll gently “remind” you that you can turn your points into a gift card, an iPad or other items. But by doing this, you're redeem those points for something very spur of the moment instead of saving up for your ultimate goal.
Don’t be fooled — in many cases, the value of these redemptions is lower than what you could get by redeeming for travel. Make sure that you stick to your original plan (whatever it may be).
Spending the points you’ve earned is half the fun; the other half is in the earning. Make sure to take full advantage of all the ways you have to earn Membership Rewards — including bonus categories — and your next vacation will be right around the corner.
To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.
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 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card