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What’s an American Express Membership Rewards Point Worth?

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Redeem your American Express Membership Rewards the right way and you could potentially double your returns. Here’s what you need to know before cashing in.

American Express Membership Rewards: The basics

American Express Membership Rewards are worth 0.5 cents to 1 cent each, depending on how you redeem them. If you prefer to cash in elsewhere, you can also transfer points to several loyalty programs — 16 airlines and four hotel chains — sometimes at a 1:1 ratio. Although these rewards are modest compared with other points and miles, they also offer more versatility.

Cards that earn Membership Rewards

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

  • Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Terms Apply
  • The annual fee is $0.
  • 2 points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 in purchases.
  • 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

  • Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $195.
  • 3 points per dollar spent on travel booked directly with airlines.
  • 2 points per dollar spent at U.S. gas stations, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. restaurants.
  • 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

  • Welcome Offer: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
  • The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $175.
  • 3 points per dollar on up to the first $100,000 spent annually on one of the following: flights booked directly with airlines, U.S. purchases for advertising in select media, U.S. gas stations, shipping and various computer and software purchases.
  • 2 points per dollar on up to the first $100,000 spent on the other 4 categories.
  • 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • The annual fee is $550.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on airfare booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on eligible hotel bookings through American Express Travel.
  • 2 points per dollar on other qualifying travel booked through American Express
  • 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN

  • Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
  • The annual fee is $450.
  • 5 points per dollar spent on eligible flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express.
  • 1.5 points per dollar spent on individual purchases of $5,000 or more.
  • 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.
  • Use Membership Rewards Pay with Points for a flight on selected qualifying airline and get 50% of the points back.

How to get more American Express Membership Rewards

There are three ways you can get more American Express Membership Rewards:

  • Sign up for an American Express credit card and collect a sign-up bonus (generally, you can’t do this more than once).
  • Centralize your spending on an American Express card that earns points.
  • Purchase additional points through your American Express portal.

Among these options, purchasing points is the most costly. Membership Rewards points cost 2.5 cents each and are generally worth 1 cent or less when redeemed. You can purchase them in 1,000-point increments, up to a maximum of 100,000 points per year on most cards.

If you’re just a few points shy of purchasing a flight with miles, you might be better off earning more rewards instead of splurging on points.

How to redeem American Express Membership Rewards

Good redemption options
Generally, the best return you can get on your Membership Rewards is 1 cent per point. Here are a few ways you can hit that maximum redemption value:

  • Booking travel through American Express. When you book through American Express, you’ll be able to choose from almost 100 airlines and thousands of hotels throughout the world.
  • Gift cards. Usually, when you use credit card rewards for gift cards, it cuts the rewards value. Not so with American Express. At the gift card hub, you can purchase gift cards from outlets such as Gap, Chili’s Grill & Bar and Universal Studios and still get a competitive value.
  • Charity. If you’re feeling generous, you can choose to donate your rewards to more than a million charities. Your contributions are tax-deductible, too.
  • Uber. You can use Membership Rewards to pay for Uber rides in-app, once you link your account to an American Express card that earns points.

You can also transfer points to carriers and hotels, sometimes at a 1:1 ratio. Depending on the loyalty program, this can also be a high-value redemption. Transfer partners are listed here.

Bad redemption options
In most cases, if you’re getting less than 1 cent per point for your Membership Rewards, you’re missing out on a big chunk of value. These are some of those lower-value redemption options you might want to avoid:

  • Merchandise. When you shop for merchandise on the American Express site with your points, you generally won’t get more than 0.5 cent of value per point.
  • Amazon.com. You’ll get 0.7 cent per point when you redeem points through Amazon.com purchases. That’s still less than the standard 1 cent per point.
  • Everyday charges. You can redeem points for statement credit and get 0.6 cent per point. If you want statement credit, you’d probably be better off with a cash-back card.

Fine print

  • Points don’t expire, as long as your account stays open.
  • Once you redeem your rewards, you can’t cancel the order or get a refund.

Top NerdWallet card that earns American Express Membership Rewards

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN gives business owners big rewards and major flexibility. You can earn 3 points per dollar spent on your choice of five categories — flights booked directly with airlines, U.S. purchases for advertising in select media, U.S. gas stations, shipping and various computer and software purchases — 2 points per dollar spent on the remaining four categories and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

The card also comes with a big sign-up bonus. Welcome Offer: Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $175, so you’ll come out ahead after about $5,800 per year in purchases that earn triple points (not counting the sign-up bonus). If you plan to spend less, consider a card with a smaller annual fee.

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

We calculated the value of each Membership Rewards point by dividing the dollar value of the item purchased, provided by American Express, by the number of points used in a transaction. For merchandise from the American Express site, we looked at a low cost item (TurboTax Deluxe) and a high cost item (an iPad Mini 3) to determine the value of each point.

Current as of May 1, 2015.

Claire Davidson is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.