- Amex Membership Rewards points are a great choice if you want lots of options for booking free travel. Amex has 22 transfer partners – 19 airline programs, and three hotel programs – that you can work with.
- You can earn Amex rewards points with cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Gold Card, and the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express.
- While you can book all sorts of awards utilizing these travel partners, some offer much better value than others.
- Take a look at five of the best ways to use your Amex points to book free flights, including Lufthansa first class to Europe, business class to Asia, and cheap flights to Mexico on Delta.
American Express Membership Rewards are probably the most popular points currency. They can be earned across a wide variety of Amex cards, from the Platinum Card from American Express to the Blue Business Plus Credit Card. They’re among the most valuable, too, with plenty of options for redeeming them for travel, from first-class flights and high-end hotel stays to cheap Delta awards.
Popularity comes at a cost, though: Amex’s airline and hotel partners see a lot of points transfers, so you’re chasing the same limited award inventory as other Amex cardholders. This is especially true with partners like British Airways, Marriott, and Virgin Atlantic, which also are transfer partners of other bank programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards so you have even more competition, and points transfers are instantaneous so people are able to jump on flight bookings right away. Good things come to those who don’t wait, so if you see a good award flight, book it right away!
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
How to earn Amex points
It’s easier to bank a massive points balance with Amex than with any other credit card rewards program. That’s because its cards offer some of the most generous category bonuses around – like 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines with the Amex Platinum, and 4x points at restaurants worldwide with the Amex Gold.
You can also earn huge welcome bonuses with Amex cards. For example, the Business Platinum® Card from American Express is currently offering up to 100,000 Amex points to new cardholders: 50,000 points after they spend $10,000, and another 50,000 points after they spend an additional $15,000 on qualifying purchases, all in the first three months. (That’s a high spending requirement, but this is a business card targeted to users who rack up significant company-related expenses.)
Read more: The best American Express cards
Your options for using Amex Membership Rewards points
While Amex provides varied ways to spend your Membership Rewards points, many of those options don’t offer great value.
Redemption rates can vary depending on the Amex card you carry, but you’ll average just 0.7 cents per point when you spend Amex points on things such as merchandise, paid travel (through American Express travel), and Amazon purchases.
Get maximum value from your Amex points by transferring them to travel partners
You’ll maximize the value of your points by booking award travel through airline loyalty programs. Amex has 19 transfer partners, including several unique programs not accessible with any other points currency. What’s more, many of these partners are really good ones, offering exceptional value.
Amex also has three hotel partners: Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors, and Marriott Bonvoy. Transferring your points to these programs to book free hotel stays can also get you good value, but I’m focusing on the best uses of Amex points for flights, since the bulk of Amex partners are airline programs and there’s amazing value to be had, especially with premium-cabin awards.
Using Amex points to book flights is generally the best option
Here are our top five favorite ways to use American Express Membership Rewards points to book flights with airline partners. You’ll notice that this is heavily concentrated on redemptions between North America and Europe. This is no accident: Membership Rewards are, in my view, the best points to earn if you want to book first- or business-class travel between North America and Europe.
This doesn’t mean that other parts of the world aren’t reachable with Membership Rewards points, simply that the best value generally lies here.
1. Round-trip to Europe in business class for 88,000 ANA miles with no fuel surcharges
Japanese carrier ANA does pass along fuel surcharges when you use its Mileage Club program to book awards on most airlines, and booking round-trip is required. That said, ANA offers an unbeatable value on award travel from North America to Europe. It’s just 88,000 miles round-trip – 88,000 Amex points transferred to ANA at a 1:1 ratio.
Be aware that this can be a challenging award to book because you will need to find inventory round-trip, ANA doesn’t put awards on hold, and points transfers aren’t immediate. When it works out, though, it’s like winning the lottery!
Fly the following airlines, which are ANA’s partners in the Star Alliance, to avoid fuel surcharges:
• United • Air Canada • SAS
2. Business class to Europe for 55,000 Aeroplan miles with no fuel surcharges
Air Canada’s Aeroplan program has relatively generous Star Alliance award availability (better than Avianca LifeMiles, which is American Express’ other Star Alliance transfer partner), and the program is easy to use, with an excellent call center and instantaneous points transfers.
The downside? On many airlines, Air Canada passes along fuel surcharges, which can add hundreds of dollars to your redemption cost. However, there are currently no fuel surcharges when you redeeming Aeroplan miles on the following airlines between the US and Europe:
• Swiss • United • Turkish • SAS • Brussels Airlines • TAP
3. Business class to China for 55,000 Etihad miles
While it may be counterintuitive to book flights on American Airlines through Etihad Guest, the two airlines are partners, and it can cost fewer miles to go through Etihad.
Availability can be tough to find, and Etihad Guest isn’t exactly the easiest program to work with, but there is no better value to greater China in business class when using Membership Rewards points. For this award, you’ll most often find award availability when flying to and from mainland China, though you can also book awards from the US to Hong Kong.
4. North America to Mexico for just 6,000 Delta SkyMiles each way
While Delta’s SkyMiles program is often maligned for charging exorbitant mileage rates for first- and business-class flights, you can find some incredible bargains if you know where to look – and economy-class awards are among the best options.
Delta prices every flight individually based on a dynamic award chart, but award flights do tend to price in ranges. It can cost as little as 6,000 SkyMiles (example route: Vancouver to Mexico City) for flights between Canada and Mexico on Delta. Flying from the US? It can cost as little as 7,000 miles (example route: Portland-Puerto Vallarta) in economy.
5. Lufthansa first class to Europe from 76,000 Membership Rewards points
Although first-class inventory on Lufthansa can be hard to find (and is best booked on short notice, about two weeks out from the flight date), if you find availability you can book it for just 87,000 Avianca miles. Membership Rewards points transfer instantly to the Avianca LifeMiles program.
So how did we spend just 76,000 Membership Rewards points if the price is 87,000 miles? By taking advantage of a bonus! Amex runs periodic transfer bonuses into different programs, and if you catch a 15% bonus (which Amex has previously offered for transfers to LifeMiles), you’ll pay just 76,000 Membership Rewards points “all-in” for this award.
The best part? There are no fuel surcharges. And yes, award tickets receive full First Class Terminal privileges and the high-touch service for which Lufthansa is famous.
Membership Rewards points are popular, and with good reason. This is just a taste of the incredible value that you can get from American Express Membership Rewards points. With such a large number of transfer partners and an entire world to explore, there are a lot more “sweet spot” redemptions than these to enjoy!
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