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Amex Membership Rewards are arguably the best rewards currency out of any transferrable points program, including Chase Ultimate Rewards. The reason is that Membership Rewards have a very diverse range of airlines to transfer to and even their hotel partners can make sense to use when the time is right.
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Different uses for Amex Membership Rewards
I’ll discuss a handful of different ways to utilize Membership Rewards. Note that these are just some of my favorite uses for Membership Rewards and this list is not exhaustive. Still, it should be enough to give you a good idea about some of the great value that’s out there for Membership Rewards.
Although, I won’t be discussing each partner in this article, here’s a list of all of the Amex Membership Rewards partners:
- Aeromexico 1:1.6
- Air Canada (Aeroplan) 1:1
- Air France KLM (Flying Blue) 1:1
- Alitalia (Millemiglia) 1:1
- ANA 1:1
- Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles) 1:1
- British Airways 1:1
- Delta Air Lines (SkyMiles) 1:1
- El Al Israel Airlines 1,000: 20
- Emirates 1:1
- Etihad 1:1
- Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
- Iberia Plus 1:1
- JetBlue Airways 250: 200
- Singapore Airlines 1:1
- Virgin Atlantic 1:1
Hotel Transfer Partners:
- Choice Privileges Rewards (1:1)
- Hilton Honors (1:2)
- Starwood SPG (1000:333)
Aeroplan is a Star Alliance partner which means that you can use Aeroplan miles to book flights on partners like United Airlines. This helps ease the pain of not having United Airlines as an American Express transfer partner. Aeroplan is also great because you can great redemptions without paying any fuel surcharges.
One of my favorite redemptions yet was booking business class with SAS on the way to see the northern lights in Tromsø, Norway. On that redemption, I got exceptional value for my points at 14 cents per mile and paid very minimal fees ($12 per person). For getting to Europe from North American in business, Aeroplan will often be one of your best options.
ANA is an absolute powerhouse of a program.
They are yet another Star Alliance partner but they offer even more lucrative redemptions than Aeroplan. Some of their top redemptions include roundtrips in business class to Europe for 88,000 miles, to South American for 88,000 miles, and to Japan for 75,000 miles. You’ve got to watch out for fees sometimes with ANA but there are ways to avoid them when you fly ANA’s metal or with partners like Air Canada and United.
ANA also allows you to book a stopover for free, making ANA one of the best programs to transfer Amex Membership Rewards to.
Avios (the currency of British Airways and Iberia) can be a good use for Amex Membership Rewards now that both British Airways and Iberia are 1:1 transfer partners of American Express. (Note: each program has it’s own type of Avios but they can be linked and transferred to one another).
Iberia can be a great partner to use for business class flights from the US to Spain. There are some Iberia sweet spots like getting from Chicago to Madrid for only 68,000 points roundtrip and around $200 in fees. If Amex ever runs another Avios bonus promotion (very likely), then this redemption can get even sweeter, making it one of the most lucrative ways to get to Europe in business class out of any program.
British Airways Avios also offers a number of good uses. Even though there have been devaluations, I still think think that British Airways Avios can be put to use on American Airlines short-haul flights around the US and to places like the Caribbean.
You can also still get to the East Coast to Europe for 100,000 Avios roundtrip in business class which isn’t that bad, especially if you can book a partner with limited fees like Aer Lingus. You can also utilize British Airways Avios for getting around South America, getting to Hawaii, and for various other medium-distance flights around the globe.
Cathay Pacific Asia miles can be a great use of Amex Membership Rewards. Cathay Pacific is part of the oneworld Alliance so you can book partners like American, Finnair, British Airways, and many others. Their award charts take a little bit of time to get used to but once you get familiar with them you’ll see that there are some very lucrative redemption possibilities.
Some of the my favorite Asia Miles redemptions are 80,000 miles for a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe, Doha to the Maldives for 50,000 roundtrip in business class, North America to South America for as low as 50,000 roundtrip in business class, and North America to Australia for 120,000 miles roundtrip in business class. They also have great round the world redemption opportunities.
Singapore Airlines consistently ranks as one of the top airlines in the world. They’re known for their remarkable level of service offered and their outstanding premium products like the Singapore Suites. As a Star Alliance partner, they also offer some decent redemptions on partners like United. What’s great about this program is that it is also a transfer partner of both Chase and Citi. Thus, racking up Singapore Krisflyer miles is one of the easiest things to do.
Even though I constantly hate on Delta for their continuous devaluations and ridiculously priced awards, some times Delta can still offer value. For one, Delta is a SkyTeam partner so it helps to get access to their partners but Delta is also a partner with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
Even though flying from North America to Europe on Virgin Atlantic using Delta miles will cost you 85,000 miles for a one way trip, the fees are only $5.60, which is great. Plus Amex has so many different Delta credit cards that it’s very easy to rack up Delta miles in a hurry. So if you’re starting to run out of options with other airlines, using Amex Membership Rewards to top off your Delta balance isn’t a bad use of them.
It’s getting harder and harder to redeem for Emirates bookings now that Alaska devalued their Emirates redemptions and JAL added mega surcharges to their Emirates awards. Although booking Emirates flights with Emirates Skywards will often result in some pretty fees, transferring Membership Rewards to Emirates is still one of the best options for many people who struggle to build up miles with Alaska and JAL (both of those programs are NOT partners to Citi, Chase, or American Express).
So if you want to experience the premium first class cabins in Emirates, Membership Rewards still might be your best bet for making your dream redemption come true.
The biggest knock against Virgin Atlantic is that using points for flights on their own metal can result in some pretty high fuel surcharges. The plus side is that some of the rewards are pretty cheap so it’s like getting a big discount when paying cash in some cases.
While Virgin Atlantic is not a member of a major alliance, they partner with several airlines, such as Delta, Singapore, ANA, Hawaiian, and a few others. On several of these partners, fees can be pretty minimal. The drawback is that one way awards typically cost the same as roundtrip awards so you pretty much want to just stick to booking roundtrips.
If you do enough research, you’ll find some pretty good sweet spots for some of these partner awards. For example, one very popular sweet spot is using 120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for a roundtrip first class ticket to Japan with ANA and only about $180 in fees. That’s around 100,000 miles cheaper than what Star Alliance partners United and Aeroplan would require. That redemption also offers around 23 cents per point which is straight up ridiculous!
American Express will run bonus transfer promotions to Virgin Atlantic allowing you to take the value of your Membership Rewards even further.
American Express just increased the transfer ratio for Hilton Honors to 1,000 to 2,000. While many still scoff at the idea of transferring Amex Membership Rewards to Hilton, this new transfer ratio could be more valuable than many think.
For example, I recently redeemed Hilton Honors points at about .8 cents per point with a booking at the Hilton Auckland, New Zealand. In that case, I would be converting Membership Rewards to 1.6 cents worth of Hilton point per Membership Reward, which would be higher than the 1.5 cents per point I’d get with using Ultimate Rewards to book a hotel. While I value Membership Rewards a little higher than 1.6 cents per point, I’d still take this option if I needed to.
When using Hilton points at some of the top resorts the value is even better. For example, a water villa at the Conrad Maldives would go for $1,040 at its heavily discounted rate. At 95,000 Hilton Honors points, that’s 1.1 cents per point (a conservative estimate). So if you transferred Membership Rewards for that redemption you’d be getting 2.2 cents per point of value for your Amex Membership Rewards, which would be a great deal for many people.
There are many different used for Amex Membership Rewards so this list only scratches the surface. I really love how many opportunities there are to cash in on premium airfare and hotels utilizing Membership Rewards. They’ve got all three major airline alliances covered with their partners and also have some of the most coveted partners like Etihad and Emirates, allowing for maximum options for different travelers.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the digital smart wallet, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.