Many of our clients have a large stash of AMEX Membership Rewards Points, and some of them ask us about the best redemption options for AMEX points. The short answer is: you'll get the highest value if you transfer AMEX points to airline frequent flyer programs and redeem for international business class or first class flight awards. That's because most of the other potential uses of AMEX points will only get you 1 cent per point in value. At that rate, you might as well have a no annual fee cash back card. For us, we've found the best way to earn AMEX Membership Rewards points without a high annual fee or the opportunity cost of higher Chase category bonuses is via the no annual fee AMEX Blue Business Plus card, which earns 2X on all spend.
Of course, with fuller flights post-pandemic, obtaining business class flight awards tends to require more advance planning, date flexibility, or both. If you do secure business or first class flight awards with AMEX points, however, the awards can represent significant value of 5-10 cents or more per point redeemed, especially with higher premium class airfares than pre-pandemic. Here are our favorite uses of AMEX points:
1. ANA Mileage Club
ANA Mileage Club is only a transfer partner with AMEX Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. Beyond redeeming for ANA award flights, ANA can be a great currency for redeeming for Star Alliance flights between the U.S. and Europe, for example TAP Business Class to Portugal for 88,000 miles roundtrip.
Note that AMEX points can take up to 48 hours to transfer, so you'll want to have already transferred points to ANA so as to be able to snag award flights when you see them. Otherwise, there's a good chance the space may be gone by the time the transfer goes through.
2. British Airways Avios
We've often taken advantage of the recurring AMEX Membership Rewards transfer bonuses to British Airways Avios that have enabled us to reserve Iberia Business Class from Madrid to LAX or SFO for 58,000 AMEX points if there's a 30% transfer bonus, a value of 4-5 cents or more per AMEX point depending on airfares. Avios can also be useful to nab award availability before those using AAdvantage miles or Alaska miles are able to book: you'll pay more in Avios, but the award calendar opens before AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan.
3. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is another frequent flyer program where there are often AMEX transfer bonuses. The best use is not for Virgin Atlantic, which has high fuel surcharges, but for ANA First Class and ANA Business Class awards. Unlike ANA Mileage Club, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club can reserve one way ANA award flights. Just be sure to double check availability before calling in to Flying Club (these awards cannot be booked online).
Of course, other airline frequent flyer programs may work better given your individual needs, but the above are the ones we most typically transfer AMEX points to, due to a transfer bonus or that AMEX is the only major bank points currency that transfers to it.
How NOT to Redeem AMEX Membership Rewards Points
We don't recommend redeeming AMEX Membership Rewards points for anything other than transfers to frequent flyer programs (after you've verified award availability, the rules of the frequent flyer program, and that transfers typically occur instantly). Other uses, as we noted above, generally only get you a paltry 1 cent per point in value, or a bit more than that for certain travel redemptions booked through an AMEX Gold or AMEX Platinum card. But because AMEX customer service is so abysmal these days, we don't recommend booking any travel arrangements, including airline tickets, through AMEX. You'll have to go through AMEX for any changes/cancellations, which can be more restrictive than if you'd reserved with the airline directly, making it a huge headache.
One other minor use we haven't mentioned above: using one AMEX point for the occasional discount on Amazon. Don't use more than one point, however, given the low one cent in value per point redeemed.
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