American Express Membership Rewards Guide: What You Need to Know
When it comes to earning points and redeeming them to some of the most luxurious properties in the world, American Express is arguably the top dog in the points & miles hobby.
American Express has the reputation of being high-end and prestigious, but contrary to that belief, their cards are actually one of the easier ones to get approved for, and do not have restrictive rules like the Chase 5/24 rule.
American Express Membership Rewards however, does require more work compared to other programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, to extract value from the points. But, the rewards can be worth it if you really want to try aspirational trips at low out-of-pocket cost, and I will guide you through the options you can work with to get the most value out of this rewards program.
How to Get American Express Credit Cards
Like I’ve mentioned earlier before, getting American Express credit cards isn’t too difficult despite their high-end and luxurious reputation. As long as you have at least a 700 credit score, you pretty much have a good chance in getting an American Express card, including the Platinum Card.
Types of American Express Cards
There are two types of credit cards on American Express card products. They include the traditional credit cards where you’re given a preset limit, but leaving a balance wouldn’t count as late payment as long as you pay the minimum.
Then, there’s the charge cards. They function similarly to traditional cards, except that there’s no preset limit and you must pay your balance in full each month. If you don’t pay your balance in full each month, then it will count as a late payment, which will have a big negative impact to your credit score.
Even though there’s no preset limit, that doesn’t mean you can go out and buy a yacht right away. Only Amex will know your “true spending limit” depending on the income you submit on your application. One nice thing about charge cards is that utilization isn’t recorded on your credit file, so you won’t have to be careful about keeping you utilization rate at under 30% each month.
Regardless, you should always pay in full anyway whether you have a traditional credit card or a charge card when collecting points. But, charge cards can keep you more accountable as there’s more negative consequences if you don’t.
American Express is both an issuer and payment processor, so international acceptance may not be as good as it is in the US. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a Visa and/or MasterCard credit card for your travels abroad. I made recommendations on this post.
The more known American Express cards are charge cards, and they do come with heftier annual fees.
American Express Membership Rewards Cards
Not all American Express earn Membership Rewards points, so I will cover the full lists of cards that earn MR points instead of cashback.
- American Express Platinum ($695 Annual Fee)
- American Express Gold ($250 Annual Fee)
- American Express Green ($150 Annual Fee)
- American Express Business Platinum ($595 Annual Fee)
- American Express Business Gold ($295 Annual Fee)
- American Express Business Green ($0 on first year, $95 Annual Fee afterwards)
- American Express Everyday Preferred ($95 Annual Fee)
- American Express Everyday ($0 Annual Fee)
- American Express Blue Business Plus ($0 Annual Fee)
Just like Chase, you can combine all of your American Express Membership Rewards points throughout all of those cards and rack up a lot of points through their many signup bonuses spread throughout Amex’s products.
American Express Signup Bonuses
There’s a bunch of Amex cards you can signup for. Their signup bonuses are generally pretty high relative to their annual fees.
One important thing to be aware of is their once in a lifetime rule, where you’re only eligible once to attempt reaching a signup bonus for any Amex card. Because of this rule, you really want to make sure you can hit the signup bonus for a card before applying for it. Not being able to reach it means the opportunity to try again in the future is likely to be gone for life. This rule also makes it impossible to take advantage of new limited offers once you’ve already received a signup bonus for the said card.
The reason why Amex does this is to prevent “churning”, which is the act of closing the card and reopening it again later in the future to get the signup bonus again.
American Express Application Rules
American Express does put some restrictions on credit card applications, but they aren’t as bad as the Chase 5/24 rule. Here are some of the worthwhile ones to know.
5 Credit Cards Limit Rule
This rule implies that you can only have up to 5 American Express credit cards opened. This rule only applies to the traditional credit cards, or cards with preset limits. The 5 cards limit applies to both personal and business credit cards. This rule does not only apply to Membership Rewards earning cards, but also co-branded hotel credit cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Honors Aspire, and cashback credit cards like the Amex Blue Cash Everyday.
Charge cards like the American Express Gold Card are excluded, so you’re free to sign up for charge cards even if you exceeded the 5 cards limit.
2 in 90 Rule
American Express will only approve you of two credit cards maximum for rolling 90 day period. This rule does not apply to charge cards, so it’s possible to get more than 2 American Express cards in under 90 days as long as one of them is a charge card. Be mindful of the minimum spend requirements because of the once in a lifetime rule applied to American Express cards.
1 in 5 Rule
American Express will only approve one credit card in every 5 days. This rule does not apply to charge cards, so it’s possible to get more than 1 American Express card in 5 days or under as long as one of them is a charge card. Again, be mindful of the minimum spend requirements because of the once in a lifetime rule applied to American Express cards.
American Express Membership Rewards Cards Setup
The more-known charge cards like the Gold Card and Platinum Card have strong spending multipliers, so they’re usually the core cards to earn a lot of Membership Rewards points. A common setup may include:
- American Express Platinum (5x on airlines & pre-paid hotels thru Amex Travel Portal, Centurion Lounge access, and Fine Hotels & Resort)
- American Express Gold (4x on dining worldwide & US supermarkets)
- American Express Blue Business Plus (2x on everything else, and if you qualify for a business credit card)
Admittedly, the Amex setup will cost a lot. From the example above, you’d be paying $945 every year. For many people, we can safely take out the Platinum Card out of the setup if your goal is to just collect as many Membership Rewards points as possible to then transfer to airlines and/or hotels. The 5x multiplier on airlines won’t be that useful for you if you try to redeem points for free flights, considering its steep $695 annual fee.
By all means, the Platinum Card can be useful for certain people if they fly very frequently and value having to access the Centurion Lounges on certain airports. It’s mainly a “benefits card” rather than a card to rack up points with.
If the Platinum Card is out of the equation, the annual fee comes down to a more sensible amount of $250.That leaves the Amex setup to the Gold Card and Blue Business Plus, which is a popular two-card setup from Amex.
You still earn 3x multiplier on flights on the Gold Card, except you lose access to Centurion Lounges and Priority Pass lounges. If you still want Priority Pass lounge access, which has a much larger footprint than the Centurion Lounge, then there are other premium travel credit cards to apply for. Some examples are:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant
- American Express Hilton Honors Aspire
- US Bank Altitude Reserve
- Capital One Venture X
For most people, these cards have benefits that are easier to use compared to the Platinum Card.
If you can’t qualify for the Blue Business Plus, then the Gold Card alone is still a powerhouse card as it hits category people would spend a lot on such as dining and groceries. I hope you do need food to survive.
Make sure the annual fee makes sense to keep year over year before getting the Gold Card because the lack of a no annual fee card on the charge cards lineup can be problematic if you don’t want to keep paying the annual fee. Closing it will wipe out your Membership Rewards balance if you don’t have any other Membership Rewards earning cards opened on your account.
A remedy to this is to have the Amex Everyday instead, but this card is a traditional credit card, so it will be affected by the application rules.
Ways to Redeem American Express Membership Rewards
To start, American Express Membership Rewards take work to get at least a decent value because a simple statement credit redemption reduces the value of each Membership Rewards point to less than even a cashback! If you’re not willing to learn about different loyalty programs of airlines and hotels, then I wouldn’t recommend running an Amex setup, as there are better rewards programs that will suit you better like the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
Statement Credit (Easy)
On this example, a $9.99 purchase can be covered with 1665 points, which result in 0.6 cents per MR point. Even with the occasional statement credit promotions, it’s still worse than cashback or points with fixed value of 1 cent per point. Statement credit-like redemptions like gift cards present awful value as well.
Amex Travel Portal (Easy)
The next way to redeem your Membership Rewards points is to redeem them for travel through the Amex Travel Portal. While the redemption value improves to 1 cent per point, it’s still not a good way to redeem your Membership Rewards points because of the annual fees Amex cards come with and it’s on par with cashback credit cards, in which many don’t have annual fees.
Similar to the statement credit redemption, you’re still better off using other programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards again as it will give you a travel portal boost if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, or the Ink Business Preferred.
Transfer Partners (Hard)
Transferring points to a partner airline and hotels can yield more value, but does take more work because you have to familiarize yourself with different loyalty programs with their own sets of rules. With this type of redemption, you really can book aspirational things like long-haul first class flight tickets and 5-star luxury hotels.
American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
As long as you have at least one card that earns Membership Rewards points opened, you can transfer your points to select airline and hotel partners:
- Aer Lingus
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- AirFrance KLM
- All Nippon Airways (ANA)
- Asia Miles
- Avianca LifeMiles
- British Airways Executive Club
- Delta Air Lines
- Etihad Guest
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Choice Privileges
- Hilton Honors
- Marriott Bonvoy
American Express Membership Rewards Notable Transfer Partners
- Air Canada Aeroplan is good for Star Alliance flights due to its generous stopover policy.
- All Nippon Airways for generous Star Alliance round-the-world itinerary, and prioritized availability for ANA First Class (ticket must be booked round-trip or open-jaw).
- Emirates Skywards could get you to fly Emirates first class from New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP) and Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH) for 135,000 Emirates Skywards points!
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club offers the best value for ANA First Class. Tickets can be booked one-way!
American Express Membership Rewards can offer some of the best redemptions. Many of the cards offer strong spending multipliers and high signup bonuses relative to their annual fees, which makes racking up Membership Rewards points easy to do.
However, redeeming them for great value takes work because their simple ways of points redemption diminishes the value of each point to the extent that you’re better off not running an Amex setup. So if you’re interested in an Amex setup, then you really want to put in the time and effort to learn the different airline and hotel loyalty programs. The reward can really be worth the work you put in!