- The points you can earn with charge and credit cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Gold Card, and the Business Platinum® Card from American Express can be used for tons of different things, from cash back to first-class travel.
- In addition to getting points from lucrative welcome bonuses, you can earn bonus points on certain spending categories.
- Read on for the different ways you can use the points from your Amex card — including new options just introduced this year — and check out our guide to the best American Express cards.
- See Business Insider’s list of the best rewards credit cards »
One of the most fun, though, is to collect a huge welcome bonus. These bonuses can be incredibly high — sometimes equivalent to the amount of points you’d get from years of spending — and can be useful for anything from cash back, to trips home for the holidays, to lavish international flights in first class.
How to earn Amex points
When you open an American Express card, you can often earn a large bonus, in addition to being able to rack up points quickly through your normal, everyday spending.
For example, when you open the Platinum Card, you’ll earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points if you spend $5,000 on qualifying purchases in the first three months. When you open the Amex Gold Card, you’ll get 35,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months — although some people are targeted for a higher offer. The small business version of the Platinum card is even better, offering up to 75,000 points — 50,000 after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first three months, and another 25,000 if you spend an additional $10,000 on purchases in that same period.
While the Chase Ultimate Rewards ecosystem is more straightforward and can be easier to use, Amex Membership Rewards still offers a tremendous amount of value — as long as you use them efficiently.
Once you have a healthy stash of Amex points, here are the main ways you can use them. Be sure to log in and look at the Amex Membership Rewards portal for other options, like donating points to charity.
If you want to build up your supply of points with a welcome bonus, or if you want to find a card that earns bonus points on better categories for you, be sure to check out our guide to the best Amex cards.
1. Redeem points for cash or gift cards (0.5 to 1 cent per point)
You can exchange Membership Rewards points for cash or gift cards, but keep in mind that this is usually a pretty terrible value compared to other redemption options.
Different merchant gift cards have different prices and values for your points. Some offer a not-horrible 1 cent per point — meaning a $25 gift card costs 2,500 points — but the others are as low as 0.5 cents per point — so that $25 gift card would cost 5,000 points.
You can also redeem points as statement credits against specific charges — essentially, cash back used to pay your card. However, this is a similarly poor value, only offering 0.6 cents per point. You can do much better.
2. Use points to check out online at major retailers (0.7 cents per point)
When you check out online at a growing list of major retailers — such as Amazon and Best Buy — and enter your American Express card number, you can opt to pay in part or in full with points.
While promotions occasionally make this worthwhile — for instance, there have been deals where you could save $30 at Amazon by using a single Membership Rewards point at checkout — it’s generally a poor value of 0.7 cents per point.
3. Buy merchandise through Amex or tickets through Ticketmaster (0.5 cents per point)
Amex offers a shopping portal that has a wide range of different products, all of which can be purchased with Membership Rewards points. However, you’ll only get 0.5 cents per point, so if you were set on using points for merchandise, you’d be better off going through a shopping partner like Amazon, or possibly buying a gift card.
To buy tickets through Ticketmaster using points, you simply apply points at checkout, but this offers the same 0.5 cents per point.
4. Book travel through the Amex Travel portal (up to 1 cent per point)
Now we get to the good stuff.
Amex Travel is essentially a travel-booking website operated by American Express. It works similarly to travel booking sites like Expedia or Orbitz.
Airfare is the best option when you’re paying with points. When you book a flight through Amex Travel, you’ll get 1 cent per point. You may also find “Insider Fares,” which generally offer a slightly better value — a lot of these fares are on Delta.
Unfortunately, if you want to book anything else through the Amex Travel portal — like hotels, cruises, rental cars, or vacation packages — you’ll only get 0.7 cents per point.
This is in contrast to Chase, which offers the same price for anything through its travel portal — 1 cent per point if you have a basic card like the Chase Freedom, 1.25 cents per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, or 1.5 cents per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
5. Bid for upgrades on your next flight (1 cent per point)
American Express recently added a new way to use points: bid for discounted upgrades to first class, business class, and premium economy on participating airlines.
A number of airlines offer an option to place cash bids on upgrades before your flight — if there are available seats in premium cabins, you can snag them at a potentially steep discount. Most airlines that offer this manage it through a third-party service called Plusgrade.
Under the Amex partnership with Plusgrade, you can use Membership Rewards points to place bids on about 20 airlines, including Aeromexico, Air Canada, Etihad, Norwegian, Qantas, SAS, Singapore Airlines, and TAP Portugal.
Each Membership Rewards point is worth $0.01 toward a bid, according to a spokesperson for Amex. So 1,000 points is worth $10 — a solid valuation. The best value from points, however, can be had by transferring them to one of Amex’s 22 airline or hotel partners, and booking flights or hotel stays that way (see the next section for more on that).
To bid for an upgrade using your Membership Rewards points, visit americanexpress.com/upgrade and enter your reservation details. If your bid is accepted, you’ll receive an email.
6. Transfer points to a hotel or airline partner (up to 20 cents per point)
Just like with any transferable points program, the best potential value you can get is from transferring your points to a partner program. Amex has 19 frequent flyer and three hotel loyalty program partners, and you can transfer points to any of them.
This is particularly valuable for flying, as opposed to hotel stays. In most cases, the cash price and the miles price of a ticket aren’t linked, so it’s possible to get exponentially increased value from your points by transferring them and booking an award ticket instead. That means potentially being able to fly long-haul in first or business class with points, among other things.
The only catch is that you may need to search for saver availability — which are lower-priced award tickets. This can be tricky, but there are a ton of helpful guides online. Once you have a flight in mind, if you’re having trouble figuring out how best to use your points, just do a Google search for that specific trip.
Ultimately, remember to compare pricing between the Amex Travel portal and how many points you would need through the frequent flyer program. Because award tickets sometimes have cash taxes and fees — occasionally rising into the hundreds of dollars — it’s good to compare.
It’s exceedingly rare to get under 1 cent per point when you book flights by transferring to a frequent flyer program — as long as you’re booking saver space — and while researching examples for this article and comparing to cash fares, I found values ranging from 1.2 cents per point to around 20 cents per point (in the case of flying first class to Japan).
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