Membership Rewards is the points currency of some American Express Cards which I think is one of the most valuable points in Canada.
Earning Membership Rewards
The American Express Gold Card is at the moment the only card that gives you Membership Rewards points as a signup bonus essentially free. This card offers 25,000 points after a $500 minimum spend, with a waived annual fee for the first year.
The American Express Platinum Card both offers 60,000 points after $1000 in minimum spend. While there is a hefty annual fee, the travel benefits on the card is unsurpassed. See my review for more details.
Major Airline Transfer Partners
Membership Rewards will transfer at a 1:1 ratio to both Aeroplan and Avios, which are likely the most recognized points currencies in Canada, and gives Membership Rewards points good coverage in terms of airline alliances.
Generally, I use my balance to top up my account balances or if I need a redemption urgently and I’m not able to get enough points quickly enough to redeem. Aeroplan transfer are instant, while British Airways Avios transfers take between 2-5 days, in my experience.
American Express says that you can only transfer points to your account. This is true for Avios conversion, but doesn’t always work out that way with Aeroplan. In any case, you can pool Avios accounts together in a household account, so if you and a significant other do get a few AMEX cards, that’s quite a haul of points.
Most transfer bonuses that are run with Aeroplan exclude Membership Rewards, so if you do plan to transfer to Aeroplan you don’t need to wait. Avios has had a 50% transfer bonus last year in March, and the year previous in May, so 1000 MR points would get you 1500 avios. However, there hasn’t been one that has happened this year. If there was one, it’d likely be in the last quarter as enhanced offers in the credit card/points market like these are a little slower in the summer.
Aeroplan is generally best used for long-haul international business/first class tickets, as they have a zone-based award chart. For more information about Aeroplan, see my guide.
Avios, contrary to what many “normal” credit card holders think, is best used NOT on British Airways flights as they have high fuel surcharges, but for short-haul direct flights. 95% all of my redemptions with Avios have been for direct short flights within North America.
Alternative Airlines Transfer Partners
Membership Rewards also transfer to other partners. However, these programs have much more limited uses, which I’ll detail below.
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (at a 1:0.75 ratio) – oneworld
In most cases, Avios is a much better value, especially given the poorer transfer ratio. The best use of these miles are probably upgrading paid Cathay Pacific tickets, and oneworld multi-partner awards.
- Delta Skymiles (at a 1:0.75 ratio) – skyteam
Skymiles has such high redemption levels comparable to Aeroplan, it doesn’t really make sense transferring Membership Rewards to Skymiles except to top up an existing balance and/or redeem on Skyteam flights that you really want.
- Etihad Guest (at a 1:0.75 ratio) – unaffiliated
Etihad Guest is also probably best used on upgrading Etihad flights, topping up an existing balance, and redeeming on short-haul flights within the middle east because they use a distance based chart as well.
- Alitalia Millemiglia (at a 1:0.75 ratio) – skyteam
Alitalia has slightly lower award redemption levels than Delta although their program “resets” every few years thanks to Italian law rendering your points useless. They do charge fuel surcharges on awards, so unless the award chart price is significantly lower, you’d want to avoid this partner.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Points (at a 1:0.5 ratio)
Starwood points are probably the most valuable and flexible points in the industry. You have great redemption rates and options for hotels, including cash and points, as well as transfer options at a 1:1 ratio with a 25% bonus in 20,000 increments to nearly all the worthwhile airline currencies, including American AAdvantage, Alaska MileagePlan, and Singapore Krisflyer. If you do transfer AMEX points to airline miles SPG, this mean you’ll get a 1:0.625 ratio, if done in 20,000 point increments. (40,000 AMEX = 20,000 SPG = 25,000 Airline Miles). Unless you have a big stash of Starwood Points, it’s more reasonable to get the Alaska Airlines Mastercard in Canada which offers a 25,000 miles signup bonus, or even the Starwood Amex which has a 10,000 point signup bonus.
- Hilton HHonors (at a 1:1 ratio)
Hilton’s program was significantly devalued last year, so there really remains few redemption options which are a good option. Most blogger would value Hilton than less than a cent, so it’s not recommended to transfer to Hilton as you can get a 1 cent redemption value (at the minimum) using TripFlex to erase travel expense charged onto the card.
TripFlex is the AMEX term for flexible travel rewards. Regularly, using TripFlex with your points will get you a fixed 1 cent in value. That means if you’re charging say a $350 hotel stay or airline flight, you can use 25,000 of your points from the Gold Rewards AMEX signup to get a $250 return in value.
My personal opinion on this is that this is an option, but not one of the best. If you are looking for a fixed return for on paid travel items, I’d personally recommend the Scotiabank Gold American Express with gives you 4% return on certain categories of spending due to their bonus category of 4 points/$ spent (vs. Amex’s 1-2 points/$ spent).
The only time I’ve used TripFlex was when there was a targeted promotion where your points would be worth 1.25 cents toward travel. Even so, I redeemed because I had a bit more AMEX miles than I would reasonably feel comfortable holding (and had enough Avios and Aeroplan in my accounts already). If need Aeroplan or Avios to travel, I’d strongly recommend transferring to those programs instead of using TripFlex.
Merchandise and Gift Cards
Merchandise is usually a horrible value with these points. I’d recommend in 99.999999% of cases to AVOID getting merchandise as you’re getting less than one cent per mile in value.
For example, these QuietComfort 15 headphones generally are $269 excluding any other promotions, but it costs 46800 points to redeem for them. That’s less than 0.6 cents in value. It’s the same thing with most electronics and other products AMEX has. Don’t get merchandise with AMEX points!
Gift Cards generally you a pretty poor redemption value as well, which cost between 12,000 to 14,000 miles per $100 gift card. This means your points are worth between 0.7 to 0.85 cents when redeeming for gift cards.
I think AMEX points are very valuable. 90-95% of my redemptions have been either to Avios or Aeroplan to top up accounts, and I’d think in most cases you’d do that too. Hope this guide helps you with using your AMEX points.
In addition to Membership Rewards branded cards, AMEX also offers Aeroplan co-branded cards. A simple way to boost your Aeroplan balance if you’re Canadian is the American Express AeroplanPlus Gold Card offers a limited-time bonus of 30,000 miles upon signup and $500 spend within three months, and the first year annual fee waived. I wrote a complete review of the card in this post.