American Express Membership Rewards Guide | How to maximize your points

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American Express Membership Rewards is undoubtedly the best bank travel rewards program in Canada. The points are easy to earn, you have multiple ways to redeem your points, and there are multiple American Express points transfer partners.

What many people don’t realize is that with Amex Membership Rewards, you can earn large amounts of points in a short period. These points never expire if you have an active American Express card. Even if you don’t want to keep your American Express card, you can transfer your points so you don’t lose them. Here’s how to maximize your American Express Membership Rewards points.

American Express points value

Redemption typeRedemption value
Statement credit1 cent per point
Travel1 cent per point
Fixed points travelUp to 2 cents per point
Gift cards.77 cents per point
Merchandise.70 – .75 cents per point

How much your American Express Membership Rewards points are worth depends on what you use them for. The base value of your points 1 cent each, which is comparable to other programs. However, American Express has a few features that distinguish it from other programs.

Statement credit

With American Express Membership Rewards, you can redeem 1,000 Membership Rewards points for a $10 statement credit. This applies to just about any purchase you make on an eligible American Express card. You can make the redemption on the mobile app or online at membershiprewards.ca.

What makes this feature relevant is that American Express gives you the same value for a statement credit or travel redemptions. This essentially makes Membership Rewards a hybrid/cash back program. This is especially relevant since other points programs give you a lower redemption value for statement credits.

Any type of travel

Using your American Express points for travel can be quite flexible since you can go through the American Express travel site or book things on your own. The travel portal is a full-service travel agency, so you’ll find things like flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises and vacation packages. While their selection is pretty good, it’s not the most user-friendly. They also don’t have the lowest prices.

Since you can get a statement credit at the same value as travel redemptions made through the travel site, you’re likely better off booking things on your own directly with travel operators. This allows you to find the lowest price and to take advantage of any status benefits you may have.

There’s one exception to this rule: if you have the American Express Platinum Card, the annual $200 credit can only be used via the travel portal.

American Express Fixed Points Travel Program

Another option for your Membership Rewards points is to book a flight with the Amex Fixed Points Travel Program. This allows you to use redeem a fixed number of points to offset the base cost of a flight, up to a certain dollar value.

For example, a flight to Hawaii would cost you just 50,000 points if the base fare is not more than $800. 50,000 MR points are worth $500, so if your base fare falls between $501-800, you come out ahead using the American Express Fixed Points Travel Program instead of claiming a statement credit for the same amount at 1 cent per point.

Depending on the destination and base fare, you can get a value of up to 2 cents per point when using the American Express Fixed Points Travel Program. The cost of flights and the maximum base ticket price are listed in the chart below. Note that only round trip tickets are eligible for this program.

Gift cards

American Express has various gift cards available for restaurants, grocery stores, retail and travel that you can redeem your points for. In most cases, the redemption rate is as follows:

  • $50 gift card- 6,500 points required
  • $100 gift card – 13,000 points required
  • $250 gift card – 32,500 points required

You’ll quickly notice that regardless of the amount of points you redeem, it’s the same value at .79 cents per point. That said, American Express does have occasional sales with select partners where you can get gift cards for a value of 1 cent per point, which is on par with travel redemptions.

That said, since statement credits give you a return of 1 cent per point, you’re better off just purchasing whatever you want and then redeeming your points as a statement credit. If you want to give away the gift card, buy it from a grocery, department or drug store so you can then redeem your points as a statement credit.

American Express Membership Rewards gift cards

Merchandise

American Express has a catalogue from which you can redeem your points in exchange for merchandise. When I last checked, many items had a value between .7 – .75 cents per point. Again, since a statement credit is worth more, it makes no sense to redeem your points from the merchandise catalogue. If you really want merchandise, you can use your points for things such as:

  • Tablets
  • Laptops
  • Headphones
  • Small appliances
  • Toys
American Express Membership Rewards merchandise

How much are Amex points worth in Canada?

This article is entirely based on American Express Canada. As mentioned, one point is worth at least 1 cent each. For example, 1,000 points are worth $10, 10,000 points are worth $100, and 50,000 points are worth $500. In most cases, you need at least 1,000 points to make a redemption, but when transferring your points, they can go in 100 increments. Refer to the chart above for a full breakdown of the value.

Converting Membership Rewards to frequent travel participants

The ability to convert your points to several other loyalty programs distinguishes American Express Membership Rewards and makes it the best rewards program in Canada. Once your points are converted into another loyalty program, you can’t transfer them back into MR. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s best to keep your points as Membership Rewards until you have a precise and available redemption you need to book before transferring any points.

Here’s a quick look at what your points are worth when transferring to a frequent travel participant.

Travel partnerTransfer ratio
Aeroplan1:1
Avios1:1
Delta SkyMiles1:.75
Asia Miles1:.75
Etihad Miles1:.75
Alitalia MilleMiglia1:.75
Marriott Bonvoy1:1.2

Aeroplan 

The most popular option for Canadians is to convert American Express Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan points at a 1:1 ratio. The Aeroplan redemption chart is based on regions and distances flown. Generally speaking, you can usually get a value of at least 1.5 cents per point for Aeroplan when booking in economy. However, if you want a premium, business or a first-class seat, you can easily double your value to 3 – 5 cents per point.

Avios 

Amex also offers to convert 1:1 MR to Avios. Avios is the currency of British Airways and can be used to redeem British Airways flights and other One World airlines and partners, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Emirates, etc.  While the Aeroplan chart is based on regions, Avios is based on distance flown. Here are some examples:

  • 4,750 Avios – Flights under 650 miles like Melbourne-Sydney (This can’t be redeemed in North America as the minimum is 7,500 Avios per flight)
  • 7,500 Avios – short-hauls (between 651 and 1,151 miles) such as Toronto- New York or Buenos Aires- Sao Paulo
  • 13,000 Avios (38,750 in business class) – flights less than 3,000 miles. That includes Seattle to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines
  • 31,000 Avios  – Vancouver – Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific

Note that American Express sometimes offers transfer bonus to Avios up to 30% bonus, so 1,000 MR can be converted to 1,300 Avios during such a promotion. Again, only transfer your points if you have a specific redemption in mind.

Additional airline transfer partners

Your points can also be converted to Delta SkyMiles, Air France KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Etihad Miles and Alitalia MilleMiglia at a ratio of 1,000MR = 750 miles. The transfer ratio is lower when compared to Aeroplan or Avios, but this could be practical if you need a top-up of points in any of these programs to make a redemption. Delta, in particular, can be a good option as they serve many Canadian cities.

Make sure to have a specific redemption worthy of transferring American Express Membership Rewards before transferring to these partners as the transfer ratio is lower.

Marriott Bonvoy

With 29 brands and over 7,500 hotels in more than 120 countries, Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world. As you can imagine, Marriott’s loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy, can be valuable.

You can convert 1,000 Membership Rewards points into 1,200 Marriott Bonvoy points (1:1.2), which is a decent value. Generally speaking, Marriott Bonvoy points are worth about .9 cents each, but the value of your points can vary significantly depending on the hotel you’re using your points at.

Best of all, American Express Platinum cardholders get Gold Elite status, which gives you access to room upgrades and late checkout. One major advantage of Marriott Bonvoy is that when you book four nights on points, the fight night is free, adding an instant 20% more value to your Marriott points.

Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors is the other hotel loyalty program where you can transfer your points. The transfer ratio is 1:1. That said, Hilton points are worth less than Marriott or Aeroplan points. Unless you have a particular redemption in mind or you’re trying to top up your Hilton Honors account, you’re better off transferring your points to Marriott if you want to use your points for hotel redemptions.

Do American Express Membership Rewards expire?

As long as you have an active American Express card that earns you Membership Rewards points, your points won’t expire. If you need to cancel your card, just transfer all your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy first. In a worst-case scenario, burn your points on statement credits.

How does Amex Membership Rewards compare to others?

Simply put, American Express Membership Rewards is the best travel rewards program in Canada. There are multiple credit cards where you can earn points and many of them have great welcome bonuses and earning rates. The actual value of your points is incredible since it’s not that hard to get a value of 2 cents per point. You could easily increase that value to even more with one of their transfer partners.

Knowing that you can get 2 cents per point means you can get 10% back in value from a Cobalt card on all your food and eats spending (grocery, restaurants, bars, etc.), since the card earns 5 points per dollar spent on those categories.

Using your points is easy since you can book any travel and redeem your points later. This is much better compared to other programs where you’re forced to book things through their travel portal. RBC Rewards is a close second, but American Express Membership Rewards is hands down the best.

How to earn more Membership Rewards points

Okay, you’ve learned that Membership Rewards points are valuable, but what are some ways to earn more points? The first thing to understand is that you can have more than one American Express card that earns you membership Rewards points. This is valuable since you could take advantage of more than one welcome bonus and combine your points later.

That said, since American Express is very strict about the bonuses offered, you should only hold more than one card if you plan on keeping them. For example, someone who has a Platinum Card can use all their travel benefits and then transfer their points to Marriott Bonvoy. You could also hold the Cobalt Card, which gives you an increased earning rate on specific categories. Those points could also be transferred to Marriott Bonvoy.

The other easy way to earn points is to refer your friends to American Express cards that you already have, as it benefits both parties. For example, the American Express Platinum Card typically has a welcome bonus of 70,000 – 80,000 points, but when you use a referral link, you usually get a higher bonus.

The best cards to earn American Express Membership Rewards

Multiple cards earn you American Express Membership Rewards, but the two I’ve featured below also rank on my list of the best travel credit cards in Canada. All of the cards have unique features, so make sure you read my full review of each card before you apply.

Here are the best personal cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards:

American Express Cobalt Card

  • $12.99 Monthly fee ($155.88 yearly)
  • 1,250 monthly points when charging $750 each month for a year (15,000 points total)
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on streaming services
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • MESSAGE ME FOR A REFERRAL LINK

American Express Platinum Card

  • $799 annual fee
  • Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards points when spending $10,000 in the first 3 months
  • 30,000 additional points when making any purchase in months 14 – 17
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on dining and travel, and 1 point on all other purchases
  • $200 annual travel credit
  • $200 annual dining credit (per calendar year)
  • Unlimited airport lounge access
  • MESSAGE ME FOR A REFERRAL LINK

Do Amex points expire?

No, as long as you have an active American Express card that earns you Membership Rewards points, your points won’t expire. If you need to cancel your card, just transfer all your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy first. In a worst case scenario, burn your points on statement credits.

How does Amex Membership Rewards compare to others?

To simply put it, American Express Membership Rewards is the best travel rewards program in Canada. There are multiple credit cards where you can earn points and many of them have great welcome bonuses and earn rates. The actual value of your points is incredible since it’s not that hard to get a value of 2 cents per point. You could easily increase that value to even more with one of their transfer partners.

Using your points is easy since you can book any travel and then redeem your points later. This is much better compared to other programs where you’re forced to book things through their travel portal. RBC Rewards is a close second, but American Express Membership Rewards is hands down the best.

How to earn more Membership Rewards points

Okay, you’ve learned that Membership Rewards points are valuable, but what are some ways to earn more points? The first thing to understand is that you can have more than one American Express card that earns you membership Rewards points. This is valuable since you could take advantage of more than one welcome bonus and then combine your points later.

That said since American Express is very strict about the bonuses offered, you should only hold more than one card if you plan on keeping them. For example, someone who has a Platinum Card can use all their travel benefits and then transfer their points to Marriott Bonvoy. You could also hold the Cobalt card which gives you an increased earn rate on certain categories. Those points could also be transferred to Marriott Bonvoy.

The other easy way to earn points is to refer your friends to American Express cards that you already have as it benefits both parties. For example, the American Express Platinum Card normally has a welcome bonus of 50,000 points, but when you use a referral link, you’ll get 75,000 points.

The best cards to earn American Express Membership Rewards

There are multiple cards that earn you American Express Membership Rewards, but the three I’ve featured below also rank on my list of the best travel credit cards in Canada. All of the cards have unique features, so make sure you read my full review of each card before you apply.

Here are the best personal cards that earns American Express Membership Rewards:

American Express Cobalt Card

  • $12.99 Monthly fee ($155.88 yearly)
  • 1,250 monthly points when charging $750 each month for a year (15,000 points total)
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on streaming services
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • MESSAGE ME FOR A REFERRAL LINK

The American Express Cobalt card is arguably the best card to earn you Membership Rewards points since you get a high earn rate. You’ll earn 5 points per $1 spent on food and drinks, 3 points per $1 spent on streaming services, 2 points per $1 spent on travel, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. I personally don’t think there’s a card out there with a better earn rate. Read my Amex Cobalt review now for more details.

American Express Platinum Card

  • $799 annual fee
  • Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards points when spending $10,000 in the first 3 months
  • 30,000 additional points when making any purchase in months 14 – 17
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on dining and travel, and 1 point on all other purchases
  • $200 annual travel credit
  • $200 annual dining credit (per calendar year)
  • Unlimited airport lounge access
  • MESSAGE ME FOR A REFERRAL LINK

As someone who frequently travels, the American Express Personal Platinum Card is my go to credit card. I love the unlimited lounge access and the hotel status upgrades. Admittedly, the $699 annual fee is quite high, but it’s offset by the annual $200 travel credit. I realize I’m still paying $499, but I can easily get more value than that from the included benefits. Read my American Express Platinum review here.

American Express Gold Rewards Card

  • $250 annual fee
  • Earn 5,000 Membership Rewards points when spending $1,000 each month for 12 months (60,000 points total)
  • Earn 10,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on grocery, gas, pharmacy, and travel purchases
  • Earn 1 Membership Rewards point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • $100 Annual travel credit
  • Priority Pass Membership + 4 annual Plaza Premium passes
  • MESSAGE ME FOR A REFERRAL LINK

The American Express Gold Rewards Card is a good fit for people who don’t travel often but still want to earn points that can be used towards travel rewards. The earn rate is decent since you get 2 points per dollar spent on grocery, gas, pharmacy, and travel. All other purchases earn you 1 point per dollar spent. Read my American Express God Rewards review here.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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