Best Membership Rewards Redemption Options
American Express Membership Rewards might just be my favorite currency. It’s really hard for me to decide these days between the three major banks. Each have their unique pros and cons. What I can tell you about American Express is that it’s quite hard to settle on the best Membership Rewards redemption options, as they have such a plethora of choices.
Back in the day, Chase Ultimate Rewards was my favorite currency, hands down. However, things have changed over the past years. Except for my affinity for Hyatt…that has actually gotten stronger. One can never have enough Hyatt points.
But airline partners are a different story. Once you have a better feel for the partners, their award charts, and the potential value, I find that American Express trounces Chase in this regard.
Earning Membership Rewards Points
Before we get into the best Membership Rewards redemption choices, we should discuss the best ways to rack up their points. There are plenty of MR-earning cards out there, and here are some of the best:
Some Of These Offers May Have Ended Or Changed
- Business Platinum Card from American Express – Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $10,000 within the first 3 months. Earn an additional 25,000 points after spending and additional $10,000 within the first three months. The card comes with a $595 annual fee and an array of travel and business perks.
- American Express Gold Card – Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months. The card has a $250 annual fee. The Amex Gold earns 4x at US supermarkets and restaurants plus offers dining and airline credits.
- American Express Green Card – Recently revamped, you can earn 45,000 Membership Rewards points after spending within the first 3 months with a $150 annual fee. The card earns 3x on travel and dining and offers a $100 Away luggage (limited time) and a $189 Clear credit.
- American Express Everyday Preferred Card – Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards points with a $95 annual fee after spending $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. The card earns 3x at US supermarkets, 2X at US gas stations and offers 50% more points if you make 30 or more transactions in a statement period.
No Annual Fee Cards
Unlike other bank programs, you do not need a premium card listed above for your points to be transferable. All Membership Rewards points are transferable to airline and hotel partners.
- American Express Everyday Card – 10,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months. No annual fee, and earns 2x at US supermarkets and a 20% boost if you make 20 or more purchases in a statement period.
- American Express Blue Business Plus Card – No public welcome offer, but you can earn 10,000 Membership Rewards points after $5,000 in spend within 3 months by using refer-a-friend bonuses. The card earns 2x Membership Rewards on all purchases, up to $50,000 per year. This is one of my favorite no-fee credit cards.
American Express Membership Rewards Transfer Partners
American Express has the most transfer partners out of any bank program. They are comparatively weak on the hotel side, but their airline partners are unmatched. However, the relative value varies wildly. Some are not really ever worth using, while others offer fantastic value.
Here are the Amex transfer partners I tend to write off:
- Alitalia Millemiglia
- El Al Matmid (low value)
- Hawaiian Airlines (low value)
- JetBlue (low value)
- Aeromexico Club Premier (except for potentially SkyTeam around-the-world tickets)
- Hilton Honors – Unless there is a big transfer bonus.
- Marriott Bonvoy
Here are the Amex transfer partners that offer value, depending on your need:
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Avios (Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia)
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Delta SkyMiles
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Guest
- Flying Blue (Air France / KLM)
- Qantas Frequent Flyer
- Singapore KrisFlyer
- Virgin Atlantic
- Choice Privileges
I might actually transfer points to Hilton or Marriott in a pinch, if I’m a few points shy. I don’t want to write that option off completely. Transferring large amounts for a hotel stay is a no-go unless I’m totally desperate. It’s easy enough to accrue Hilton points other ways. Plus, a transfer bonus would be much preferred.
Speaking of transfer bonuses, I want to mention that this is one of the strongest features of the American Express Membership Rewards program. Chase has offered all of one, ever, and Citi offers them, but they are less routine. American Express has some partners where transfer bonuses come around like clockwork every year.
But enough on the program features. You can read our guide to Membership Rewards if you want more info. Now let’s move into the five best Membership Rewards redemption options among various programs.
Round-Trip Business Class to Africa with ANA Miles
We covered this sweet spot in our post on the best ways to get to Africa using miles. Using ANA miles to Africa from the U.S. is one of the sweetest deals you can find if you’re looking to spend a long time in business class for a reasonable price. ANA Mileage Club charges just 104,000 miles round-trip.
Other programs charge a minimum of 120,000 miles, and some of these are less than ideal options like Korean Skypass and Asiana Club, with no bank transfer partners. Virgin Atlantic is a limited option, at 60,000 miles one-way, but these must be nonstop Delta flights.
The beauty of using ANA Mileage Club is that you can fly any combination of Star Alliance partners and reach virtually any airport in Africa. You are subject to a 3-segment maximum, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to fly from a regional U.S. airport to a smaller African airport, as you may not have enough to work with.
All ANA Mileage Club redemptions must be round-trip, so keep that restriction in mind as well. Fuel surcharges may also bite you, especially if you elect to fly Lufthansa Group airlines.
Flying DeltaOne Suites Using Virgin Atlantic Miles
Delta really upped their game when they rolled out their new business class product, first installed on their flagship A350-900 aircraft. Now they are rolling out the new suites across their fleet, and you’ll find it on their 777s and 767s on some routes.
Whether you’re looking for a suite experience, or you don’t mind flying other Delta business class, you can do so quite cheaply using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles. Where Delta, another Membership Rewards transfer partner, likes to charge 85,000+ miles for business class, Virgin Atlantic can sometimes book you the same ticket for less than half the cost.
One of the best options is for nonstop business class Delta flights between the U.S. and Europe, which you can book for just 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way. You can also fly DeltaOne Suites from Los Angeles to Shanghai (or any nonstop U.S. to East Asia route) for just 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles one-way.
When you take the transfer bonus potential into account here, you’re looking at just 39,000 Membership Rewards points to Europe and 47,000 Membership Rewards points to Asia. That’s pretty incredible.
It was hard to include Virgin Atlantic awards in any one “best awards” list since you can actually transfer points to them from both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou, but the idea of using American Express‘ frequent transfer bonuses makes it best suited for this list.
Short-Haul Regional United Flights with LifeMiles
When Avianca first announced their change in pricing for domestic U.S. awards on United, I was ecstatic. The U.S. was split into 3 award regions, and intra-region flights would cost just 7,500 LifeMiles one-way. This is amazing value for someone often flying out of a crazy expensive regional airport on an itinerary with a connection.
The pricing has changed a bit, as Avianca moved away from the three specific regions. But in many cases, you can still nab short-haul tickets for just 7,500 LifeMiles or less. Case in point: I just booked a hop from SFO to ACV (Arcata-Eureka Airport) for just 6,500 LifeMiles one-way and $15.60. Cash price? A crazy $235 for the 250-mile hop.
There are many more routes where you can get insane value for these tickets. I’ve been wanting to visit Jackson, Wyoming one of these summers, but tickets are often $750+, depending on when you want to travel. Forking over 15,000 LifeMiles round-trip and $36.20 is a much better deal. Solid 4.7 cents per point.
Dealing with the LifeMiles website can be a bit frustrating, but the value here is huge for people at tiny regional airports. Even better is when American Express offers a transfer bonus on LifeMiles. Do note that Citi ThankYou Points also transfer to LifeMiles, but I prefer to save mine for Turkish Airlines awards.
RELATED: The 5 Best Uses Of Avianca LifeMiles
Flights to the Arctic With Aeroplan
There likely aren’t all that many people looking to book awards to places like Churchill, Manitoba or Iqaluit, Nunavut. But if you are interested in visiting Canada’s Great White North, Aeroplan is your path to immense savings.
With a population in the tens of thousands scattered across a vast, icy expanse, it’s no surprise that tickets to the Arctic are expensive. Nonstop flights from Ottawa to Iqaluit are typically $640 or so these days, although I’ve seen them higher.
Tickets to anywhere else in Nunavut are well over a grand from Ottawa. Ditto if you add connections on Air Canada from somewhere in the U.S. to connect to your flight to the Arctic.
Fortunately, Aeroplan partners with multiple Canadian airlines that serve the remote regions in Quebec, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. If flying nonstop on short-haul routes, you’ll be charged just 7,500 Aeroplan miles one-way and reasonable taxes and fees. If connecting, you’ll be charged 12,500 Aeroplan miles one-way.
Consider a ticket from San Francisco to Pangnirtung that costs $1,706. You can book this award for just 25,000 Aeroplan miles round-trip! Sure, you’ll pay some fuel surcharges with Air Canada amounting to ~$180 USD, but this still leaves you with an insane value of 6.1 cents per point for an economy flight!
There are two important things to note:
- You must call Aeroplan to search and book these awards, which I hear has been difficult (unless things have changed in the past week or two). I’m able to search awards on the website and can get to the final screen for payment, but this doesn’t help since you can’t search Canadian domestic partners online.
- You can only mix partner awards with Air Canada flights. You cannot mix the Artic partners, nor can you add segments on Star Alliance partners such as United.
If a visit to the Arctic is on your bucket list, rest assured that you’ll be getting enormous value from your points. This is one of the best Membership Rewards redemption choices you can make.
Iberia Off-Peak Business Class For 25,000 MR!
While the magic of Iberia Avios can be had with both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, it makes the list of best Membership Rewards redemption opportunities due to the routine 40% transfer bonus that we’ve seen.
You can fly Iberia business class from the East Coast to Madrid for just 34,000 Iberia Avios one-way on off-peak dates. Factoring in a 40% transfer bonus, you’re looking at just 25,000 Membership Rewards points! This is truly incredible for the 7-hour trek from New York City to Madrid.
Iberia may not have the most competitive product, but it’s still a lie-flat seat for an incredible price.
Bonus: Around-the-World Trips with ANA Mileage Club
ANA gets a second mention on this list since the program is simply too good to pass up. There are certainly some frustrating aspects, such as the inability to redeem miles for people outside a specific set of family members, and the fact that point transfers to Mileage Club aren’t instantaneous.
However, the value is worth it. ANA Mileage Club might have the best around-the-world award pricing in business class, although there are some other great programs to consider for around-the-world awards.
You can fly a shorter around-the-world trek of 14,001 to 18,000 flown miles for just 105,000 ANA miles. This is more of an “around the pole” trek, but you should be able up to the seven allowed stops, as long as you stick to the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere.
The pricing for longer awards isn’t much worse, at 115,000 ANA miles for 18,001 to 20,000 flown miles, and 125,000 ANA miles for 20,001 to 22,000 flown miles. Both of these are enough to plan a seriously nice trip, although you likely won’t touch Australia.
Just watch out for fuel surcharges on many Star Alliance partners! Some of the better ones include United, Avianca, and EVA.
Like anything, value is always in the eye of the beholder. If domestic awards are all you ever book, then most of the highest-value awards won’t ever be something you’ll consider.
Still, I’m always looking for the ways to stretch my points the furthest. Knowing what the best Membership Rewards redemption options is part of planning my points and miles strategy.
What are your favorite and/or best uses of Membership Rewards?
Iberia business class meal photo courtesy of Matt at PEK via Flickr used under CC BY 2.0 license.