Credit Cards,  Miles and Points

What to do with Membership Rewards Points if you Don’t Travel




The best way to achieve the greatest value for your American Express Membership Rewards points is by transferring them to Airline and Hotel travel partner programs. That’s where you can often get more than 1.5 cents per point on flights and rooms, sometimes WAY more.

But if you don’t travel, should you shun the American Express cards that earn these points? Not necessarily, as there are other redemption options.

Be careful when you redeem your points, as each method gives you different a value for your points–some are downright awful. I’ll go through each one in the order of “Least desirable-don’t do it!” to “Best method in a pinch.”

amex-merchandiseShopping on Americanexpress.com

A prominently displayed option on the Membership Rewards website is simply titled “Shopping.” This seems a convenient way of using your points for a purchase as you don’t even need to leave Amex’s website–it is seamless, but also very expensive.

I clicked on “Shopping” and a box appeared where I typed in a product to search for: “Fitbit Surge” is the first thing that came to mind. I didn’t expect this method to be a high-value redemption option for my points, but the result was even more disappointing than I had expected. A product costing $249.99 would set me back 49,998 Membership Rewards points. That’s 0.5 cents per point, and hardly worth the effort. This is easily a “don’t do it!” method.

Statement Credits

American Express allows you to use Membership Rewards points to pay for certain “eligible transactions” on your statement–not as a credit against your entire statement balance like cash back cards. I don’t know what makes one particular transaction eligible while another isn’t, nor do I care to figure it out. Why? Because redeeming points this way only gets you 0.6 cents per point, so I don’t recommend you ever use points in this manner either.

Amazon.com or Bestbuy.com

If you use a Membership Rewards earning Amex card to shop online at Amazon or Best Buy, you can link your rewards account as a payment method as well. On occasion, Amazon will run a promo offering a discount if you use your points to pay for any part of your purchase. I did this some months ago, paying for a purchase using one Membership Rewards point and the balance (after the $15 promo discount) with a different credit card. This promotion effectively gave me $15 for 1 point.

Aside from any ongoing deal like that, I would not recommend using points to pay for any Amazon or Best Buy purchases. It will cost you 143 Membership Rewards points for each $1 you spend, which equates to 0.7 cents per point. While this a better value than the redemption methods above, it’s still not very good.

UPDATE: Newegg.com is a new shopping partner at the same redemption rate.

Uber Rides

If you’re an Uber user, this is an easy way to spend your points. Go to the Uber app to add your Membership Rewards eligible American Express card and make sure it is the selected payment method. You can pay with the card and earn 2x Membership Rewards points, or you can choose to redeem points at a value of 1 cent per point. This is a more reasonable value than the methods above, but unless you ride with Uber a lot, it’s a somewhat inefficient way to monetize a large number of points like a 50,000 point sign-up bonus.

Merchant Gift Cards

You can also achieve up to 1 cent per point buy ordering merchant gift cards via your rewards.americanexpress.com account. Not every merchant offers the same value, but the vast majority do. On occasion, American Express will target certain card holders with special offers on certain gift cards, giving you a better than 1 cent per point redemption value. You’ll need to periodically check your account to see if you have any of these offers.

The following is a list of all gift cards that are available to me–your list could be different. The table shows each merchant, the minimum # of Membership Rewards points to redeem, and the value of a that minimum redemption.

Merchant Min Points Value
Airbnb 10000 $100
AMC 1200 1 Gold E-Ticket
Amtrak 5000 $50
Aria Resort & Casino 10000 $100
Aspen Snowmass 7100 $50
Athleta 2500 $25
Avis 5000 $50
Banana Republic 2500 $25
Barnes & Noble 5000 $50
Bath & Body Works 1000 $10
Bellagio Las Vega 10000 $100
Benihana 5000 $50
Bergdorf Goodman 5000 $50
Best Western 5882 $50
Bonefish Grill 2500 $25
Brooks Brothers 5000 $50
Busch Gardens 11200 1 E-Ticket
California Pizza Kitchen 2500 $25
Chili’s 2500 $25
Cinemark 1125 1 E-Ticket
Coach 5000 $50
Cole Haan 5000 $50
Crate&Barrel 5000 $50
Delta 7143 $50
Enterprise Rent-a-car 5000 $50
Express Rewards Gas 10000 $50
Express Rewards Golf Card 10000 $50
Facebook Game Card 588 $5
Facebook Games & Apps 588 $5
Fairmont Hotels 5000 $50
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse 5000 $50
Four Seasons 14286 $100
Gap 1000 $10
Gap Brands Options 2500 $25
Groupon, Inc 1500 $15
Hertz 5000 $50
Hyatt Hotels 5000 $50
Intermix 5000 $50
iTunes 1176 $10
J. Crew 5000 $50
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort 5000 $50
Knott’s Berry Farm 3900 Junior/Senior
Lake Tahoe Lift Ticker 8700 1-Day Child
Lake Tahoe Rentals 6300 1-Day Ski/Snowboard
Legal Sea Foods 5000 $50
Legoland California 8900 Child Ticket
Legoland Florida 7300 Child Ticket
Lettuse Entertain You 5000 $50
Maggiano’s Little Italy 2500 $25
Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino 10000 $100
Mandarin Oriental 5882 $50
Marriott 7143 $50
Mercedes Benz Lease/Purchase 100000 $1,000
Mercedes-Benz Service A 26000 Service A Certificate
Mercedes-Bens Service B 58000 Service B Certificate
MGM Grand Hotel & Casino 10000 $100
Morton’s Steakhouse 10000 $100
Neiman Marcus 5000 $50
Nike 2500 $25
Old Navy 1000 $10
OpenTable 3571 $25
PF Chang’s 2500 $25
Park City Mtn Lift Tickets 11900 1-Day Child
Park City Mtn Resort Rentals 9800 1-Day Demo
PBTeen 5000 $50
Pottery Barn 5000 $50
Pottery Barn Kids 5000 $50
Ralph Lauren 5000 $50
Regal Theaters 1200 1 E-Ticket
REI 5000 $50
Restoration Hardware 5000 $50
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse 5000 $50
Saks Fifth Avenue 5000 $50
Seamless.com 1000 $10
Seasons 52 5000 $50
SeaWorld Orlando 11300 1 Ticket
SeaWorld San Diego 10000 Child Ticket
Showcase Cinemas 4800 4 Tickets
Snowshoe Mountain 20000 $200
SpaFinder Wellness 365 2500 $25
Staples 2500 $25
Starbucks Card 3571 $25
Stratton Mountain Ski Resort 10000 $100
The Capital Grille 5000 $50
The Cheesecake Factory 2941 $25
The Home Depot 2500 $25
The Mirage Hotel and Casino 25000 $250
The Ritz-Carlton 14286 $100
Tiffany & Co. 25000 $250
Universal Orlando 22300 Child Ticket
Universal Studios Hollywood 10700 1 Ticket
Vail, Beaver Creek Lift Ticket 11900 1-Day Child
Vail, Beaver Creek Rentals 6300 1-Day Ski/Snowboard
Victoria’s Secret 2500 $25
West Elm 5000 $50
Williams-Sonoma 5000 $50
Winter Park Resort 10000 $100
Zappos 5000 $50

None of this comes close to the value you can derive from transferring Membership Rewards points to travel partners. Still, if a big vacation isn’t in your plans, merchant gift cards are the easiest and most efficient non-travel method of monetizing your points.

If you like the information in this article, please consider supporting this blog by shopping with my Amazon Referral link.

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