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.”
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.
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.
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.
|AMC||1200||1 Gold E-Ticket|
|Aria Resort & Casino||10000||$100|
|Barnes & Noble||5000||$50|
|Bath & Body Works||1000||$10|
|Bellagio Las Vega||10000||$100|
|Busch Gardens||11200||1 E-Ticket|
|California Pizza Kitchen||2500||$25|
|Express Rewards Gas||10000||$50|
|Express Rewards Golf Card||10000||$50|
|Facebook Game Card||588||$5|
|Facebook Games & Apps||588||$5|
|Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse||5000||$50|
|Gap Brands Options||2500||$25|
|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|
|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|
|Park City Mtn Lift Tickets||11900||1-Day Child|
|Park City Mtn Resort Rentals||9800||1-Day Demo|
|Pottery Barn Kids||5000||$50|
|Regal Theaters||1200||1 E-Ticket|
|Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse||5000||$50|
|Saks Fifth Avenue||5000||$50|
|SeaWorld Orlando||11300||1 Ticket|
|SeaWorld San Diego||10000||Child Ticket|
|Showcase Cinemas||4800||4 Tickets|
|SpaFinder Wellness 365||2500||$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|
|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|
|Winter Park Resort||10000||$100|
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.