It's easy to overlook American Express' Membership Rewards program when choosing which rewards credit card to add to your wallet. That's because Membership Rewards is a program, not a credit card, although more than 30 different American Express credit cards can access Membership Rewards. The major benefit of a card linked to Membership Rewards is access to three redemption options: miles transfer, retail gift certificates, and travel discounts. If you're looking for flexibility in redemption options or no-restrictions travel discounts, this card could be for you; however, if you're looking for upgrades or the cheapest deal, you might want to look elsewhere.
Benefits of Membership Rewards
You can add access to the Membership Rewards program from eligible American Express consumer and business credit cards for a $40 to $75 fee. Or, you can sign up for cards with the program already built in, such as the Green and Gold Rewards Cards. Compared to airline-affiliated cards that only offer a choice of a few different card types, American Express offers a large variety of cards eligible for Membership Rewards, so there's likely to be a card that will fit your specific needs. With Membership Rewards, you will earn one point for every dollar charged to your Amex card, and can take advantage of limited-time promotions offering extra miles for certain purchases.
The biggest attraction of the Membership Rewards program is its multiple redemption options. If you're a traditional mile earner, you can transfer Membership Rewards points into miles in 11 airline programs (including Continental, Delta, and US Airways) or four hotel programs. The transfer rate is usually 1,000 points for 1,000 miles, but can differ by airline or hotel. You will be charged a conversion fee of $0.0004 per point, up to a maximum of $50. This service is helpful for wary travelers who don't want to leave their miles in one airline's program either because they fear the loss of miles in the event of a liquidation or because they fly several airlines and don't want to commit.
If you're frustrated with trying to redeem miles or would prefer a non-miles reward, Membership Rewards can help out. You can redeem your points for gift certificates at airlines, hotels, cruises, retailers, movie theatres, and entertainment venues. With this wealth of options, you can use your miles to purchase almost anything. And with the "Your Rewards" redemption option, you can customize your own reward, and American Express' concierge department will arrange your dream reward and figure out how many points you need to buy it.
Plus, travelers who don't want the hassle of redeeming miles or gift certificates can now book their flight, hotel, or cruise directly through American Express' travel service and pay for all or part of their trip with points. That's right, you don't have to bother with blackout dates, capacity controls, or bureaucracy. Once you've found a flight, hotel, or cruise that you want to book, you can log in to your Membership Rewards account and opt to pay with points. You'll pay 100 points for every dollar of a flight cost or 75 points for every dollar of a cruise or hotel cost. A $300 flight will cost you 30,000 points and a $100 hotel stay will be 7,500 points.
Drawbacks of Membership Rewards
What could be wrong with so many redemption options? Price, for starters. With most airlines, a domestic round-trip award ticket costs 25,000 miles, no matter how much that ticket is worth. With Membership Rewards, any ticket priced at more than $250 will cost more than 25,000 points. There's no sense of getting the most out of your miles because the pricier the airline ticket, the more miles you will spend. Some travelers may argue that it's worth it to pay more to get your first choice of dates and times, but that's a personal decision.