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How To Maximise Amex Membership Rewards

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Immanuel Debeer | 11/07/2022

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American Express Membership Rewards® should be your go-to program for earning points as a savvy frequent flyer. When it comes to redeeming points for travel, flexibility is key! In this guide, we will look at maximising your Membership Rewards® points by covering some fundamental principles advanced members can use to redeem their points. 

Membership Rewards Overview 

American Express Membership Rewards is the reward program by American Express. It’s what we call a flexible rewards program (check out our intro guide on flexible reward programs in Australia here). This means you have the choice of a variety of transfer partners to which you can send your points. In addition, Membership Rewards points don’t expire as long you are an American Express Card Member and your account is in good standing, and there is a range of Cards you can use to boost your Membership Rewards points balance. 

Flexible Rewards vs Direct Earn 

Now you understand what flexible rewards are, let’s look at how they compare to direct earn Card’s. A direct earn Card means you will be locked into 1 single frequent flyer program with no flexibility to transfer your points elsewhere. While this doesn’t mean you have to book with just that airline, it does limit your option to the airline and its partners. Additionally, it also limits your options on pricing. For example, Qantas Frequent Flyer might charge 89,000 points (178,000 Membership Rewards) for a one-way business class flight from Sydney to Tokyo, but the same ticket would only cost you 61,000, Asia Miles (122,000 Membership Rewards). This means it’s always more advantageous to have flexible rewards as it increases your options. 

Asia Miles is an airline partner for all American Express Membership Rewards Card products and Qantas Frequent Flyer is an airline partner only for the American Express Charge Card. 

In Australia, the direct earn programs are Qantas Frequent Flyer and Velocity Frequent Flyer. Direct earn Cards are the most popular in Australia because it’s easier to understand how they work, the sign-up bonuses are generous, and they also earn slightly more points per dollar compared to flexible reward Cards. 

Once you understand the basics of earning and redeeming flexible rewards, you will unlikely want to go back to a direct earn Card as your primary Card. 

Understanding American Express Membership Rewards Redemption Partners 

The most important aspect of being able to maximise your Membership Rewards is understanding all the American Express transfer partners you gain access to. 

Let’s start with alliances. As an American Express Card Member who earns Membership Rewards points, you will have access to the following programs. 

One World: 

  • Qantas Frequent Flyer (exclusive to Platinum Card members)
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles 
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Star Alliance: 
  • Singapore Airlines 
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus 
  • Air New Zealand 

Other: 

  • Emirates Skywards 
  • Etihad Guest 
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (exclusive to Platinum Card Members)
  • Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer

Now that we got all the alliances grouped, you need to understand the basics of an airline alliance in relation to frequent flyer points. 

Generally speaking, when you have points in one program, you will be able to redeem said points with all the partners of that alliance. This means you can use your points from partner A to book partner B (no transferring required). If that confused you, let me give you a concrete example. 

Let’s say we have Qantas Frequent Flyer Points; Qantas is part of the One World alliance. This means we can use our Qantas Points to book any One World airlines they partner with directly via Qantas. So in our example, we will use our Qantas Points to book Sydney to Tokyo with Japan Airlines. This means Qantas will be the airline issuing the ticket, but Japan Airlines will be the airline we fly. Simple! 

In short, Star Alliance and One World are 2 of the most significant airline alliances out there; having access to both means you increase your chances of finding award seats exponentially. 

Obtaining the best price for the same flight

Now that you’re starting to understand the power of having Membership Rewards as your main program, we need to see how we can maximise this by learning about how different frequent flyer programs price up flights.

I won’t go into details for each program, but I want to stick with the same example we touched on before to clarify the benefit you have when you’re able to pick and choose the program you want to use. 

Let’s say you’re planning a trip to Japan and you want to fly Japan Airlines. Since Japan Airlines is a One World partner, we can now start to compare pricing between all the programs we have access to. 

Thanks to being an American Express Card Member, we have access to 3 different One World frequent flyer programs: Qantas Frequent Flyer, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Malaysian Airlines Enrich. Let’s compare each program’s price for the same flight: 

  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich: 131,000 Miles (262,000 Amex Membership Rewards points)+ taxes in business (one way)
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer: 90,000 Points (180,000 Amex Membership Rewards points) + taxes in business (one way)
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 61,000 Miles (122,000 Amex Membership Rewards points) + taxes in business (one way)

This meant that even though a Membership Rewards Card earns slightly fewer points per dollar compared to their direct earn counter parts, when it comes to redeeming, you will generally need fewer points when you have access to different programs, and you can shop around for the best redemption price without being tied down to 1 single rewards program.

Increasing your redemption options 

Let’s say we keep going with the previous example, you’re still planning that trip to Japan, but as you’re searching for reward seats, you realise that all the Japan Airlines seats are already taken… on top of that, all the Qantas flights were also fully booked! 

If you only had access to 1 frequent flyer program such as Qantas, you’d be demoted to economy before your trip even started! 

Luckily, you’re a savvy points connoisseur, and you have access to other programs as well! We can see that ANA also operated direct flights from Sydney to Tokyo for our route to Japan.  As it turns out, ANA is a Star Alliance partner, and they also have a unique partnership with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club!  In this case, we can now check and see if flights might be available using either our KrisFlyer Miles, Thai Royal Orchid or FlyingClub! 

Once we find availability, we can start comparing prices before we transfer our American Express Membership Rewards points to the most cost-effective program in order to book the flight we want. Let’s see: 

  • KrisFlyer 77,500 Miles (155,000 Amex Membership Rewards points) + taxes in business (one way)
  • Royal Orchid 105,000 Miles (210,000 Amex Membership Rewards points)+ taxes in business (one way)
  • FlyingClub 45,000 Miles (90,000 Amex Membership Rewards points) + taxes in business (one way)

As you can see, we just increased our chances of getting a business class seat to Tokyo and also managed to find better pricing simply by having access to Membership Rewards! 

American Express Cards That Earn Membership Rewards points

American Express® Platinum Card: this Card is the big daddy of them all and earns the most points on everyday spending. It also comes with a stack of travel benefits to counterbalance the hefty annual fee. 

American Express Explorer ® Credit Card: this is the perfect entry level Card which earns a consistent 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent (except for government charges where you earn 0.5 points). 

American Express® Platinum Edge Credit Card: this Card will offer you an earn rate in supermarkets and petrol stations of 3 points per $1 spent, considering the low annual fee, which is completely offset by the travel credit you receive each year; it can be the perfect partner to your Explorer or Platinum Card. 

American Express Essential® Credit Card: if you’re on a lower income but still want to participate in the Membership Rewards program, the Essential Card offers just that. No annual fee and a bunch of benefits such as smartphone screen cover and the ability to earn Membership Rewards points on virtually every dollar spent are the key features of this Card. 

David Jones American Express: The David Jones co-branded Cards can also earn Membership Rewards points and offer bonus earn rates when shopping at David Jones and some other benefits. In addition, they also earn bonus points at supermarkets, and existing American Express Card Members can also receive a sign-up bonus when they get approved for a new David Jones American Express Card and have not held one in the preceding 18 month period.Therefore, just like the Platinum Edge, it’s an interesting Card to have as a secondary just for maximising supermarket expenses. 

Summing Up 

As you can see, Membership Rewards really are the most valuable points you can hold in Australia in my opinion. If you’re a new Card Member, make sure you look out for sign-up bonuses to kickstart your points earning journey. In most cases, a sign-up bonus could be the equivalent of a one-way business class flight from Australia to Europe! 

For more tips on utilising your Membership Rewards, make sure you check out our top 10 reasons why American Express Membership Rewards are the most valuable points! 

This article is sponsored by American Express. Opinions expressed in this article solely belong to Flight Hacks. Points redemption rates we’ve published here are correct as at June 8th 2022 and subject to airline T&Cs and availability. Fees and charges are payable in addition to the points redeemed.

The earning and redemption of Membership Rewards points is subject to the terms and conditions of the American Express Membership Rewards program. To transfer Membership Rewards points into an airline rewards or frequent guest partner program you must be a member of the partner program. Membership of the partner program is the Card Member’s responsibility and is subject to the Terms and Conditions of the applicable program. A joining fee may apply. 

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Immanuel Debeer

Chief points nerd and travel hacker at Flight Hacks

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