While some rewards credit cards only let you earn points or miles within a specific airline or hotel loyalty program, others, like the American Express Membership Rewards program, let you earn flexible rewards points that you can redeem in more than one way. For example, you can redeem Membership Rewards points for travel, gift cards, merchandise, statement credits and Amex experiences, or transfer points to Amex hotel and airline partners.

Below, we’ll dive into the American Express Membership Rewards program, including how to earn points, how much points are worth and the best ways to redeem them.

How to earn American Express Membership Rewards points

Earning points in the American Express Membership Rewards program requires you to have an eligible Amex credit card. Even though the American Express Membership Rewards program is for American Express credit card holders, not all Amex cards come with access to Membership Rewards. Some American Express credit cards earn cash back instead, so make sure you know which cards offer which type of rewards before you apply.

There are a number of American Express consumer and business cards that earn Membership Rewards points. Some cards are designed for everyday spending, with higher rewards rates on grocery and gas purchases. Other Amex cards offer a higher rewards rate for travel purchases like flights and hotel stays.

For the most part, the easiest way to earn rewards in this program is by making purchases with your card, especially in your card’s bonus categories. You can also earn points by referring a friend to American Express. If they’re approved for a consumer or business card, you’ll get a referral bonus.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are no limits to how many Amex Membership Rewards points you can earn and points will never expire.

How much are Amex Membership Rewards points worth?

The value of American Express Membership Rewards points varies depending on how you redeem them. For example, Bankrate estimates that Amex points have a value of 2.1 cents each when transferred to airline or hotel partners. However, you’ll only get 1 cent per point when you book flights through AmexTravel.com and 0.7 cents per point when you book prepaid hotels, cruises or vacation packages.

Additionally, you’ll typically get 0.7 cents per point when you redeem your rewards for purchases made through an Amex Pay with Points partner. And you’ll get 0.6 cents per point when redeeming points for statement credits and up to 1 cent per point for gift cards.

How to redeem Amex Membership Rewards points

To redeem your points, log in to your American Express account and go to the Membership Rewards portal. Once you’re there, you can choose from the various American Express Membership Rewards redemption options available to you:

  • Book through AmexTravel.com. If you already know you want to use your points on travel, go to AmexTravel.com. (That’s where you’ll end up if you select “book travel” through American Express Membership Rewards or using your mobile app.) The AmexTravel.com travel booking portal allows you to search for travel and choose from different flights, hotels, cruises and more. You can pay for travel with points, cash or a combination of the two.
  • Transfer points to Amex partners. You can transfer points to Amex Membership Rewards partners from your account. Simply head to your Membership Rewards page and click on “transfer points.” Remember, American Express Membership Rewards points are typically worth up to 2 cents each when redeemed this way.
  • Use Pay with Points. Many retailers, like Amazon, Dell, Best Buy and Seamless, participate in American Express’ Pay with Points. All you have to do is connect your American Express card to your retail account. Then, when you shop online with that retailer, you’ll be able to pay with Membership Rewards points at checkout.
  • Get a statement credit. You can also get statement credits to cover charges posted to your account. But remember, this option usually offers the least amount of value.
  • Select gift cards. Another option is to redeem points for gift cards. You can choose from more than 80 retailers, including Apple, Athleta, Best Buy, Sephora and Target, among many others. Options are subject to change, so you may want to check back periodically to see which options are available.
  • Buy merchandise on the Membership Rewards site. You can also opt to shop with points directly on the Membership Rewards website instead of shopping on retailers’ websites. You can shop by brand, department and featured offers. As you explore items, you’ll see both dollar amounts and points values. After you make a purchase, the retailer will process the order and Amex will issue you a purchase credit.

Other ways to maximize Membership Rewards points value

Considering American Express Membership Rewards points may only be worth 0.6 cents each depending on how you redeem them, it makes sense to be strategic about your rewards redemptions. Here are some of the ways you can optimize value from the rewards you earn with your American Express credit card.

  • Use points for premium cabin international flights. The best way to maximize Amex Membership Rewards is by transferring points to airlines for premium cabin redemptions. The options vary widely depending on where you plan to travel and where you are departing from, but there are plenty of sweet spots to be aware of. For example, you could transfer 40,000 points to Hawaiian Airlines and fly business class one-way from the West Coast to Hawaii, which normally runs at least $600 one-way but can easily cost as much as $1,200. You could even fly in Singapore Suites, which is one of the most prestigious and luxurious flying experiences in the sky. One popular route is between New York City and Frankfurt, Germany, for 86,000 points. This one-way trip can easily cost $2,000 up to $10,000 or more—which means you could glean significant value for your rewards. These are just some of the premium cabin redemptions you can book with Amex transfer partners, but there are plenty of others.
  • Leverage the best frequent flyer programs. Another way to get the most value for your Amex points is to transfer them to partner programs. For example, using the Air France/Flying Blue program, you can frequently book round-trip, economy flights to Europe that cost $1,200 or more with less than 50,000 miles per person. At that rate, you’re getting an outsized value at 2.4 cents for each mile you redeem. The Delta SkyMiles program can also be lucrative when it comes to finding flights for a reasonable number of miles, but that’s especially true when you use miles to leverage one of the frequent SkyMiles Deals (which change every few weeks). There are plenty of other ways to get 2 cents in value per point with partners like Hawaiian Airlines, Emirates, Avianca, Aeroplan and others, so make sure to compare transfer partners that fly where you plan to travel. You will likely find that some partners let you book a similar itinerary for significantly fewer miles, but it all depends on where you’re traveling.
  • Not traveling? Cash in rewards for gift cards. If you’re not traveling right now, but still want to get plenty of value, gift cards are an excellent redemption option. You’ll get up to 1 cent per point in value when you redeem Amex points for gift cards, and you can choose from more than 80 options, including hotel chains and luxury retailers. Note that you’re more likely to get 1 cent per point in value for dining gift cards, whereas some retailers and travel brands provide less than 1 cent in value.
  • Earn points through Amex Offers. Another way to earn more Amex Membership Rewards points is through Amex Offers. All American Express credit cards let cardholders add Amex Offers to their respective cards, and you can pick and choose which merchant offers you’re interested in. You’ll have the chance to earn Membership Rewards points or bonus cash back on eligible purchases.

Membership Rewards redemption options to avoid

For the most part, we suggest avoiding Amex Membership Rewards points redemptions that offer less than 1 cent per point in value. This includes using rewards to cover charges made to your account, which only nets you 0.6 cents per point in value. Also, be aware that you will only get 0.7 cents per point if you use your rewards for travel other than flights through AmexTravel.com.

While your rewards are definitely yours to spend, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you focus on redemption options that net you at least 1 cent per point each.

The bottom line

While points or miles earned in a specific program can be worth pursuing if you know you can use them, Amex Membership Rewards points offer flexible redemption options, don’t have earning limits and don’t expire. Not only that, but you can “shop around” for travel to ensure you get the best deal, whether that means booking through AmexTravel.com or transferring to an airline or hotel partner. And since you can also always redeem points for gift cards, merchandise and statement credits, you’ll be able to use your rewards no matter what.

Before redeeming points, make sure you consider all of your options and determine which ones might provide the greatest return. Also, don’t forget to compare American Express Membership Rewards cards against other cards with flexible rewards programs, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, to ensure you have the ideal card for your spending style.