Membership Rewards (MR from here on out) is the credit card points program by far with the highest earning potential and the most transfer partners. To read about about why I feel it’s the go to program for most savvy points collectors in Australia, start with this post, read this follow up to get a sense of the value the Membership Rewards offers for specific types of Business and First Class redemptions, and one of the best value uses of Membership Rewards points, redeeming for Malaysia Airlines Business or First Class.
Why choose Membership Rewards over a direct earn card (e.g. Qantas or Virgin?)
Here’s a few quick reasons…
- The only program in Australia that will allow you to transfer points to Starwood Preferred Guest (and onwards to a range of overseas frequent flyer programs like American Airlines, US Airways etc. if you desire), or Priority Club
- An equivalent earn rate for Singapore Airlines Krisflyer points as the dedicated Westpac Krisflyer card; without the points lock-in
- The best earn and transfer rate to Air New Zealand Airpoints in Australia
- The only way to earn Malaysia Airlines Enrich points in Australia
- No points expiry as long as your account with Amex is active
- And what I like most, the ability to accrue points in a way that allows you to look at the right program’s redemption opportunities for your future travel needs – you can defer the decision as to which program in which to keep your points until you want to use them.
If you know for sure that you’re in the market for a high earning Qantas card only, you’re better off heading elsewhere amongst the Amex product range, or outside Amex altogether. But making that decision would be doing yourself a disservice – Qantas is definitely not the only option in the region, it’s just the most obvious.
Qantas feel like a monopoly on the Australian Frequent Flyer market and have a somewhat captive local frequent flyer audience, which unfortunately means they are getting complacent and making changes to the Frequent Flyer program which continue to devalue your points stash. There are a heap of Qantas direct earn cards out there which make a lot of noise in the market, but no truly lucrative or REALLY attractive promotions for using the card after initially signing up.
This is giving Virgin and their competitors an opening to create some really interesting alternatives, such as the Virgin Platinum Amex which comes with unlimited 2 for 1 international business class flights on Virgin Australia. Again though, you’re committed to earning Velocity points.
Keeping your options open and MR Ascent cards in mind when factoring in your spending habits and desired use of your points in the long run is relevant to those with more flexible rewards in mind than just Qantas (and redemptions with QF partners) – if you’re likely to go for a premium hotel, rather than airline experience for example, then any MR card is a great (and maybe the only) place to start. You can also use Membership Rewards points for transfer to Virgin Australia, and American Express or Virgin often run transfer bonuses of 10%-30%.
Ultimately, it’s all about your own particular travel and spending habits – if you mix and match airlines and fares to suit your needs, or don’t fly much at all, then a more flexible card reward scheme may do the trick for you as you can transfer points over to a program with a redemption opportunity as you see fit. If you don’t spend much on your credit card, and tend to fly infrequently with only one airline, you’re probably better off consolidating points into one program (like Qantas or Virgin) to ensure you have enough points for a decent redemption – in which case it might not be worth considering a Membership Rewards Amex.
Flavours of Membership Rewards
The MR program in Australia comes in four flavours – MR Choices, MR Ascent, MR Ascent Premium and MR Spirit. Choices only allows for redemptions within the MR scheme, i.e. no transfer of points out. Spirit is only available on the Qantas Corporate or Business cards.
I’m really only interested in the MR Ascent programs thanks to their ability to transfer out to other programs. There’s little difference between the two Ascent schemes – in fact the only difference is the ability to transfer points to Qantas – and, you guessed it, the Ascent Premium flavour is only available on Amex’s premium higher annual fee cards.
Access to MR Ascent Premium (available only with the $900 pa Platinum Charge Card, or even more expensive Platinum Business Charge Card) in order for a Qantas transfer option would only be worth it if you see yourself getting significant value from the other benefits of these high end cards, rather than just the Qantas transfer, as there are better Qantas earning options out there.
The Card Range
There’s a broad range of cards that Amex offer which earn into Membership Rewards, and I’ll cover most of them below – the ‘cheapest’ first, through to the most expensive Platinum option at the end. This page isn’t kept up to date with the most recent signup bonuses – keep an eye on the American Express page here for those.
You may find that the best signup bonuses aren’t public – Amex regularly tweak their signup bonuses for Membership Rewards cards, and sometimes the best bonuses to be had are if you let another cardholder refer you – it’s kind of like a reward for you for Amex not having to pay an affiliate or partner for marketing. You can check out the latest referral offers below:
|Product||Referral Link||Annual Fee|
|Membership Rewards Cards|
|Platinum Charge Card||Referral link||$900|
|Platinum Reserve Card||Referral link||$395|
|Platinum Edge Card||Referral link||$149|
|Gold Charge Card||Referral link||$130|
|Classic/Green Charge Card||Referral link||$80|
|Membership Rewards Business Cards|
|Platinum Business Card||Referral link||$1500|
|Gold Business Card||Referral link||$169|
|American Express Business Card||Referral link||$109|
American Express Gold Ascent
Not worth it, look elsewhere.
The Gold Ascent comes with no annual fee but it doesn’t give you any ancillary benefits and a low 0.5 point to $1 earn rate. I’d only consider the Gold Ascent if you want a guarantee to keep your annual fees to the absolute minimum, and aren’t sure if you’ll get value out of the free flights and bonus points that come with other card (that end up offsetting their annual fees). However there are other zero or low annual fee cards out there (such as the Qantas Discovery Amex, currently with a 10,000 Qantas point signup bonus) which give better up-front bonuses so this card is not really worth the bother given the low earn rate of MR points.
The American Express Charge Card
Increased MR earn rate – nothing special, but OK for sub $100 annual fee. But bear in mind for $70 more you can get a free domestic return flight with the Platinum Edge.
This classic looking card gives an array of benefits for the $80 annual fee, and for those considering the Gold Ascent it’d be worth looking up the range to this card to up the points earn rate and get the card benefits. There’s a range of insurances, purchase protection and the like which are nice benefits for a card with this cost, but assess whether the lower annual fee is worth the trade off of the lower MR earn rate to the Platinum cards up the range.
Note this is a charge card, requiring full payment of the balance each month, in return for effectively no credit limit.
Gold Charge Card
Like the green card, but with better Travel Insurance – not really worth it.
The additional $50 premium for the additional Travel Insurance probably isn’t worth your while unless you know you’ll be making multiple international trips during the course of the year, and also spend enough to value having a charge card with unlimited points earning capabilities. My guess is, if you spend enough to want unlimited points you might want to look at a card higher up the range anyway to increase your points haul from a higher MR earn rate.
Note this is a charge card, requiring full payment of the balance each month, in return for effectively no credit limit.
Currently the best value option in the Amex range. It’s in my wallet.
For once, I think the entry level Platinum card is the best value – normally the entry level offering is worth just skipping over, but in this case the Platinum Edge is a pretty great offering. It was added to the Platinum line-up in 2010 and I’ve used it on and off for my main card ever since.
You receive a free domestic return flight with Virgin Australia – easily outweighing the value of the $149 annual fee, even in renewal years after any initial signup bonus. The full list of destinations can be found here. Along with the flight you also receive free domestic and international travel insurance (although the AusBT guys don’t rate it so well), and a few other Amex program perks which may/may not be worth your while depending on what you’re interested in.
The Platinum Edge offers bumped up earn rates for ‘major supermarkets’ and fuel purchases at 3 MR : $1 at supermarkets, and 2 MR : $1 for fuel. All other purchases are 1:1. The 3:2:1 rate is excellent for the everyday card user – Amex is universally accepted in supermarkets and petrol stations so it makes sense to utilise the bonus earn rates on offer by having it in your wallet. The ‘major’ supermarkets that Amex define for the Platinum Edge card bonus rate are:
It’s a bit of a mystery to me why these rates aren’t available on the higher end cards, which would make their high annual fees a touch more appealing. As such, other than the ancillary benefits the only notable difference is the 1.5 MR : $1 earn rate across all spend on the higher end cards, which could be offset by the 3:2:1 rate on the Platinum Edge depending on your spending habits anyway.
Worth considering if you know you’ll use the international flight or don’t spend a lot in supermarkets.
The Platinum Reserve card has a different set of category earn rates on spend, and the key value driver being the free flight. Although this is marketed as a ‘Complimentary international or domestic flight’ that’s a little misleading – there’s only limited destinations on offer internationally. Departing Sydney & Melbourne, it’s just NZ destinations for example. I assume this is because Virgin Australia ≠ (the old) Pacific Blue and Pacific destinations are not on the cards – despite what Virgin Australia’s new consolidated branding would have you believe. The lack of further international destinations is unfortunate, but it’s still a good value offer and used wisely will take care of the annual fee for the card easily.
The earn rates on spend for the Platinum Reserve changed in 2013 to 3 points per $1 spent at a range of restaurants in Australia, 2 points per $1 spent with travel merchants and overseas denominated transactions, and 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else excluding utilities, insurance, telecommunications providers and government bodies in Australia where the earn rate is 0.5 points per $. This recent reduction and complication earn rates for the Platinum Reserve makes the card hard to recommend, as there is also a 150,000 point per year limit after which your earn rates reduce to 0.5 points per $ too.
When the Platinum Edge comes at less than 1/2 the annual fee, and with boosted earn rates on some of the major ways consumers spend money on their cards, the Reserve is unappealing. If Amex aligned the bonus earn rates for the Edge across their Platinum cards, this would look so much simpler.
For the big spenders & high rollers – amazing ancillary benefits. For everyone else (and me)… maybe not.
The Platinum card is a high risk, high return strategy in the world of accruing points. Yes, the large signup bonus and free flight from the bonus Platinum Reserve card will pretty much cover the value on the annual fee. Yes, there’s a heap of other benefits, and I’m sure almost everyone would get use of at least some of them. But… I just can’t stomach the high annual fee myself and am just not personally comfortable with a $900 p.a. card for my circumstances.
My card spend isn’t high enough each year to make use of the earning potential and benefits of this card, so I’ll leave this to those who will use them (and they are probably not reading this blog anyway).
The earn rates on spend are the same structure as the Platinum Reserve above, with an increased 300,000 point per year maximum, so bear that in mind if you plan to pump a large amount of spend onto a Platinum Charge card – which I assume you would if you’re considering paying $900 a year for it.
A note about David Jones American Express Membership Rewards
American Express also offer a couple of David Jones branded cards, both of which can accrue points to ‘David Jones Membership Rewards’ or Qantas Frequent Flyer. THE DAVID JONES MR SCHEME IS DIFFERENT TO NORMAL MEMBERSHIP REWARDS! Take note – I can’t say this strongly enough – the David Jones Membership Rewards scheme has worse transfer rates than normal Membership Rewards (normally 50% of the transfer rate). This is very confusing, and the only reason in my mind to consider the David Jones cards is to accrue points to Qantas.
A word about acceptance of American Express
American Express in Australia (much like the US and UK) is not accepted by all merchants, and others charge an additional fee for use of Amex. As such, any savvy points earner would have both an Amex and Mastercard or Visa to hand for times when Amex is not accepted. Given the recent introduction of a few non Amex cards where you can earn 1 point per dollar (such as the Woolworths Everyday Qantas Card), the value from keeping a dedicated American Express card to linked to Membership Rewards comes from higher than 1:1 earn rates; additional ancillary card benefits; signup bonuses; and points transfer flexibility. Bear those factors in mind when assessing the current offerings in the Amex card range.
|Card||Annual Fee||MR : $ Earn Rate|
|The American Express Card||$80||1:1|
|The Gold Card||$130||1:1|
|Platinum Edge||$149||3:2:1 : 1|
Supermarkets : Fuel : other
|Platinum Reserve||$395||3:2:1 : 1|
Restaurants : Travel : other
|Platinum||$900||3:2:1 : 1|
Restaurants : Travel : other
Bonus Earning Partners
Membership Rewards often has some good bonus partners which you can direct your spend to gain some pretty lucrative extra points. The current bonus partner offers are up here. These are a great way to increase your points balance if you were looking at any of these products or services anyway.
Transfer Partners and Using Points
Unfortunately, Amex places less value on Australian MR points than the UK and US schemes, which have much more appealing conversion rates to many programs, such as 1:1, against 3:1, for SPG. It’s a shame, but not much can be done there unless you have access to credit in those markets.
Regardless, there’s still a wide variety of direct transfer options out of Membership Rewards, and at the following ratios (with other card programs in Australia included for comparison):
|Program Conversion Rates - e.g. 1000 MR = 100 Airpoints||Membership Rewards [MR]||Citirewards||Westpac Altitude||CBA Rewards|
|Air New Zealand Airpoints||100:1||-||160:1||160:1|
|Virgin Australia Velocity Points||1:1||3:2||2:1||2:1|
|Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles||1:1||3:2||2:1||-|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles||1:1||-||-||-|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||1:1||2:1*||2:1||-|
|Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus Miles||4:3||-||-||-|
|Malaysia Airlines Enrich Miles||1:1||-||2:1||-|
|Hilton HHonors Points||1:1||-||-||-|
|Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints||2:1||-||-||-|
|Priority Club Rewards Points||3:2||-||-||-|
|Jumeirah Sirius Points||~30:1||-||-||-|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer Points||1:1*||1:1*||-||-|
Don’t forget you can then transfer Starwood points onwards to further programs, with the ones I find most interesting currently at the following ratios:
|Program||Transfer Rate (SPG:Partner)||Why I'm Interested...|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||1:1||Cheap Business and First Class redemptions on oneworld airlines|
|British Airways Executive Club||1:1||Cheaper long-haul AU domestic redemptions than Qantas; also good for some SE Asian destinations; and BA have a decent (confirmed upgrades) miles for upgrade scheme|
|Emirates Skywards||1:1||Very few other earn/transfer options|
|US Airways Dividend Miles||1:1||US are the unofficial Star Alliance premium cabin consolidator, offering cheap awards and cheap points|
You also get a bonus 5000 point (25%) points kick for each maximum daily 20,000 SPG point transfer.
Given the 3:1 earn rate at supermarkets for the platinum edge, and the ~1:2 transfer rate for MR : SPG, I know that any general shopping I do will earn me more than 1 Starpoint per dollar. This is equal to one AAdvantage mile, one US Airways mile etc. This is pretty great as these miles are generally much more valuable than Qantas Frequent Flyer points – where the usual earn rate on most Qantas Amex’s is 1:1 as well.
Is Membership Rewards for me?
Stowing your points away in MR gives redemption flexibility, allowing you to transfer to programs at a later once you have a firm plan for your points, and not before. I can’t over-emphasise how helpful it is to place a value on flexibility when playing the points game – and MR Ascent partners with Virgin, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific, covering all the major alliances and domestic/trans-tasman options you might want outside of Qantas.
Personally, the Platinum Edge has a permanent place in my wallet for fuel and supermarket purchases, where I can then transfer points to SPG or Priority Club and retain that ongoing flexibility for future redemptions.
Useful American Express and/or Membership Rewards links:
All Amex's current offers
Current promotions Amex would like you to know about.
American Express friend referral bonus point scheme
Refer a 'friend' to a specific Amex and receive 1/2 their signup bonus.
Amex Platinum Microsite
Outlines in full detail the various benefits of the high end Platinum charge card
Current Membership Rewards offers
Amex Microsite containing current Membership Reward transfer and point redemption promotions
Membership Rewards current bonus partners
Merchants currently offering signup or extra points per dollar spent to Membership Rewards cardholders.
Membership Rewards program differences
Difference between Ascent, Ascent Premium, Spirit, Choices MR programs in Australia
Featured American Express Membership Rewards Credit Card
15,000 Amex Membership Rewards points for $195 annual fee is a great signup bonus, and it's available only with a referral, not to direct applicants who right now would only receive 10,000 points.
- 15,000 Membership Rewards points
- $195 annual fee
- 3-2-1 points : $1 earn rate - 3 @ Supermarkets : 2 for fuel ; 1 for all other other non-utilities spend
- Free domestic flight on Virgin Australia each year
- My 'go-to' card for my day to day spend - some tips here
- Offer expires end of 2013, only available to new Amex cardholders
I receive 10,000 referral points for this card. More on my featured credit card policy →