American Express Membership Rewards is the ‘go to’ program of choice for the savvy points collector, with the most airline and hotel points transfer partners of any credit card points program out there. As a result, it’s where I focus most of my efforts in collecting my points.
If you haven’t seen this guide before, it covers off all the things you need to know about Membership Rewards in Australia, and acts as a great introduction to the program if you want to know more.
With the recent changes to Malaysia Airlines Enrich program, I thought I should revisit the guide and ensure it’s all up to date – and if you haven’t been across the details of the Membership Rewards program until now, here’s the place to start.
American Express Membership Rewards is one of the best Australian credit card points programs, with the highest earning potential and the most transfer partners.
In this guide: Membership Rewards (Australia) guide contents and quick links
- Why choose Membership Rewards? ↓
- The Membership Rewards Card Range ↓
- Earning bonus points with card referrals to friends and family ↓
- Bonus Membership Rewards Earning Partners ↓
- Transfer Partners and Using Points ↓
- Membership Rewards vs a Qantas Frequent Flyer or Velocity Frequent Flyer direct earn card ↓
- Types of Membership Rewards accounts in Australia ↓
- Transferring Membership Rewards Points to another cardholder ↓
- David Jones Membership Rewards program ↓
- Considering acceptance of American Express ↓
- Conclusion: Is Membership Rewards for me? ↓
Further reading: more noteworthy Membership Rewards guides and posts
- The American Express Platinum Edge Ultimate Guide
- A guide to Membership Rewards oneworld airline redemptions
- A guide to Star Alliance, Etihad and Virgin redemptions
- An overview of Membership Rewards international account transfers
Why choose Membership Rewards?
Here’s a few quick reasons…
- The easiest way to earn Starwood Preferred Guest points from credit card spend in Australia
- One of the highest earn rates for Singapore Airlines Krisflyer points on domestic spend
- A range of cards with different category-based earn rates, such as bonus points on travel or at supermarkets
- Frequent offers for statement credit for spend at certain retailers
- No points expiry as long as your Membership Rewards account with American Express is active
- Frequent promotions and bonus partners to earn and use points more effectively
- 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.
The Membership Rewards 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.
Current American Express Platinum Edge Offer
American Express is offering 10,000 bonus Membership Rewards points for new applicants. This is one of my favourite cards for everyday use.
- 10,000 Membership Rewards points after $500 minimum spend in 2 months
- Alternatively, 15,000 Membership Rewards points are also available when using a referral →
- Free domestic flight on Virgin Australia each cardholder year
- $195 p.a. annual fee
- 0.99% p.a. on balance transfers for the first 6 months, with a 1% establishment fee
- 3 Membership points earned per $ spent at supermarkets, 2 points earned per $ on fuel, and 1 point per $ everywhere else except for utilities and the ATO
- Travel and purchase protection insurances
- Offer expires: 30th April 2015, only available to new American Express customers within the last 12 months
I receive a maximum of $169 per applicant for this card. More on my featured credit card policy →
Currently a great value option in the Amex range. It’s in my wallet.
Read the Platinum Edge Ultimate Guide →
I think the entry level Platinum card, the Platinum Edge is the best value, and 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 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, except utilities and the ATO 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:
Current American Express Platinum Charge Offer
With 80,000 Membership Rewards points on offer, the American Express Platinum charge is the high-end card for those that want a heap of benefits.
- 80,000 Membership Rewards points after $500 minimum spend in 2 months
- Alternatively, 90,000 Membership Rewards points when using a referral →
- Free additional companion card, such as the Platinum Edge - with a free domestic flight on Virgin Australia each year
- $1200 p.a. annual fee
- Unlimited access to Virgin Australia, Delta and American Express airline lounges globally
- 3 Membership points earned per $ spent at restaurants, 2 points earned per $ on travel, and 1 point per $ everywhere else except for utilities and the ATO
- $200 Travel Credit annually
- Too many other benefits to list here!
- Offer expires: 39th April 2015, only available to new American Express customers within the last 12 months
I receive a maximum of $253 per applicant for this card. More on my featured credit card policy →
For those who want the large Membership Rewards sign up bonus, big spenders, and who are after the extensive list of ancillary benefits.
The Platinum card is a high risk, high return strategy in the world of accruing points. The large signup bonus, $200 travel credit and free flight from the bonus Platinum Edge card will pretty much cover the value on the annual fee.
There’s a heap of other benefits too, and I’m sure almost everyone would get use of at least some of them. But many understandably wouldn’t take on such a high annual fee. Personally, card spend isn’t high enough each year to make use of the earning potential and benefits of this card.
You may find that the best signup bonuses aren’t public – American Express 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.
There’s a full guide to the American Express referral program here, which has relaunched after a 6 month hiatus in 2014.
Point Hacks readers can befriend and refer each other for American Express cards through the Point Hacks Amex referral forums – it’s an easy way to earn more points, either on sign up for a new card or by referring others using their link.
Bonus Membership Rewards 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
There’s 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||Citibank Rewards||Westpac Altitude|
|Air New Zealand Airpoints||100:1||-||160:1|
|Virgin Australia Velocity Points||1:1||3:2||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|
|Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints||2:1||-||-|
|Jumeirah Sirius Points||~30:1||-||-|
|Hilton HHonors Points||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|
|US Airways Dividend Miles||1:1||US Airways offer an alternative way to redeem miles for cheap Business and First Class oneworld travel.|
Given the 3:1 earn rate at supermarkets for the Platinum Edge, and the 1:2 transfer rate for Membership Rewards to 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 much more valuable than Qantas Frequent Flyer points.
Membership Rewards vs a Qantas Frequent Flyer or Velocity Frequent Flyer direct earn card
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 they operate as a monopoly in 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. There are a heap of Qantas direct earn cards out there, 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 interesting alternatives, such as the Virgin Platinum American Express 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 Membership Rewards 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 their partners) – if you’re likely to go for a premium hotel, rather than airline experience for example, then any Membership Rewards 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.
For more on the basics of using points, read the Beginners Guide to Using Points →
Types of Membership Rewards accounts in Australia
The Membership Rewards program in Australia comes in four flavours – Choices, Ascent, Ascent Premium and Spirit. Choices only allows for redemptions within the Membership Rewards 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 Membership Rewards 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 the premium higher annual fee card, the American Express Platinum Charge.
Access to Membership Rewards Ascent Premium (available only with the $1200 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.
Transferring Membership Rewards Points to another cardholder
American Express also allow transfers, once per year, to another Australian Membership Rewards cardholder. This process is set off by following the instructions in this PDF form from Amex. There’s no fee to transfer Membership Rewards Ascent (the most common type) to another Ascent account, but going from a Membership Rewards Spirit to Ascent or Ascent to Ascent Premium will incur a $5 per 1000 points charge.
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. I can’t say this strongly enough – The David Jones Membership Rewards program is different to the ‘normal’ Membership Rewards!
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 American Express. As such, any savvy points earner would have both an American Express card plus a Mastercard or Visa to hand for times when Amex is not accepted.
The value of 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.
Conclusion: Is Membership Rewards for me?
Stowing your points away in Membership Rewards 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 Membership Rewards 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 Starwood Preferred Guest, and retain that ongoing flexibility for future redemptions.