American Express Membership Rewards Scheme in Australia – The Ultimate Guide

American Express Membership Rewards is one of the best Australian credit card points programs, with the highest earning potential and the most transfer partners.

This guide was updated in April 2014, and now contains a full breakdown of the most popular Membership Rewards cards as well as details of transferring points between Membership Rewards accounts.

In this guide: Membership Rewards (Australia) guide contents and quick links

Further reading: more noteworthy Membership Rewards guides and posts

Why choose Membership Rewards?

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
  • 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 – 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.

Current American Express Gold Charge Card Offer

American Express Gold Charge Card

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Comes with a lucrative 30,000 point signup bonus, and amazingly a free ‘companion’ Platinum Edge card. Offer only by referral.
Read the Gold Charge Ultimate Guide →

The $130 annual fee nets you some Travel Insurance with this card, along with a 1 MR : 1 point earn rate on all spend except on utilities and the ATO. You’ll also need to opt in, for some odd reason, to an $80 pa fee for Membership Rewards access. All up, for $210 the current 30,000 point sign up bonus is excellent.

Note this is a charge card, requiring full payment of the balance each month, in return for effectively no credit limit.

Current American Express Platinum Edge Offer

American Express Platinum Edge

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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:

  • Supabarn
  • Franklins
  • Aldi
  • Coles
  • Woolworths
  • BuyLo
  • IGA

Current American Express Platinum Reserve Offer

American Express Platinum Reserve

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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. 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 $. There is also a 150,000 point per year limit after which your earn rate reduces to 0.5 points per $.

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 less appealing. If Amex aligned the bonus earn rates for the Edge across their Platinum cards, this would be much simpler.

The American Express Platinum Charge Card

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 the large annual fee.

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.

Check the Bonus Partner page for up to date details on current partners and offers.

Buying and Transferring Membership Rewards points between accounts

It’s possible to buy Membership Rewards points directly from American Express at 3c per point. Leveraging further value out of points this way at this price would be hard, but topping up may be an option.

Until at least June 2014 it’s also possible to receive points from donating to MS Society, with a tax-deductible donation of $150 more yielding 5,000 points. More on this here.

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 [MR]
Citirewards
Westpac Altitude
CBA Rewards
Air New Zealand Airpoints100:1-160:1160:1
Virgin Australia Velocity Points1:13:22:12:1
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles1:13:22:1-
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles1:1---
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles1:12:1*2:1-
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus Miles4:3---
Malaysia Airlines Enrich Miles1:1-2:1-
Hilton HHonors Points1:1---
Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints2:1---
Jumeirah Sirius Points~30:1---
Qantas Frequent Flyer Points1:1*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 AAdvantage1:1Cheap Business and First Class redemptions on oneworld airlines
British Airways Executive Club1:1Cheaper 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 Skywards1:1Very few other earn/transfer options
US Airways Dividend Miles1:1US are the unofficial Star Alliance premium cabin consolidator, offering cheap awards and cheap points

Given the 3:1 earn rate at supermarkets for the platinum edge, and the 1:2 transfer rate for Membership Rewards : 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.

Unfortunately, Amex places less value on Australian Membership Rewards points than the UK and US schemes, which have much more appealing conversion rates to many programs. It’s a shame, but not much can be done there unless you have access to credit in those markets.

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 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 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.

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 Amex’s premium higher annual fee card, the 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.

The full run down of Membership Rewards program differences can be found here.

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 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.

Conclusion: 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 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.

Categories:

American Express, Asia Miles, Credit Cards, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Malaysia Airlines Enrich, Membership Rewards, Singapore Airlines Krisflyer, Virgin Australia Velocity

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Comments

  1. Captain Sloth

    The AMEX David Jones card is another good points earner. 30,000 bonus $99 annual fee and 3-2-1 points structure. 3 points for supermarket and petrol station purchases, 2 points for purchases at David Jones and 1 point elsewhere. The other 3-2-1 points cards are 3 for supermarkets, 2 for fuel and 1 elsewhere. You can’t transfer points to Qantas but all other airlines with AMEX are eligible

    • newformula Author

      Good tip, thanks. I didn’t realise the DJ’s card earned into MR; I’ll update the article accordingly. Sounds like a decent deal – especially the signup bonus which is pretty big for the annual fee on offer.

  2. thehound

    Great article. I just wanted to find out where you’ve seen that CitiRewards points can be transferred to KrisFlyer on a 1:1 conversion rate? All the information I’ve seen suggests it’s 3 rewards points for 2 KrisFlyer points. 3:2 makes CitiRewards less attractive than Amex, but still the best SIA earn rate per dollar for a Visa card.

    • newformula Author

      Thanks!
      You’re right on the 3:2 – not sure where I found that. Info updated; as well as the rate that was being used in my conversion calculator on the site too.

  3. Mightymac1

    Hi, great article, very informative and helpful thank you.
    If I may get some advice it would be great. I have a scattering of flyer points across a few airlines primerally Eithad then Qantas and Malaysian Airlines curtesy of living in Oz and being from Europe.(none of the flyer balanves are big enough to get me home on their own but with a few bonus offers and pooled together they might)

    Now some of these points are set to expire, can I save all my points expiry free in the MR scheme??? If I can save them expiry free I would really consider AE Platinum Edge.

    I did see elsewhere on this site that Eithad now have a MR scheme but there is no mention of it on this page, I presume this is just an oversight. Also they had a 20000 bonus points transfer offer before march 31st and I have missed this. I know you cant answerr this question but what do you think are my chances of getting this bonus offer from Eithad if I decide to Join AE MR??

    Many thanks for your great article.

    • Keith Mason Author

      Thanks for the comment.

      MR points do not expire as long as you have an active account with them. You can also transfer points into your schemes which might count as activity to keep them active.
      I created this page a while back, and yep, Etihad are new to MR this month. In terms of another bonus? Hard to say as they are so new, but I’d imagine they’ll at hold off for at least 3 or 4 months.

  4. Natasha

    Great article Keith! Do you know if I can take a complimentary domestic flight for my husband instead of me on Amex Plat edge even though the card is on my name? Thanks heaps.

  5. Tristan

    Hi Keith,
    I found the table of comparative points quite useful, and the main reason I have signed up for a platinum edge card (hope you get the referral points soon)..

    It would be useful to note that altitude points are earned at a rate of 2:1 (or 3:1 on the black – premium card) so they would actually be more rewarding than the amex rewards cards for everyday spend.

    If the table reflected points per dollar spent, the altitute and MR would be neck and neck for their share rewards (Excl NZ), and altitude black would come out in front. Of course it gets even more complicated when you factor in the Platinum Edge higher rates for supermarkets and petrol, however this may be offset somewhat by lower rates for bill payments (where Altitude remains constant).

    • Keith Author

      Hey Tristan – that comparison only holds if the points from Membership Rewards transfer over to partners at the same rate as Altitude – which they don’t. Altitude transfers to Velocity for example at 2 Altitude to 1 Velocity, same for Asia Miles and Enrich. So points per $ spent may be higher when comparing Altitude to Membership Rewards, but the value of those points in terms of airline miles, is 1/2. I’ve made a transfer calculator at http://www.pointhacks.com.au/calculators/credit-card-reward-program-conversion-calculator/ which may be useful.

      • Tristan

        Perhaps my maths is not right, but from what I can tell:
        $1,000 spend on Amex MR card = 1,000 MR points = 1,000 FF points.
        $1,000 spend on Alt. Black Amex = 3,000 Alt points = 1,500 FF points.
        Where the Amex MR scheme nets more points is supermarket/fuel purchases (on platinum edge) or if you want to use NZ. I know it sounds like i’m trying to push an agenda here, but I’m just trying to get my head around this!
        And thank you for the link the calculator, that is a fantastic tool!

        • Keith Author

          OK, I see where you are coming from, and it makes sense. It’s all about your own personal spending habits. I think, on average, I get more points per $ out of Amex with my Platinum Edge supermarket and fuel bonuses than I would the flat rate earn from Altitude – 4 points per $ at my current supermarket with the ‘local champion’ promo running. The card fee also pays for itself with the free Virgin flight. I also really value the SPG transfer option that Altitude doesn’t have.
          But… That’s just me, and you’re right, Altitude has a shot at coming out ahead for others.

          • Tristan

            Yes, it really does depend where you spend!
            What is your choice for a back-up card for when Amex is not accepted?

          • Keith Author

            Personally I absolutely abuse my Bankwest Qantas Platinum MasterCard. It gives me Qantas points to top up which I don’t earn on the Amex, has no foreign transaction surcharge saving 3% on all non AUD transactions and my other banking is done with Bankwest making things feel very seamless, they have a great app and online banking system. Also an epic credit limit. I can’t bring myself to use anything else.

      • wyvern

        Hi Keith, I started an Amex application online before the referrals disappeared, then didn’t complete it, but it is still saved in the Amex system for a few weeks more and can be resumed. Do you think Amex would honour the referrals if I completed the application, or is it better to wait for the new referrals scheme (if any). I appreciate no-one can be certain but your advice would be welcome!

  6. Daniel

    My cousin as an Australian AmEx Platinum card (Centurian based on the picture he sent me) which costs him AU$900 per year. It also gives him Gold OneWorld membership. I cannot seem to see this anymore and was wondering it it was a special offer for select people or not. I can only seem to see the same card but for AU$1200 with no Oneworld access (seems to give Virgin/Priority Pass instead.

    • Keith Author

      Amex Centurion is much more than $900 pa, it’s more like $4k I think. $900 pa is the old fee for the Platinum Charge before they bumped it up. The Plat Charge also used to offer Cathay Pacific Marco Polo club membership at the Oneworld Sapphire level (equivalent to Qantas Gold), so pretty sure he is using a regular version of the Platinum Charge card, which is now $1200 for all and with different lounge access too.

  7. TJ

    Hi keith

    In New zealand transfer rate between Membership Rewards and Amex Airline Partner is 1MR = 0.5points ( in australia its 1MR = 1 point) is there any clever way to make the most of Members rewards for us who live in New Zealand? Can i move my NZ members rewards point to Australian Members rewards account before i convert them to airline miles?

    Thanks
    TJ.

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