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
- Why choose Membership Rewards? ↓
- The Membership Rewards Card Range ↓
- Bonus Membership Rewards Earning Partners ↓
- Buying Membership Rewards points ↓
- 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
- The American Express Gold Charge Ultimate Guide – including method to get a no annual fee Platinum Edge with the Gold Charge
- A guide to Membership Rewards oneworld airline redemptions
- A guide to Star Alliance, Etihad and Virgin redemptions
- The amazing value offered by redeeming for Malaysia Airlines Business or First Class flights
- An overview of Membership Rewards international account transfers
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
There are no American Express referral offers available at the minute. Check back soon...
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 are offering no annual fee in year 1, and 5,000 bonus Membership Rewards points for new applicants. This is one of my favourite cards for everyday spend.
- 5,000 Membership Rewards points after $500 minimum spend in 2 months
- Free domestic flight on Virgin Australia each cardholder year
- $195 p.a. annual fee, $0 in the first year
- 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: 31st January 2015, only available to new American Express customers within the last 12 months
- Read the Platinum Edge guide →
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 Reserve Offer
There are no American Express referral offers available at the minute. Check back soon...
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.
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 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||-||-||-|
|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|
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.
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.