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 the major credit card points programs.
It’s where I focus most of my efforts in collecting my points, and the first rewards program I advise anyone who wants to spend a little time understanding the value of ‘flexible points programs’ to look at.
With the addition of the American Express Explorer card and increased importance of the new flavour of the Membership Rewards Gateway variant of the program, I’ve revisited this intro guide to Membership Rewards to make sure everyone knows the ins and outs of the program, it’s transfer partners, quirks and benefits.
Membership Rewards guide contents and quick links
- Why choose Membership Rewards? ↓
- Membership Rewards transfer partners and using points with airlines ↓
- Types of Membership Rewards accounts in Australia – Ascent, Gateway & David Jones ↓
- The Membership Rewards Card Range ↓
- Membership Rewards vs a ‘direct earn’ card ↓
- Earning bonus points with card referrals to friends and family ↓
- Conclusion: Is Membership Rewards for me? ↓
Why choose Membership Rewards?
Here are a few quick reasons…
- One of the highest earn rates for Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Miles or Cathay Pacific Asia Miles on domestic spend
- The primary way to earn Starwood Preferred Guest points from credit card spend in Australia
- A range of cards with different category-based earn rates, such as bonus points on travel or at supermarkets
- Frequent offers for statement credits or bonus points 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.
Types of Membership Rewards programs in Australia
The Membership Rewards program in Australia comes in several flavours – David Jones, Choices, Gateway, Ascent, Ascent Premium and Spirit.
I’m mostly interested in the Membership Rewards Ascent, Ascent Premium & Gateway programs thanks to their ability to transfer out partner frequent flyer and hotel programs at decent rates.
Here a quick summary on the differences:
- There’s little difference between the Ascent and Ascent Premium programs. Ascent Premium is only available on the American Express Platinum Charge (and Platinum Business Charge) cards. Ascent Premium offers the ability to transfer points to Qantas.
- Membership Rewards Ascent generally offers the ability to transfer points to frequent flyer programs at 1 Membership Rewards point = 1 frequent flyer point, while Membership Rewards Gateway transfers at a lower rate of 1 Membership Rewards point = 0.75 frequent flyer points
- David Jones Membership Rewards & Membership Rewards Gateway have different (poorer) transfer rates to partner programs than Ascent – more on this later
- David Jones cards can be linked to David Jones Membership Rewards or can earn Qantas Points, but not both
- Spirit is only available on the Qantas Corporate or Business cards.
- Choices only allows for redemptions within the Membership Rewards scheme, i.e. no transfer of points out.
Membership Rewards Ascent & Ascent Premium
Membership Rewards Ascent and Ascent Premium are currently the most common type of Membership Rewards program linked to Amex cards out there, with the Platinum Edge, Platinum Charge and Business Accelerator the key cards linked to Ascent.
The primary benefit of Ascent is that the transfer rate of Membership Rewards points to frequent flyer programs is 1 point = 1 frequent flyer point. Ascent Premium then adds Qantas Frequent Flyer as a transfer partner for Platinum Charge cardholders, and also offers a 1:1 transfer rate to Emirates Skywards with Ascent Premium, instead of 1:0.75 with Ascent.
|American Express Ascent Rewards Partners||Transfer Rates|
Malaysia Airlines Enrich
Etihad Guest Miles
Thai Royal Orchid Plus
|1 Membership Rewards point = 1 frequent flyer point|
|Emirates Skywards||1 Membership Rewards point = 0.75 frequent flyer point *|
|Air New Zealand Airpoints||100 Membership Rewards points = 1 Airpoints Dollar|
|Hilton HHonors||1000 Membership Rewards points = 1000 HHonors points|
|Starwood Preferred Guest||1 Membership Rewards point = 0.5 frequent flyer point|
|* Platinum Charge cardholders can add Qantas as a transfer partner plus better 1:1 transfer rate to Skywards|
Membership Rewards Gateway
The American Express Membership Rewards Gateway program is increasing in prominence but is still linked to a minority of cards – primarily the American Express Explorer and American Express Essential.
The key differences of Gateway to Ascent are:
- Transfer rates to most airlines are 1 Membership Rewards point = 0.75 frequent flyer points
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club is not a transfer partner
- Transfer rates to Starwood and Hilton are the same as Ascent despite frequent flyer program transfer rates being poorer – this is a big plus for the value of Gateway given that the Membership Rewards point earn rate on the Explorer is high at 2 points per dollar, and that Starpoints are a valuable currency
|American Express Gateway Rewards Partners||Transfer Rates|
Malaysian Airlines Enrich
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
THAI Royal Orchid Plus
Velocity Frequent Flyer
|1 Membership Rewards point = 0.75 frequent flyer point|
|Starwood Preferred Guest||1 Membership Rewards point = 0.5 Starpoints|
|Hilton Honors||1 Membership Rewards point = 1 Honors point|
|Air New Zealand Airpoints||100 Membership Rewards points = 0.75 Airpoints|
American Express Travel Online
David Jones Pay with points
American Express Foreign Exchange
eGift Cards and Gift Cards
Select+Pay with points
Points for Credit Card
|13,500 Membership Rewards points = $100 travel reward|
David Jones Membership Rewards
American Express offer two David Jones branded cards, both of which can accrue points to ‘David Jones Membership Rewards’ or you can swap the points earn into Qantas Frequent Flyer.
You need to know that the the David Jones Membership Rewards program is different to the ‘normal’ Membership Rewards!
The main difference is that the David Jones Membership Rewards scheme has worse transfer rates than normal Membership Rewards – 50% of the transfer rate for airlines, but amazingly not Starwood Preferred Guest. This is confusing to say the least.
There are a few specific reasons you might consider the David Jones cards though:
- You spend a fair amount at Supermarkets, on Fuel and/or at David Jones
- You want to earn Qantas Points instead of David Jones Membership Rewards, with some of the best earning Qantas points cards out there for supermarkets, fuel and David Jones spend
- To transfer David Jones Membership Rewards points to Starwood Preferred Guest, and then maybe onto overseas airline programs such as AAdvantage. The transfer rate to SPG is 2:1, just like regular Membership Rewards cards, making it an excellent SPG earner
- You value additional David Jones benefits such as free delivery and gift wrapping
Membership Rewards Transfer Partners and Using Points
There’s a wide variety of direct transfer partners from Membership Rewards Ascent and Gateway. You can calculate how many points you’ll be able to earn in frequent flyer programs from Membership Rewards by using the transfer calculator below.
Don’t forget you can then transfer Starwood points onwards to a range of other international frequent flyer programs, mostly at 1 Starpoint per airline mile.
For example, 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 grocery shopping I do will earn me more than 1 Starpoint per dollar. This is equal to one AAdvantage mile, and the same for many other international frequent flyer programs.
This is pretty great as points transferred into other programs can be much more valuable than Qantas or Velocity Points.
The Membership Rewards Card Range
There’s a broad range of cards that Amex offer which earn into Membership Rewards, and I’ll cover the most common of them below.
The American Express Explorer
The Amex Explorer card was launched in August 2016 and offers a $400 annual travel credit with Amex Travel, two lounge visits to the Amex Sydney lounge, and is attached to the Membership Rewards Gateway program.
It has a high points earn rate from ongoing spend of 2 Membership Rewards Gateway points per dollar spent, which equates to 1.5 frequent flyer points when transferred to most frequent flyer programs.
The American Express Platinum Edge
The entry level Platinum card – the Platinum Edge – is great value, and is a pretty good offering to earn maximum points for most people. 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’ll receive a $200 Travel Credit each year which you can use on any eligible bookings – easily outweighing the value of the annual fee, even in renewal years after any initial signup bonus.
Along with the $200 Travel Credit you also receive free domestic and international travel insurance, 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 – 3 Membership Rewards per $1 spent at supermarkets, and 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 on fuel.
The beauty of the bonus points earned at supermarkets are that they also sell gift vouchers for many other retailers – the Edge can then open up triple points at places like Freedom, Bunnings and many more mainstream merchants in Australia.
All other purchases, except utilities and the ATO, earn at 1 Membership Reward point per $1 spent.
The Platinum Edge is a great points-earner for many people. The 3:2:1 rate is excellent for the everyday card user – American Express 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 American Express Platinum Charge
The Platinum Charge card offers a high cost, high return strategy in the world of accruing points. The large signup bonus, $200 travel credit and free flight from the free supplementary Platinum Reserve card will pretty much cover the value on the annual fee.
The Charge is for those who want the large Membership Rewards sign up bonus, big spenders, and who are after the extensive list of ancillary benefits.
There’s a heap of other benefits too, and I’m sure most people are likely to use at least some of them. But many understandably wouldn’t take on such a high annual fee.
American Express Business Accelerator
The American Express Business Accelerator credit card is designed for SMEs – there’s a low $160 annual fee but a very high points earn rate at 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent for the first $50,000 or 100,000 points each cardholder year. After this the points earn comes down to 1 Membership Rewards points per $.
Sole Traders and other individual entities can apply as well as businesses – you just need an ABN and to meet the income requirements.
The Business Accelerator is a hidden gem of the Membership Rewards range with a high points earn rate, low annual fee and few other benefits – just keep an eye on the suitability of the spend cap, as if you go over you can usually get a higher points earn rate from other cards.
David Jones Membership Rewards cards
Finally, we have the David Jones American Express cards. These provide perks at David Jones and bonus points in specific spend categories, like supermarkets, fuel and at David Jones.
Membership Rewards vs Qantas Frequent Flyer or Velocity direct earn cards
I’ve summed up my thoughts on why using a flexible points program like Membership Rewards program offers great value in this guide.
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 place to start.
You can also use Membership Rewards points for transfer to Virgin Australia, and American Express and Virgin often run transfer bonuses of 15%, increasing the value of your points accordingly.
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.
Acceptance of American Express by retailers
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 linked to Membership Rewards comes from higher than 1:1 earn rates; additional ancillary card benefits; signup bonuses; and points transfer flexibility.
All Amex-issued cards, regardless of rewards program, come with ‘Amex Offers‘ which are immediate statement credits for hitting a spend target with a specific retailer.
I have, for example, been targeted with offers such as a $30 credit for $150 spent at Myer, or $50 for $350 spent with Qantas.
These offers are saved to your card account online or in the American Express app, and are worth keeping an eye on in case they hit the mark for any retailers you happen to be shopping with.
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.
The American Express Referral Program (guide)
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 a partner for marketing.
Further reading: more related Membership Rewards guides and tips
- The American Express Platinum Edge Ultimate Guide →
- The American Express Platinum Charge Ultimate Guide →
- The American Express Explorer Guide →
- Earning or using your Membership Rewards points with Amex Travel →
- How to use the free flight that comes with the American Express Platinum cards →
- An overview of Membership Rewards international account transfers →
Conclusion: Is American Express Membership Rewards for you?
Stowing your points away in Membership Rewards gives redemption flexibility, allowing you to transfer to programs at a later date once you have a firm plan for your points, and not before.
It can be helpful to place a value on flexibility when playing the points game – and given that Membership Rewards Ascent partners with Velocity, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, this covers 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.
The Platinum Charge and Reserve cards are good for higher spenders and those looking for a number of ongoing benefits with their cards. All up, Membership Rewards is a great credit card rewards program, and deserves serious consideration.
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